The Imaginary Reader
Tool - The Interpersonal Dimension -
The Imaginary Reader
Toolbox section 4 - the Readers of the text

Every text has an interpersonal dimension - there is an author (or group of authors) and there are readers, some of whom may be known persons, but for others the author will have to imagine who they are, and adapt the way they communicate the message depending on what they think will be clear and understood by the readers. In some circumstances, the text may even build a relationship between the reader and writer. Some authors method of writing is to have a continual dialogue with an "internal imaginary reader"

The writer has no way of knowing who will read his text, and what that person already knows and understands aboout the subject. Perhaps the writer hopes that many thousands of different people will read the text, and be influenced by it. S/he may be fairly sure who some of these readers will be, but cannot be sure of all of them.

To keep the text manageable, the writer will form an idea (an ideational content) of what they want to say, and have an imaginary reader in mind, which will help to keep the ideational factors within manageable limits.

It is interesting to look in more detail at who the real readers will be, and to try and resurrect the imaginary reader that the writer had in mind. As an example of this, each of the UK national newspapers has an imaginary reader who they target, ranging from "a man in a white van" to a company director.

I have also extended this idea to look at who will be happy readers of the text - pleased to see particular phrases in the text

I have developed this tool from a paper by Malcolm Coulthard (1994), "On analyzing and evaluating written text". In: Coulthard, (ed.) Advances in Written Text Analysis, Routledge, London.

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Example:- The text is quoted below. There will be several groups of real readers of this text :-

i. Parliamentarians, who have to approve the Department's plans
ii. Civil Servants in other departments, who have to co-ordinate their policies in the 'joined-up thinking' impulse
iii. Subsidiary agencies, who have to follow along with Government policy
iv. The media, who communicate with the public (and try to sell newspapers)
v. Lobbyists and interest groups, who may be trying to influence government policy in a wide range of ways
vi. Politicians - both rivals and allies
vii. The 'man in the street' who may be interested in this subject.
viii. Farmers, shopkeepers and food businesses who may be affected

The author of the text will have written will all of these known readers in mind

Given this very wide readership, the authors have probably played safe and their imaginary reader is probably a well-informed man in the street.

Interpretation and Discussion.
1. Interpersonal Aspects (Voice) - who is the imaginary reader, and who is the real reader ?
This text must play many roles for many people, and so is written for 'an average person'. Other text might be written in different ways, and the examination of this can provide interesting results.

2. Who will be pleased ? In the table below, I have included an 'audience' column, which answers the question "Who will be happy to see this objective written here ?". It may be that the main purpose of the Aims and Objectives is to keep everyone happy, and there is certainly something here for all the main interest groups.

  MAFF has the following Aim
Subject / Discourse Interest/Audience
A1. good quality food which meets consumers' requirements Food Consumers
A2. modern sustainable, competitive farming and fisheries businesses; and Farming and fisheries (businesses) Farmers and Fishers
A3. protection of the rural and marine environment and a thriving rural economy Environment (rural and marine) Green and Rural Lobbies
  and the following Objectives
O1. To protect public health in relation to farm produce and to animal diseases transmissible to humans Public health Health lobby
O2. To sustain and enhance the rural and marine environments and public enjoyment of the amenities they provide and to promote forestry Rural and marine environments (as amenities ?) Green lobby, Tourism Lobby, Forestry
O3. To secure a more economically rational Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which gives a better deal to consumers and taxpayers and pays due regards to the needs of the environment More rational CAP (and better deal to consumers and taxpayers) EU, European governments - World Bank wants reform of CAP
O4. To encourage the development of modern, efficient agriculture, fisheries and food industries which are internationally competitive and responsive to consumers' requirements
Modern efficient industries (of agriculture fisheries and food)
Food industry and consumer lobby
O5. To promote strong and sustainable rural and coastal communities through broadening economic opportunity and enhancing social development Rural and coastal communities Labour 'third way' agenda (+ a response to Countryside Alliance & Co)
O6. To administer payments under the CAP fairly and in full accordance with European Union (EU) requirements Payments under CAP European Union
O7. To conserve fish stocks for future generations and secure a sustainable future for the sea fishing industry Fish stocks (+ sea fishing industry) Fishing industry
O8. To ensure that farmed animals and fish are protected by high welfare standards and do not suffer unnecessary pain or distress Welfare of animals and fish Animal welfare lobbies
O9. To reduce risks to people and the developed and natural environment from flooding and coastal erosion
Risk of flooding and coastal erosion
Response to climate change ?
O10. To safeguard the continuing availability to the consumer of adequate supplies of wholesome, varied and reasonably priced food and drink Food and drink supplies ( wholesome, varied, reasonably priced) Consumers

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