What a great question! When I was a student writer in junior high and high school, it always bugged me that I was supposed to analyze my audience. I figured that I should be able to say what I had to say in five paragraphs of five sentence each etc., the audience be damned. If they couldn’t grasp the perspicacity of my thesis, it was their loss.
What I eventually learned was that within the English languages are many languages.
If you write in the wrong English, you may as well be writing in a foreign language, only worse, since, if you address your audience in a foreign language, they can just tune you out, whereas, if you use the wrong version of English, they still tune you out, but only after having punishing themselves trying to figure out even who you thought you were writing to.
How do you *speak*? Chances are, when you speak to your mother, you use a different form of English than you would your best friend, your crush (may they be the same person), your teacher, a cop who just pulled you over, your doctor, the President, God, or how you talk to yourself.
It’s the same with writing.
Are you writing news copy or an essay on education? A scientific description of an invention or a funny story? A reflection on personal experience or a letter to your congressperson? It’s what they mean by “style.” Likely as not, you’ll be learning APA or MLA style if you already haven’t; they are the main forms of English you’ll have to use in college unleas you’re doing creative writing, and even that has rules.
I’m using a style right now that assumes that you are a student writer. If I were writing this for a group of social scientists, I might have opened with *The significance of identying audience when writing an essay may be understood through the experience of a particular student writer who was bothered by the need for it. …* but that variety of English would have been inappropriate. I’d have lost you by now. Does this make sense?
Helpful hint: Instead of writing for an audience, think of it as writing *to* them. Real people are on the business end of your writing, so have heart and speak a language they can fully understand.