Exercise B: Adapting Word Choice for Audience and Purpose


It’s rare that we behave and speak identically from social situation to social situation. Consider the ways that we behave and speak differently in the following interactions:

  • Asking the teacher questions to clarify a concept in a math class
  • Encouraging your teammate to pass you the ball during a soccer game
  • Explaining your experience to a manager for a job opportunity

In each of these situations, we adapt both what we say and how we say it for multiple reasons: to achieve our purpose (understand the concept, get the ball to score, receive the job offer) and to maintain our relationships (the teacher understands you are trying to learn, your teammate knows you are open, the manager views you as a talented worker). In short, the person we speak with (our audience), our goal in speaking with them (purpose), and the topic itself all influence what we choose to say and emphasize as well as how we choose to say it. To successfully achieve your purpose with your audience, you need to consider (among other questions, which will come up later in the semester) which words are most appropriate (word choice).


In this activity, you’ll write for three different audiences, including:

  1. Your 1181 Lab TA,
  2. Students at your high school considering an engineering major, and
  3. A first grader.

First, reflect on what you did to complete the Buckeye Challenge Lab. Next, for each audience listed above, write one paragraph explaining what you did and why you did it when you completed the lab.


On the one hand, your TA already knows what you did, so rehashing the activities themselves in detail is probably unnecessary. Instead, they’re probably more interested in how you solved the problem, what you learned about teamwork, how your outcomes were influenced by your approach, etc. On the other hand, high school students might want to know more of the details of the process, the concepts involved, and a sense of whether this is the kind of activity they might look forward to doing next year; finally, first graders are probably more interested in hearing what you did and why this was fun.

It should be clear that you cannot use the exact same words or content to describe the lab for these three differing audiences. Similarly, their interest in and attention to what you did differs based on their experience with the lab and with their knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of engineering. They won’t listen if it’s too technical/doesn’t match their interests. Your goal is to explain the what and why of the lab by balancing appropriate levels of technicality (word choice) and content/information that will appeal to your audience, but will still inform them about the lab itself in a meaningful way.


Discussion Board Posting and Response: Trade your responses with another member of your lab group; read their responses and write a response to their discussion post, responding to the following:

  1. Identify where the writer made strong, clear choices about how to explain the content using words appropriate for the given audience in each instance, given their knowledge level, interests, and concerns.
  2. Are there any places where the writer could have more clearly or precisely explained what was done?
  3. In terms of the audience’s knowledge, interests, and concerns, does the description seem accurate? Does it attempt to make the content compelling for each audience? How so? If not, what could have made it more compelling?

In Class: Discuss your responses with your partner; then discuss as a whole class.


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Fundamentals of Engineering Technical Communications Copyright © by Leah Wahlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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