Indications of Audience Awareness in Academic Essay Introductions: An Exploratory Comparison of Expert Writers and Student Writers

Tang Kum Khuan

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 2004


Indicating audience awareness represents an interpersonal aspect of writing that is central to academic argument and to academic success. When asked to produce a piece of argumentative or expository writing, Singaporean student writers frequently face difficulties indicating audience awareness in ways that are acceptable to the academic reader. The difficulties faced by these students are often due to an inadequate understanding of the conventions and normative practices governing appropriate indications of audience awareness in academic discourse. To empower students to write more successfully therefore, composition teachers need to familiarise students with how professional, academic writers typically indicate awareness of audience and what language structures are commonly used to perform such indications.

This paper takes a discourse move approach to the study of indications of audience awareness. Focussing on the introduction section of a small sample of 18 academic essays of the argumentative or expository genre, this exploratory study attempts to compare the audience-invoking moves found in the essay introductions of two groups of writers, namely undergraduate student writers and expert published writers. The objective of the comparison is to identify those moves and language structures that student writers need to learn in order to indicate audience awareness competently in written academic discourse. It was found that student writersĄŻ introductions contained moves which do not match the full range identified in expert writersĄŻ introductions. A subsequent comparison of the linguistic realisation of selected common moves revealed that expert writers finessed their moves by, for example, integrating moves and deploying a repertoire of modality resources to achieve greater rhetorical effect. Some pedagogical implications of these findings are pointed out.