Most of us would agree that talking is easier than writing. For one thing, most of us talk more often than we write—usually many times in the course of a single day—and so get more practice. For another, we get more help from people to whom we speak face to face than from those to whom we write. We see by their facial expressions whether or not listeners understand us, need more or less information, or are pleased with our words. Our own facial and body expressions help us communicate as well. Finally, our listening audiences tend to be more tolerant of the way we talk than our reading audiences are of the way we write: nobody sees my spelling or punctuation when I talk, and nobody calls me on the carpet when, in casual conversation, I miss an occasional noun-verb agreement or utter fragment sentences.

However, writing does certain things better than speaking. If you miswrite,you can always rewrite and catch your mistake before someone else notices it. If you need to develop a complex argument, writing affords you the time and space to do so. If you want your words to have the force of law, writing makes a permanent record to be reread and studied in your absence. And if you want to maintain a certain tone or coolness of demeanor, this can be accomplished more easily in writing than in face-to-face confrontations.

Perhaps the greatest problem for writers, at least on the conscious level, concerns the audience who will read their writing: What do they already know? What will they be looking for? What are their biases, values, and assumptions? How can I make sure they understand me as I intend for them to? College instructors are the most common audience for college writing; they make the assignments and read and evaluate the results. Instructors make especially difficult audiences because they are experts in their subject and commonly know more about it than you do. Though you may also write for other audiences such as yourself or classmates, your primary college audience remains the instructor who made the assignment. The remainder of this chapter will examine the nature of the audiences for whom you most commonly write in academic settings.

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