Writers must balance the needs and uses of different audiences, the target audience, the bullseye audience, and the editorial audience.
Most writing involves three primary audiences, the target audience, the bullseye audience and the technical audience. Each audience is important, but sometimes the relationships between the different audiences can be problematic. The trick for the writer is to balance those relationships while also creating something that the writer needs out of the process.
Defining the Audiences
A target audience and bullseye audience are what the seem to be. The target audience is the group that is likely to be interested in the essay, the group the writer would like to reach and have a fairly strong influence upon. The bullseye audience is the much smaller group, those the writer should be able to reach most directly and most strongly. Reaction within this group should be almost precisely what the writer desires. If not, the writing has a serious problem.
The technical audience is the person or group that will be judging the writing primarily based upon a specific format or style sheet. In school, that’s the teacher. For most working writers, the technical audience is an editor. Unless the editor is pleased, the target audience will never get a chance to read the essay.
The Use and Role of Audiences
All too often, the writer’s thinking is dominated by the technical audience, especially in school. Unfortunately, when the technical audience is dominant, creativity is often stifled. That makes it essential to focus, at least for part of the process, on the bullseye audience since that’s the audience the writer should feel most comfortable with.
If necessary, the writer should think of one known person who represents the bullseye audience and write with that person in mind, even using the person’s name if it helps. Any problematic material can be cut later, but first the writer has to get the ideas on paper and find a tone that works for the desired audience.
The down side of writing for a bullseye audience is that inside jokes and similar material may slip past the rest of the audience. Make sure to do a revision specifically looking for such material and either cutting it or rewriting so that it works for a wider audience.
The final revision and editing is where the writer needs to focus on the technical audience to make sure the required formatting terms are met. While writing may have rules, there are numerous areas where it’s really a matter of preference. Magazines often have set styles, and both teachers and editors often have not only preferences but idiosyncrasies that need to be met when known. Perhaps they don’t have to be met to keep the universe in order, but they need to be met to get the higher grade or get accepted for publication.
Resolving Conflicts Between the Writer and Audiences
Being a writer can be an ego-inflating process, and a certain degree of ego may well be necessary, but there are always times when the writer should defer to the story or the audience. Writing for children makes the issue clear. It’s rather difficult for a 40 year old writer to avoid either writing down to a young audience or writing too far over the audience’s head. Know the audience, and respect the audience.
It’s unlikely that any writer can write for all audiences or in all styles. Sometimes a particular magazine may have a style sheet that is simply too far out of sync with a writer’s thinking and writing. It’s not necessarily a quality issue, but a writer must know when to walk away and resist the temptation. Trying to prove an editor wrong is rarely worth the wear and tear.
More often, there will be just enough difference between the writer and the technical audience to create non-creative irritation. (Some irritation enhances creative, some types or levels do not.) In such situations, a “writer’s draft” can be a wonderful release. The writer’s draft is likely to be the next to last version, and it’s where the writer writes to please no one else. Get it all out here. Play, exaggerate, laugh, and make fun of the technical audience if necessary.
Save a copy of that draft because it may prove useful for some other audience, and the writer’s draft should never be treated as merely an exercise. It may well be a better piece of writing than the one submitted, just not one that’s going to get published in that venue. After the writer’s draft, with all the psychological, writer-ego needs met, do the “teacher’s draft” or “editor’s draft”. Then give thanks for computers since they make this kind of extended revision so much easier than the typewriter days that some writers still remember.