Writing to Engage an Audience

Topics: United States, African American, Martin Luther King, Jr. Pages: 5 (1588 words) Published: March 26, 2012
Leanne Canillas
Dr. Lulu Sun
Short Paper 1

Writing to Engage an Audience
Inspirational speech and writing always rests on a balanced combination of rational rhetoric and emotional motivation. It prompts the readers and listeners to view the world in a way the speaker or writer views it. When the writer’s voice is as vibrant as the words that are displayed on paper, the audience’s attention is captivated with an open ear and essentially a more open mind to the author’s message. Each individual can use various different writing techniques to reach the result of effective speech. Some techniques such as propaganda and charged language take advantage of what the reader may or may not know. Yet ultimately, these speakers know that the key to opening up the most resistant and closed-minded listeners is to first truly know their audience. Linda Flower, author of “Writing for an Audience,” reminds us that a writer must gauge the distance between him or herself and the audience. One can bridge the gap between the two groups by knowing the reader’s knowledge of the topic, their attitude toward it, and personal or professional needs (91). By knowing that his listeners came from a wide variety of educational backgrounds, Martin Luther King Jr. appeals to both reason and emotion. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King takes the opportunity to have a heart-to-heart with the most discerning readers; those who have already judged him for breaking the law, those who agree with his beliefs but disagree with his actions, and those who look to him for the hope of leadership. First and foremost, the letter was addressed to his fellow clergymen to whom he reaches out to. King asserts, “Since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms” (453). He cleverly opens with this paragraph to ensure that his listeners will not turn away before they have read all that he has to say, that much of what he is about to say is to answer their concerns. In addition to his peers, he also targets the ears of public figureheads and governmental officials. These are prideful folk who would be quick to write him off as a public renegade. He chooses a more assertive tone, specifically calling out individuals such as Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights leaders. He mentions their inability to deliver on the decision – from a previous negotiation – to remove racial signs at community stores. King’s word usage is careful, referring to the black community as ‘victims of a broken promise’. He goes on to lament that, “…our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled on us” (453). Words like blasted and shadow are charged with the attitudinal disposition he naturally puts forth, an attitude of frustration and disappointment. Once again, MLK carefully chose his words with the apprehension that his adversaries were reading. Dr. King also knew that the general public was looking to him for direction. He knew he had to appeal to all readers, particularly those concerned with the eradication of injustice. The letter was rife with charged language, which is natural and necessary medium for the communication of attitudinal meaning (Birk and Birk, 122). King systematically lists the ills and grievances experienced by the black community, with skillful use of repetitive semi-colons in the following excerpt. “…When you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech...

Cited: 1) King Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Exploring Language. Ed. Gary Goshgarian. 13th ed. Pearson, 2011. 452-60. Print.
2) Obama, Barack. “Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address.” Exploring Language. Ed. Gary Goshgarian. 13th ed. Pearson, 2011. 466-470. Print.
3) Flower, Linda. “Writing for an Audience.” Exploring Language. Ed. Gary Goshgarian. 13th ed. Pearson, 2011 91-93. Print.
4) Birk, Newman P., and Genevieve B. Birk. “Selection, Slanting, and Charged Language.” Exploring Language. Ed. Gary Goshgarian. 13th ed. Pearson, 2011. 116-123. Print.
5) Institute for Propaganda Analysis. “How to Detect Propaganda.” Exploring Language. Ed. Gary Goshgarian. 13th ed. Pearson, 2011. 427-432. Print.
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