What does it mean to write for an audience?

What does it mean to write for an audience?

In our study, we learned that thinking about the reader is an essential part of writing; in order to reach them, we need to know who they are and what they expect.

Writing for an audience

Most writing aims to share our ideas with others. This is like being in a conversation: how we communicate often depends a good deal on who is on the receiving end. In other words, audience matters.

In thinking about audience, we consider two closely related ideas: who the audience is, and how we talk to them. Let’s unpack these two ideas.

Who is the audience?

Audience is a flexible concept. The audience might be a specific person. The audience might be a group of people who share an interest, and therefore share some common knowledge. The audience might be relatively unknown except for very general characteristics.

Audiences that share an interest and common knowledge often have specialized ways of expressing ideas. Such groups, which writing instructors sometimes refer to as discourse communities, could include physicians, video game enthusiasts, teachers, skateboarders, K-pop fans, or physicists. Writers need to be aware of what specialized audiences expect.

But even when we aren’t sure who our audience is, we can imagine them (or ask for feedback from peers) to help us understand how our writing is interpreted.

In either case, thinking about audiences makes it easier to communicate effectively with them. Thinking about what an audience knows and cares about makes it easier to appeal to their understanding and concerns.

For insight into how students see these benefits, check out Ryan McCarty’s observations about a student named Kris

How do we talk to an audience?

There are many ways to write to or for an audience. Teacher audiences often expect essays, lab reports, math problems, stories, or poems. Employer audiences may expect memos, patient reports, sales projections, résumés, or cover letters. Familiar audiences may expect emails, texts, posts, replies, and other informal writing.

Writing addressed to different audiences requires varying features of organization, structure, and formality of language. These features of writing matter because they address expectations that audiences may have. Good writers understand which expectations are most relevant for the audience they want to address.

Consider Stephanie, who chooses a different approach in her writing.

I think just, yeah, being able to shape my ideas independently—that’s really how they affected me as far as, as I practiced and as I became more confident as a writer, I was also becoming more independent, especially in the ideas, where I’m not afraid to take a different stance than a professor, and say, “Hey, maybe you are wrong in this.” I’m not gonna change your opinion, but, hey, let’s pretend that you would for a second. That independence has really helped” (107).


In order to communicate most effectively, writers need to think about their audiences and what they might expect.