Thursday, May 9, 2013

Understanding the Target Audience

When writing any kind of article, an author is confronted with numerous problems. First, he must analyze his prospective audience. Understanding one’s audience is the key to writing an article that reaches the greatest number of people. So the success of his article depends on the success of his analysis. This article details the evolution of the universe from the Big Bang to present time. Realizing his article would be detailing a basic subject of astronomy, the author continually used appositives, participial phrases, and relative clauses to define a term or action. While there are certain negative side effects to this style, it also successfully produces the helpful tone of a guide for the reader as he makes his way through the article.
What different activity systems could this text function within? This is the key step for the author in determining how he would approach writing the article. The publishing website features research results and observations made by astronomers worldwide. Simply looking at the front page of the articles publishing website,, it is easy to tell that the site is geared mostly towards curious stargazers and amateur astronomers. But some of the readers might be seriously intrigued by astronomy, while still others might be younger children who would be turned away if they were to know the reading level of the article is suitable for a 12th grader. However, the score is inflated by the presence of long terms introduced to familiarize the reader with words that are common in the field of astronomy or astrophysics. In fact, many of the words and their respective definitions are required to gain an understanding of the information presented. Anyone who already understands the terms presented has no need to access this article for reading purposes in the first place. It could also be accessed by an educator of some sort searching for an introductory article for a group of beginning students, in which case the educator would be responsible for choosing an appropriate article. Besides the average astronomer, this article would be most appropriate for students early in high school.
            The barrage of information the author throws at the reader begins to feel cumbersome after a while, a feeling that might detach anyone reading the article. Such an influx of information could prove difficult for a new or inexperienced astronomer to absorb, regardless of the grade level he reads at. Because the article, by its nature, has to include numerous definitions and explanations to fulfill its goal, the author used a mix of appositives, relative clauses, and participial phrases to relay information. While appositives normally contain information that disrupts the flow of ideas, the author of this article used them in a way to reach the largest possible audience. The author says, “protons and neutrons collided to make deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen,” the latter part of which is an appositive, and later uses a relative clause: “during the epoch of reionization...which lasted more than a half-billion years...” The continual use of these sentence-combining strategies makes the article information-heavy but also very accessible. There are plenty of numbers, facts, and definitions for the reader to take in, but due to the simplistic writing style, it doesn’t take the reader much time to understand the basic information of the article.
            In addition to an abundance of appositives and participial phrases, the author frequently uses the passive voice. While it makes the article boring, the passive voice is the best to use for relaying information. For example, the author says, “...the universe was filled with neutrons...,” “...the universe was essentially too hot for light to shine,” and “the universe was plunged into darkness...” Using the passive voice is a way for the author to be assured that he is being as clear as possible in explaining the facts. But the author can’t make assumptions about the reader’s prior understanding, so he makes every effort to explain something that might be misunderstood. The article is broken into sections for the reader’s sake, further simplifying the structure and formality of the article. And even when the text might bring up questions from the reader, the author includes a link to another article that could help to answer the reader's question.
            The style of plain language used in this article is best suited for introductory topics where the reader expects to be faced with numerous terms and definitions prior to even reading it.    
But this style must be used cautiously. For example, it wouldn’t be suitable for an article detailing a more advanced astronomy topic. The target audience would be different, perhaps scholars or scientists who already understand even the advanced terms; therefore, the writing style necessary for it to be successful would change as well. The reader shouldn’t expect any creative styles from articles similar to this one. But the author must also do his best job to attach the reader to the article. This raises a few important questions. How wide of an audience is the author responsible for reaching? How accepting must the reader be to a boring or cumbersome article? And in what ways can the author make accommodations to the reader to help answer any further questions? Of course, the answer to those questions depends on the target audience, which in turn depends on the topic of the article being written.
            This shows that using plain language offers a wide variety of ways to write simply and to reach a wide audience. The author of this article, by using a slew of appositives, relative clauses, and the passive voice, has used a foolproof way of using plain language to deliver information to the widest variety of readers. While it does make a boring read or an information-heavy article, it is a successful way of delivering information. This style is only one of many that uses plain language, and each different style serves its own particular purpose. 

By: Ethan B

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