Audience awareness of Persian learners of English writing: Towards a model of task-oriented strategies


1 Sabzevar University of Medical Sciences, Islamic Republic of Iran

2 University of Isfahan, Islamic Republic of Iran


Persian  learners  of  English  often  avoid  attending  to  audience  considerations,  which  brings
them  lower  scores.  The  present  study  was  conducted  in  a  major  university  in  Iran  to  help
Persian learners develop a sense of audience awareness in writing. Thirty five Persian students
of English  were trained  with a focus on process-oriented instruction. The intended task was a
letter  where student  writers  were asked to  write to a government authority. Having submitted
their  first  drafts,  they  received  training  on  audience  parameters  and  were  asked  to  revise  the
drafts  for  style  and  audience  considerations,  and  to  resubmit  the  final  drafts  for  scoring.
Participants were interviewed on how they considered the reader in the written text, how they
engaged the reader in the text, and what strategies they used for the task accomplishment. The
interviews  were  analyzed  qualitatively,  and  transcribed  protocols  were  studied  carefully,  with
two  core  categories  (i.e.  linguistic  and  non-linguistic  considerations)  emerging  from  the  data.
Also,  participants  implied  attending  to  audience  in  three  phases:  pre-task,  on-the-task,  and
post-task  strategies.  In  sum,  training  Persian  learners  resulted  in  their  enhanced  awareness  of
strategies they can adopt for audience considerations.


Main Subjects

Taught according to the conventions of each
society  and  those  of  the  language  one  is
learning,  writing  is  a  skill  learned
consciously  through  schooling  (Uysal,
2008).  Therefore,  in  learning  to  write  a
second  language,  learners  may  find  it
difficult  to  attune  to  the  rules  of  the  L2
rhetoric  because  of  deeply  rooted  L1
conventions.  The  basic  question  behind  this
research  report  originated  in  one  such
difference  between  English  and  Persian
because  Persian  learners  of  English  often
avoid  attending  to  audience  considerations.
It  is  often  asserted  that  English  is  a  writer-responsible  language  (Hinds,  1987)  in  that
the  writer  provides  the  information  required
by  the  intended  audience  and  prepares  the
written  task  through  dialogic  construction.
However,  such  a  tradition  does  not  exist  in
Persian  as  from  centuries  ago,  Persian
writers  wrote  surreptitiously  due  to  the
historical  background  of  the  country  where
written  material,  even  in  the  form  of  poetry
and  travel  accounts,  were  meant  to  convey
hidden  meanings  for  the  elite.  Such  a
tradition  has  now  been  transferred  to  the
contemporary  generation  who  lives  in  the
world  of  information  and  need  to  compete
with  other  users  of  English  language  for
academic  and  occupational  positions
throughout the world. Rooted in the Persian
culture,  this  tendency  in  Persian  learners  of
English,  with  proficiency  levels  equal  to
speakers  of  other  western  languages,  is
thought  to  bring  them  comparatively  lower
scores.  However,  the  possibility  of  training
cannot  be  denied,  especially  when  the
difference  is  highlighted  and  learners  are
sufficiently motivated.  
The present study was conducted in a major
university  in  Iran  to  help  learners  develop  a
sense  of  audience  awareness  when  drafting
tasks assigned in a course on Essay Writing.
The  paper  will  have  a  look  at  the  literature
on  audience  awareness  and  models  of
audience.  Then  the  methodology  of  the
research  will  be  presented.  Afterwards,  the
results  of  the  protocol  analysis  will  be
summarized and compared with Hyland’s
(2001)  audience  awareness  framework.
Finally,  we  will  move  toward  concluding
remarks  on  what  our  study  participants
conceived  of  the  different  aspects  of
audience in their written tasks.  
Audience awareness parameters
One  of  the  many  things  a  writer  needs  to
consider  when  completing  a  written  task  is
the  requirements  of  the  intended  audience
(Bull  &  Shurville,  1999);  however,  its
importance is often overlooked (Kroll, 1999)
at  the  expense  of  routinized  instruction  of
language  and  mechanics  of  writing.
Audience  awareness  training,  on  the  other
hand,  may  appear  difficult  since  many
writers  do  not  find  it  easy  to  alter  the
strategies  they  are  used  to  in  writing
(Wyllie,  1993),  often  preferring  one  set  of
approaches  over  others  (Snyder,  1993).
Indeed,  if  strategy  changes  can  lead  to
success, it is expected that the new strategies
adopted  by  an  individual  will  render  the
desired output.  
The  existence  of  audience  awareness  in
adult  learners  may  appear  controversial
because  EFL  students  are  often  adults,  and
they  have  had  the  experience  of  mastering
their  first  language  but  whether  they  enjoy
audience awareness in their writing or not is
not  well  researched.  Research  with  college

students suggests that at college level, many
students  lack  the  sociocognitive  ability  to
imagine  readers’  perspective  and  needs
(Hays  et  al.,  1990).  On  the  contrary,  some
studies  report  the  existence  of  audience
awareness  in  children.  For  example,
Wollman-Bonilla  (2001)  claims  that  even
first  graders  of  5-7  years  old,  being  at  the
beginning  stages  of  literacy,  show  signs  of
audience  awareness.  Also,  Mancuso  (1985)
reported strong sense of audience awareness
in fifth graders.  
Further  to  this,  previous  research  has
rendered rather contradictory results on both
gender  and  overall  language  ability.  For
instance,  Hays  et  al.  (1990)  and  Rafoth
(1989)  suggest  that  writing  proficiency  and
sociocognitive  development  can  play  a  role
in  student  writers’  audience  awareness.
However,  Wollman-Bonilla  (2001)  rejects
this  view,  since  she  found  that  first  graders,
with  underdeveloped  writing  proficiency,
were able to envision their reader’s needs,
concerns and objections. Also, Quick (1983)
found  that  writers  at  four  different  levels
(grades  4,  8,  12,  and  college  level)  were
equally aware of audience awareness.  
However,  the  exact  nature  of  audience
awareness  differed,  with  older  writers
exhibiting  more  abstract  audience
knowledge  than  younger  ones.  On  the
contrary,  Thompson  (2001)  believes  that
audience  awareness  issues  can  be  raised  at
all levels of language ability. As for gender,
Mancuso  (1985)  reports  that  girls  used
interpersonal  appeals  more  than  boys;  and
that girls used a wider range of request types
in  writing  to  an editor while boys’ requests
appeared  in  writing  to  friends  and  teachers.
A major difference, she reports, appeared in
establishing  context  where  girls  established
context  more  than  boys  in  writing  to  an
unfamiliar  editor  but  boys  did  so  only  in
writing  to  a  familiar  friend  or  to  a  teacher.
Also, Midgette and colleagues (2008) found
that girls wrote more persuasively than boys.
Audience awareness training
Another  considerable  but  neglected  issue
has  been  the  development  of  audience
awareness  through  training.  The  logic
behind  audience  awareness  training  is  the
idea  that  novice  writers  do  not  actively  get
engaged in the moment-by-moment dialogue
with  the  reader,  and  accordingly  need
training  on  playing  a  double  role  in  the
revision  process  –  i.e.  how  to  write  for  the
reader  what  they  need  by  anticipating  their
expectations,  objections,  and  questions.  In
fact,  playing  this  double  role  involves
reading  one’s  own  written  piece  as  the
reader.  This  will  find  manifestations  in  the
written output as the writer reconstructs and
portrays  the  reader  in  the  text  through
rhetorical  choices  (Hyland,  2005).
Thompson (2001) also stresses ‘enacting the
roles of both participants’ by the writer in a
dialogic  interaction.  Also,  Sato  and
Matsushima (2006) highlight the importance
of  audience  awareness  training  because
merely  being  told  to  attend  to  an  audience
cannot improve the quality of texts.  
Audience across genres
The way writers conceive of their readers is
chiefly genre-dependent, and may vary form
context  to  context.  In  research  articles,  for
instance,  writer-reader  relationships  are
ostensibly  egalitarian  (Hyland,  2002);
authors  of  research  articles  address  their
readers as if they were one’s colleagues,
knowledgeable  in  the  general  area,  familiar

with  the  discipline’s forms of argument and
ways  of  establishing  truth,  and  possessing
similar  authority  and  influences.  Another
genre could be textbooks, where two distinct
entities  are  addressed  at  the  same  time:
student  consumers  and  professionals.
However,  writers  speak  principally  to
students and only indirectly to colleagues as
material  evaluators  (Bondi,  1999;  Hyland,
2002). A third type can be the undergraduate
final  year  project  report  with  a  clear
audience  and  a  relatively  unambiguous
writer-reader  relationship.  Hyland  (2002)
considers  this  genre  as  high  stakes  as  it  is
open  to  rigorous  assessment  for  an  entire
course,  and  students  have  to  demonstrate
degrees  of  intellectual  knowledge  of  the
A  fourth  type  of  written  genre,  established
as  a  social  genre,  is  the  letter,  where
audience  can  range  from  a  friend  and  a
beloved  partner  to  high  governmental
authorities  or  even  still  higher  in  rank,
demanding more formal styles. While letters
may  be  considered  to  be  cliché-type  in
English,  L2  writers  with  diverse  cultural
background  may  perform  variously  under
the  impact  of  culturally-loaded  conventions
which  affect  their  conception  of  writer-reader  relationship.  For  instance,  Vergaro
(2004)  reports  that  Italian  business  letters
indicate  a  negative  politeness  strategy  and
tend to use expressions that in a way humble
the  writer  and  put  the  reader  in  a  higher
position,  while  English  business  letters  are
more  oriented  towards  positive  politeness
through appealing to sameness from the very
Still  another  category  of  written  texts  is  the
EFL  written  tasks,  which  has  not  been
deeply  investigated.  It  may  be  conceived
that  students’  writing  (particularly  EFL
written tasks) are much less overtly dialogic
as  they  are  assumed  to  be  addressed  to
instructors  rather  than  real  readers
(Thompson,  2001).  Despite  the  widespread
agreement about the importance of audience
awareness,  there  is  no  general  agreement
about which audience student writers should
have  in  mind  when  drafting  for  an
instructional  written  task  (Gunel  et  al.,
2009). However, the importance of feedback
from  teachers  has  always  been  stressed  (see
Sato  &  Matsushima,  2006,  for  example).  In
contrast  with  the  teacher-as-the-reader
position,  Wollman-Binilla  (2001)  contends
that  teachers  cannot  be  considered  as  the
readers  and  the  existence  of  a  specific,
clearly  defined  audience  can  create  a  more
authentic  situation  for  studying  audience
awareness.  Also,  Kirsch  and  Roen  (1990)
argue  that  the  perceived  disposition  of
readers  can  heighten  a  writer’s  audience
Writer-related studies
Writer-related  studies  seem  to  be  more
frequently  conducted  with  a  focus  on
different  aspects  of  writers.  Focusing  on
cultural  issues,  Hinds  (1987)  claims  that
English  uses  a  writer-responsible  rhetoric
versus  Japanese  uses  a  reader-responsible
rhetoric. Also, Valero-Garces (1996) reports
the  reader-responsible  nature  of  writing  in
Spanish writers. It is also shown that Anglo-Americans  show  a  preference  for  intimate
strategies  between  interactants  immediately
at  the  beginning  of  business  relationship,
while  Italians  tend  to  maintain  a  certain
distance  (Vergaro,  2004).  Another
significant  interpersonal  finding  in
Vergaro’s  (2004)  research  is  that  when
Italians  address  the  reader  in  sales
promotion  letters,  they  tend  to  use
expressions  that  humble  the  writer  and  put
the  receiver  in  a  higher  position.  However,
English  writers  tend  to  appeal  to  sameness
from the very beginning (Vergaro, 2004).  
Other  writer-related  variables  may  include
their  age,  gender,  and  level  of  language
ability and literacy. Scholars (e.g. Wollman-Bonilla,  2001)  admit  that  audience
awareness  exists  in  younger  students.
However,  Quick  (1983)  warns  that  children
either  lack  the  skill  to  adapt  writing  to  the
readers’ needs and expectations, or do not
see the necessity for audience adaptation. An
important issue raised by Mancuso (1985) is
the  student  writers’  previous  experiences,
which  can  be  related  to  their  writing
proficiency by extension (Thompson, 2001).
Proficient  writers  are  said  to  anticipate  the
kind  of  information  that  readers  might
expect to find at each point in the unfolding
text,  and  proceed  by  anticipating  their
questions  about,  or  reactions  to,  what  is
written.    Thompson  (2001)  explains  how
writers  can  use  textual  clues  such  as
connectives  (e.g.  therefore)  or  predictable
text  patterns  (e.g.  problem-solution),  in
order  to  guide  readers  as  to  the  way  the
interaction unfolds.
A  more  interesting  aspect  in  the  writer-related  features  of  audience  awareness,
particularly  applicable  to  the  EFL  context,
can  be  the  existence  or  absence  of  audience
awareness in student writers and the idea of
audience  awareness  training.  Many  assume
the  reader  of  EFL  written  tasks  to  be  the
teacher but this may appear too simplistic as
far  as  the  ultimate  goal  of  instruction  is
concerned  (i.e.  preparing  the  students  to
perform  real-world  tasks).  Learners  cannot
deny  the  importance  of  authentic,  non-instructional  and  real-world  tasks  in  future,
and  this  bears  implications  for  teaching
theory  and  practice,  syllabus  design,  testing
and  material  development.  In  line  with
audience  awareness  training,  Thompson
(2001) claims that effective writing strikes a
balance  between  more  monologic
argumentation  and  the  more  dialogic
collaborative  kind.  Although  this  may
require training, students respond well to the
exploration  of  how  this  balance  can  be
achieved  (Thompson,  2001).  Undoubtedly,
the  ability  of  writers  in  establishing  an
effective  writer-reader  rapport  –  whether
egalitarian, dominant or  humble  – builds on
the  use  of  appropriate  rhetorical  choices  to
meet  the  interpersonal  expectations.
However,  writers  take  almost  similar
strategies  to  serve  different  audience
requirements at the stage of revision (Wong,
Audience engagement framework
Based on his study of the academic writing,
Hyland (2001) has proposed that there are a
number  of  devices  that  provide  potential
surface-feature  evidence  of  reader
engagement.  These  features  include  the
(1) Questions,  both  real  and  rhetorical;
e.g.  What  would  you  do  in  this
(2) Inclusive  first  person,  indefinite,  and
second  person  pronouns  and  items
referring  to  readers;  e.g.  As  we  can
see, You should consider this, etc.
(3) Directives  including  imperatives,
obligation  modals  referring  to
actions  of  the  reader;  e.g.  Note  that,
A distinction must be made between,
and  adjectival  predicates  controlling
Audience awareness of Persian  09   
a  complement  to-  clause;  e.g.  It  is
important  (for  you  the  reader)  to
consider the distinction…).
(4) References to shared knowledge; e.g.
As we all know, the obvious relation
between…….; and  
(5) Asides  addressed  to  the  reader,
marked off from the ongoing flow of
text;  e.g.  This  –  it  may  suggest  –
makes a difference …, This -  to  my
surprise – makes a difference.
Methods and materials
A  group  of  35  Persian  students  of  English
(age ranging from 18 to 22 years) in a major
university  in  Iran  were  taught  by  the  first
author  on  a  course  of  Essay  Writing  with  a
focus  on  process-oriented  instruction.
However,  the  intended  task  for  this  study
was in the form of a letter where the student
writers  were  asked  to  write  a  letter  to  the
Iranian  Minister  of  Science,  Research  and
Technology,  i.e.  we  moved  toward  a  genre-process approach. Following the submission
of their first drafts, they received training on
attending  to  audience  parameters  for  a
couple  of  sessions  enriched  with  teacher
feedback,  classroom  discussions,  student
comments  and  analyzing  sample  written
tasks  in  class  as  part  of  this  training.  After
that, they were asked to revise the drafts for
style  and  audience  considerations,  and  to
resubmit the final drafts for scoring.  
Topic selection
For  the  information  of  readers,  Dr.  Z.
(Pseudonym)  the  Iranian  Minister  of
Science,  Research  and  Technology  at  the
time we conducted the present research was
a  male  PhD  of  around  60.  The  ministry
governs  and  controls  all  Iranian  universities
except  for  medical  universities  which  are
governed  by  the  Ministry  of  Health.  The
admission  to  universities  in  Iran  is  filtered
by  a  nationwide  national  exam  (Konkoor  in
Persian);  normally  state  university  seats  are
limited  and  the  competition  is  highly
motivated;  state  university  graduates  feel
superior to other counterparts but there is no
rule  for  such  a  distinction.  However,
employment  opportunities  are  usually
allotted  to  the  former.  At  that  year,  the
minister  announced  that  they  will  admit
remarkably  more  applicants  to  the
universities.  Therefore,  increasing  the
number  of  university  seats  in  that  year
meant  an  unemployment  catastrophe  for  the
graduates  after  a  short  period,  as  well  as
many  other  social  and  economic  problems.
Assigning  a  task  on  this  topic  seemed  to
motivate  the  participants  in  our  study  to
write effectively.   
We  decided  to  provide  the  learners  with  a
topic  of  high  social  concern  in  the  native
society.  A  curious  topic  for  the  university
students in Iran is the decisions made by the
ministry governing the universities and other
ministries  formulating  rules  of  employment
and  life  supporting  organizations.  In  2007,
the  Ministry  announced  that  for  the  next
educational  year,  there  would  be  more
university  seats  than  the  previous  years.
Normally, one out of 5 used to get admitted
to  state  universities,  and  the  rest  had  to
choose  Azad  (Persian  word  for  the  Open
University), Payame-Noor (Persian word for
the  University  of  Distance  Learning),  Non-Profit  or  other  institutes.  However,  the
announcement  stated  that  90%  of  the
applicants  could  enter  state  universities  in
that  year.  This  decision  caused  a  lot  of
worry  among  the  university  students  and

lowered  their  motivation  to  follow  the
learning  route  in  courses;  there  were
Students  Union  objections  in  the  form  of
rallies and strike at universities. The topic in
Appendix  1  was  felt  to  trigger  such
emotions  to  enrich  a  persuasive  writing
addressed  to  a  specified  reader,  i.e.  the
minister.  Although  the  intended  reader  was
artificially selected to be the minister, during
the training, they were requested to consider
the reader to be original and the training was
somewhat  successful,  evidenced  by  the
interview contents.    
Data Collection
The  results  of  the  present  paper  are  not
based  on  the  scores;  rather,  we  interviewed
the  participants  on  how  they  considered  the
reader in the written text, how they engaged
the  reader  in  the  text,  and  what  strategies
they  used  for  the  task  accomplishment.  The
interviews  were  conducted  in  their  native
language  because  this  was  considered  as
enriching the elicited answers. The questions
of  the  interview  are  presented  in  Appendix
2. The interviews were transcribed verbatim,
and  double  checked  for  the  accuracy  of
protocols. They were typed and checked for
the accuracy of typing too.  
Data analysis
For  the  analysis,  a  grounded  theory
approach  was  adopted.  In  other  words,  the
obtained  protocols  were  coded  in  three
levels of open, axial and selective coding. In
other  words,  the  information  was  analyzed
through  the  application  of  open  coding
techniques,  or  line-by-line  analysis  (looking
for  words  and  sentences  in  the  text  bearing
some  meaning),  which  helped  to  identify
provisional  explanatory  concepts  and
categories.  These  concepts  and  categories
were then enriched, modified and verified in
the  transcribed  protocols  of  other
participants.  The  primary  goals  of  open
coding  are  to  conceptualize  and  categorize
data,  achieved  through  two  basic  analytic
procedures: making comparisons and asking
questions.  This  type  of  coding  begins  the
process  of  labeling  many  individual
phenomena.  In  time,  a  number  of
individually  labeled  concepts  are  clustered
around  a  related  theme.  The  individual
concepts are gathered together to form more
powerful  and  abstract  categories.  Once
categories  are  formed  in  open  coding,  they
are  fleshed  out  in  terms  of  their  given
properties  and  dimensions.  The  properties
are  “characteristics  of  a  category,  the
delineation  of  which  defines  and  gives  it
meaning” (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 101).
Dimensions illustrate how each property can
vary  along  a  continuum.  Open  coding  is
achieved  by  examining  the  transcripts  by
line,  by  sentence,  or  by  paragraph,  and
sometimes  by  eyeballing  the  entire
Axial  coding,  the  second  stage,  is  the
process  of  relating  categories  to  their
subcategories  .  .  .  linking  a  category  at  the
level of properties and dimensions” (Strauss
& Corbin, 1998, p. 123). A coding paradigm
involving  conditions,  actions  and
interactions,  and  consequences  actualizes
this process. The focus  of axial coding is to
create  a  model  that  details  the  specific
conditions that give rise to a phenomenon’s
occurrence.  In  axial  coding,  four  analytical
processes occur:  
a)  Continually  relating  subcategories  to
a category,
Audience awareness of Persian  09   
b)  Comparing  categories  with  the
collected data,
c)  Expanding  the  density  of  the
categories  by  detailing  their
properties and dimensions, and  
d)  Exploring  variations  in  the
The final stage of data analysis in grounded
theory  is  selective  coding,  which  builds
upon  the  foundation  of  the  previous  coding
efforts. Selective coding is “the process of
selecting  the  central  or  core  category,
systematically relating it to other categories,
validating  those  relationships,  and  filling  in
categories  that  need  further  refinement  and
development” (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p.
116).  Strauss  and  Corbin  (1998)  state  that
this central or core category should have the
analytic power to “pull the other categories
together to form an explanatory whole” (p.
The  transcribed  protocols  were  studied
carefully  three  times  at  least  (and  many
times in cases) to look for recurrent patterns.
Reference  to  participants  in  the  study  is
given in parenthesized numbers (e.g. p33; 'p'
standing  for  the  participant)  for  anonymity.
However,  it  should  be  reminded  at  the
beginning  that  these  are  provided  as
examples,  and  do  not  necessarily  mean  the
frequency of the relevant strategy.  
Labeling  individual  phenomena  occurs  in
the  first  stage  where  individually  labeled
concepts  are  clustered  around  a  related
theme,  and  the  individual  concepts  are
gathered  together  to  form  more  powerful
and  abstract  categories.  In  the  second  stage,
we  attempted  to  relate  categories  to  their
subcategories  and  to  link  a  category  at  the
level  of  properties  and  dimensions.  Finally,
two  core  categories  (i.e.  linguistic  and  non-linguistic  considerations)  were
systematically  related  to  other  categories.
These  core  categories  pulled  the  other
categories  together  to  form  an  explanatory
Linguistic considerations  
It  is  quite  reasonable  that  the  way  we
communicate  with  different  readers  affects
our  language  options  too.  In  the  words  of
our  participants,  it  was  evident  that  most  of
them avoided contracted forms (e.g.  doesn’t
or isn’t) and short informal sentences (p26);
instead,  many  of  them  looked  for
expressions suitable for communication with
a  high  position  government  authority  to
minimize  the  probability  of
misunderstanding  (p4).  Almost  all
participants stressed the need for formal and
respectful  expressions,  lexis  and  structures
(p13); some referred to dictionaries to check
the labels of the words (i.e. formal, informal,
derogatory,  etc.)  they  carefully  selected
(p23).  All  participants  preferred  to  address
the minister through suitable structures both
in  the  beginning  of  the  letter  (e.g.  Dear  Dr.
Z)  and  through  in-line  addressing  (e.g.  As
you  know,  Dr.  Z.,  …).  In  many  cases,
participants  used  questions,  both  real  and
rhetorical  (p20),  both  direct  and  indirect
(p7).  Also,  pronouns  were  often  used  as  a
sign  of  interaction  between  the  writer  and
reader  in  dialogic  structures  such  as  I
appreciate  your  concern…, and to refer to
the  shared  knowledge  between  the  reader
and the writer, e.g. As we all / you know….
Participants  expressed  their  attitude  in
selecting  a  more  formal  and  polite  style  in
writing  to  a  high  position  in  government  by
avoiding  complexity  of  content,  lengthy
writings  (p7)  and  occluded  and  ambiguous
content (p33). Instead, they preferred a short
letter  type  communication  (p17);  they  also
drafted  more  carefully,  choosing  to  be
concise,  assertive  and outspoken (p5); some
opted  for  a  simple  and  fluent  style  to  avoid
complexity  (p8).  The  generally  accepted
style  among  the  participants  was  a  formal
and  polite  type  moving  towards  simplicity
and strength.  
The  tone  of  the  writer  came  up  to  be  very
important  in  the  words  of  participants.
While  they  avoided  sarcastic  tones  (e.g.  p9)
and  being  rude  (p1),  they  were  mostly
critical  but  respectful,  and  expressed  their
discontent.  For  instance,  p24  viewed  the
problem  realistically,  and  others  treated  the
reader as if he will be willing to reply (p30).
All  in  all,  they  adopted  a  respectful  but
critical tone.
The formation of thesis statement  
The  existence  of  a  topic  sentence  in  a
paragraph  and  a  thesis  statement  in  the
whole text were conceived to be an example
of  the  writer’s  concern  of  the  audience.
Topic sentences and thesis statements are in
fact  hooks  to  which  we  attach  our
arguments,  evidence  and  examples  to
support  the  main  idea.  Readers  need  to
recognize and grasp such sentences easily so
that  they  follow  the  line  of  argumentation
and  organization.  Therefore,  we  asked  the
participants’  attitude  to  developing  such
guiding  sentences  to  readers.  Interestingly,
some of them had already constructed thesis
statements in their written task because ‘the
instructor considered it as important’ (p2),
because  ‘it  was  important'  (p32),  and
because ‘it was important for the participant
as well as being the core of his words’ (p22).
Some of them produced the thesis statement
early at the beginning of the text, in the first
paragraph,  or  in  the  last  paragraph.
However, there were participants who could
not  have  made  such  a  sentence  initially  in
their tasks because ‘she had forgotten as she
often  postponed  writing  thesis  statements  to
the end of the task’ (p13), or ‘did so on the
advice  of  the  instructor  in  classroom
discussions’  (p11).  Some  of  them  even
could  not  have  managed  producing  thesis
statements  because  they  did  not  consider  it
as important (p1), or ‘put it  in  the  second
paragraph  and  displaced  it  in  the  first
paragraph  after  consulting  the  teacher
feedback’ (p7). Some paraphrased the thesis
statements  in  the  revision  stage  (p19),  or
refined a better and effective sentence in the
last draft (p18).  
In  sum,  all  participants  came  to  the
understanding  that  the  existence  of  a  thesis
statement  in  their  texts  can  provide  a  clear
account of the text for the reader. All in all,
short but effective topic sentences and thesis
statements  were  desired  in  the  words  of
Non-linguistic considerations
Playing double roles
For most participants, reading one’s own
text,  initially,  meant  revising  them  until  it
was  clarified  in  classroom  discussion,  and

the  participants  came  to  agreement  that  the
possibility of playing a double role (the role
of  the  writer  and  the  reader)  is  not  out  of
reach.  However,  those  who  could  not  have
practiced  it  had  their  own  reasons  (or
excuses).  For  instance,  the  main  reason  was
that  the  task  was  not  authentic  (p25),  or  the
majority  had  developed  a  false  concept  of
playing double roles because they felt that it
just meant  reading as the reader for  editing
and  revising  purposes.  Some  of  the  less
diligent  participants  forgot  the  issue  in  their
last draft; some did not take it serious. Some
could  not  imagine  the  minister  reading  it;
rather,  they  read  it  as  a  general  reader.
Although  these  participants  were  not
successful in playing the role of the minister,
they  felt  the  task  had  been  effectively  done
because  in  preparing  the  task  they  had  been
careful  and  convincing  (p16).  However,  a
less  frequent  case  occurred  when  the
interviewee  was  trying  to  convince  the
interviewer  (the instructor of the course  and
the  rater  of  the  tasks  at  the  same  time)  that
she had played the role of the minister at the
revision stage but after a challenge of ideas,
she  admitted  that  what  was  done  has  been
only  her  own  revisions  rather  than  playing
double roles (p21, p28).  
On  the  contrary,  those  following  the
classroom  discussions  found  interesting
outcomes in their tasks. Some were satisfied
with the texts and felt that the minister liked
the  idea,  and  that  the  minister  would  read
the whole letter to the end and would revise
the decision. For P17, the result was that the
letter  was  quite  convincing  for  the  minister.
P30  had  found  that  the  letter  was  too  long
and  the  minister  might  not  have  the  time  to
read  the  whole  letter,  so  she  shortened  the
letter  to  a  reasonable  size.  P30  had  found
that  the  tone  was  sarcastic  and  may  insult
the  reader;  p31  had  found  some  of  his
arguments absurd for the minister; they both
made  a  substantial  change  to  the  content  of
their letters afterwards.  
The  idea  of  playing  double  roles  for  two
participants  (p20  and  p11)  developed  in  the
form of online playing double roles. In other
words,  p11  played  the  role  of  the  reader
concurrently when she  was drafting and felt
the  presence  of  the  minister  in  the  moment-by-moment preparation of the letter. For her,
there  was  no  sense  in  doing  the  same  after
the  task  was  finished.  P20  did  almost  the
same and conceived a reaction on the part of
the  reader  when  he  presented  an  idea  or  an
argument (particularly  against the decision);
he  mainly  tried  to  make  a  mental  picture  of
what the minister would say or react against
his  words.  Both  of  them  (p20,  and  p11)
refrained from playing double roles after the
letter was ready to submit.
Expecting the reader to reply
Although  the  task  was  not  authentic  in  the
sense  that  the  minister  was  not  obliged  to
read  the  letters,  some  student  writers  said
that  they  expected  the  minister  to  answer
because  the  letter  had  been  well  prepared
and  strongly  reasonable.  However,  some
doubted  if  the  minister  would  read  it  at  all;
some  believed  that  every  suggestion  would
make sense to the minister and he may apply
their 'solution to the problem’ (p14). On the
contrary,  some  did  not  expect  a  reply  since
they  were  totally  hopeless  that  the  minister
had  the  time  to  read  it,  and  even  if  he  had
the  time  to  read  he  might  be  reluctant  to
reply a student’s letter. A general feeling
was  that  the  government  authorities  are

never  eager  to  communicate  with  people  let
alone to reply a letter. But p35 believed that
a  young  minister  would  have  been  more
likely  to  respond  than  an  old  one  (the
minister in question is around 60).
Objections from the Reader
The  feeling  that  what  a  writer  writes  would
cause the reader’s objection in one way or
another  was  not  inconceivable  for  the
participants. For example, p3 expressed that
this might happen as he had been too critical
in  the  third  paragraph.  However,  the
majority did not have such a feeling because
they knew that the reader was not in fact the
minister,  and  the  task  specified  the  minister
as  the  reader  for  practice  purposes.  Also,
some  believed  that  when  expressing
opinions  you  need  not  be  worried  about  the
reactions  of  the  reader  (p15),  especially
when  it  is  respectfully  expressed  (p34),
logical  (p29),  and  not  political  (p27).  P24
believed  that  when  you  express  your
opinion,  it  is  not  important  if  the  reader  is
resented  because  these  days,  people  express
themselves  and  authorities  barely  ever  care
about the suggested ideas.  
Asserted requests directed to the reader
To  make  sure  that  the  writers  had  imagined
the  presence  of  the  audience  in  their  task,  a
question  was  put  forward  on  the  writer’s
asserted  request  directed  to  the  reader  as  a
sign of completing their dialogic interaction.
Some had done so in the last paragraph (e.g.
p22)  or  the  last  sentence  (p26)  and  had
expressed  their  dislike  toward  the  decision
(e.g. p19) or had requested a revision to the
decision  rather  than  total  disagreement
(p12).  On  the  contrary,  those  who  failed  to
put  forward  a  direct  request  said  that  the
request  was  in  a  general  form  of  discontent
rather than disagreement (p11), or indirectly
expressed  their  desire  for  being  respectful
(p10).  In  one  case,  the  request  was  totally
abandoned in favor of being dissatisfied not
expecting an action on the part of the reader.
In fact, requestive speech act was frequent in
the  letters  where  the  participants  asked  the
minister  to  take  action  for  either  revising  or
stopping the decision.    
The  present  study  was  conducted  to  help
Persian  learners  of  English  develop  a  sense
of  audience  awareness  when  drafting  for
writing tasks. Models of audience awareness
and  engagement  are  already  proposed  but
some  are  based  on  data  from  research
articles  (Hyland,  2001)  or  business
promotion  letters  (Vergaro,  2004).  The
significance  of  the  research  reported  here
lies  in  the  fact  that  it  focuses  on  the
participants’ verbal protocols,  the  results  of
which  were  presented  in  the  previous
section.  Like  Japanese  and  Spanish,  Persian
rhetoric  is  mainly  of  a  reader-responsible
nature;  consequently,  Persian  learners  often
transfer  this  mode  to  English  writing.
However,  through  training,  they  were  given
the opportunity to practice on how to engage
the  reader  in  the  text.  While  attending  to
audience  can  happen  at  any  stage  of  the
writing  process,  the  model  arising  from  the
data  highlighted  a  model  of  audience
awareness  strategies  in  three  phases:  pre-task, on-the-task, and post-task strategies.  
Pre-task planning stage
Participants determine the language, the tone
and the style of the written task in this stage,

based on their understanding of the audience
parameters  including  age,  gender,  status,
power,  and  attitude.  As  Kirsch  and  Roen
(1990)  argue,  the  perceived  disposition  of
the  reader  can  heighten  sense  of  audience
awareness  in  writers.  However,  this  can
occur  both  mentally  and  physically  by
collecting  information  from  internet,
libraries,  etc.  Before  starting  the  task,  some
participants  say,  they  plan  for  the  task,  e.g.
by  choosing  a  number  of  key  words  related
to the topic and developing them into cogent
arguments;  this  in  turn  allows  them  time  to
determine  examples  and  reasons  for  the
position  they  adopt  in  relation  with  the  task
prompt.  As  for  the  layout  and  organization
of  the  written  task,  some  of  the  participants
(p4,  p7,  p23,  etc.)  decided  which  argument
should  come  first  and  which  last,  i.e.  they
decided  on  the  ascending  or  descending
order  of  their  reasons.  Some  described  their
arguments as effective (p19), adequate  (p1),
and  realistic  (p11),  which  are  indeed  a  sign
of attending to audience who may not easily
accept commonplace arguments.  
Although many considered the minister as a
highly-esteemed  (superior)  authority  in  the
government  and  their  own  as  an  inferior
student,  others  stated  that  this  was  not  a
barrier  to  hamper  their  flow  of
communication  in  writing  (p9),  and  did  not
allow  this  feeling  to  keep  some  words
unsaid (p6). However, such a finding seems
to  oppose  Vergaro’s  (2004)  finding  that
Italian  business  promotion  letters  usually
keep the reader highly esteemed and humble
the  writer;  such  a  feeling  seems  to  have
diminished  in  the  current  culture  of  Iranian
youth  while  it  was  customary  in  the  past.
Also,  some  participants  resorted  to  finding
good  and  convincing  reasons  in  order  to
compensate  the  authority  gap  between  the
reader  and  the  writer  by  referring  to  the
hidden  aspects  of  the  decision  proposed  by
the  ministry  to  catch  the  attention  of  the
reader  and  to  highlight  their  own  informed
concern about the decision (p34).  
On-the-task strategies
These  constitute  the  major  part  of  the
endeavor  by  attending  to  the  task  content
and  organization  (paragraphing,  thesis
statement  formation,  etc),  language
(addressing,  questioning,  dictionary  work
for  word  labels  and  connotations,  requests,
etc),  and  interactiveness  (sensitizing  the
reader  by  questions).  Addressing  the
minister  directly  (using  pronouns  such  as
you),  and  naming  him  (as  Dr.  Z.)  were  the
primary  strategies  that  almost  all  of  the
participants  did.  Also,  most  of  them
introduced  themselves  at  the  beginning  and
put  their  signatures  at  the  end  as  a  sign  of
taking  the  responsibility  of  the  content.
However,  some  preferred  to  apologize  first
for  taking  his  time  (p2),  which  is  a  sign  of
respect originated in the Oriental culture.  
An effective strategy was the dialogic aspect
of  the  written  tasks  where  writers  felt  the
presence  of  the  reader  by,  for  example,
giving  answers  to  the  questions  they  raised
throughout  the  text  (p36)  in  order  to
sensitize  the  reader  to  what  they  wanted  to
discuss (p33), or by giving the email address
for  further  communication  to  further  clarify
the writer’s position (p34). P34 asserted that
he  felt  the  presence  of  the  minister  while
drafting  the  task  and  maintained  a  dialogic
tone  to  avoid  monotony  in  his  style.  The
balance between the monologic and dialogic
aspects  of  writing  is  a  key  factor  for  the
success  of  written  communication
(Thompson,  2001).  In  fact,  interactiveness

necessitates  finding  the  right  balance
between the monologic and dialogic aspects
of  the  writing  (Thompson,  2001);  however,
this seems to be a genre-dependent attribute,
where  the  amount  of  shared  information
between  the  writer  and  the  reader  can  help
determine  the  effective  borderline.  For
instance, in  a letter to a  friend, to  a teacher,
to  an  authority  in  the  government,  or  in
research  articles,  textbooks,  and  many  other
genres, the amount of shared knowledge is a
determining  factor,  and  this  may  develop  in
proficient writers (Thompson, 2001).  
Post-task stage
The  final  phase  consists  of  playing  double
roles (of reader and writer) and revisions (of
tone,  language  and  style).  While  playing
double  roles  is  neither  easy  nor  seemingly
practical,  some  participants  were  right  to
some  extent  in  that  when  a  writer  makes
effort  to  produce  the  best  possible  and
effective task, there is no need for reading it
twice,  particularly  as  the  reader.  This  is  in
lie  with  the  claim  that  learners  need  skill  to
adapt their writing to the reader’s needs and
expectations  and  feel  the  necessity  of
audience  adaptation  (Quick,  1983).  Many
preferred  reading  the  completed  task  as  the
writer  for  further  revision;  their  revision
strategies  after  classroom  discussions  led
some participants to modify the letters (p25)
or  to  soften  the  requests  and  criticisms
(p31).  For  example,  p26  had  changed  the
order  of  presenting  her  reasons  so  that  the
more  convincing  reasons  were  posed  first
and  the  request  was  made  at  the  end  for
rhetorical  intensity;  such  a  strategy,  as  p26
stated,  was  effective  since  the  reasons  were
going  to  speak  for  her  because  she  was
unable to meet the minister face to face.  
The  findings  indicated  that  training  Persian
learners  of  English  resulted  in  their
enhanced  awareness  of  what  strategies  they
can  adopt  for  audience  considerations,  and
that  they  consciously  verbalized  what  steps
they took after analyzing peers’ written task
in classroom discussions and getting teacher
feedback.  This  will  hopefully  transfer  to
their  future  performance  in  writing  to
different readers, which is in line with Quick
(1983), but has not been attended in their L1
The  findings  provide  hints  for  practical
implications  in  the  instruction  of  writing,
and  stress  the  inclusion  of  audience
awareness  training  in  syllabuses  for  writing
courses.  Also,  investing  more  on  the
dialogic  nature  of  the  writing  skill
(Thompson,  2001),  rather  than  its
mechanical or formal aspects is emphasized.
Therefore,  it  is  expected  of  the  assessment
profession  to  take  a  pragmatic  view  of
audience  parameters  in  assessing  EFL
writing  tasks.  Although  authentic  tasks  and
authentic  data  can  further  highlight  the
claims  of  the  present  study,  these  can
certainly be considered as potential uses and
In  general,  this  study  was  intended  to  shed
light  on  the  reality  of  what  EFL  writers
conceive  of  audience  engagement  when
writing  EFL  tasks.    Finally,  a  reference  to
audience parameters in passing may not help
culturally-affected  learners  develop  a
practical  sense  of  audience  awareness;
rather,  a  reasonable  time  for  training  and
practice  is  required  to  be  integrated  to  the
writing  syllabi  in  EFL  contexts.  Being  a
qualitative study, this study did not take the
Audience awareness of Persian  099   
analysis  of  linguistic  measures  and  other
variables  such  as  age,  gender,  and  language
proficiency  into  considerations;  instead,  it
focused on the post-task mental experiences
of  the  participants  to  develop  a  model  of
audience awareness strategies.
This  research  is  conducted  as  a  PhD  thesis
project at the University of Isfahan, Iran. We
wish to thank the students of the Department
of English for their cooperation and patience
in being part of this study.


Bondi,  M.  (1999).  English  across  genres:
language  variation  in  the  discourse  of
economics. Modena: Edizioni Il Fiorino.
Bull,  S.,  &  Shurville,  S.  (1999).  Cooperative
writer  modeling:  facilitating  reader-based  writing  with  SCRAWL.  In  R.
Morales,  H.  Pain,  S.  Bull  &  J.  Kay
(Eds.),  Proceedings  of  workshop  on
Open,  Interactive  and  other  Overt
Approaches  to  Learner  Modeling,
International  Conference  on  Artificial
Intelligence  in  Education  (pp.  1-8).
Available  online  at  
Gunel,  M.,  Hand,  B.,  &  McDormott,  M.  A.
(2009).  Writing  for  different  audiences:
effects  on  high  school  students'
conceptual  understanding  of  biology.
Learning  and  Instruction,  19(4),  354-367.
Hays,  J.  N.,  et  al.  (1990).  A  Sense  of  Audience
in  the  Argumentative  Writing  of
Students at Three Levels of Adult Socio-Cognitive  Development.  In  D.  H.  Roen
and  G.  Kirsch  (Eds.),  A  Sense  of
Audience  in  Written  Communication.  
Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Hinds,  J.  (1987).  Reader  versus  writer
responsibility:  A  new  typology.  In  U.
Connor  and  R.  Kaplan  (Eds),  Writing
across  languages:  Analysis  of  L2  text
(pp.  141-152).  Reading,  MA:  Addison-Wesley.
Hyland,  K.  (2001).  Bringing  in  the  reader:
addressee  features  in  academic  writing.
Written Communication 18(4), 549-74.
Hyland,  K.  (2002).  Directives:  Argument  and
engagement  in  academic  writing.
Applied Linguistics 23(1), 215-239.
Hyland,  K.  (2005).  Metadiscourse:  exploring
interaction  in  writing.  London:
Kirsch, G. & Roen, D. (Eds.). (1990). A sense of
audience  in  written  communication.
Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Kroll,  B.  (1999).  Teaching  writing  IS  teaching
reading. In J. G. Carson & I. Leki (Eds.),
Reading  in  the  composition  classroom:
Second  language  perspectives  (pp.  61-81).  Boston:  Heinle  and  Heinle
Mancuso,  S.  J.  G.  (1985).  Audience  awareness
in  the  persuasive  writing  of  gifted  and
non-gifted  fifth  grade  students.
Unpublished  PhD  Dissertation,
Louisiana  State  University,  USA.
(ProQuest ID: 753298681)
Midgette,  E.,  Haria,  P.,  &  MacArthur,  C.  A.
(2008).  The  effects  of  content  and
audience  awareness  goals  for  revision
on  the  persuasive  essays  of  fifth-  and
eighth-grade  students.  Reading  and
Writing, 21, 131-151.
Quick, D. M. (1983). The audience awareness of
competent  writers  during  expository
writing.  Unpublished  PhD  Dissertation,
Wayne  State  University,  USA.
Rafoth, B. A. (1989). Audience and information.
Research  in  the  Teaching  of  Writing,
23,  273-91.  
Sato,  K.,  &  Matsushima,  K.  (2006).  Effects  of
audience  awareness  on  procedural  text

writing.  Psychological  Reports,  99(1),
Snyder,  I.  (1993).  Writing  with  Word
processors:  a  research  overview.
Educational Research, 35(1), 49-68.
Strauss,  A.,  &  Corbin,  J.  (1998).  Basics  of
qualitative  research:  Techniques  and
procedures  for  developing  grounded
theory  (2nd  ed.).  Thousand  Oaks,  CA:
Thompson,  G.  (2001).  Interaction  in  academic
writing:  learning  to  argue  with  the
reader.  Applied  Linguistics,  22(1),  58-78.
Uysal, H. H. (2008). Tracing their culture behind
writing:  rhetorical  patterns  and
bidirectional  transfer  in  L1  and  L2
essays  of  Turkish  writers  in  relation  to
educational  context.  Journal  of  Second
language Writing, 17, 183-207.
Valero  Garcés,  C.  (1996).  Contrastive  ESP
Rhetoric:  Metatext  in  Spanish  and
English  Economic  Texts.  English  for
Specific Purposes, 15(4), 279-294.
Vergaro,  C.  (2004).  Discourse  strategies  of
Italian  and  English  sales  promotion
letters.  English  for  Specific  Purposes,
23, 181-207.
Wollman-Bonilla,  J.E.  (2001).  Can  First-Grade
Writers  Demonstrate  Audience
Awareness?  Reading  Research
Quarterly, 36(2), 184–201.  
Wong,  A.  T.  Y.  (2005).  Writer’s  mental
representation  of  the  intended  audience
and of the rhetorical purpose for writing
and  strategies  that  they  employed  when
they composed. System, 33, 29-47.
Wyllie,  A.  (1993).  On  the  Road  to  discover:  a
study  of  the  composing  strategies  of
academic  writers  on  the  Word
processor.  MA  thesis:  University  of