Creating an ‘audience’ for EFL writing

For writing, a key concept is that of audience – how writers adjust their message to suit the (often imagined) audience. For example, a scientist, writing about their area of expertise, may adjust their language depending upon whether they are writing for a general science magazine or a specialized journal. Certain disciplines also often have their preferred style.

While this may be relevant for those students moving into EAP contexts, the problem with many EFL writing contexts, whose goal in studying English may not be as clearly defined and where a writing task may form a class activity or be set for homework, is that the ‘audience’ is often unclear: who, exactly, are they writing to and what is the purpose of the writing task? Many students often view the task as a ‘display task’ for the teacher, leading to often torturous use of as many different grammatical choices as possible, or a ‘learning task’, where every second word has been taken from dictionary entries with little focus on grammaticality at all. Neither approach is, of course, beneficial (or usually comprehensible).

One solution might be to use the members of the class itself and get students to write to each other. Recently, I’ve put the students into pairs and the task is then to write to each other. In this way, they are more focused on the intended audience, the appropriate lexico-grammatical choices for that student, and on the demands of the task itself. The texts they produce are then swapped with their partner and rated, not on grammaticality but on readability.

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