How do writers develop the skills needed to write for an audience? How can we best analyze audience perspectives, motivations, values, and concerns? And, in turn, how do we successfully address these audience characteristics in our compositions? Which forms, styles, and tones will be most appropriate for our particular audience?

While there are no final answers to any of these questions, we can certainly see that our answers get better — more precise and effective — as we practice writing for an audience and participating in the reciprocal experience of hearing back from them. What would the developmental stages for this look like?

Initial: Learners may not express their ideas well in writing; they may make frequent language and mechanical errors, lack organization, and misjudge the expectations of their audience.

Emerging: Learners make fewer language and mechanical errors, demonstrate basic organization, and show some awareness of audience expectations.

Developing: Learners make few errors and produce a well-organized piece of writing that largely addresses audience expectations.

Proficient: Learners express themselves clearly and accurately in writing, using forms, style, language, and tone appropriate for their audience.

An effective learning environment encourages this development by helping learners to produce writing in a variety of formats, chosen by learners and intended for a real-world audience. Additionally we must consider the context and purpose for writing, which entails considerations of audience, purpose, and the circumstances surrounding the writing task(s). Developmental stages for this process might take the following form:

  1. Demonstrates minimal attention to context, audience, purpose, and to the assigned tasks(s) (e.g., expectation of instructor or self as audience).
  2. Demonstrates awareness of context, audience, purpose, and to the assigned tasks(s) (e.g., begins to show awareness of audience’s perceptions and assumptions).
  3. Demonstrates adequate consideration of context, audience, and purpose and a clear focus on the assigned task(s) (e.g., the task aligns with audience, purpose, and context).
  4. Demonstrates a thorough understanding of context, audience, and purpose that is responsive to the assigned task(s) and focuses all elements of the work.

Naturally, genre and disciplinary conventions come into play here, each with their own sets of formal and informal rules inherent in the expectations for writing in particular forms and/or academic fields. Again, learners will demonstrate diverse levels of capacity in this area, along a continuum such as this:

  1. Attempts to use a consistent system for basic organization and presentation.
  2. Follows expectations appropriate to a specific discipline and/or writing task(s) for basic organization, content, and presentation.
  3. Demonstrates consistent use of important conventions particular to a specific discipline and/or writing task(s), including organization, content, presentation, and stylistic choices.
  4. Demonstrates detailed attention to and successful execution of a wide range of conventions particular to a specific discipline and/or writing task(s) including organization, content, presentation, formatting, and stylistic choices.

Similarly, control of syntax and mechanics will play a primary role in writing, and we would expect to see a continuum of skill:

  1. Uses language that sometimes impedes meaning because of errors in usage.
  2. Uses language that generally conveys meaning to readers with clarity, although writing may include some errors.
  3. Uses straightforward language that generally conveys meaning to readers. The language has few errors.
  4. Uses graceful language that skillfully communicates meaning to readers with clarity and fluency, and is virtually error-free.

Adapted from Valid assessment of learning in undergraduate education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from