Prewriting: Ground Zero

16 Purpose

A hand holding a small, typed note that reads, "The purpose of argument should not be victory, but progress."

Often, you’ll know your purpose at the exact moment you know your audience because they’re generally a package deal:

  • I need to write a letter to my landlord explaining why my rent is late so she won’t be upset. (Audience = landlord; Purpose = explaining/keeping her happy)
  • I want to write a proposal for my work team to persuade them to change our schedule. (Audience = work team; Purpose = persuading/to get the schedule changed)
  • I have to write a research paper for my environmental science instructor comparing solar to wind power. (Audience = instructor; Purpose = analyzing/showing that you understand these two power sources)

How Do I Know What My Purpose Is?

Sometimes your instructor will give you a purpose like in the third example above, but other times, especially out in the world, your purpose will depend on what effect you want your writing to have on your audience. What is the goal of your writing? What do you hope for your audience to think, feel, or do after reading it? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Persuade/inspire them to act or think about an issue from your point of view.
  • Challenge them/make them question their thinking or behaviour.
  • Argue for or against something they believe or do; change their minds or behaviour.
  • Inform/teach them about a topic they don’t know much about.
  • Connect with them emotionally/help them feel understood.

Text Attributions

  • This chapter was adapted from “Purpose” in The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear, which is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 Licence. Adapted by Allison Kilgannon.

Media Attributions


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Advanced English Copyright © 2021 by Allison Kilgannon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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