An Extra Set of Eyes: The Importance of Having Multiple People Read Your Writing

On Wordsworth and the Current Society

“But Poets do not write for Poets alone, but for men”
-William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth, one of the most prolific poets of the British Romantic era, was an advocate for the dispersion of poetry to a large audience comprised of the common man. During that time in history, writing and literature, specifically poetry, was seen as something only written for an educated upper-class. Wordsworth challenged that paradigm and wrote the above quote, believing that poetry and writing should be both accessible to all and written for a large audience so that it could make a difference in the lives of common men.
Today, our society is saturated with text, writing, and information. From a young age, children are surrounded by the internet, newspapers, and books. They are interacting with varieties of texts daily. So, Wordsworth’s hopes seemingly came true. Writing is so much more accessible to the common man. Even so, his thoughts about audience are still deeply relevant. All authors have a specific audience in mind when they write. For example, bloggers write for specific audiences, such as gourmet food enthusiasts or people interested in new and innovative technologies. Books are written to be read by a target audience. In real-world contexts, writers know their audience and write with them in mind. So, this concept of audience and writing to be read has merit to be explored.

On Writing in the University and the Classroom

Even though we live in a world where writing so often has an audience, there are some situations where audience can be limited. Many assignments for university courses and secondary classrooms are only ever read by the teacher who created the assignment. Students write with their teacher in mind and do not share their writings any further than that. This, to me, is a travesty. Once they enter their career paths, these same students will be asked to write in real-world contexts with a specific audiences in mind. Social workers will need to write reports for families and for the government, scientists will have to write for journals to disseminate their research, and business men and women will have to create presentations and write strategic plans for their companies. These writing contexts will have real ramifications and real audiences that are important. When students frequently do not have their writings read by more than one person, real life will not be modeled. Not having the long-labored work that students produce read more widely than one teacher does not fit with many real-world writing tasks.
Though this occurs at many levels of education, there are multiple opportunities in place for students to have their writing read, if they know where to look. Peer tutoring, literature groups and circles, and writing centers provide students with a chance to share their writing, get feedback, and have more than one person read their writing. Other platforms, such as literature magazines or student journals provide chances for students to get their writing published. Also, starting academic blogs or even having a time in class to share student research and writing are ways that students can present to their peers. These small ways to get writing read more widely are ways that students can improve as writers and begin to think about the importance of audience, modeling a much more realistic context for writing. Students will be able to see that writing is read and understood in different ways by different people, and a rich depth of readership will help them become better writers.

On the Connection to Undergraduate Research

Connecting the idea of audience to undergraduate research is important. Having writing read is a key part in the reality of undergraduate research, as the idea of writing being disseminated is an integral part of the undergraduate research process. Though an audience is clearly outlined for many undergraduate research students within the process of dissemination, it still is important for students to have multiple people reading their writing before their research is presented to councils, peers, and professionals in any given field. The more feedback that students get on their writing, the better it will become. When students see the multifaceted nature of how writing is received, the importance of having many people read, respond to, and interact with writing will be highlighted. To connect this to similar situations in the academic world, many professors have their colleagues read and respond to their research before publishing it in a notable journal within their discipline. This gives them feedback and the ability to revise and reconsider their work, polishing it and making it even more accessible to their audiences. Undergraduate research students should have similar opportunities, through working with their mentoring professor, peers, and programs such as ours, where writing mentors have conversations about their research. All of these factors will make for a more polished project, but also give students more insight into learning the process of writing.
To see more insight into how to think about audience, look at Alexis’s previous post, Analyzing Audience. If you want to have a second set of eyes read over your writing and give you feedback, make an appointment today by emailing urpwm@uww.edu.

Analyzing Audience

In any type of writing, it is important to know and understand your audience. This is particularly useful when you are presenting information that is considered important in research. If you know and understand your audience, you can tailor your wording and persuasive techniques to match your readers. There are a number of important things that a writer needs to consider about their audience: education, occupation, age, and applicability.

Education

The audience’s education can tell a writer what words to use and what words to avoid. It also allows the writer to understand what prior knowledge the audience will have on the subject. For example, if the audience is people who have a high school education with no experience at college, you would avoid using words that are less common outside the speech of academics. Because the audience will not have heard the words enough to be familiar, they may not understand what is being said. If the audience has their PhD, you would be able to use those academic words. However, in the latter case, it is important to analyze what discipline their degree is in, because if the audience contains English professors and you’re presenting scientific information, you may not be able to use some of the more scientific terms. This goes alongside the second point: prior knowledge. You can assume, if the audience members are scientists in the field you are presenting in, that they know the basic workings what you are experimenting with. You would not need to explain as much of the process or what you are working with as you would need to if the audience had little to no scientific background.

Occupation

This category may seem closely related to education. However, it is important to know the occupation of your reader as well as the education, because they tell you different things. Even if your audience member has a PhD in science, they may not work in the field of science. So, they would be less familiar with the current scientific development than a scientist who may study these developments as part of their job. The audience member who does not work in science may have forgotten some of what they learned and may need a refresher. Ultimately, it is important to provide information in a way that anyone, even those who are less informed, can understand so that there is no confusion over what you are saying. This may seem tedious, because you know what you are saying. But your audience might not know, so make it clear and concise.

Age

There are many differences between age groups that are important to remember when you are writing. If the audience is older, you would avoid using some slang that hasn’t been around longer and speak in a more formal tone. If the audience is younger, you would speak using any slang you wanted and would use a less formal tone. Just like in real life, anything said would be different for someone who is a child compared to someone who is an adult. Also, you can consider how long the audience may have been out of school. They may or may not remember everything they learned. There is also the possibility that they know more than they did in school, depending on their job. If the audience is full of older adults, they would most likely have more practical knowledge. You can tailor your references and example to whatever age group you are writing for.

Applicability

The readers want to know why your article or work is important, why it applies to them. If you make it clear, say to an audience of scientists, that your work furthers other research in the field, then they will be more likely to read it. This applies to any of the different disciplines that work on undergraduate research. If you have some new evidence or claim that Shakespeare was a fraud, then English teachers would be interested to read it, whether to agree or disagree. Humans are curious creatures as a whole, if you provide something interesting that they don’t know, they’ll read it. This is why it’s important to remember what your audience has read and how it is important and applicable to them. They won’t want to waste time reading information that they already know.
Altogether, these factors, education, occupation, age, and applicability, allow you to tailor your research presentation and make it more interesting to people who may read it. It is important to encompass all possibilities within each category and find the balance between the different styles you may use.