“Research shows that, in order to adapt their writing for different purposes, students need to develop the ability to analyze audience expectations and to analyze how genres function rhetorically.” (Suzanne Lane) What do you mean I have to “analyze my audience’s expectations?” I know what they expect… they expect to read what I’ve written. This was my initial reaction to the idea of rhetorical awareness in my writing. If any of you are at all similar to me you have probably experienced the same feelings of frustration I did when first confronted with this issue. Sometimes, as student or young professionals entering the working world, we millennials can overlook the subtleties involved with written communication.
Susanne Sweat says, “Rhetorical awareness is understanding that successfully fulfilling the purpose of your writing is dependent on your ability to anticipate and address the needs of your audience.” While this definition may sound very similar to user-centered design, rhetorical awareness is more geared towards the the purpose and context surrounding the need to write than tailoring your writing to the needs and desires of the reader. I completely understand if you are sitting there saying these ARE the same things and wondering what the heck I am talking about. It’s perfectly okay if that is the case! I was there too and the more confused I got the more frustrated I got. But don’t stress! We can overcome this obstacle and prevent future frustration with the help of a couple, simple guidelines.
Every time you sit down to write, whether that be at you new job or for a class in school, consider the rhetorical situation before you begin writing. What is the rhetorical situation? That’s a good question, one that I asked myself not too long ago. The rhetorical situation is made up of three factors, the purpose of the document you are writing, who is the audience that will read the document, and what is the context the document is needed in.
What is the purpose of the document you are about to write? What is the Goal of this specific communication, why is is being written?
Who will read this document? Who will use this document in their work and refer back to it? Who will your intended readers share this document with that you may not have intended to read it?
Why is this document needed in the first place? What is the background of the situation that transpired leading up to the formation of this document or communication?
By considering these three elements before you even begin to write and understanding “how different types of messages construct different types of knowledge” (rhetorical goals) you will be able to more effectively communicate the purpose of your document to the reader. But, just like many other things, rhetorical awareness can be even more effective if it is considered while also keeping in mind the principles of user-centered design. Don’t get me wrong, both techniques are surely effective separately, I have just found in my personal experience that when combined, these two techniques can be extraordinarily effective in written communication!
Again, at this point I would surely be asking how I could possibly accomplish this and I’m sure many of you are too. The answer lies in careful, patient practice. By integrating the elements on user centered design (all about the reader) with the elements of rhetorical awareness (purpose and context) you will be far more effective in your written communications. I also found that once I started to integrate both of these elements into my writing I met with far less friction and inefficiency in the process of communication.
I hope these pointers have been as helpful for you as they were for me! Best of luck in your future writing fellow millennials!