How Critical Thinkers Understand Audiences

By Martin Cohen

Part of Critical Thinking Skills For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Critical Thinkers evaluate the audience intended for all types of writing. The following are some general critical thinking approaches for particular types of writing aimed at specific audiences:

  • Academic studies and report writing: A summary usually starts this kind of writing and the main body of the report usually follows a set pattern: a section outlining the problem, a section that explains what people have already said about it and the all-important research methods section. This latter section is where the author explains why he’s chosen to go about exploring the issue, whatever it may be, in a certain way. The bulk of the report then concerns an account of ‘what was found out’ using this method, and the final sections concern the conclusions being drawn from this research.

  • Journal articles: Usually begin with a separate summary called the synopsis and the main body starts off by looking at the context of the issue and examining several possible positions, all taken with very detailed referencing. The final paragraph may well be called ‘Conclusion’ and that’s what it is — drawing together the threads of what has been discussed earlier. The synopsis and the conclusion of many academic journal articles are very similar.

  • Magazine article: May well start with a little story, or a teasing question, which is followed by a discussion that gets more detailed as you read on — and may well end up with a surprise at the end!

  • Newspaper article: At least conventionally, these start off by stating all the key points in the first line! The second paragraph then expands on this opening, and the article itself consists of the same again in more detail. Newspapers articles don’t save the best bit until last, because for practical production reasons, the end of the article is the first bit cut if space is a bit tight. Old-school journalists used to be told always to structure stories the same way: to say who, what, when, where, why, how, in that order.

    Don’t dismiss journalistic writing! It is structured, and it shares one important feature with academic writing – the search for impartiality.

‘What you see is news, what you know is background, what you feel is opinion’, as American journalist Lester Markel said.