Author Archives: lbauknight

Reverse Engineering an Audience

Week 3 Post

 No matter how often I read about it, discuss it, try to teach it to various writing students, I never get tired of thinking/hearing/talking about audience. I tell my students every semester that if they learn only one thing in whatever class I’m teaching, I hope it will be something about audience—something about trying to think about and address the readers/listeners/viewers they will be trying to inform/move/persuade/impress with their texts.

The various things we’ve read thus far about the rhetorical situation (Bitzer and Vatz), user-friendliness and -centeredness (Johnson), and audience (Lunsford & Ede, Cooper, and Blakeslee) have led me to an assignment that I hope will help students see the value in thinking about audience—not just as an analytical tool for consuming texts, but also as a regular part of their own writing processes.

I plan on developing this assignment for our presentations on Thursday. For now, here’s an outline:

Assignment: Reverse Engineering

1. I will provide students with three images (subway and bus stop posters that are now also online) that make up a provocative public relations campaign. We will view these in class and discuss them briefly.

 2. I’ll put the class in small groups (of three or four people).

 3. I’ll ask each group to investigate, by working backwards from the PSAs, the rhetorical exigence that led to the campaign. I will ask each group to find, if not a single cause, at least the series of events that might have induced the organization behind the ads to act.

 4. From this investigation, I’ll ask each group to speculate about the original target audience for the campaign.

 5. Lastly, each group will produce a report (this could be text only or text and presentation software) that explains its investigation and the conclusions it has drawn.

 As I said, I’ll have specifics about this on Thursday.


getting centered

 In the wake of our reading about and discussion of variously “-centered” ways of thinking about technology, design, and use, I think a collaborative assignment asking students to find and write about examples of each of the three that Johnson presents might be interesting:


In his book, Johnson explains “system-centered” and “user-centered” views of technology. And in class, we have talked about the differences between these two terms and between them and the “user-friendly” view. We have also discussed how these views of technology relate to the rhetorical situation.

For this collaborative assignment, you and your group are to find at least one example of each of the following:

  • a technology product or service that seems to have been designed from a system-centered point of view;
  • a technology product or service that seems to have been designed from a user-friendly point of view;
  • and a technology product or service that seems to have been designed from a user-centered point of view.

 After you have found your examples, you should write a brief (300-words or so) report on each example in which you:

  • describe the product or service;
  • explain why your group identifies it as either system centered, user friendly, or user centered;
  • and explain how the rhetorical concepts of audience and purpose can be brought to bear on the product or service.


On another note, I read an interesting book review that some of you might like: