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Humanities Libertexts

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.

    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.