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Academic Writing About Music: Questions, Strategies, and Resources: Assessing Audience


Assessing Audience: Defining Terms and Providing Context



Audiences with significant musical or contextual knowledge (for example, professional musicologists or musicians)



Questions to Ask

  • What can you assume your reader already knows, and what do you think they do not know?
  • Which terms do you need to define, and how extensive do those definitions need to be?
  • How much background or context do you need to offer so that your reader is informed enough to appreciate your argument?
  • If you are writing for a class, of course your professor is your immediate audience, but is there another implied or secondary audience? For example, are you writing for an audience of informed non-experts? Are you writing a review for music fans? Are you writing for journal editors? Ask your professor.


Think about the writing decisions you make along an

audience spectrum:Arrow

The more your audience knows,

the less you will need to provide context and define terms.

The less your audience knows,

the more you will need to provide context and define terms. 


Strategies to Use

Remember that audience matters. 

Consider that the less familiar a reader is with music as a field, or with the topic, the more definitions and context you need to provide.

  • To decide about context, identify your audience and determine what they already know. Write this out if it helps. 
  • In the case of coursework, consider the implied, secondary audience for your paper. 
  • To decide about defining terms, look at other articles in the publication you’re considering, or in publications targeted to similar audiences. Pay attention to what terms they define and how much context they provide. Pay attention to what definition sentences and context sentences or paragraphs look like: how long are they? What structure do they use?




Audiences with less musical or contextual knowledge (for example, students in the law school, or public audiences)




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