Assign Writing for Alternative Audiences (not you!)

Time required: Varies

Grading: Varies

Disciplines: All

Why:  Asking students to write to someone besides the instructor builds skill in rhetorical thinking within and across disciplines

How:  When designing a writing assignment, specify the audience that students should be writing for. Choices of audience include:

  • A naïve audience, with the student writer playing the role of expert relative to the audience (the subject of a previous tip: Explain To…
  • A puzzled audience with skeptical tendencies: Writer and reader are on equal footing confronting a shared question or problem.  For example:
    • Does Hamlet change in the last act? Write to classmates who are apt to be skeptical of your answer.
  • A resistant or hostile audience: The writer is addressing an audience with well-formed opposing views.  For example:
    • Explain the role and importance of carbohydrates in the body to a relative who has adopted a carbohydrate-free diet.
  • An interested but uninformed professional audience: Asking students to write to professionals in a field encourages them to think and write like professionals rather than students.  For example:
    • Require that lab reports be written in the form of professional papers for interested practicing scientists (with appropriate scaffolding on the parts of a scientific paper)

From Engaging Ideas by John C. Bean, pp. 42-45, and The Elements of Teaching Writing by Katherine Gottschalk and Keith Hjortshoj, pp. 35-38