Audience is a rhetorical concept that refers to the individuals and groups that writers attempt to move, inciting them to action or inspiring shifts in attitudes and beliefs. Thinking about audience can help us understand who texts are intended for, or who they are ideally suited for, and how writers use writing to respond to and move those people. While it may not be possible to ever fully “know” one’s audience, writers who are good rhetorical thinkers know how to access and use information about their audiences to make educated guesses about their needs, values, and expectations—hopefully engaging in rhetorically fitting writing practices and crafting and delivering useful texts. In short, to think about audience is to consider how people influence, encounter, and use any given text.
Audience can refer to the actual and imagined people who experience and respond to a text. In their essay, “Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked,” Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford explain the difference between actual and imagined audiences, what they call addressed and invoked audiences.
Addressed audiences are the “actual or intended readers of a text” and they “exist outside the text” (167). These audiences are comprised of actual people who have values, needs, and expectations that the writer must anticipate and respond to in the text. People can identify actual audiences by thinking about where and when a text is delivered, how and where it circulates, and who would or could encounter the text.
On the other hand, invoked audiences are created, perhaps shaped, by a writer. The writer uses language to signal to audiences the kinds of positions and values they are expected to identify with and relate to when reading the text. In this sense, invoked audiences are imagined by the writer and, to some degree, are ideal readers that may or may not share the same positions or values as the actual audience.
- Who is the actual audience for this text and how do you know?
- Who is the invoked audience for the text and where do you see evidence for this in the text?
- What knowledge, beliefs, and positions does the audience bring to the subject-at-hand?
- What does the audience know or not know about the subject?
- What does the audience need or expect from the writer and text?
- When, where, and how will the audience encounter the text and how has the text—and its content—responded to this?
- What roles or personas (e.g., insider/outsider or expert/novice) does the writer create for the audience? Where are these personas presented in the text and why?
- How should/has the audience influenced the development of the text?
Audience, an entry in the Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms, by Richard Nordquist
Consider Your Audience, an entry in Writing Commons, by Joe Moxley
What to Think About When Writing for a Particular Audience, entry in Writing Commons, by Amanda Wray
Ede, Lisa and Andrea Lunsford. “Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 35, no. 2, (May, 1984): 155-171.