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8.6: Fitting the Emotions to the Audience

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    An argument’s success will depend not just on how well the writer expresses emotion but on how well the writer gauges the reader’s likely response. Values, cultural beliefs, and life experiences shape our emotional reactions. While some appeals to our feelings, such as the reference to parents’ desire to protect their children, may be more universal, others will be more audience specific. Different readers can have opposite emotional reactions to the same sentence. When the writer misjudges readers’ values, assumptions or experiences, an emotional appeal may fall flat or may hurt the argument instead of helping. An obvious example is a racist or sexist comment.

    A woman at a whiteboard explains seriously to a group of rapt, serious listeners in an office.
    The speaker here seems attentive to the emotional reactions of her audience.
    Photo by from Pexels under the Pexels License.

    In the case of the border argument, the intended audience seems to be Americans who are citizens or legal residents. What if the writer knew more about how the person’s life experience might relate to the issue of illegal immigration? For example, how might Anna Mills shape the argument and appeal to emotions differently if she knew the reader was one of the following?

    • A person whose parents are undocumented
    • A person who waited seven years for a visa to come to the U.S.
    • A person who has been raised to be afraid of Mexican immigrants

    In the case of the person whose parents are undocumented, the writer might actually spend less time encouraging readers to feel empathy. She could choose not to waste time “preaching to the choir” and instead focus on policy suggestions.

    In the case of the person who waited for the visa, she might need to find a way to overcome some resentment against people who came to America without waiting so long.

    In the case of the person raised to be afraid of Mexican immigrants, she might focus on specific immigrant stories so the reader would begin to have some vivid, moving stories of real people in their minds rather than racist stereotypes.

    Practice Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    For each argument, consider how you would persuade the two different audiences without misleading them. 

    Here's a sample claim: "Police should wear body cameras."

    We could write this version for an audience of police: "Body cameras seem unnecessary, and they make moving around more difficult, but hard-working police should relish the opportunity to make their actions viewable. It shows integrity and honesty."

    In contrast, Black Lives Matter protesters would likely respond better to the following version: "Body cameras will finally hold police accountable for their cruel, untenable actions against innocent civilians; these cameras will bring us justice!"

    1. Argument: We should lower the drinking age to sixteen.

      1. Young adults who want to party.

      2. Parents of teenagers.

    2. Argument: The U.S. should ban fossil fuels in favor of green renewable energy.

      1. Coal miners from Kentucky.

      2. Liberal artists from New York City.

    This page titled 8.6: Fitting the Emotions to the Audience is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anna Mills (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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