Yesterday’s post covered the first three points in the composing process that generate the most anxiety for writers. Each of these mainly had to do with the content of the task.
Today’s post will overview the other two, which have to do with the relationship between the writer and the audience.
Understandably, writers faced with some of the typical academic and professional writing scenarios are nervous about how their audience will receive their composition. Students may be concerned about how well a discussion board post will be received by the class or how a professor will evaluate a paper. Educators may be nervous about sending out an article they’ve written or presenting information to colleagues utilizing a multimedia composition (e.g., a slide show). Also, like it or not, most of us must deal with daily written communication, such as email.
Writers hope their compositions will be well received by their audiences. However, there is often that nagging fear: What if it isn’t viewed positively? What if another student vehemently disagrees with that discussion post, a pesky grammatical error sneaks into a presentation for colleagues, or an email sent to a co-worker comes across as rude?
The anxiety that derives from thinking about audience largely has to do with not knowing who they are. How well can students know all of their classmates, especially in an online class? Will colleagues or co-workers be gracious enough to overlook that grammatical mistake in a presentation or a rude tone in an email? Or are they the type of person who seeks out opportunities to take offense? Although audience will always be something of an unknown factor for writers, there are ways to increase your chances of success, and the more times compositions are well received, the more confident you will become.
Colorado State University succinctly explains how to develop audience awareness for better communication through writing and to lessen the anxiety about how an audience will respond to a composition. Here are some of the tips from their guide:
• Consider how you naturally adjust your speech depending on your audience. You probably use simple sentences and a more informal style with young children than the more complex sentences and formal style you would use when speaking to a professor or colleague. Therefore, do the same with your writing.
• Think about your purpose. Do you only want to express your views or share information with your audience? Are you asking your audience to change their minds about a subject or even to take action?
• Revise and edit with the identity of your audience and purpose clearly in mind. [Here, I think it helps to read your work to yourself, thinking about how you would respond if you were the audience, or ask others to do this for you. Asking another student or co-worker to review a draft before you submit it can be helpful.]
• Avoid making assumptions about your audience. Writers should not assume readers understand all of the terms and professional jargon within a field, for instance, or that the audience has enough background understanding to grasp the significance of what is being shared.
• Analyze your audience. This may involve considering a more in-depth review of who your classmates are, who the members of a professional organization may be, what the needs, values, expectations, and other such audience characteristics may be. [I think it’s also helpful to write this information down for a ready reference guide as you compose, revise, and edit your work.]
If analyzing your audience is new to you, consider using an audience analysis form like this one provided by Michigan State University. Although this does take a bit more time and effort, especially the first few times you consider your audience carefully, it will do much to increase the likelihood of a positive response to your work and increase the success of your writing. Becoming more audience-aware will also get easier with practice.
The final main cause of writing anxiety derives from the fact that it involves self-disclosure and exposure. I remember a beloved elderly relative once telling me how she had burned the journals she had kept from the time she was ten until she had reached her early sixties. When I said I would have loved to have read them, she responded, “That’s exactly why I burned them.”
On some level, most of us share that concern about our audience finding out who we are and what we think. This fear is magnified when we think about the possibility that we may reveal tential for weaknesses to be revealed and that will become permanent knowledge the permanence a composition may have. Kris Johnson, in a post about “The Fear of Writing,” expressed this quite directly. He states:
• Writing is hard work. [Will you be revealed as one who didn’t put much effort into your composition?]
• Every time we write, we take a risk that we are displaying ignorance or lack of intelligence. It’s much easier to just hide.
• Belief that somebody else has written or will write the same thing much better than you can, making your work look bad in comparison.
• Readers might become angry when they read things that are counter to their beliefs.
• Written words are semi-permanent. They outlast the thoughts of the author, creating the possibility that someone will hold you responsible for opinions that you no longer hold.
• Your written words will speak for you when you are absent. Whether they communicate truthfully is dependent both upon your skill with writing them and upon the intelligence and beliefs of the reader. (28 April, 2004)
Within Johnson’s post, there are a few direct and indirect solutions offered that I’ll paraphrase here.
• Practice not only makes perfect, but it also builds confidence. Start with smaller compositions, such as emails and less intense poster presentations. As you gain confidence, work toward the larger writing opportunities that require greater self-disclosure and exposure.
• See writing as a way of learning. Even if someone disagrees with an idea or the way you’ve expressed it, try to learn from it. As Johnson implies, we aren’t born with a head full of perfect, blissful knowledge. Life is a journey of discovery, and writing is a vehicle for traveling through it. Why not share the journey with the extended audience you can reach via your writing, too?
• Be aware that you can “trust the readers. Most readers will treat your writings thoughtfully and respectfully, and there is no reason to be afraid of them.”
• Consider the difference between writing and publishing. Compose to your heart’s content, but don’t share with others until you feel you’ve revised and edited the piece with the audience in mind and to the best of your ability. [Contrary to American pop culture, not every immediate thought or feeling needs to be publicly shared.] (28 April, 2004)
In summation, even the most prolific and dedicated writers share these same feelings of anxiety. Their only secret is that they make use of the techniques shared in these two posts to overcome their fears. Writers also know that where there is great fear, there is also the potential for great reward. Having the courage to put yourself out there via your writing will most likely offer you opportunities that you don’t even know exist.
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