Main Body

Chapter 4. What Are You Writing, to Whom, and How?

4.1 Expository Essays

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the function and use of expository essays
  • Identify eight types of expository essays
  • Apply expository essay structure

What Is an Expository Essay?

An essay that explains a writer’s ideas by defining, explaining, informing, or elaborating on points to allow the reader to clearly understand the concept.

Many of your future academic workplace writing assignments will be expository–explaining your ideas or the significance of a concept or action. An expository essay allows the writer the opportunity to explain his or her ideas about a topic and to provide clarity for the reader by using:

Facts

Explanations

Details

Definitions

It may also include the writer outlining steps of a procedure in a way that is straightforward for the reader to follow. It is purely informative and often contains elements of summary.

Imagine you need to verbally explain a concept to your classmates, maybe a behavioural theory. What are the key elements on which you would focus? How would you organize the information? You could explain who came up with the theory, the specific area of study to which it is related, its purpose, and the significant details to explain the theory. Telling these four elements to your classmates would give them a complete, yet summarized, picture of the theory, so they could apply the theory in future discussions.

Although you did this verbally, you were still fulfilling the elements of an expository essay by providing definition, details, explanations, and maybe even facts if you have a really good memory. This is the same process that you would use when you write an expository essay. You may actually be doing this all the time; for example, when you are giving someone directions to a place or explaining how to cook something. In the following sections of the chapter, you will practise doing this more in different expository written forms.

The Structure of an Expository Essay

Sections versus Paragraphs

Before looking at the general structure of an expository essay, you first need to know that in your post-secondary education, you should not consider your essay as writing being constructed with five paragraphs as you might have been used to in high school. You should instead think of your essay in terms of sections (there may be five), and each section may have multiple paragraphs.

To understand further why you need to think beyond the five-paragraph essay, imagine you have been asked to submit a six-page paper (approximately 1,500 words). You already know that each paragraph should be roughly 75 to 200 words long. If you divide the required word count by five paragraphs (1,500 by 5), you end with 300 words per paragraph, way above the number you should have in a paragraph. If your paragraphs are too long, they likely have too many ideas and your reader may become confused. Your paragraphs should be two-third of a page at most, and never longer than a page.

Instead, if you think of your essays being divided into sections (with possibly more than one paragraph per section), your writing will likely be more organized and allow your reader to follow your presentation of ideas without creating too much distance between your paragraph’s supporting points and its topic sentence.

As you will see in Section 4.5: Classification, some essay forms may require even more than five paragraphs or sections because of how many points are necessary to address. . For the rest of this chapter, the term paragraph will also imply section.

Sections of an Expository Essay

An expository essay, regardless of its purpose, should have at least five sections, which are:

Introduction

First body section/paragraph

Second body section/paragraph

Third body section/paragraph

Conclusion.

The introduction should state the topic of your paper: your thesis statement as well as brief signposts of what information the rest of the paper will include. That is, you only want to mention the content of the body paragraphs; you do not want to go in to a lot of detail and repeat what will be in the rest of the essay.

The first body section or paragraph should focus on one of your main points and provide evidence to support that point. There should be two to three supporting points: reasons, facts, statistics, quotations, examples, or a mix of these. Both the second and third body sections should follow the same pattern. Providing three body sections with one point each that supports the thesis should provide the reader with enough detail to be convinced of your argument or fully understand the concept you are explaining. However, remember that some sections will require more explanation, and you may need to separate this information into multiple paragraphs.

You can order your sections in the most logical way to explain your ideas. For example, if you are describing a process, you may use chronological order to show the definite time order in which the steps need to happen. You will learn about the different ways to organize your body paragraphs in the next chapter.

The concluding paragraph, or conclusion, can be a little tricky to compose because you need to make sure you give a concise summary of the body paragraphs, but you must be careful not to simply repeat what you have already written. Look back at the main idea of each section/paragraph, and try to summarize the point using words different from those you have already used. Do not include any new points in your concluding paragraph.

Consider Your Audience: How Much Do They Know?

Later in this chapter, you will work on determining and adapting to your audience when writing, but with an expository essay, since you are defining or informing your audience on a certain topic, you need to evaluate how much your audience knows about that topic (aside from having general common knowledge). You want to make sure you are giving thorough, comprehensive, and clear explanations on the topic. Never assume the reader knows everything about your topic (even if it is covered in the reader’s field of study). For example, even though some of your instructors may teach criminology, they may have specialized in different areas from the one about which you are writing; they most likely have a strong understanding of the concepts but may not recall all the small details on the topic. If your instructor specialized in crime mapping and data analysis for example, he or she may not have a strong recollection of specific criminological theories related to other areas of study. Providing enough background information without being too detailed is a fine balance, but you always want to ensure you have no gaps in the information, so your reader will not have to guess your intention. Again, we will practise this more in Section 4.9: Purpose, Audience, Tone, and Content.

What Comes Next?

In the next eight sections (4.2 through 4.9), we will look at different expository modes, or rhetorical modes, you will often be assigned. These are:

Narratives

Illustration

Description

Classification

Process analysis

Definition

Compare and contrast

Cause and effect

Rhetorical modes refers simply to the ways to communicate effectively through language. As you read about these modes, keep in mind that the rhetorical mode a writer chooses depends on his or her purpose for writing. Sometimes writers incorporate a variety of modes in any one essay. In this chapter, we also emphasize the rhetorical modes as a set of tools that will allow you greater flexibility and effectiveness in communicating with your audience and expressing your ideas.

In a few weeks, you will need to submit your first essay–an expository sample–and you will be given the choice of topic: one from each of the modes. Think about which types of expository essays are easier and which are more challenging for you. As mentioned, as you progress through your studies, you will be exposed to each of these types. You may want to explore a mode you find more challenging than the others in order to ensure you have a full grasp on developing each type. However, it is up to you. As you work through the sections, think about possible topics you may like to cover in your expository essay and start brainstorming as you work through the self-practice exercises.

After we explore each of the individual modes in the eight sections that follow, we will look at outlining and drafting; it is at this point you will want to fine tune and narrow the topic you will write about, so you can focus on that when doing the exercises.

4.2 Narration

Learning Objectives

  • Determine the purpose and structure of narrative writing
  • Understand how to write a narrative essay

 

The Purpose of Narrative Writing

Narration means the art of storytelling, and the purpose of narrative writing is to tell stories. Anytime you tell a story to a friend or family member about an event or incident in your day, you engage in a form of narration.

A narrative can be factual or fictional. A factual story is one that is based on, and tries to be faithful to, actual events as they unfolded. A fictional story is made up, or imagined; the writer of a fictional story can create characters and events as he or she sees fit. Biographies and memoirs are examples of factual stories; novels and short stories are examples of fictional stories.

Tip

Because the line between fact and fiction can often blur, it is helpful to understand what your purpose is from the beginning. Is it important that you recount history, either your own or someone else’s? Or does your interest lie in reshaping the world in your own image—either how you would like to see it or how you imagine it could be? Your answers will go a long way in shaping the stories you tell.

Ultimately, whether the story is fact or fiction, narrative writing tries to relay a series of events in an emotionally engaging way. You want your audience to be moved by your story, which could mean through humour, sympathy, fear, anger, and so on. The more clearly you tell your story, the more emotionally engaged your audience is likely to be.

Self-Practice Exercise 4.1

On a sheet of paper, start brainstorming ideas for writing a narrative. First, decide whether you want to write a factual or fictional story. Then, freewrite for five minutes. Be sure to use all five minutes and keep writing the entire time. Do not stop and think about what to write.

The following are some topics to consider to help you get going:

Childhood
School
Adventure
Work
Love
Family
Friends
Vacation
Nature
Space

Take your free writing and start crafting it chronologically into a rough plot summary. Be sure to use the time transition words and phrases listed in Table 4.1: Transition Words and Phrases for Expressing Time to sequence the events.

Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your rough plot summaries. What feedback or other ideas can you suggest to your partner?

 

The Structure of a Narrative Essay

Major narrative events are most often conveyed in chronological order, the order in which events unfold from first to last. Stories typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and these events are typically organized by time. Using transitional words and phrases help to keep the reader oriented in the sequencing of a story. Some of these phrases are listed in Table 4.1: Transition Words and Phrases for Expressing Time.

Table 4.1 Transitional Words and Phrases for Expressing Time

after/afterward as soon as at last before
currently during eventually meanwhile
next now since soon
finally later still then
until when/whenever while first, second, third

The following are the basic components of a narrative:

Plot. The events as they unfold in sequence.

Character. The people who inhabit the story and move it forward. Typically, there are minor characters and main characters. The minor characters generally play supporting roles to the main character, or the protagonist.

Conflict. The primary problem or obstacle that unfolds in the plot that the protagonist must solve or overcome by the end of the narrative. The way in which the protagonist resolves the conflict of the plot results in the theme of the narrative.

Theme. The ultimate message the narrative is trying to express; it can be either explicit or implicit.

Writing at Work

When interviewing candidates for jobs, employers often ask about conflicts or problems a potential employee has had to overcome. They are asking for a compelling personal narrative. To prepare for this question in a job interview, write out a scenario using the narrative mode. This will allow you to troubleshoot rough spots as well as better understand your own personal history. It will make both your story your presentation of it better.

Writing a Narrative Essay

When writing a narrative essay, start by asking yourself if you want to write a factual or fictional story. Then freewrite about topics that are of general interest to you. You will learn more about freewriting in Chapter 5: Putting the Pieces Together with a Thesis.

Once you have a general idea of what you will be writing about, sketch out the major events of the story that will compose your plot. Typically, these events will be revealed chronologically and climax at a central conflict that must be resolved by the end of the story. The use of strong details is crucial as you describe the events and characters in your narrative. You want the reader to emotionally engage with the world that you create in writing.

Tip

To create strong details, keep the human senses in mind. You want your reader to be immersed in the world that you create, so focus on details related to sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch as you describe people, places, and events in your narrative.

As always, it is important to start with a strong introduction to hook your reader into wanting to read more. Try opening the essay with an interesting event that helps to get the story going. Finally, your conclusion should help resolve the central conflict of the story and impress upon your reader the ultimate theme of the piece. See Appendix: Readings: Examples of Essays to read a sample narrative essay.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Narration is the art of storytelling.
  • Narratives can be either factual or fictional. In either case, narratives should emotionally engage the reader.
  • Most narratives are composed of major events sequenced in chronological order.
  • Time transitional words and phrases are used to orient the reader in the sequence of a narrative.
  • The four basic components to all narratives are plot, character, conflict, and theme.
  • The use of sensory details is crucial to emotionally engaging the reader.
  • A strong introduction is important to hook the reader. A strong conclusion should add resolution to the conflict and evoke the narrative’s theme.

 

 

4.3 Illustration

Learning Objectives

  • Determine the purpose and structure of the illustration essay
  • Understand how to write an illustration essay

The Purpose of Illustration in Writing

To illustrate means to show or demonstrate something clearly. An effective illustration essay clearly demonstrates and supports a point through the use of evidence.

As you learned in Chapter 3: Putting Ideas into Your Own Words and Paragraphs, the controlling idea of an essay is called a thesis. A writer can use different types of evidence to support his or her thesis. Using scientific studies, experts in a particular field, statistics, historical events, current events, analogies, and personal anecdotes are all ways in which a writer can illustrate a thesis. Ultimately, you want the evidence to help the reader “see” your point, as one would see a good illustration in a magazine or on a website. The stronger your evidence is, the more clearly the reader will consider your point.

Using evidence effectively can be challenging, though. The evidence you choose will usually depend on your subject and who your reader is (your audience). When writing an illustration essay, keep in mind the following:

Use evidence that is appropriate to your topic as well as to your audience.

Assess how much evidence you need to adequately explain your point depending on the complexity of the subject and the knowledge your audience has of the subject.

For example, if you were writing about a new kind of communication software and your audience was a group of English major undergrads, you might want to use an analogy or a personal story to illustrate how the software worked. You might also choose to add a few more pieces of evidence to make sure the audience understands your point. However, if you were writing about the same subject and your audience was information technology (IT) specialists, you would likely use more technical evidence because they would be familiar with the subject. Keeping in mind your subject in relation to your audience will increase your chances of effectively illustrating your point.

Tip

You never want to insult your readers’ intelligence by over explaining concepts they may already be familiar with, but it may be necessary to clearly articulate your point. When in doubt, add an extra example to illustrate your idea.

The Structure of an Illustration Essay

The controlling idea, or thesis, belongs at the beginning of the essay. Evidence is then presented in the essay’s body sections/paragraphs to support the thesis. You can start supporting your main point with your strongest evidence first, or you can start with evidence of lesser importance and have the essay build to increasingly stronger evidence. You will learn about this type of organization—order of importance—in Chapter 5: Putting the Pieces Together with a Thesis.

The time transition words listed in Table 4.1: Transition Words and Phrases for Expressing Time are also helpful in ordering the presentation of evidence. Words like first, second, third, currently, next, and finally all help orient the reader and sequence evidence clearly. Because an illustration essay uses so many examples, it is also helpful to have a list of words and phrases to present each piece of evidence; see Table 4.2: Phrases of Illustration.

Table 4.2Phrases of Illustration

case in point for example
for instance in particular
in this case

one example

another example

specifically to illustrate

Tip

Vary the phrases of illustration you use. Do not rely on just one. Variety in choice of words and phrasing is critical when trying to keep readers engaged in your writing and your ideas.

Writing at Work

In the workplace, it is often helpful to keep the phrases of illustration in mind and incorporate them whenever you can. Whether you are writing directives that colleagues will have to follow or requesting a new product or service from another company, making a conscious effort to incorporate a phrase of illustration will force you to provide examples of what you mean.

Writing an Illustration Essay

First, choose a topic you are interested in. Then create an interesting introduction to engage the reader. The main point, or thesis, should be stated at the end of the introduction. Gather evidence that is appropriate to both your subject and your audience. You can order the evidence in terms of importance, either from least important to most important or from most important to least important. Be sure to fully explain all your examples using strong, clear supporting details. See Appendix: Readings: Examples of Essays to read a sample illustration essay.

Self-Practice Exercise 4.2

On a sheet of paper, form a rough thesis based on one of the following topics. Then support that thesis with three pieces of evidence. Make sure to use a different phrase of illustration to introduce each piece of evidence you choose.

Cooking
Baseball
Work hours
Exercise
Traffic
Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers. Discuss which topic you like the best or would like to learn more about. Indicate which thesis statement you perceive as the most effective.

 

Key Takeaways

  • An illustration essay clearly explains a main point using evidence.
  • When choosing evidence, always gauge whether the evidence is appropriate for the subject as well as the audience.
  • Organize the evidence in terms of importance, either from least important to most important or from most important to least important.
  • Use time transitions to order evidence.
  • Use phrases of illustration to call out examples.

 

4.4 Description

Learning Objectives

  • Determine the purpose and structure of the description essay
  • Understand how to write a description essay

 

The Purpose of Description in Writing

Writers use description in writing to make sure that their audience is fully immersed in the words on the page. This requires a concerted effort by the writer to describe his or her world through sensory details.

As mentioned earlier in this chapter, sensory details are descriptions that appeal to our sense of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Your descriptions should try to focus on the five senses because everyone relies on these senses to experience the world. The use of sensory details, then, provides you the greatest possibility of relating to your audience and thus engaging them in your writing, making descriptive writing important not only during your education but also during everyday situations.

Tip

Avoid empty descriptors if possible. Empty descriptors are adjectives that can mean different things to different people. Goodbeautifulterrific, and nice are examples. The use of such words in descriptions can lead to misreads and confusion. A good day, for instance, can mean many different things depending on the reader’s age, personality, or tastes.

Writing at Work

Whether you are presenting a new product or service to a client, training new employees, or brainstorming ideas with colleagues, the use of clear, evocative detail is crucial. Make an effort to use details that express your thoughts in a way that will register with others. Sharp, concise details are always impressive.

The Structure of a Description Essay

Description essays typically describe a person, a place, or an object using sensory details. The structure of a descriptive essay is more flexible than some of the other rhetorical modes. The introduction of a description essay should set up the tone and point of the essay. The thesis should convey the writer’s overall impression of the person, place, or object described in the body sections or paragraphs.

The organization of the essay may best follow spatial order, an arrangement of ideas according to physical characteristics or appearance. Depending on what the writer describes, the organization could move from top to bottom, left to right, near to far, warm to cold, frightening to inviting, and so on. For example, if the subject is a client’s kitchen in the midst of renovation, you might start at one side of the room and move slowly across to the other end, describing appliances, cabinetry, and so on. Or you might choose to start with older remnants of the kitchen and progress to the new installations. Maybe start with the floor and move up toward the ceiling.

Writing a Description Essay

Choosing a subject is the first step in writing a description essay. Once you have chosen the person, place, or object you want to describe, your challenge is to write an effective thesis statement to guide your essay. The remainder of your essay describes your subject in a way that best expresses your thesis. Remember, you should have a strong sense of how you will organize your essay. Choose a strategy and stick to it.

Every part of your essay should use vivid sensory details. The more you can appeal to your readers’ senses, the more they will be engaged in your essay. See Appendix: Readings: Examples of Essays to read a sample description essay.

Self-Practice Exercise 4.3

On a sheet of paper, choose an item below, then decide on an organizing strategy (e.g., spatially, based on sensory perceptions). Create a rough outline of possible supporting points.
Train station
Your office
Your car
A coffee shop
Lobby of a movie theater
Mystery option*
*Choose an object to describe but do not explicitly tell what it is. Describe it, but preserve the mystery.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Description essays should describe something vividly to the reader using strong sensory details.
  • Sensory details appeal to the five human senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
  • A description essay should start with the writer’s main impression of a person, a place, or an object.
  • Use spatial order to organize your descriptive writing.

 

4.5 Classification

Learning Objectives

  • Determine the purpose and structure of the classification essay
  • Understand how to write a classification essay

 

The Purpose of Classification in Writing

The purpose of classification is to break down broad subjects into smaller, more manageable, more specific parts. We classify things in our daily lives all the time, often without thinking about it. Cell phones, for example, have now become part of a broad category. They can be classified as feature phones, media phones, and smartphones. Smaller categories, and the way in which these categories are created, help us make sense of the world. Keep both of these elements in mind when writing a classification essay.

Tip

Choose topics that you know well when writing classification essays. The more you know about a topic, the more you can break it into smaller, more interesting parts. Adding interest and insight will enhance your classification essays.

The Structure of a Classification Essay

The classification essay opens with an introductory paragraph that introduces the broader topic. The thesis should then explain how that topic is divided into subgroups and why. Take the following introductory paragraph, for example:

When people think of British Columbia, they often think of only Vancouver. However, British Columbia is actually a diverse province with a full range of activities to do, sights to see, and cultures to explore. In order to better understand the diversity of the province of British Columbia, it is helpful to break it into seven separate regions: the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, the North and Central Coast, Northern British Columbia, Canyons and the Cariboo, the Thompson-Okanagan, and the Kootenays.

The underlined thesis in this example explains not only the category and subcategories but also the rationale for breaking it into those categories. In this classification essay, the writer hopes to show readers a different way of considering the province.

Each body paragraph of a classification essay is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subcategories. In the previous example, then, each of the seven regions of British Columbia would have its own paragraph.

The conclusion should bring all the categories and subcategories together again to show the reader the big picture. In the previous example, the conclusion might explain how the various sights and activities of each region of British Columbia add to its diversity and complexity.

Tip

To avoid settling for an overly simplistic classification, make sure you break down any given topic at least three different ways. This will help you think “outside the box” and perhaps even learn something entirely new about a subject.

Self-Practice Exercise 4.4

On a sheet of paper, break the following categories into smaller classifications.

Vehicles
Colleges and universities
Beverages
Fashion

Choose one of the classifications and write a brief paragraph explaining why you chose to organize each main category in the way that you did.

 

Writing a Classification Essay

Start with an engaging opening that will adequately introduce the general topic that you will be dividing into smaller subcategories. Your thesis should come near the end of your introduction. It should include the topic, your subtopics, and the reason you are choosing to break down the topic in the way that you are. Use the following classification thesis equation:

topic + subtopics + rationale for the subtopics = thesis.

The organizing strategy of a classification essay is dictated by the initial topic and the subsequent subtopics. Each body paragraph is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subtopics. In a way, coming up with a strong topic pays double rewards in a classification essay. Not only do you have a good topic, but you also have a solid organizational structure within which to write.

Be sure you use strong details and explanations for each subcategory paragraph that help explain and support your thesis. Also, be sure to give examples to illustrate your points. Finally, write a conclusion that links all the subgroups together again. The conclusion should successfully wrap up your essay by connecting it to your topic initially discussed in the introduction. See Appendix: Readings: Examples of Essays to read a sample classification essay.

Key Takeaways

  • The purpose of classification is to break a subject into smaller, more manageable, more specific parts.
  • Smaller subcategories and the way in which they are created help us make sense of the world.
  • A classification essay is organized by its subcategories.

 

4.6 Process Analysis

 

Learning Objectives

  • Determine the purpose and structure of the process analysis essay
  • Understand how to write a process analysis essay

 

The Purpose of Process Analysis in Writing

The purpose of a process analysis essay is to explain how to do something or how something works. In either case, the formula for a process analysis essay is the same. The process is articulated into clear, definitive steps.

Almost everything we do involves following a step-by-step process. From riding a bike as children to learning various jobs as adults, we initially need instructions to effectively execute the task. Likewise, we have likely had to instruct others, so we know how important good directions are—and how frustrating it is when they are poorly put together.

Writing at Work

The next time you have to explain a process to someone at work, be mindful of how clearly you articulate each step. Strong communication skills are critical for workplace satisfaction and advancement. Effective process analysis plays a critical role in developing that skill set.

The Structure of a Process Analysis Essay

The process analysis essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis statement that states the goal of the process. The organization of a process analysis essay is typically chronological. That is, the steps of the process are conveyed in the order in which they usually occur. Body paragraphs will be constructed based on these steps. If a particular step is complicated and needs a lot of explaining, then it will likely take up a paragraph on its own. But if a series of simple steps is easier to understand, then the steps can be grouped into a single paragraph.

The time transitional phrases provided earlier are also helpful in organizing process analysis essays (see Table 4.1: Transitional Words and Phrases for Expressing Time and Table 4.2: Phrases of Illustration). Words such as firstsecondthirdnext, and finally are helpful cues to orient reader and organize the content of essay.

Tip

Always have someone else read your process analysis to make sure it makes sense. When a writer becomes very close to a subject, it is difficult to determine how clearly an idea is coming across. Having a friend or co-worker read it over will help identify any confusing spots.

Self-practice Exercise 4.5

On a separate sheet of paper, make a bulleted list of all the steps that you feel would be required to clearly illustrate one of the following processes:
Tying a shoelace
Parallel parking
Planning a successful first date
Being an effective communicator
Start creating a rough outline of the possible information to include in each of your steps. Consider that you will construct paragraphs based on the complexity of each step. For complicated steps, dedicate an entire paragraph. If less complicated steps fall in succession, group them into a single paragraph.

 

Writing a Process Analysis Essay

Choose a topic that is interesting, is relatively complex, and can be explained in a series of steps. As with other rhetorical writing modes, you should choose something you know well so that you can more easily describe the finer details about each step in the process. Your thesis statement should come at the end of your introduction, and it should state the final outcome of the process you are describing.

Body paragraphs are composed of the steps in the process. Each step should be expressed using strong details and clear examples. Use time transitional phrases to help organize steps in the process and to orient readers. The conclusion should thoroughly describe the result of the process described in the body paragraphs. See Appendix: Readings: Examples of Essays to read an example of a process analysis essay.

 

Key Takeaways

  • A process analysis essay explains how to do something, how something works, or both.
  • The process analysis essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis statement that states the outcome of the process.
  • The organization of a process analysis essay typically follows a chronological sequence.
  • Time transitional phrases are particularly helpful in process analysis essays to organize steps and orient reader.

 

4.7 Definition

Learning Objectives

  • Determine the purpose and structure of the definition essay
  • Understand how to write a definition essay

 

The Purpose of Definition in Writing

The purpose of a definition essay may seem self-explanatory: to simply define something. But defining terms in writing is often more complicated than just consulting a dictionary. In fact, the way we define terms can have far-reaching consequences for individuals as well as groups.

Take, for example, a word like alcoholism. The way in which one defines alcoholism depends on its legal, moral, and medical contexts. Lawyers may define alcoholism in terms of laws governing drinking alcohol; parents may define alcoholism in terms of morality; and doctors may define alcoholism in terms of symptoms and diagnostic criteria. Think also of terms that people tend to debate in our broader culture. How we define words, such as marriage and climate change, has enormous impact on policy decisions and even on daily decisions. Think about conversations couples may have in which words like commitmentrespect, or love need clarification.

Defining terms within a relationship, or any other context, can at first be difficult, but once a definition is established between two people or in a group of people, it is easier to have productive dialogues. Definitions, then, establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse, which is why they are so important.

Tip

When writing definition essays, avoid terms that are too simple, that lack complexity. Think in terms of concepts, such as heroismimmigration, or loyalty, rather than physical objects. Definitions of concepts, rather than objects, are often fluid and contentious, making for a more effective definition essay.

Writing at Work

Definitions play a critical role in all workplace environments. Take the term sexual harassment, for example. Sexual harassment is broadly defined on the federal level, but individual companies may have additional criteria that define it further for a particular work setting. Knowing how your workplace defines and treats all sexual harassment allegations is important. Think, too, about how your company defines latenessproductivity, or contributions.

The Structure of a Definition Essay

The definition essay opens with a general discussion of the term to be defined. You then state as your thesis your definition of the term.

The rest of the essay should explain the rationale for your definition. Remember that a dictionary’s definition is limiting, and you should not rely strictly on the dictionary entry. Instead, consider the context in which you are using the word. Context identifies the circumstances, conditions, or setting in which something exists or occurs. Often words take on different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the ideal leader in a battlefield setting could likely be very different than a leader in an elementary school setting. If context is missing from the essay, the essay may be too short or the main points could be confusing or misunderstood.

The remainder of the essay should explain different aspects of the term’s definition. For example, if you were defining a good leader in an elementary classroom setting, you might define the person according to personality traits: patience, consistency, and flexibility. Each attribute would be explained in its own paragraph.

 

Tip

For definition essays, try to think of concepts that you have a personal stake in. You are more likely to write a more engaging definition essay if you are writing about an idea that has personal value and importance.

 

Writing at Work

It is a good idea to occasionally assess your role in the workplace. You can do this through the process of definition. Identify your role at work by defining not only the routine tasks but also those grey areas where your responsibilities might overlap with those of others. Coming up with a clear definition of roles and responsibilities can add value to your resumé and even increase productivity in the workplace.

Self-practice Exercise 4.6

On a sheet of paper, write about a time in your own life in which the definition of a word, or the lack of a definition, caused an argument. Your term could be something as simple as the category of an allstar in sports or how to define a good movie. Or it could be something with higher stakes and wider impact, such as a political argument. Explain how the conversation began, how the argument hinged on the definition of the word, and how the incident was finally resolved.

Make a rough outline of how you would organize your points.

Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your responses.

Writing a Definition Essay

Choose a topic that will be complex enough to be discussed at length. Choosing a word or phrase of personal relevance often leads to a more interesting and engaging essay.

After you have chosen your word or phrase, start your essay with an introduction that establishes the relevance of the term in the chosen specific context. Your thesis comes at the end of the introduction, and it should clearly state your definition of the term in the specific context. Establishing a functional context from the beginning will orient readers and minimize misunderstandings.

The body paragraphs should each be dedicated to explaining a different facet of your definition. Make sure to use clear examples and strong details to illustrate your points. Your concluding paragraph should pull together all the different elements of your definition to ultimately reinforce your thesis. See Appendix: Readings: Examples of Essays to read a sample definition essay.

Key Takeaways

  • Definitions establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse.
  • Context affects the meaning and usage of words.
  • The thesis of a definition essay should clearly state the writer’s definition of the term in the specific context.
  • Body paragraphs should explain the various facets of the definition stated in the thesis.
  • The conclusion should pull all the elements of the definition together at the end and reinforce the thesis.

4.8 Comparison and Contrast

Learning Objectives

  • Determine the purpose and structure of comparison and contrast in writing
  • Explain organizational methods used when comparing and contrasting
  • Understand how to write a compare and contrast essay

The Purpose of Comparison and Contrast in Writing

Comparison in writing discusses elements that are similar, while contrast in writing discusses elements that are different. A compare and contrast essay, then, analyzes two subjects by comparing them, contrasting them, or doing both.

The key to a good compare and contrast essay is to choose two or more subjects that connect in a meaningful way. The purpose of conducting the comparison or contrast is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities. For example, if you wanted to focus on contrasting two subjects you would not pick apples and oranges; rather, you might choose to contrast two types of oranges or two types of apples to highlight subtle differences: Red Delicious apples are sweet, while Granny Smiths are tart and acidic. Drawing distinctions between elements in a similar category will increase the audience’s understanding of that category, which is the purpose of the compare and contrast essay.

Similarly, to focus on comparison, choose two subjects that seem at first to be unrelated. For a comparison essay, you likely would not choose two different types of apples as in the example above because they share so many of the same properties already. Rather, you might try to compare apples and oranges. The more divergent the two subjects initially seem, the more interesting a comparison essay will be.

Writing at Work

Comparing and contrasting is also an evaluative tool. In order to make accurate evaluations about a given topic, you must first know the critical points of similarity and difference. Comparing and contrasting is a primary tool for many workplace assessments. You have likely compared and contrasted yourself to other colleagues. Employee advancements, pay raises, hiring, and firing are typically conducted using comparison and contrast. Comparison and contrast could be used to evaluate companies, departments, or individuals.

Self-practice Exercise 4.7

Brainstorm an essay that leans toward contrast. Choose one of the following three categories. Pick two examples from each. Then come up with one similarity and three differences between the examples.
Romantic comedies
Internet search engines
Cell phones
Brainstorm an essay that leans toward comparison. Choose one of the following three items. Then come up with one difference and three similarities.
Department stores and discount retail stores
Fast-food chains and fine-dining restaurants
Dogs and cats

  • Create an outline for each of the items you chose. Use the pointbypoint organizing strategy for one of them, and use the subject organizing strategy for the other.
  • Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your responses.

 

The Structure of a Comparison and Contrast Essay

The compare and contrast essay starts with a thesis that clearly states the two subjects being compared, contrasted, or both, and the reason for doing so. The thesis could lean more toward either comparing or contrasting, or balance both. Remember, the point of comparing and contrasting is to provide useful knowledge to the reader. Take the following thesis as an example that leans more toward contrasting.

Thesis statement: Organic vegetables may cost more than those that are conventionally grown, but when put to the test, they are definitely worth every extra penny.

Here the thesis sets up the two subjects to be compared and contrasted (organic versus conventionally grown vegetables), and it makes a claim about the results that might prove useful to the reader.

You may organize compare and contrast essays in one of the following two ways:

According to the subjects themselves, discussing one then the other

According to individual points, discussing each subject in relation to each point

See Figure 4.1: Planning a Comparison and Contrast Essay, which illustrates the ways to organize the organic versus conventional vegetables thesis.



organize by subject
Figure 4.1 Planning a Comparison and Contrast Essay

The organizational structure you choose depends on the nature of the topic, your purpose, and your audience.

Given that compare and contrast essays analyze the relationship between two subjects, it is helpful to have some phrases on hand that will cue the reader to such analysis. See Table 4.3: Phrases of Comparison and Contrast for examples.

Table 4.3 Phrases of Comparison and Contrast

Comparison Contrast
one similarity one difference
another similarity another difference
both conversely
like in contrast
likewise unlike
similarly while
in a similar fashion whereas

Writing a Comparison and Contrast Essay

First choose whether you want to compare seemingly disparate subjects, contrast seemingly similar subjects, or compare and contrast subjects. Once you have decided on a topic, introduce it with an engaging opening paragraph. Your thesis should come at the end of the introduction, and it should establish the subjects you will compare, contrast, or both, as well as state what can be learned from doing so.

The body of the essay can be organized in one of two ways: by subject or by individual points. The organizing strategy that you choose will depend on, as always, your audience and your purpose. You may also consider your particular approach to the subjects as well as the nature of the subjects themselves; some subjects might better lend themselves to one structure or the other. Be sure to use comparison and contrast phrases to cue the reader to the ways in which you are analyzing the relationship between the subjects.

After you finish analyzing the subjects, write a conclusion that summarizes the main points of the essay and reinforces your thesis. See Appendix: Readings: Examples of Essays to read a sample compare and contrast essay.

Writing at Work

Many business presentations are conducted using comparison and contrast. The organizing strategies—by subject or individual points—could also be used for organizing a presentation. Keep this in mind as a way of organizing your content the next time you or a colleague has to present something at work.

Key Takeaways

  • A compare and contrast essay analyzes two subjects by either comparing them, contrasting them, or both.
  • The purpose of writing a comparison or contrast essay is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities between two subjects.
  • The thesis should clearly state the subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both, and it should state what is to be learned from doing so.
  • There are two main organizing strategies for compare and contrast essays.
  • Organize by the subjects themselves, one then the other.
  • Organize by individual points, in which you discuss each subject in relation to each point.
  • Use phrases of comparison or phrases of contrast to signal to readers how exactly the two subjects are being analyzed.

4.9 Cause and Effect

Learning Objectives

  • Determine the purpose and structure of cause and effect in writing
  • Understand how to write a cause and effect essay

 

The Purpose of Cause and Effect in Writing

It is often considered human nature to ask “why?” and “how?” We may want to know how our child got sick so we can better prevent it from happening in the future, or why our colleague received a pay raise because we want one as well. We want to know how much money we will save over the long term if we buy a hybrid car. These examples identify only a few of the relationships we think about in our lives, but each shows the importance of understanding cause and effect.

A cause is something that produces an event or condition; an effect is what results from an event or condition. The purpose of the cause and effect essay is to determine how various phenomena relate in terms of origins and results. Sometimes the connection between cause and effect is clear, but often determining the exact relationship between the two is very difficult. For example, the following effects of a cold may be easily identifiable: a sore throat, runny nose, and a cough. But determining the cause of the sickness can be far more difficult. A number of causes are possible, and to complicate matters, these possible causes could have combined to cause the sickness. That is, more than one cause may be responsible for any given effect. Therefore, cause and effect discussions are often complicated and frequently lead to debates and arguments.

Tip

Use the complex nature of cause and effect to your advantage. Often it is not necessary, or even possible, to find the exact cause of an event or to name the exact effect. So, when formulating a thesis, you can claim one of a number of causes or effects to be the primary, or main, cause or effect. As soon as you claim that one cause or one effect is more crucial than the others, you have developed a thesis.

The Structure of a Cause and Effect Essay

The cause and effect essay opens with a general introduction to the topic, which then leads to a thesis that states the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event.

The cause and effect essay can be organized in one of the following two primary ways:

Start with the cause and then talk about the effects.

Start with the effect and then talk about the causes.

For example, if your essay is on childhood obesity, you could start by talking about the effect of childhood obesity and then discuss the cause, or you could start the same essay by talking about the cause of childhood obesity and then move to the effect. Regardless of which structure you choose, be sure to explain each element of the essay completely. Explaining complex relationships requires the full use of evidence, such as scientific studies, expert testimony, statistics, and anecdotes.

Because cause and effect essays determine how phenomena are linked, they make frequent use of words and phrases that denote such linkage. See Table 4.4: Phrases of Causation for examples of such terms.

Table 4.4 Phrases of Causation

as a result

because

consequently

due to

hence

since

therefore

thus

The conclusion should wrap up the discussion and reinforce the thesis, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of the relationship that was analyzed.

Tip

Be careful of resorting to empty speculation. In writing, speculation amounts to unsubstantiated guessing. Writers are particularly prone to this trap in cause and effect arguments due to the complex nature of finding links between phenomena. Be sure to have clear evidence to support the claims that you make.

 

Self-practice Exercise 4.8

Freewrite for five minutes on one of the following broad topics below. Focus on a narrower issue about that topic and its effects.

Health and nutrition
Sports
Media
Politics
History

Writing a Cause and Effect Essay

Choose an event or condition that you think has an interesting cause and effect relationship. Introduce your topic in an engaging way. End your introduction with a thesis that states the main cause, the main effect, or both.

Organize your essay by starting with either the cause then effect structure, or the effect then cause structure. Within each section, you should clearly explain and support the causes and effects using a full range of evidence. If you are writing about multiple causes or multiple effects, you may choose to sequence either in order of importance. In other words, order the causes from least to most important (or vice versa), or order the effects from least important to most important (or vice versa).

Use the phrases of causation when trying to forge connections between various events or conditions. This will help organize your ideas and orient the reader. End your essay with a conclusion that summarizes your main points and reinforces your thesis. See Appendix: Readings: Examples of Essays to read a sample cause and effect essay.

Key Takeaways

  • The purpose of the cause and effect essay is to determine how various phenomena are related.
  • The thesis states what the writer sees as the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event.
  • The cause and effect essay can be organized in one of these two primary ways:
  • Start with the cause and then talk about the effect.
  • Start with the effect and then talk about the cause.
  • Strong evidence is particularly important in the cause and effect essay due to the complexity of determining connections between phenomena.
  • Phrases of causation are helpful to signal links between various elements in the essay.

 

Essay 1: Expository essay (15%)

In week 7, you will need to submit an expository essay on one of the following topics. Consider these topics as you work through the rest of this chapter and the next. You will need to choose one topic from one of the rhetorical modes below and write a 750- to 900-word essay. You will need to produce a logically organized essay with a thesis statement, well developed and logically organized paragraphs (with topic sentences), and an introduction and conclusion. You will need to support your ideas using one to three sources and include an APA reference list and citations as outlined in the JIBC APA Style Guide. You need to also demonstrate appropriate use of grammar and correct spelling. Remember, your essay should not just be a story; it should demonstrate logical organization and idea development.

Narrative: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized narrative essay.

A moment of success or failure
An experience that helped you mature

Illustration: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized illustration essay.
The media and the framing of crime
Child obesity
The effect of violent video games on behaviour
Description: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized description essay.
How to reduce weight
How to remain relevant in your workplace
How to get a good night’s sleep
Classification: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized classification essay.
Ways of boring people
Methods of studying for a final exam
Extreme weather
Process analysis: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized process analysis essay.
How to complain effectively
How to apply the Heimlich manoeuvre, or other lifesaving technique
How a particular accident occurred
Definition: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized definition essay.
Right to privacy
Integrity
Heroism
Compare and contrast: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized compare and contrast essay.
Two ways of losing weight: one healthy, one dangerous
Two ways to break a bad habit
An active and a passive student
Cause and effect: Choose one of the topics below and relate your ideas in a clearly organized cause and effect essay.
Plagiarism and cheating in school. Give its effects.
Bullying. Give its effects.
A personal, unreasonable fear or irritation. Give its causes.
You need to submit this assignment to your instructor for marking. (15%)

4.9 Purpose, Audience, Tone, and Content

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the four common academic purposes
  • Identify audience, tone, and content
  • Apply purpose, audience, tone, and content to a specific assignment

We have examined different types or modes of composing expository essays. As each essay has a different purpose, we now need to look further at how to construct paragraphs according to the purpose, audience, and tone of writing. It is important keep the big picture thesis in mind when writing, and to question whether the information supports that thesis. As well, while thinking of how each supporting idea links back to that thesis, it is necessary to consider the purpose of the paragraphs. Should a paragraph be summary, analysis, synthesis, or evaluation to best support the thesis and essay mode? How will that purpose affect paragraph construction?

Three elements shape the content of each paragraph:

Purpose. The reason the writer composes the paragraph.

Tone. The attitude the writer conveys about the paragraph’s subject.

Audience. The individual or group whom the writer intends to address.

Figure 4.2: Purpose, Audience, Tone, and Content Triangle illustrates this concept.

Figure 4.2 Purpose, Audience, Tone, and Content Triangle
Figure 4.2 Purpose, Audience, Tone, and Content Triangle

 

The assignment’s purpose, audience, and tone dictate what the paragraph covers and how it will support one main point. This section covers how purpose, audience, and tone affect reading and writing paragraphs.

Identifying Common Academic Purposes

The purpose is simply the reason you are writing a particular document. Basically, the purpose of a piece of writing answers the question “why?” For example, why write a play? To entertain a packed theatre. Why write instructions to the babysitter? To inform him or her of your schedule and rules. Why write a letter to your Member of Parliament? To persuade him or her to address your community’s needs.

In academic settings, the reasons for writing fulfill four main purposes: to summarize, to analyze, to synthesize, and to evaluate. You will encounter these four purposes not only as you read for your classes but also as you read for work or pleasure. Because reading and writing work together, your writing skills will improve as you read.

Eventually, your instructors will ask you to complete assignments specifically designed to meet one of the four purposes. As you will see, the purpose for writing will guide you through each part of the paper, helping you make decisions about content and style. For now, identifying these purposes by reading paragraphs will prepare you to write individual paragraphs and to build longer assignments.

Summary Paragraphs

We have already seen a sample of a summary paragraph in Section 3.2: Summarizing. Take a look back at the summary paragraph in that section to refresh your memory on what this type of paragraph should contain.

Analysis Paragraphs

An analysis separates complex materials into their different parts and studies how the parts relate to one another. The analysis of simple table salt, for example, would require a deconstruction of its parts—the elements sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl). Then, scientists would study how the two elements interact to create the compound NaCl, or sodium chloride, which is also called simple table salt.

Analysis is not limited to the sciences, of course. An analysis paragraph in academic writing fulfills the same purpose. Instead of deconstructing chemical compounds, academic analysis paragraphs typically deconstruct documents. An analysis takes apart a primary source (an essay, a book, an article, etc.) point by point. It communicates the main points of the document by examining individual points and identifying how they relate to one another.

Take a look at a student’s analysis of the journal report.

At the beginning of their report, Brown et al. use specific data regading the use of alcohol by high school students and college-aged students, which is supported by several studies. Later in the report, they consider how various socioeconomic factors influence problem drinking in adolescence. The latter part of the report is for less specific and does not provide statistics or examples. The lack of specific information in the second part of the report raises several important questions. Why are teenagers in rural high schools more likely to drink that teenagers in urban areas? Where they obtain alchoho? How do parental attitudes influence this trend? A follow-up study could compare several high schools in rural and urban areas to consider these issues and potentially find ways to reduce teenage alcohol comsumption.

Notice how the analysis does not simply repeat information from the original report, but considers how the points within the report relate to one another. By doing this, the student uncovers a discrepancy between the points that are backed up by statistics and those that require additional information. Analyzing a document involves a close examination of each of the individual parts and how they work together.

Synthesis Paragraphs

synthesis combines two or more items to create an entirely new item. Consider the electronic musical instrument aptly named the synthesizer. It looks like a simple keyboard but displays a dashboard of switches, buttons, and levers. With the flip of a few switches, a musician may combine the distinct sounds of a piano, a flute, or a guitar—or any other combination of instruments—to create a new sound. The purpose of the synthesizer is to blend together the notes from individual instruments to form new, unique notes.

The purpose of an academic synthesis is to blend individual documents into a new document. An academic synthesis paragraph considers the main points from one or more pieces of writing and links the main points together to create a new point, one not replicated in either document.

Take a look at a student’s synthesis of several sources about underage drinking.

In their 2009 report, Brown et al. consider the rates of alcohol consumption among high school and college-aged students and various sociodemographic factors that affect theserates. However, this report is limited to assessing the rates of underage drinking, rather than considering methods of decreasing these rates. Several other studies, as well as original research among college students, provide insight into how these rates may be reduced. One study, by Spoth, Greenberg, and Turrisi (2009) considers the impact of various types of interventions as a method for reducing alcohol consumption among minors. They conclude that although family-focused interventions for adolescents aged ten to fifteen have shown promise, there is a serious lack of interventions available for college-aged students who do not attend college. These students are among the highest risk level for alcohol abuse, a fact supported by Brown et al. I did my own research and interviewed eight college students, four men and four women. I asked them when they first tried alcohol and what factors encouraged them to drink. All four men had tried alcohol by the age of thirteen. Three of the women had also tried alcohol by thirteen and the fourth had tried alcohol by fifteen. All eight students said that peer pressure, boredom, and the thrill of trying something illegal were motivating factors. These results support the research of Brown et al. However, they also raise an interesting point. If boredom is a motivating factor for underage drinking, maybe additional after school programs or other community measures could be introduced to dissuade teenagers from underage drinking. Based on my sources, further research is needed to show true preventative measures for teenage alcohol consumption.

Notice how the synthesis paragraphs consider each source and use information from each to create a new thesis. A good synthesis does not repeat information; the writer uses a variety of sources to create a new idea.

Evaluation Paragraphs

An evaluation judges the value of something and determines its worth. Evaluations in everyday experiences are often not only dictated by set standards but are also influenced by opinion and prior knowledge. For example, at work, a supervisor may complete an employee evaluation by judging his subordinate’s performance based on the company’s goals. If the company focuses on improving communication, the supervisor will rate the employee’s customer service according to a standard scale. However, the evaluation still depends on the supervisor’s opinion and prior experience with the employee. The purpose of the evaluation is to determine how well the employee performs on the job.

Throughout their report, Brown et al. provide valuable statistics that highlight the frequency of alcohol use among high school and college students. They use several reputable sources to support their points. However, the report focuses solely on the frequency of alcohol use and how it varies according to certain sociodemographic factors. Other sources, such as Spoth, Greenberg, and Turrisi’s study (2009) and the survey I conducted among college students, examine the reasons for alcohol use among young people and offer suggestions as to how to reduce the rates. Nonetheless, I think that Brown et al. offer a useful set of statistics from which to base further research into alcohol use among high school and college students.

An academic evaluation communicates your opinion, and its justifications, about a document or a topic of discussion. Evaluations are influenced by your reading of the document, your prior knowledge, and your prior experience with the topic or issue. Because an evaluation incorporates your point of view and the reasons for your point of view, it typically requires more critical thinking and a combination of summary, analysis, and synthesis skills. Thus evaluation paragraphs often follow summary, analysis, and synthesis paragraphs. Read a student’s evaluation paragraph.

Notice how the paragraph incorporates the student’s personal judgment within the evaluation. Evaluating a document requires prior knowledge that is often based on additional research.

 

Tip

When reviewing directions for assignments, look for the verbs summarize, analyzesynthesize, or evaluate. Instructors often use these words to clearly indicate the assignment’s purpose. These words will cue you on how to complete the assignment because you will know its exact purpose.

Self-practice Exercise 4.9

Read the following paragraphs about four films and then identify the purpose of each paragraph.
This film could easily have been cut down to less than two hours. By the final scene, I noticed that most of my fellow moviegoers were snoozing in their seats and were barely paying attention to what was happening on screen. Although the director sticks diligently to the book, he tries too hard to cram in all the action, which is just too ambitious for such a detail-oriented story. If you want my advice, read the book and give the movie a miss.

During the opening scene, we learn that the character Laura is adopted and that she has spent the past three years desperately trying to track down her real parents. Having exhausted all the usual options—adoption agencies, online searches, family trees, and so on—she is on the verge of giving up when she meets a stranger on a bus. The chance encounter leads to a complicated chain of events that ultimately result in Laura getting her lifelong wish. But is it really what she wants? Throughout the rest of the film, Laura discovers that sometimes the past is best left where it belongs.

To create the feeling of being gripped in a vise, the director, May Lee, uses a variety of elements to gradually increase the tension. The creepy, haunting melody that subtly enhances the earlier scenes becomes ever more insistent, rising to a disturbing crescendo toward the end of the movie. The desperation of the actors, combined with the claustrophobic atmosphere and tight camera angles create a realistic firestorm, from which there is little hope of escape. Walking out of the theatre at the end feels like staggering out of a Roman dungeon.

The scene in which Campbell and his fellow prisoners assist the guards in shutting down the riot immediately strikes the viewer as unrealistic. Based on the recent reports on prison riots in both Detroit and California, it seems highly unlikely that a posse of hardened criminals would intentionally help their captors at the risk of inciting future revenge from other inmates. Instead, both news reports and psychological studies indicate that prisoners who do not actively participate in a riot will go back to their cells and avoid conflict altogether. Examples of this lack of attention to detail occur throughout the film, making it almost unbearable to watch.

Collaboration: Share with a classmate and compare your answers.

 

Writing at Work

Thinking about the purpose of writing a report in the workplace can help focus and structure the document. A summary should provide colleagues with a factual overview of your findings without going into too much detail. In contrast, an evaluation should include your personal opinion, along with supporting evidence, research, or examples to back it up. Listen for words such as summarize, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate when your boss asks you to complete a report to help determine a purpose for writing.

Self-practice Exercise 4.10

Consider the expository essay you will soon have to write. Identify the most effective academic purpose for the assignment.

My assignment: ____________________________________________

My purpose: _____________________________________________

 

Identifying the Audience

Imagine you must give a presentation to a group of executives in an office. Weeks before the big day, you spend time creating and rehearsing the presentation. You must make important, careful decisions not only about the content but also about your delivery. Will the presentation require technology to project figures and charts? Should the presentation define important words, or will the executives already know the terms? Should you wear your suit and dress shirt? The answers to these questions will help you develop an appropriate relationship with your audience, making them more receptive to your message.

Now imagine you must explain the same business concepts from your presentation to a group of high school students. Those important questions you previously answered may now require different answers. The figures and charts may be too sophisticated, and the terms will certainly require definitions. You may even reconsider your outfit and sport a more casual look. Because the audience has shifted, your presentation and delivery will shift as well to create a new relationship with the new audience.

In these two situations, the audience—the individuals who will watch and listen to the presentation—plays a role in the development of presentation. As you prepare the presentation, you visualize the audience to anticipate their expectations and reactions. What you imagine affects the information you choose to present and how you will present it. Then, during the presentation, you meet the audience in person and discover immediately how well you perform.

Although the audience for writing assignments—your readers—may not appear in person, they play an equally vital role. Even in everyday writing activities, you identify your readers’ characteristics, interests, and expectations before making decisions about what you write. In fact, thinking about audience has become so common that you may not even detect the audience driven decisions.

For example, you update your status on a social networking site with the awareness of who will digitally follow the post. If you want to brag about a good grade, you may write the post to please family members. If you want to describe a funny moment, you may write with your friends’ sense of humour in mind. Even at work, you send emails with an awareness of an unintended receiver who could intercept the message.

In other words, being aware of “invisible” readers is a skill you most likely already possess and one you rely on every day. Consider the following paragraphs. Which one would the author send to her parents? Which one would she send to her best friend?

Example A

Last Saturday, I volunteered at a local hospital. The visit was fun and rewarding. I even learned how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR. Unfortunately, I think caught a cold from one of the patients. This week, I will rest in bed and drink plenty of clear fluids. I hope I am well by next Saturday to volunteer again.

Example B
OMG! You won’t believe this! My advisor forced me to do my community service hours at this hospital all weekend! We learned CPR but we did it on dummies, not even real peeps. And some kid sneezed on me and got me sick! I was so bored and sniffling all weekend; I hope I don’t have to go back next week. I def do NOT want to miss the basketball tournament!

Most likely, you matched each paragraph to its intended audience with little hesitation. Because each paragraph reveals the author’s relationship with her intended readers, you can identify the audience fairly quickly. When writing your own paragraphs, you must engage with your audience to build an appropriate relationship given your subject. Imagining your readers during each stage of the writing process will help you make decisions about your writing. Ultimately, the people you visualize will affect what and how you write.

Tip

While giving a speech, you may articulate an inspiring or critical message, but if you left your hair a mess and laced up mismatched shoes, your audience would not take you seriously. They may be too distracted by your appearance to listen to your words.

Similarly, grammar and sentence structure serve as the appearance of a piece of writing. Polishing your work using correct grammar will impress your readers and allow them to focus on what you have to say.

Because focusing on audience will enhance your writing, your process, and your finished product, you must consider the specific traits of your audience members. Use your imagination to anticipate the readers’ demographics, education, prior knowledge, and expectations.

Demographics: These measure important data about a group of people, such as their age range, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or gender. Certain topics and assignments will require you to consider these factors as they relate to your audience. For other topics and assignments, these measurements may not influence your writing. Regardless, it is important to consider demographics when you begin to think about your purpose for writing.

Education: Education considers the audience’s level of schooling. If audience members have earned a doctorate degree, for example, you may need to elevate your style and use more formal language. Or, if audience members are still in college, you could write in a more relaxed style. An audience member’s major or emphasis may also dictate your writing.

Prior knowledge: Prior knowledge is what the audience already knows about your topic. If your readers have studied certain topics, they may already know some terms and concepts related to the topic. You may decide whether to define terms and explain concepts based on your audience’s prior knowledge. Although you cannot peer inside the brains of your readers to discover their knowledge, you can make reasonable assumptions. For instance, a nursing major would presumably know more about health-related topics than a business major would.

Expectations: These indicate what readers will look for while reading your assignment. Readers may expect consistencies in the assignment’s appearance, such as correct grammar and traditional formatting like double-spaced lines and a legible font. Readers may also have content-based expectations given the assignment’s purpose and organization. In an essay titled “The Economics of Enlightenment: The Effects of Rising Tuition,” for example, audience members may expect to read about the economic repercussions of post-secondary tuition costs.

Self-practice Exercise 4.11

On a sheet of paper, generate a list of characteristics under each category for each audience. This list will help you later when you read about tone and content.

Your classmates
Demographics ____________________________________________
Education ____________________________________________
Prior knowledge ____________________________________________
Expectations ____________________________________________
Demographics ____________________________________________
Education ____________________________________________
Prior knowledge ____________________________________________
Expectations ____________________________________________
The head of your academic department
Demographics ____________________________________________
Education ____________________________________________
Prior knowledge ____________________________________________
Expectations ____________________________________________

Now think about your next writing assignment. Identify the purpose (you may use the same purpose listed inSelfPractice Exercise 4.10 and then identify the audience. Create a list of characteristics under each category.

My assignment:____________________________________________
My purpose: ____________________________________________
My audience: ____________________________________________

Demographics ____________________________________________
Education ____________________________________________
Prior knowledge ____________________________________________
Expectations ____________________________________________

Collaboration: please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Keep in mind that as your topic shifts in the writing process, your audience may also shift. Also, remember that decisions about style depend on audience, purpose, and content. Identifying your audience’s demographics, education, prior knowledge, and expectations will affect how you write, but purpose and content play an equally important role. The next subsection covers how to select an appropriate tone to match the audience and purpose.

Selecting an Appropriate Tone

Tone identifies a speaker’s attitude toward a subject or another person. You may pick up a person’s tone of voice fairly easily in conversation. A friend who tells you about her weekend may speak excitedly about a fun skiing trip. An instructor who means business may speak in a low, slow voice to emphasize her serious mood. Or, a co-worker who needs to let off some steam after a long meeting may crack a sarcastic joke.

Just as speakers transmit emotion through voice, writers can transmit through writing a range of attitudes, from excited and humorous to somber and critical. These emotions create connections among the audience, the author, and the subject, ultimately building a relationship between the audience and the text. To stimulate these connections, writers intimate their attitudes and feelings with useful devices, such as sentence structure, word choice, punctuation, and formal or informal language. Keep in mind that the writer’s attitude should always appropriately match the audience and the purpose.

Read the following paragraph and consider the writer’s tone. How would you describe the writer’s attitude toward wildlife conservation?

Many species of plants and animals are disappearing right before our eyes. If we do not act fast, it might be too late to save them. Human activities, including pollution, deforestation, hunting, and overpopulation, are devastating the natural environment. Without our help, many species will not survive long enough for our children to see them in the wild. Take the tiger, for example. Today, tigers occupy just 7 percent of their historical range, and many local populations are already extinct. Hunted for their beautiful pelt and other body parts, the tiger population has plummeted from 100,000 in 1920 to just a few thousand (Smith, 2013). Contact your local wildlife conservation society today to find out how you can stop this terrible destruction.

Self-practice Exercise 4.12

Think about the assignment and purpose you selected in SelfPractice Exercise 4.10 and the audience you selected in SelfPractice Exercise 4.11. Now, identify the tone you would use in the assignment.
My assignment: ____________________________________________
My purpose: ____________________________________________
My audience: ____________________________________________
My tone: ____________________________________________

 

Choosing Appropriate, Interesting Content

Content refers to all the written substance in a document. After selecting an audience and a purpose, you must choose what information will make it to the page. Content may consist of examples, statistics, facts, anecdotes, testimonies, and observations, but no matter the type, the information must be appropriate and interesting for the audience and purpose. An essay written for grade 3 students that summarizes the legislative process, for example, would have to contain succinct and simple content.

Content is also shaped by tone. When the tone matches the content, the audience will be more engaged, and you will build a stronger relationship with your readers. Consider that audience of grade 3 students. You would choose simple content that the audience will easily understand, and you would express that content through an enthusiastic tone. The same considerations apply to all audiences and purposes.

Self-practice Exercise 4.13

Using the assignment, purpose, audience, and tone fromSelfPractice Exercise 4.12, generate a list of content ideas. Remember that content consists of examples, statistics, facts, anecdotes, testimonies, and observations.
My assignment: ____________________________________________
My purpose: ____________________________________________
My audience: ____________________________________________
My tone: ____________________________________________
My content ideas: ____________________________________________

 

In the next two chapters, you will complete more exercises to further develop your expository essays.

Key Takeaways

  • Paragraphs separate ideas into logical, manageable chunks of information.
  • The content of each paragraph and document is shaped by purpose, audience, and tone.
  • The four common academic purposes are to summarize, to analyze, to synthesize, and to evaluate.
  • Identifying the audience’s demographics, education, prior knowledge, and expectations will affect how and what you write.
  • Devices such as sentence structure, word choice, punctuation, and formal or informal language communicate tone and create a relationship between the writer and his or her audience.
  • Content may consist of examples, statistics, facts, anecdotes, testimonies, and observations. All content must be appropriate and interesting for the audience, purpose and tone.

 

Journal entry #4

Write a paragraph or two responding to the following.

Thinking back to each of the expository essay modes you learned this week, which did you find easier and which did you find more difficult? Why?

What challenges did you face when assessing your purpose, audience, and tone? How do you think you can address these challenges?

Reflect on the goals you set previously. Is there anything you would like to add or already feel more confident with doing?

Remember as mentioned in the Assessment Descriptions in your syllabus:

You will be expected to respond to the questions by reflecting on and discussing your experiences with the week’s material.

When writing your journals, you should focus on freewriting—writing without (overly) considering formal writing structures—but you want to remember that it will be read by the instructor, who needs to be able to understand your ideas.

Your instructor will be able to see if you have completed this entry by the end of the week but will not read all of the journals until week 6.

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