Audience analysis can range from a formal process involving surveys and marketing research to a casual discussion in class of what your readers know and expect. You probably grasp intuitively much of the necessary process based on your experience as a student who has written essays in high school. But different situations require adjustments and sometimes more formal structures can help you see why a piece of writing is effective or how your own writing needs to be shaped to communicate effectively.
As the PowerPoint presentations indicate and as your own experience teaches you, different kinds of writing fulfill different purposes. If you are keeping a journal or writing something for yourself, then that writing is different than texting or sending an email to a close friend or family member. Depending upon the nature of your relationship to your friend or family member, the content of the writing could be quite similar or you could be much more careful and restrained when writing to someone else. Both of these types of writing are rather far removed from essay writing in college. When you are writing an essay for a class, you will probably know much less about your audience (the instructor, your classmates, and those imaginary readers who are college students elsewhere) and you may not have had as many similar experiences or values that you share with your audience. You will need to think about how your readers may have different attitudes, beliefs, ethnic background, economic status, and so on. One strategy you should use is trying to find common ground, basic values that most people in your audience probably share. When you do argument in English 102, you will spend time trying to persuade your audience to accept a position that they perhaps do not already hold. But the writing in this class will be, for the most part, analytical, explorative, investigative, and informative, not persuasive. Still you will still need to think about your audience.
By this time in your academic career, you should know, for example, not to assume your audience has the same political or religious beliefs that you do; you should recognize that insulting particular groups is not appropriate or likely to be successful in communicating, despite what blogs, television, movies, advertising or other media present as comic. Although there have been cultural shifts in attitudes toward privacy, you probably will not want to write to the entire class about intimate or embarrassing matters. You also will be required to write certain types of essays as preparation for academic writing in the future, so you cannot just freely choose anything as your organizational pattern or subject.
Some types of writing/communications put more emphasis on audience analysis than others; marketing and advertising firms spend millions researching target audiences. Technical writers often must think hard about their audience, which may include laypersons as well as experts like the writers themselves. Some of the Websites below--all from colleges—are specifically for technical or business writing classes, but the information can be equally useful for producing or analyzing any type of communication. Don’t take any of it as the final word on audience analysis, however. You may want to try to raise your audience’s social and ethical standards, not just pander to their lowest desires.
Basic introduction with examples from University of Charleston:
Audience analysis for Evelyn S. Zent’s course at the University of Washington. The instructor’s language is appropriately sophisticated and you may need to look up some words.
PowerPoint from a speech class at the U. of Hawaii. While ideas like “What’s in it for me?” seem crude and certainly appeal to the lowest sort of value, some of the basic strategies here are useful.
Brent Henze’s complex discussion of audience for East Carolina U. class, directed toward technical writers:
Sophisticated discussion and many links on audience analysis of cultural phenomena (movies, advertisements, etc.), put together by a professor at Washington State. While we will focus on particular types of written texts in our class, this is an interesting site to explore for other types of communications.
Summary of similar ideas for government workers.