Drake English 313

Professional Writing and Multiple Audiences


Inexperienced business writers often forget to think about who will -- or can -- actually read what they've written, and in so doing they either blow or miss useful opportunities to strengthen their messages via the actual corridors of power.


So, when we write, we should identify ALL possible audiences:  Who are ALL the people who may eventually want or need to read your document?


Primary Audience (s): This is (or these are) the audience you most likely think of first and actually intend to reach.


Normally, this is the audience with the power to implement or act on your request.


In some scenarios, this may also be the audience least likely or last audience to receive your document.


Consider, for example, if you have a complaint concerning your living situation (the dorms, a fraternity or sorority, married student housing...) and you think that the President of the university can solve it; how many people are likely to read and filter the document before it actually reaches the President? How likely is the President to actually ever read it?


Secondary Audience: This audience is likely to be asked by the Primary to read, comment on and perhaps respond to your document. 


This audience is also likely to be multiple: it may be another office, a committee etc., or your document may pass through many hands before landing on the right desk.  Among other considerations, you should think about not insulting anyone of this audience and, even better, trying to consider building goodwill with them, as well as your primary audience.


Initial and Gatekeeper Audience or Audiences: This is the first person to read your document -- perhaps a secretary or assistant -- and he or she will route it to your Primary Audience. This may also be your superior or boss or committee members who asked you to write the document, and they may want to read it before passing it on. Even if they don't read it first, however, they may have a stake in the document.


Consider that although Initial Audiences such as secretaries often do not command respect or have a great deal of prestige, they do control a good deal of power and may well determine when and if your document ever reaches its destination.


This is a good place for stories about students who actually get into my class even when they are full.


Watchdog Audience: This is an audience with political, social or economic ties to your message and document.  They may have a stake in your message or may become legally involved.


For example, requests sent to educational superiors (university presidents, school principles, departmental chairs etc.) will wind up on the desks of school board members, legislators, committees etc.); requests within any corporation will likely wind up in accounting and finance departments etc. or later by auditors.


The most powerful watchdog audiences include:

1) The press. What if your document winds up on the front page of the newspaper?


2) Lawyers. What if your document winds up in court to be used either for or against you?


3) Political and Economic Competitors: What if your enemies get ahold of the document?


4) Yo' Mama: Will she slap you if she reads it on the front page of the newspaper when it is the key finding in a legal case? If so, reword it.


Considerations Based on the Above:


Use You Attitude that will work with all possible audiences:

1) Put things in your documents that will make all possible audiences happy.


2) Remove things from your documents that might make a possible audience unhappy.


Consider your communication format: Communicate personally or legally damaging material thru secure channels. The more sensitive the information is, the more secure the communication mode must be.


1) Destroy incriminating "paper trails" (including hard drive trails).


2) Leave supportive paper trails: in touchy or possible legal situations, document, document, document.


The Basic Message:


Tailor everything you write to all possible audiences.