I just wrote a contribution to the Faith Learning Integration Gallery on the website of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the university where I work. I decided to share it with you, but since I don’t want to violate the principle my essay is about–understanding and showing consideration for one’s audience–I should let you know that the originally intended audience of this piece consisted of Christian faculty members at a Christian university. If you’re not one of those people, please don’t feel alienated if you’re not included in the “we” that I refer to throughout the essay. I think you’ll get at least something from it regardless of whether you’re part of that audience.
In both the Center for Writing and Languages and many of the writing courses offered here at Liberty, we place quite a bit of emphasis on the genres of writing. Not only is academic writing just one correct way to write among many, but there are also many ways to do academic writing—a research paper, a lab report, a discussion board, a conference presentation. Each genre has its own conventions, and each is appropriate to a particular context and audience. Trying to apply the conventions of one genre in the wrong context—for example, following the rules of the literary analysis genre while writing a legal brief—can lead to confusion for both writer and audience.
As Christians charged with communicating a message, we need to remember a similar principle. The gospel is a constant, unchanging message that can take on an infinite variety of forms. As is the case when choosing a genre of academic writing, knowing one’s audience is crucial when communicating the gospel. It’s even more crucial, actually, because although there may be some general principles for sharing the gospel with a particular demographic, such as children, God speaks, and uses us to speak, in a unique way to each person.
Speaking God’s words to real, non-abstract people takes emotional intelligence. It takes empathy. It takes the ability to analyze a situation and choose the right course of action. As it turns out, it takes a lot of the same qualities that make a good writer.