While writing specialists broadly understand that writing helps students learn, we also advocate for writing assignments that prompt students to think rhetorically: how writers use texts to convey meaning appropriate to an audience in a given context. As a part of this conversation, writing specialists talk about the importance of audience, but research in writing studies, including here at Mason, reveals that college writing assignments do not commonly address an audience beyond the instructor, who typically is addressed as an evaluator.
In a recent PLOS blog post, Michelle Juarez contemplates audience and the challenge of communicating scientific knowledge to nonscientific audiences. In order to better cultivate her students’ facility with this challenge, Juarez develops a writing project that prompted her students to adapt one of her academic publications for Frontiers for Young Minds, an open-access journal that publishes academic research for adolescents and teens. She notes the journal’s editorial mission seeks contributions on either a “Core Concept” or a “New Discovery” in science and includes peer reviewers from “age 8 to 15.” Juarez shares her process for working with her students on the project, moving from replicating the research described in the original experimental report to rewriting the report for the new target audience. She believes that this process “inspired student confidence with the research methods, so they could find their own voice during the writing process.” In the end, Juarez reflects that the experience helped her “students think more critically about experimental organization and are now more critical about reading other scientific articles;” she also believes the project taught her “how my words can be improved to help convey the scientific idea.”