The Three Readers

The Three Readers
Updated 10/11/2013 by Jossalyn Larson

In continuation of our last session's discussion on Appeals, today we will think about the manner in which our authors work to trigger the three different kinds of readers - Supportive, Wavering, and Hostile. 

You'll remember from our introduction to argumentation that Supportive readers are readers who are already sympathetic to the author's claim. These readers are generally looking for some sort of call to action. In other words, these readers already agree with the claim, but they need to know what to do with that information. This is your "Rock the Vote" crowd - the crowd that already knows which candidate they would choose; they just need to be told to get off their couches and vote. When analyzing your author's approach to his supportive readers, consider moments in which the author asks the readers to get up and do something about the issue at hand. How does your author convince people to take a stand for something, or to make a change?

Wavering readers are readers who have not yet made a decision about the issue. Generally, these readers will require a text to be informative, and emotionally motivating. The author will hope to provide the wavering reader with enough information to sway the reader to his claim, and will use emotion to cement that opinion in the reader's mind. Think about the tobacco industry's use of cartoons and childhood motifs to sell cigarettes. Of course, children are not supposed to smoke before the age of 18, but cigarette ads (like those that feature Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man) make smoking seem cool, fun, and enticing for youngsters who have not yet formulated a strong opinion about cigarette smoking. Therefore, when the youngsters do become of age, the tobacco industry has a new crop of customers whose opinions had been swayed in favor of cigarette smoking back when they were still wavering readers.

Hostile readers are already against the author's claim, before they even pick up the author's article. Generally, a reader will be hostile if he is invested against the claim, if he is angry over a part of the claim, or if he is apathetic toward the claim. Trying to convince a landfill owner, for instance, to invest millions of dollars into a biowaste-to-energy plant will be extremely difficult, no matter how beneficial the plant would be to the community. Furthermore, if you were writing an essay criticizing the harsh treatment of prisoners in Arizona State Prisons, you might encounter hostile readers who are angry over something that a prison inmate has done, or who believe that prisoners don't deserve the consideration of the general public and thus that reader will be resistant to considering better treatment for those prisoners. These readers require concessions; they require the author to address the counterpoint and to rebut that counterpoint in a way that is logically, ethically, and emotionally satisfactory.

While it is true that an author may be targeting one of the three readers as his ideal audience, he will also allow for moments of his essay to address his actual audience, which will include all three kinds of readers. Again, it is important for us to maintain an objective distance between ourselves and the article we analyze. Do not just consider the kind of reader you are when you analyze the author's approach to his readership; consider how different perspectives might be addressed. 


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