Posts Tagged ‘David Risley’

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Warning: No Yelling in the Food Court

posted: 12.8.09 by Traci Gardner

I found an idea in the Problogger post Why Nobody Cares About Your Blog by guest blogger David Risley that you have to try in the classroom. Risley shares this scenario to ask bloggers to think about how they interact with their readers: “If I walked into a crowded mall, went into the food court, stood there in the middle of it and just started talking, what do you think would happen?”

It’s an incredibly simple but quite useful question to ask students struggling with issues of audience and style. Students are likely to understand the original analogy, but you can customize the Food Court Analogy to a Dining Hall Analogy to make it a little closer to campus life if you like.

You can read this passage from the Colorado State University Writing Guide Introduction: Audience to students to focus on the underlying rhetorical principles at play in Risley’s food court analogy:

When we talk to someone face-to-face, we know just who we are talking to. We automatically adjust our speech to be sure we are communicating our message. Many writers don’t make those same adjustments when they write to different audiences, usually because they don’t take the time to think about who will be reading what they write. To be sure that we communicate clearly in writing, we need to adjust our message—how we say to and what information we include—by recognizing that different readers can best understand different messages.

To return to the analogy, someone yelling in the food court is not paying attention to whom he is talking. He’s just yelling at the crowd. There’s no sense of specific listeners (or by extension, readers).

After discussing the food court analogy, ask students to search their writing for indications that they are speaking to, and not at, their audience. Have them imagine they return to the food court, but this time, instead of standing in the middle and yelling at no one in particular, have them focus on their audience by suggesting this scenario:

You’re at the food court, and you sit down at a table with three or four people who are interested in your topic. First, decide who these people are. Jot down a few characteristics about them so that you have your audience firmly in mind before you move on.

Next, think about how you would share the information from your writing with the people at this table. What would they want to hear? What information would they find interesting or convincing? What questions would they ask? What would you need to say to see them nod in agreement with you?

Once students think through the scenario where they are talking to a specific group of people, they are ready to return to their writing. Ask them to consider questions like these:

  • How do your words and sentences engage readers?
  • How can the ideas be personalized for specific readers?
  • Are all the terms clear to readers? Does anything need explained or defined?
  • Are there questions you haven’t answered? What are they?
  • Are you reaching a specific group of readers (and not simply yelling at the crowd)?

If students need an example of how speaking to a specific group of readers can make a difference, look back at my 4.5 Minute Lesson on Audience, Purpose, and Voice. Ask them how the eBay ad included in the video does a good job of talking to the people at a specific table in the food court, and not just yelling at the crowd. Soon they’ll be speaking to, and not at, their audience.

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Categories: Rhetorical Situation, Writing Process
Read All Traci Gardner