Like the conversations you have with people, it’s not just the message that matters, it’s also the audience. Keep that same consideration in mind as you write your term paper and ask yourself “who’s reading this” and “what message do I want them to receive?” And remember, it’s a person that reads and grades your paper—not a robot, computer or answer key—so tailor your writing to your specific (human) audience.
Identifying your audience
Your paper will likely be presented to a diverse audience from professors and teaching assistants to classmates or peers, with each group having its own unique way of interpreting your research. The Purdue Online Writing Lab’s article titled Identifying an Audience explains, “It is perhaps helpful to approach the audience of a research paper in the same way one would when preparing for an oral presentation. Often, one changes her style, tone, diction, etc., when presenting to different audiences. So it is with writing a research paper.”
In Schaum’s Quick Guide to Writing Great Research Papers, author Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D. explains that in order to adapt your term paper to your particular audience, you should ask yourself the following questions:
Who will be reading my research paper?
How much do my readers know about my topic at this point?
What is the basis of the information they have? (e.g. reading, personal experience)
How does my audience feel about the topic? Are they neutral, hostile, enthusiastic, or somewhere in between?
Tailoring your writing
Your decided audience will determine what types of sources are appropriate to use in your research paper. Rozakis suggests, “For a source to make the final cut, it has to fit with your audience, purpose, and tone. It must be appropriate to your paper.”
An article from Dartmouth College’s Writing Program called What is an academic paper? explains the importance of beginning a term paper with your audience in mind. “In the college classroom, the audience is usually the professor or your classmates – although occasionally your professor will instruct you to write for a more particular or more general audience. No matter who your reader is, you will want to consider him carefully before you start to write.” It suggests asking yourself this varied set questions:
What do you know about your reader and his stance towards your topic?
Moreover, what effect do you hope to have on the reader?
Is your aim to be controversial? Informative? Entertaining?
Will the reader appreciate or resent your intention?
Writing for instructors
Often your professors and teaching assistants will have a general understanding of the topic that you are researching. Despite this, some professors ask that students write as if an outsider were reading the term paper. Other times, professors will ask that students not waste time with general summarization of the topic and break straight into personal research and discoveries. If you are unsure which approach your professor prefers, ask them so you know you’re heading in the right direction. Professional, well-organized research that is correctly cited is the way to impress your professors and any teaching assistants that may be grading your term paper.
Writing for peers
Sometimes you may be asked to write a term paper with your classmates or other peers as your primary audience. Laurie Rozakis suggests that even when you are writing for someone you would consider to be on your own skill level, you should still write in a formal, unbiased tone. She says to makes sure that, “the writing won’t condescend to its audience, insult them, or lecture them.” This will ensure that your peers take your research seriously and put appropriate consideration into their reviews. Don’t waste your peers’ time by adding unnecessary “fluff” to your research paper. They will know when they see it and likely find your efforts to be less credible.
Studies in the textbook Hearing Ourselves Think: Cognitive Research in the College Writing Classroom indicate that knowing how to write a term paper requires remembering your target audience throughout the entire term paper process. “Experienced writers considered the audience’s needs before and during revision; inexperienced writers often thought about the audience’s needs, but typically in the midst of revision lost track of their goals for the audience.”
An academic term paper that is written from start to finish with your target audience in mind is far more likely to be well-received. Remembering that your instructors and your peers may have different expectations of your research presentation will result in a term paper that your readers are engaged in and eager to review.
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