Audience Analysis in Speech and Composition

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In the preparation of a speech or a composition, audience analysis is the process of determining the values, interests, and attitudes of the intended or projected listeners or readers.

Karl Terryberry notes that "successful writers tailor their messages . . . to the needs and values of the audience. . . . Defining the audience helps writers set communication goals" (Writing for the Health Professions, 2005).

Examples and Observations of Audience Analysis

  • "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)

Audience Analysis in Business Writing

  • "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 peopleand 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)
  • "Audience analysis is always a central task in document planning. In most cases, you discover that you must address multiple audiences with varied reasons for using your document. Some will need help getting started; others will want to use the product at advanced levels . . ..
    "When you have pictured the users of your document and their motives and goals, you are better able to organize information to be most helpful to your audience." (James G. Paradis and Muriel L. Zimmerman, The MIT Guide to Science and Engineering Communication, 2nd ed. The MIT Press, 2002)

Audience Analysis in Composition

"[A]n audience analysis guide sheet can be an effective intervention tool for student writers. The worksheet that follows can be used for this purpose, even when students are using new media.

  1. Who is my audience? Who do I want my audience to be? What knowledge about the subject does my audience already have?
  2. What does my audience think, believe, or understand about this topic before he or she reads my essay?
  3. What do I want my audience to think, believe, or understand about this topic after he or she reads my essay?
  4. How do I want my audience to think of me? What role do I want to play in addressing my audience?"

(Irene L. Clark, Concepts in Composition: Theory and Practice in the Teaching of Writing, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2012)

Analyzing an Audience in Public Speaking

"You might think about these questions as the who, what, where, when, and whys of audience interaction:

  • Who is in this audience?
  • What opinions does your audience already have about the topic you are presenting?
  • Where are you addressing the audience? What things about the context or occasion might influence your audience members' interest and dispositions?
  • When are you addressing the audience? This is not just a matter of the time of day, but also why your topic is timely for the audience.
  • Why would your audience be interested in your topic? Why should these people make a particular judgment, change their minds, or take a specific action? In other words, how does your goal intersect with their interests, concerns, and aspirations?

This analysis will help you figure out how to make effective choices in your speech."
(William Keith and Christian O. Lundberg, Public Speaking: Choice and Responsibility, 2nd. ed. Wadsworth, 2016)

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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Nordquist, Richard. "Audience Analysis in Speech and Composition." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Audience Analysis in Speech and Composition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Audience Analysis in Speech and Composition." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).