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audience analysis

Douglas Park, "The Meanings of 'Audience,'" in Landmark Essays in Rhetorical Invention in Writing (1994)

Definition:

In composing an essay, report, speech, or argument, the process of determining the values, interests, and attitudes of the intended audience.

See also:

Observations:

  • "The goals of clarity, propriety, and persuasiveness dictate that we adapt our arguments, as well as the language in which they are cast, to an audience. Even a well-constructed argument may fail to convince if it is not adapted to your actual audience.

    "Adapting arguments to an audience means that we must know something about the audience we are addressing. The process of audience adaptation begins with an effort to construct an accurate profile of the audience members that considers such factors as their age, race, and economic status; their values and beliefs; and their attitudes toward you and your topic."
    (James A. Herrick, Argumentation: Understanding and Shaping Arguments. Strata, 2007)


  • "You're in a new job and eager to impress. So don't let your heart sink if your first big task is to write a report. It's likely to be read by a whole raft of people--and that could include the managing director. . . .

    "'A great deal of thinking should go into the report before you actually start to write anything,' says Park Sims, adviser to Industrial Society Learning and Development and a director of Park Sims Associates. . . .

    "'You cannot overestimate the importance of audience analysis,' says Park. 'Are they friends or enemies, competitors or customers? All that will influence mightily what level of detail you go into and what language and style of writing you use. What do they know about the subject already? Can you use jargon?'"
    (Karen Hainsworth, "Wowing Your Executive Audience." The Guardian, May 25, 2002)


  • George Campbell (1719-1796) and Audience Analysis
    "[Campbell's] notions on audience analysis and adaptation and on language control and style perhaps have had the longest range influence on rhetorical practice and theory. With considerable foresight he told prospective speakers what they need to know about audiences in general and audiences in particular. . . .

    "[In The Philosophy of Rhetoric, Campbell] moved to an analysis of the things which a speaker should know about his particular audience. These include such matters as educational level, moral culture, habits, occupation, political leanings, religious affiliations, and locale."
    (James L. Golden, The Rhetoric of Western Thought, 8th ed. Kendall/Hunt, 2004)


  • Audience Analysis and the New Rhetoric
    "The New Rhetoric recognizes situation (or context) as the basic principle of communication and revives invention as an indispensable component of rhetoric. In so doing, it establishes audience and audience analysis as important to the rhetorical process and vital to invention. [Chaim] Perelman's and [Stephen] Toulmin's theories especially establish audience belief as the basis for all rhetorical activity (which covers most written and spoken discourse), and as the starting point for the construction of arguments. Later, theorists applied the insights of New Rhetoric theory specifically to composition theory and instruction."
    (Theresa Enos, ed., Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition: Communication from Ancient Times to the Information Age. Taylor & Francis, 1996)


  • Hazards and Limitations of Audience Analysis
    "[I]f you pay so much attention to the audience that you inhibit your self-expression, audience analysis has gone too far."
    (Kristin R. Woolever, About Writing: A Rhetoric for Advanced Writers. Wadsworth, 1991)


    "As Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford point out, a key element of much audience analysis is 'the assumption that knowledge of the audience's attitudes, beliefs, and expectations is not only possible (via observation and analysis) but essential' (1984, 156). . . .

    "Due to the pervasiveness of an audience-oriented inventional strategy in the history of rhetoric, numerous analytic methods have been developed over the years to aid the rhetor in this hermeneutic task. From Aristotle's early efforts to categorize audience responses to George Campbell's attempts at engaging the findings of faculty psychology to contemporary demographic attempts to apply cognitive psychology, the tradition offers a vast array of tools for audience analysis, each of which relies on some visible criteria in order to determine an audience's beliefs or values.

    "Nevertheless, these efforts to infer attitudes and beliefs from more observable phenomenon present the analyst with a host of difficulties. One of the most sensitive problems is that the results of such analyses frequently end up looking like a politically egregious form of stereotyping (not unlike the practice of racial profiling)."
    (John Muckelbauer, The Future of Invention: Rhetoric, Postmodernism, and the Problem of Change. SUNY Press, 2008)
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