Tell My Mom How to Get to Pearlstone

        When trying to explain to first-semester freshmen the advantages of knowing your best readers, I commonly pose them this exemplary situation: tell my mom how to get to Pearlstone, a large, well-known building on the Goucher campus.  Pick any local landmark and someone known to you but unknown to those you are talking to, and the problem quickly is exposed as a problem of audience, as much as a problem of task. 

        Any member of the class can tell any other member how to get to Pearlstone.  They all can tell me how to get to Pearlstone.  This is because we share a common context of information about the place and our current location, we share a common perception of each other's skills and awareness, and we share a common language of explanation.  Add "Mom" to the equation and all those shared commonalities vanish.  You have to  know "Mom" in order to explain anything to her.

        Does "Mom" know where Towson, Maryland is?  Where is "Mom" starting from?  Does "Mom" drive?  Does "Mom" have any impairments of movement which might make your instructions irrelevant or even insulting?  Does "Mom" have any previous associations with Towson, Goucher, or Pearlstone which might affect her reception of your instructions about how to get there?  Can "Mom" hear you or do you have to write the instructions, and in what language should you communicate with "Mom."  Is "Mom" friendly or hostile to you?  Does "Mom" speak/read English?

        Replace "Mom" with the representative "Best Readers" class in the case about which you are writing,  and you will have a similar set of questions that will start to arise about what your Best Readers bring to the task of reading your paper.  Ignore them at your peril.  Let them help you, instead.  They are particularly good at suggesting introductions, paragraph order and paragraph transition, kinds and qualities of supporting evidence, conclusions, and even format.  For English 104, you can assume all your Best Readers care about the proper operation of the English language and conformity with MLA document style, but the rest of their opinions and knowledge will depend on to whom you are really writing your thesis.