One of my favorite things about writing consultations is the audience discussion. It never fails to give me a charge when a student formerly concerned about objectively “bad” writing instead starts asking herself sophisticated questions about what her audience would expect. What sorts of content would a professor anticipate? How would a friend emotionally respond to overly formal grammar? Is there a common way history essays are typically structured?
I love the audience discussion so much because it encourages writers to think not in terms of the good/bad binary but in terms of nuance and plurality. That quirky text might not impress your chemistry lab TA, but your significant other would definitely be weirded out by a love letter written in clinical passive voice. I often tell consultees who are overly anxious about meeting some mysterious metaphysical standard of composition excellence that there are as many types of writing as there are people in the world. The trick is figuring out what your audience wants from you and making a conscious decision to try to meet those expectations or intentionally subvert them.
I began my work as a Praxis co-managing editor just a few weeks ago. As I sat down to write my very first Axis blog post, a dozen thoughts ran through my head. Most of them were about the people who would see the post. Would I be able to write something that would satisfy my colleague and senior co-editor, Jamie Garner? Would my contribution be enough to make Thomas Spitzer-Hanks, our most recent former co-editor, proud? Would it be something my audience would find useful? Worthwhile? Though-provoking? Then I paused. Who exactly composed my audience, anyway?
That train of thought led me to a rather crucial question: what group of people makes up the audience of Axis? Are we reaching this audience with our posts? Perhaps more importantly, WHY is our reading audience our reading audience and is there anyone else we could serve with our general reflections on Writing Center work, practice, space, community, and theory?
Axis as of this post does not have a dedicated “About” or “Mission” page, but I have always thought of it as an extension of Praxis, the Writing Center journal published by the University Writing Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Our website helpfully demarcates the intended audience for Praxis. The Policies page elucidates that Praxis is a “forum for writing-center practicioners” and that we welcome submissions from “writing-center consultants, administrators, and others concerned with issues related to writing-center training, consulting, labor, administration, and initiatives." Maybe the audience for Axis, like the audience for Praxis, is writing center practicioners. It seemed clear enough until I started wondering who actually counted as a “practicioner.”
One of the main reasons I became involved with Praxis in the first place was its robustly democratic zeal. Our CFPS page claims that Praxis, as an “open-access online journal,” is devoted to the “cooperative spirit we see in consultations in individual writing centers.” The Writing Center ethos is about helping students take control of their own writing. Could and should this ethos extend to helping students, through publications in a blog or a journal, take control of their own writing center spaces? Should we start investing time and energy into giving consultees a voice on Axis?
My inaugural post, then, must end with a call to arms for the comments section. If you’re reading this, YOU are part of this blog’s audience. How do you understand Axis’s reading public? What do you think is Axis’s role in terms of staging discussion for Writing Center theory and practice? Who needs to be part of that discussion? And why? I’m looking forward to writing a follow-up post later in the year to attempt answers to some of these questions myself. Until then, I very much look forward to continuing this discussion in the comments!