Assessment throughout the semester is layered across different audiences, which include the instructor, classmates, team members, and the individuals with whom students interact with during field work. The following categories for audiences can help us think through issues of quality and effectiveness. These categories are taken from Richard Johnson Sheehan's Technical Communication Today.
Leonardo da Vinci, Brain physiology, c.
This is the audience who takes action or otherwise responds to a document’s argument. The primary audience for a television commercial is the desired demographic, for instance, hipsters looking for a new stereo. With respect to this course, the primary audience is often those individuals interested or invested in the science that students are reporting. They might have a range of expertise and knowledge. They are also those individuals who seek out unique and multimedia content. Note: a primary audience is never simply “anybody who might read or view or listen to a story.”
These are audiences with whom the primary audience consults or asks for expert advice. The secondary audience for a television commercial advertising a new stereo might be a hipster’s friend who has recently purchased a new stereo or who has expert knowledge of stereos. Secondary audiences vary and are multiple, and for this project includes anyone with whom the primary audience might consult or share the story.
This is an audience, while neither targeted nor consulted, that has an interest in the project, subject matter, or media. A tertiary audience for a television commercial could be a media studies professor examining trends in the marketing of electronics or a cultural studies professor interested in hipster culture. Tertiary audiences for student projects might be the scientists who were consulted, political operatives, other science writing or new media writing courses, and, even, university officials.
A gatekeeper is typically someone in a supervisory or advisory role within an organization. They are often in a position to decide whether the document or story goes public or not. Again, in the example of the television commercial the gatekeeping audience might include the stereo company’s general legal counsel (what claims can or can’t the commercial make) or the advertising firm’s market researcher (what The Shins song should be playing during the commercial). In this course, the instructor serves this role, but team members likewise act as gatekeepers for any collaboratively produced document.
It is important to remember that these are not static designations. While the instructor is a gatekeeping audience for any story or document (e.g., interview plan) produced by students, he is the primary audience for any report or work log. In the case of Field Journals, fellow group members are often tertiary audiences (interested in who is taking credit for what). Audiences are necessarily complex: the above categories are a way to conceptualize audiences each and every time one sets out to communicate.