All About Audience

The Art of Persuasion



Which of the arguments below is the most persuasive?

Ex. 1: I should be exempt from the English requirement because I will not need to write in my chosen profession of carpentry. 

Ex. 2: I should be exempt from the English requirement because my experience as an office assistant and apprentice has already provided me with equivalent writing knowledge.

To answer which argument is most persuasive, you have to understand what it means to consider audience.

Rhetorical Awareness

When composing a persuasive essay, beginning students often spend most of their time emotionally arguing their own position, accumulating research in support of their position, and negating opposition to their argument. However, these methods of argument are often counterproductive. By taking the time to consider who you are trying to persuade – and exactly what you need to convince them of – you will improve your chances of composing a successful argument.

So who exactly is your audience? Your instructor, right? WRONG! Many beginning writers mistakenly believe their instructor is their audience, but this is only partly true, according to Brett Mertins, English and Literature instructor at MCC, who explains the importance of rhetorical awareness:

“Certainly students are writing to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and application for their instructor; however, a key criterion for many instructors is rhetorical awareness, or how well the writing has been tailored for a specific or “target” audience.  Put simply, a writer may effectively entertain, inform, and/or persuade one audience with a particular piece of writing, but that same piece of writing, when presented to a different audience, may fall flat.”

Most instructors agree that fully considering audience is one of the most important elements in successful writing, but often the most overlooked.

Underlying Assumptions and Appeals

The underlying assumption in Ex. 1 above is that education should only be based on career utility – I won’t write much when I am a carpenter, so I don’t need to take an English class. The first argument might make sense to your college buddies, but what if your audience was an academic council voting on this issue? You might very well insult academics who believe general education requirements are necessary to form a well-rounded person.

Ex. 2 argues for the same thing, but with a different appeal – that the writer already has sufficient life experience that should preclude him from taking a class he is proficient in. He would then appeal to the values of his academic audience; instead of insulting their system, he could present his background and acquired knowledge to show he doesn’t need English.

These two very different appeals for the same outcome are what are called “writer-based reasons” and “audience-based reasons.” A writer-based reason may sound perfectly logical to you, but you aren’t trying to persuade yourself, right? An audience-based reason takes the values and beliefs of those you are trying to persuade (or inform, or entertain) and attempts to think like they do.

Level of Resistance

You may not always need to appeal to a hostile or resistant audience. Some audiences may be very supportive – but for different reasons. With this audience, you might have agreement but want to incite some type of action, and including a dose of emotion might incite them to act. Other audiences may be neutral – they’re not sure where they stand on your issue. This type of audience is tricky: they might distrust one-sided arguments and would be more motivated to support an issue when they have heard fair summaries of opposing viewpoints. The more emotional you sound in your appeal, the more a neutral audience might turn away from you.

Play to your Audience

Take some time to analyze your audience. Writing a successful persuasive paper isn’t difficult as long as you remember to first consider who your audience is and how they feel about your issue. Here is a handy acronym to help you analyze your audience.

Analysis- Who is the audience?
Understanding- What does the audience know about your subject? What is their attitude?
Demographics- What is their age, gender, socio-economic status, education background?
Interest- Why are they considering your argument? Why should they care?
Environment- Will this argument be presented in a hostile or friendly environment?
Needs- What are the audience’s needs?
Customization- What specific values, beliefs and assumptions should you address? What will be their objections?
xpectations- What does the audience expect to gain or learn? The audience should have all of the information they need to make an informed decision.

Speak Up! Six Tips for Perfect Dialogue in Your Narrative

speaking clip art


Your instructor has assigned a Narrative essay, and one requirement is to include a scene or an exchange of conversation between characters. You know exactly what you want your characters to say, but when you sit down to type it out, you are bewildered about all of the decisions you have to make. Do I indent every line? Where do the commas go? Does punctuation go inside or outside quotation marks? Where do quotation marks go? Do I need a tag? What’s a tag?


Although creating realistic dialogue can be daunting, below are some basics to remember when formatting and creating the spoken word.

1.    A comma is needed to set off a dialogue tag (the tag is the he said/she said that attributes the spoken words to a person:

“In the book of life, the answers aren’t in the back,” said Charlie Brown.

Notice the comma is placed inside the quotations marks. When using a tag, you will always need a comma.

2.     A period is needed to set off a physical action when it does not describe a way of speaking:

Sondra laughed. “There’s a spider on your head!”

This one is tricky. Laughed shows action, but doesn’t necessarily describe how the sentence is spoken.

3.     Exclamation and question marks do not need additional punctuation.

Correct: “There is a spider on your head!” cried Sondra.

In this example, the exclamation mark acts as the end punctuation before the tag.

Incorrect: “There is a spider on your head!,” cried Sondra.

Here, the comma is not needed, even though a tag follows. Note also that cried is not capitalized, as it is the continuation of the sentence or quote.

4.     When inserting a tag in the middle of a sentence, you’ll need to set it off with commas on both sides.

“He is not,” she said, “your brother.”

Note the first comma inside the quotation marks, and immediately after said. Also note that your is not capitalized, as it is a continuation of the sentence or quote.

“No, I am,” he said, “Your brother.”
“No, I am,” He said, “your brother.”

5.     Each time a new character speaks, it should be placed in a new paragraph or on a new line. Each line should be indented, just as a new paragraph is indented:

“What’s up, buddy?” he says, thick-tongued and edgy.
“Sky’s up,” I answer, playing along.
“And don’t forget prices,” he grumbles.
(Scott Russell Sanders, “Under the Influence”)

6.     If you really want to impress your instructor, show them you know how to use dialogue. Is your dialogue doing more than one thing? Does it not only say words, but does it show the speaker’s personality? This is a line I’ll attribute to my grammy:

“If the Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’ll see y’all Sunday next,” grammy said as she spat tobacco from the stoop of her front porch.

What would a reader infer from this dialogue? The voice is Southern or rural lower Midwest, so she’s obviously not from Boston. Grammy probably is not an Ivy League graduate. The tag shows that Grams chews tobacco and doesn’t care who knows it, which shows her personality. We also can infer the weather to a certain extent. Grammy is on the front porch, so it isn’t the middle of winter. This particular author tag also shows class or social status.

When incorporating dialogue into your narrative, remember that the way we talk is actually quite boring, so make the dialogue count. Get rid of the “How are you?” –  “Good. And you?” exchanges. If it is not essential, cut it. If you feel the spoken words are essential to your narrative, the words should be working on several levels.

And one last bit of advice from my grammy: actions speak louder than words.

Flex Your Writing Muscles

writingUnlocking Your Creativity


A student just came in the Writing Center requesting help for her first English Composition assignment. She was a whirlwind of bookbags, notebooks, textbooks, class handouts and assignment guidelines. She said she hadn’t written a thing since high school 15 years ago, and needed help with her Narrative Essay assignment. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, where to begin, or what to write,” she said as she logged on the computer. After showing me her assignment, she pulled her chair up to the computer, readied her fingers on the keyboard like a sprinter about to take off at the sound of a gunshot, and said, “I need you to help me. How should I start?”

My eyes widened, terrified – for her ­and myself. As a practicing writer, the sight of a blank computer screen sends me into a panic, kind of like Indiana Jones’ terrifying aversion to snakes. My own heart started racing, and I slowly backed away and took a long breath. “Whoa!” I said as I turned away from her blank computer screen. I wondered how she could possibly think she could create a piece of writing with no preparation. She sat before a blank computer screen, an act alone that would cause an anxiety attack for most professional writers. “Let’s think about this for a minute,” I suggested, motioning her away from the computer.

Just as bodybuilders can’t begin weightlifting by trying to lift a 500-pound barbel, writers – beginner or professional – can’t expect to pump out a 4 or 5 page Narrative Essay with full story arc, rising tension, climax, dénouement, all while utilizing all five senses, by sitting down in front of a blank screen with no preparation.

~ First Thoughts ~

Most writing instructors employ the “process” model of writing, which means drafting, revising, re-writing, revising, and so on, culminating in a final draft. But before you can even begin the drafting process, you’ll need to take some time to warm up, do a writing stretch. Take at least ten minutes and fully commit yourself to writing your first thoughts. If you have twenty or thirty minutes to write – great. If not, write as long as you can, but no matter how much time you commit, time yourself. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted during your writing time. Turn off your phone. Let the texts go unanswered. I like to write with a fine-tipped pen and yellow legal pad. If you love the sound of the computer keyboard, use your computer, but turn off the monitor so you don’t feel the urge to edit as you write.

The following writing “muscle” exercises come from Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg:

  1. Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.)
  2. Don’t cross out. (That’s editing as you write.)
  3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
  6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

In her book, Goldberg says that “First thoughts have tremendous energy.” Unfortunately, we tend to think too much and censor our writing, and as a result, quelling our creativity. Don’t question the rules, just stick to them. When your time is up, see what you have written. You may find the seed of a story or an idea worth pursuing. Soon you’ll find your mind brimming with creative possibilities as you let your writing run loose and uncensored. Your once-weak writing muscles will grow stronger and stronger, and writing will become something you approach with confidence instead of dread. You might even begin to look forward to writing.

Maybe. I’m not making any promises.