Part 2: Choosing an Audience

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • designate your audience.
  • identify the needs of your audience.

Since the purpose of a Heritages of Change exhibition is to emphasize and raise the profile of marginalized heritage, it is important to have an audience in mind, an audience that we intend to persuade of the significance of the heritage we have curated and selected to bring together.

Thinking about Audience

A real audience is made up of people the originator may know personally or know of. For example, if you are the originator, your real audience could be a group of your peers to whom you present your ideas in class. Or it could be a person to whom you send a text message. You know the members of the class and know something about them. Similarly, you know the person to whom you send the text. An anticipated audience is one you hope to reach or one you expect will engage with your communication. When you post on social media platforms, for instance, your audience is probably anticipated. While you might have followers, you may not know them personally, but you anticipate who they are and how they might react.

The conditions of a rhetorical situation refer to the genre, purpose, stance, context, and culture. The genre, or medium, is the mode in which you communicate. You may speak persuasively in class, or you may send a text message; both are genres. The purpose is your reason or reasons for the communication. For example, if you are presenting to your class, your purpose might be to do well and get a good grade, but it also might be to inform or to persuade your classmates. Likewise, you might want to gain attention by posting something on social media that connects to other people’s thoughts and feelings. The third condition is the stance, which is your take, or viewpoint, as presented in the communication. Your stance may be that college loans should be forgiven, or it may be that college loans should be repaid in full. The context is the setting of the rhetorical situation. Some examples might be a communication taking place during a global pandemic or during a Black Lives Matter protest. The context affects the ways in which a particular social, political, or economic situation influences the process of communication. The final element is culture, which refers to groups of people who share commonalities. When communicating, you make assumptions about the cultural traits of your audience, perhaps expecting that they will agree with you regarding certain values or beliefs. For example, if you are communicating with an American audience, you may assume a positive value for democracy or a dislike of foreign interference. Conversely, you also may communicate with people whose cultural views are at odds or in conflict with your own: for example, a man who publicly advocates outdated gender views might have trouble communicating culturally with a younger female audience. The ways in which you choose to communicate to those within and those outside of your culture are likely to differ as you craft a stance within a given context for a particular purpose and audience.

As you work through a deeper understanding of rhetoric within a rhetorical situation, remember a few key points. When you read, write, and think critically or rhetorically, you try to figure out why a message is being communicated in a certain way. Reading language rhetorically means figuring out why and how it works or fails to work in achieving its communicative purpose. Writing rhetorically means being conscious of the ways in which you construct a message within a clearly defined rhetorical situation. Thinking rhetorically means considering the possibilities of meaning as conveyed through language and image. By putting these concepts together, you will come to understand how these elements work in concert with each other and affect your interactions with the world.

Text Attributions

This section contains material taken from “Chapter 1: The Digital World: Building on What You Already Know to Respond Critically” from Writing Guide with Handbook by Senior Contributing Authors Michelle Bachelor Robinson, Maria Jerskey, and Toby Fulwiler, with other contributing authors and is used under a CC BY 4.0 license.

Activity 4.2

  • Adult Learning in the Fitchburg (Massachusetts) Area (ALFA) as the anticipated audience of the full “Heritages of Change” exhibition.
  • Examine the (ALFA) web site.
  • Consider the description of the ALFA program: “ALFA (Adult Learning in the Fitchburg Area) is a lifelong learning institute that serves adult learners in Fitchburg and the surrounding communities. ALFA is sponsored by the Center for Professional Studies at Fitchburg State University in collaboration with volunteer members of the community. We offer non-credit daytime courses, free discussion groups, and intergenerational opportunities to participate across campus. ALFA students are encouraged to volunteer and participate in program leadership and development, as well as social and recreational activities.”
  • Answer the following questions:
    • What type of person do you think is the average ALFA?
    • What might they want to learn about?
    • Why might they be interested in Heritages of Change exhibitions?
    • What type of writing do you think they would like to read?


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