A Lesson in Writing for my Audience

By Jasleena Grewal

“I love you, too, boo boo!”

My best friend, Natasha, is disgusted as I bid a romantic farewell to my boyfriend over the phone.

“Eww, that is just not like you! Why don’t you speak to me like you speak to him?” she says with a teasing smile.

My answer is that she is my best friend, not my boyfriend. My best friend and my boyfriend are just two of the many different audiences that I communicate with on a daily basis. Just as I play different roles as communicator in my personal life, I play different roles as a writer. Adjusting the way I communicate is dependent on my audience. Becoming a flexible communicator is a skill that I am continuing to develop, especially in my academic life.

As an Environmental Science major, I am constantly writing research papers. However, I have been slow to accept that my audience for most of my time at school, and in my career, will probably be scientists. During my sophomore year at UW Bothell, I learned my lesson the hard way. It was my first time taking a Research Writing class. The first assignment was to research an environmental topic of our choice, and present our research to the class. I was brewing with ideas to write about. Unfortunately, none of them pertained to environmental research. I knew I had to report back to a class and a professor focused on current environmental issues, but I was under the misconception that as long as I wrote a well-written paper, they’d like it even if it wasn’t geared toward my audience.

My passion at the time was the mafia underbelly of the Bollywood industry in India. I was determined to spark the same passion in my classmates. I will stand by the fact that I wrote a great research paper on my far-fetched topic, but what environmental scientist cares about mafia conspiracy in Bollywood cinema? As I presented my research to the class, I felt that I was not being taken very seriously. After receiving a horrible grade, I realized how important writing for a specific audience is. If I continued to pay no mind to my audience’s interests, focus, and needs as readers, I wouldn’t get very far in my field.

After my embarrassing experience in the Research Writing class, I began to focus on my development as a research writer. Within the Environmental Science field, I experienced different audiences. For example, in one of my classes I was required to write a soil analysis report for a public farm space. I knew my report would be read by farm officials, so I focused on writing in a more professional tone than I would if I was writing the report for only my classmates. However, I knew that for those of my classmates who were not as well versed in the science of soil, I needed to keep my writing clear and jargon-free. At that point, I knew my writing had matured, and it wasn’t all about me anymore. I learned that I have to be consistently aware of my tone and achieving a purpose which is relevant and tailored for other people. Keeping this in mind has helped me to engage my readers from diverse backgrounds.

Effectively communicating for specific audiences is a skill that is immensely valuable not only in my academic life, but also in my personal life. A few days after Natasha condemned me for cooing at my boyfriend, I called her up to hang out. I sweetly said, “What do you want to do today, cupcake?” She retorted, “Eww, you are not supposed to speak to me that way.”

I thought to myself, exactly.

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