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Junior Research: Audience and Voice



It can be difficult to figure out how much explaining you need to do in a paper.  As long as your teacher doesn't have any rules against it, trying out a draft on a friend can be a good way to get an idea of how clear you've made things.  If your reader has questions or is confused by the paper, you know you probably need to include more explanation.

But if you've provided your reader with too much irrelevant detail, they may get bored.  Ultimately you want a balance between relevancy and coverage.  Try to aim for enough detail and explanation to support the points you make throughout your paper and give your reader a basic understanding of the topic.

Writing for an Audience

Writing can be a little bit like performing, in that you do it for a specific audience and you need to keep that audience in mind as you work, otherwise you might end up with a final product that is completely inappropriate for your audience.

Your Teacher

Technically speaking, your teacher is your audience.  They are the one who will be reading and grading your assignment, so you definitely want to take that into account while writing. But if you focus on your teacher too much, you might leave out some valuable information. 

(Assume your Teacher does not know or understand anything about your topic.)  

If you don't fully and clearly explain your points and all related information, it's going to look like you don't completely understand the topic. Instead of thinking of your teacher as your primary audience, imagine that you're writing to someone intelligent, but who is uneducated in your topic area.  Include enough basic explanation for someone who isn't familiar with the topic to understand.  

Bowie State University

Knowing Your Audience for an Argument

In order to form a convincing argument and a strong stance you have to first know your audience's stance.  Are they undecided or firmly against it?  Knowing your audience's arguments will help you refute them, giving you a chance to present your own. 

This means that in addition to researching arguments for your topic, you also have to be familiar with common arguments for the opposite side.  This will allow you to gather research to combat the opposing view.

Texas State Technical College

Putting Yourself in the Reader's (Audience) Position

Putting Yourself in the Reader's Position

Instead of reading your draft as if you wrote it and know what you meant, try reading it as if you have no previous knowledge of the material. Have you explained enough? Are the connections clear? This can be hard to do at first. Consider using one of the following strategies:

  • Take a break from your work—go work out, take a nap, take a day off. This is why the Writing Center and your instructors encourage you to start writing more than a day before the paper is due. If you write the paper the night before it’s due, you make it almost impossible to read the paper with a fresh eye.
  • Try outlining after writing—after you have a draft, look at each paragraph separately. Write down the main point for each paragraph on a separate sheet of paper, in the order you have put them. Then look at your “outline”—does it reflect what you meant to say, in a logical order? Are some paragraphs hard to reduce to one point? Why? This technique will help you find places where you may have confused your reader by straying from your original plan for the paper.
  • Read the paper aloud—we do this all the time at the Writing Center, and once you get used to it, you’ll see that it helps you slow down and really consider how your reader experiences your text. It will also help you catch a lot of sentence-level errors, such as misspellings and missing words, which can make it difficult for your reader to focus on your argument.

These techniques can help you read your paper in the same way your reader will and make revisions that help your reader understand your argument. Then, when your instructor finally reads your finished draft, he or she won’t have to fill in any gaps. The more work you do, the less work your audience will have to do—and the more likely it is that your instructor will follow and understand your argument.

Audience Handout - Writing Center UNC-Chapel Hill

Active and Passive Voice (University of British Columbia)

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Voice in Writing

Active vs. Passive Voice

Active Voice If a sentence is written using the active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action expressed by the verb. 

  • Example: John wrote the essay.
  • Example: Christine plays basketball.

Passive Voice If a sentence is written using the passive voice, an action is performed upon the subject of the sentence. 

  • Example: The essay was written by John.
  • Example: Basketball is played by Christine.

The active voice is generally preferred in academic writing, so it should be used throughout most essays. Using the active voice tends to make sentences more clear and less wordy. This becomes particularly important in longer sentences. Using the active voice allows for writing to be less wordy, and this makes for better writing.

There are exceptions when the passive voice is used, such as when the noun performing the action is obvious, unimportant, or unknown. This is because using the passive voice draws attention to the action itself rather than the noun performing the action. For instance, the passive voice is often used in scientific writing, such as in lab reports, where the emphasis is placed on the action.

  • Example: “A successful operation was performed” may be preferable to “The doctor performed a successful operation” because it highlights the operation itself, rather than the doctor.

Either way, all writers should be aware of the differences between the active voice and the passive voice and use the appropriate one for any given assignment. When in doubt, use the active voice.

Aims Community College

Quick & Easy Comparisons Between Active & Passive Voice

Active Voice Passive Voice
The active voice is used when the subject performs the action. The passive voice is used when the action is performed on the subject.
The man caught the fish. The fish was caught by the man.
I drove my car on the road. The car was driven on the road by me.
The student wrote with a pencil. A pencil was used to write the paper.
The man watched the movie. The movie was watched by the man.

Framingham State University