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Humanities LibreTexts

3.6: Purpose

  • Page ID
    • Alexandra Glynn, Kelli Hallsten-Erickson & Amy Jo Swing
    • North Hennepin Community College & Lake Superior College

    Why are you writing? What do you seek to accomplish? You need to know your purpose, why you are writing, as well as to whom!

    If your car broke down on your way to class and you missed a quiz, you might need to write an email to your college instructor. You have an audience. Now, what is your purpose? It is to try to get a retake on the quiz? Is it to take responsibility for missing the quiz and apologize? Is it to complain about how awful your week has been?

    Knowing your purpose will help your prepare your writing and draft the best possible email to achieve your desired result. It might even involve research (looking at the syllabus for the class to review the instructor's policies on late or missed work).

    Let's look at this example of missing a quiz more closely. When composing the email to your professor, think about the tone you want to take, the kind of language you want to use...

    Graphic: Example of careful email to a professor


    If you did not take the time to think about audience and purpose, to go through the writing process, you might write something like this:

    Graphic: Example of a not careful email to a professor


    Which email is more likely to achieve your purpose (to succeed in the class)? Which is more likely to give your professor a favorable opinion of you even though you missed class?

    Tips for considering audience

    Make sure you understand the writing assignment, whether it is for a class or out in the working world. Each writing project will have specific expectations, either in writing (a rubric or directions) or in verbal instructions. Make sure you take note of these instructions and consider them as you're writing: they are part of your audience and purpose.

    For example, a paper in an ethics class might give an audience of first year nursing students and your purpose is to highlight an ethical issue in clinical nursing settings. You might be required to use credible sources. Now, you have an audience (first year nursing students), a purpose (educate on ethical issue in clinical sites) and some guidelines (use credible sources). All of these factors will guide your writing process, from finding a topic to considering your writing style to working on organization.

    In the professional world, an example might be writing a proposal to a client in an engineering firm. You would need to know the parameters of proposal writing. You would need to use a template or professional format, know as much about your client as possible, and use appropriate professional language in the writing of the piece.

    Resources for audience

    “Audience Awareness.” Excelsior OWL (Flip through these slides—there are other parts and examples)

    “Ethos.” Excelsior OWL

    “Pathos.” Excelsior OWL

    “Logos.” Excelsior OWL

    “See it in Practice.” Excelsior OWL

    Docimo, Katherine and Kristy Littlehale. “The Rhetorical Triangle: Ethos, Pathos, Logos.” StoryboardTHAT.

    McLeod, Saul. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Simply Psychology. 2017.

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