By: John Burkett
Editor’s Note: John Burkett is Instructor of Rhetoric and Composition and Director of the Writing Center at SEBTS. He is a nice fellow who also has keen mind and pen. We at BtT invited him to write a follow-up to Bruce Ashford’s series, “On Disciplined Reading.” This is the third installment of three.
Writing Praxis 101: Audience-Message-Author.
Given our Christian confession (or “foundation,” for those who prefer a modernist term), what can we say about communication and more particularly about the symbolic action we call writing? When we gain a Christian perspective-attitude for writing, we “necessarily” transform our view of the three elements in any rhetorical situation, consisting of audience, message, and author.
First, as writers we become more concerned with audience, like the Apostle Paul was concerned with audience and shaped his message to his audience. Second, we become more concerned with the truth of our message, like the Apostle John loved the truth and took care to present words well (clearly, validly, winsomely) so that he would encourage God’s “children walking in truth.” Third, “you” as an author embark on a never-ending adventure that transforms who you are as you consider audience and message, like Luke’s adventure in the book of Acts. For, as Garrison Keillor has observed, “Writing is a means of discovery, always.” Discovery (classical “rhetorical invention”) means that writing is a thinking tool for generating ideas, ideas that shape not only our message and perhaps an audience but also the author. Since writing is a thinking tool that affects an author’s sanctity, many consider writing to be a “spiritual” discipline.
I would like to emphasize that writing can be a fun activity because it’s a social experience–communication in community. Writing can be a “fun discipline” if we keep in mind that we have an audience who cares about us and our thought life. This audience is our “dialogic self” (we are our own first reader), our God (the ever-present “super-addressee”), our direct audience if any (whom we directly address), and an indirect audience (someone we imagine who may read our work, such as a respected parent, brother, sister, mentor, or friend). For this reason, I suggest to my writing students that they should not write for the professor (because that is a recipe for mediocrity) but write instead for “someone whom you respect,” someone with whom you would not mind sharing your work. Awareness of audience transforms writing from a mere “assignment” or “recording data” into “expression” and even “communication” because we are participating in a meaningful social dialogue.
Questions Concerning Audience.
Are you (un)concerned about grammatical correctness? Then be more concerned with audience, and you will find the “strange” motivation to learn the conventions of written communication. Are you (un)concerned with clarity, concision, and style? Then be more concerned with audience and how your words will affect your audience, and you will find a clear and appropriate form for your sentences and message. Are you (un)concerned about your audience? Then be more concerned about your ever-present “super-addressee” or your respected “indirect audience.” “Above all, write unto others as you would have others write unto you.”
While not writing a handbook (for they are plentiful), I have sought to outline some helpful strategies for the “discipline of writing,” which I hope helps you become a more confident and competent writer who enjoys clear, precise, and correct prose.
A follow-up article may arrive later (discussing Christian perspectives of message and author). As always, I invite you to contact me in the Writing Center at Southeastern with your specific questions about writing.