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My Audience

As I note in my essay on Convocation, one of the important things I try to teach my Tutorial students (and other students) about writing is that you need to pay attention to your audience. You write very differently to an expert and non-expert. You write very differently to a peer and to someone with authority over you. And you certainly write differently to different age groups. Too often, students seem to think that their only audience is their instructor. So I try to make sure that my students think about who the audience is for each paper they write.

Of course, if I ask my students to think about their audience, I should also think about my audience.

At first, I planned this series of essays to be primarily for prospective students and their parents. After all, the series was inspired by a conversation with a prospective parent and by email questions from prospective students. However, since I’m ranting about things like Posse, student workload, and the recent draft framework, I’m probably undermining some of the things I say to that audience. Still, a few of the essay are clearly intended for that audience. A few more are intended for prospective faculty (or will be, if I ever get around to writing them.)

I’ve also found that a fairly unpredictable group of people are reading these essays – friends from college, Grinnell students who I don’t know, faculty who seem to have indirect connections to me, and more. (It doesn’t seem like President Kington is reading them, or at least he hasn’t sent me any comments.) Am I writing for those audiences? Maybe. I don’t think so, since I don’t really know who those audiences are. Or perhaps I am, in that I’m writing for Grinnellians and friends, or something like that.

In many ways, I’m primarily writing these essays for myself. Writing provides me with a way to think through some important (and not-so-important) issues. Certainly, when I write about things I love about Grinnell and about computer science, it’s nice to dig through my brain to find positives and to help myself better understand what I do with my career. And when I write rants about campus events, I do so partly to find my opinions on those events. But we usually assume that our audience will read what we write. Will I read these again? I don’t know. If so, I’ll probably be as embarassed by them as I am by code I wrote a long time ago.

In some sense, I’m writing these for my children, although that was not my original intent. In that instance, the goal is not so much to convey content, but rather to document how their father thought about things. (Boy, that’s morbid. But I do know that I appreciate having some of mom’s writings around. And while my youngest will probably learn way too much about me by reading my code, the other two would probably prefer text. And don’t worry; I don’t plan on going anywhere any time soon.) The forthcoming essays about things I enjoy probably fit into this particular category, although those are also intended for a general audience, since I’d like others to share in these enthusiasms.

I’m not sure that I’ve answered my question. Or perhaps I have. Although I tell my students that they should usually write to an audience, it is clearly not always necessary to write to an audience. In then end, it seems that I’m writing to write.

Version 1.0 of 2016-04-28