On Wordsworth and the Current Society
“But Poets do not write for Poets alone, but for men”
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.