This morning I tried to synthesize what I have read and experienced as a writer thinking about AUDIENCE.  When I write, I am writing for someone.  One of the foundational truths about effective communication is this:  Know Thy Audience.  In one of the earliest texts about effective communication, On Rhetoric, Aristotle offers an analysis of different kinds of audiences.  His point is this.  If you are trying to persuade a group of elderly men, remember that they are nostalgic for the past.  You will persuasively communicate with this audience if you ” “.   If you are trying to persuade a group of young men, remember that they are hot-headed and full of vigor.  You will communicate effectively with them if you ” .”

Aristotle does what we now see advertising agencies do as the first step in their work.  They analyze their demographic.  They get to know their audience.  Once they know their audience, authors can effectively persuade that audience.  Knowing is the first step.

Sometimes, when I write, I write for myself.  However, I am not a journal-keeper.  I know that I don’t want to read a daily record of what I did every day.  I know myself.  I do, however, like to write to myself to deepen a fleeting insight and to synthesize disparate insights–like I am doing right now with my ideas about audience.  I like to write to myself to remember some events, some things others said.  This is particularly true now that I have children.  I want to remember them at 3 and 6.  Even for myself, I am only motivated to write if I have a purpose.

As our classmates each filled sticky-notes with possible audiences for our writing this summer, I saw a lot of family members on those colored bits.  We also write willingly for those we know and love.  We write to create shared memories of our times together.  We write to communicate love.  We write to say, “I notice you.”

Writing for an audience of our family members is made easier because we know them (through writing well is never easy).  Not only do we know what our family members sound like when they use language, we know what they know and don’t know, like and don’t like.  We can address them specifically, making reference to shared memories, in a style that they will “get.”  My husband, for one, loves it when I talk to him as him.  He likes it when I anticipate his sense of humor, when I make inside jokes, when I don’t tell him something he already knows.  My kids are the same way.  Even my three year old likes it when I talk to her in ways that address how old she perceives herself to be.  With some regularity she turns a corner, and ways of addressing her that were ok yesterday become “too babyish,” like counting to five when I brush each side of her teeth.  “Mom, don’t do that.  That’s for babies,” she tells me.  Know Thy Audience.

There are two things that make knowing your audience difficult for our students.  First, teachers know more than their students by definition.  The student doesn’t really know everything that the teacher knows, what the teacher likes.  They only know what we reveal.