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Audience and Purpose

Before beginning any writing task, it is important to identify your audience and purpose in order to write a quality paper. Audience and purpose can influence

  • the focus of your topic,
  • the format (email, essay, report, etc.),
  • the language you use, and
  • the level of detail needed.

Audience – Who Are You Writing for?

You want to make sure readers will understand your ideas.

Think about it like this: An article on the importance of proper hand-washing written for doctors would be very different than one written for children.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • How will my audience use the information?
  • What will likely be my audience's attitude toward the topic?
  • How much does my audience already know about the topic? Is background information needed?
  • Is there any terminology that needs to be defined?

Students often assume their audience is their instructor; however, it is always a good idea to ask. Instructors might want you to write to a more general audience to assess your understanding of the material by seeing how well you can explain it.

Purpose – What Are You Trying to Achieve by Writing?

As a writer, you are trying to achieve a specific purpose. Even when texting a friend, you have a reason for doing so, such as deciding on a movie to see. Knowing your purpose lets you think critically about the information you need and how to share the information in an effective way. Below are some examples of purpose and some questions to help you think more critically about what you are trying to achieve:

  • To inform
    • What details are needed for the reader to understand your topic/message?
    • What is the best format to present the information?
  • To persuade
    • What details or evidence is most convincing?
    • What language is most convincing?
  • To entertain
    • How can you make the information interesting?
  • To instruct
    • What details does the reader need?
    • How can you break down the information so it is manageable for the reader?
  • To reflect
    • What details have the most significance?
    • What have you learned?

Your instructor will often give you a purpose for an assignment. Look for action words, such as "describe," "analyze," and "explain," to help you understand the intended purpose of an assignment.

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