The Purpose Of Writing An Essay

Almost all students will at some time be expected to write an essay, or some other kind of argument, e.g. a review or discussion section, in a longer piece of writing. In English, an essay is a piece of argumentative writing several paragraphs long written about one topic, usually based on your reading. The aim of the essay should be deduced strictly from the wording of the title or question (See Academic Writing: Understanding the Question), and needs to be defined at the beginning. The purpose of an essay is for you to say something for yourself using the ideas of the subject, for you to present ideas you have learned in your own way. The emphasis should be on working with other people's ideas, rather than reproducing their words, but your own voice should show clearly. The ideas and people that you refer to need to made explicit by a system of referencing.

According to Linda Flower (1990, p. v), "students are reading to create a text of their own, trying to integrate information from sources with ideas of their own, and attempting to do so under the guidance of a purpose."

2. Main text

English essays are linear:

- they start at the beginning and finish at the end, with every part contributing to the main line of argument, without digressions or repetition. Writers are responsible for making their line of argument clear and presenting it in an orderly fashion so that the reader can follow. Each paragraph discusses one major point and each paragraph should lead directly to the next. The paragraphs are tied together with an introduction and a conclusion.

The main text of the essay has three main parts:

  1. An introduction
  2. A main body
  3. A conclusion

    The introduction consists of two parts:

    1. It should include a few general statements about the subject to provide a background to your essay and to attract the reader's attention. It should try to explain why you are writing the essay. It may include a definition of terms in the context of the essay, etc.
    2. It should also include a statement of the specific subdivisions of the topic and/or indication of how the topic is going to be tackled in order to specifically address the question.

    It should introduce the central idea or the main purpose of the writing.

    The main body consists of one or more paragraphs of ideas and arguments. Each paragraph develops a subdivision of the topic. The paragraphs of the essay contain the main ideas and arguments of the essay together with illustrations or examples. The paragraphs are linked in order to connect the ideas. The purpose of the essay must be made clear and the reader must be able to follow its development.

    The conclusion includes the writer's final points.

    1. It should recall the issues raised in the introduction and draw together the points made in the main body
    2. and explain the overall significance of the conclusions. What general points can be drawn from the essay as a whole?

    It should clearly signal to the reader that the essay is finished and leave a clear impression that the purpose of the essay has been achieved.

Essays are organised differently according to their purpose. Essays can be divided into the following main types.

1. The descriptive essay

a. Description of object or place

b. Describing a sequence of events.

c. Describing a process

d. Describing and explaining

2. The argument essay

a. The balanced view

b. The persuasive essay

c. The to what extent essay.

3. Compare and contrast essays

a. The contrast essay

b. The compare essay

c. The compare and contrast essays

1. The descriptive essay

a. Description of object or place

Describe essays require you to state the appearance of something, or to state the major characteristics of it. Note the word state i.e. you are not asked to comment on the subject or to give your personal point of view on it. Questions are often introduced by:

Describe ....
Narrate...
Tell....

Plan:

Introduction

major aspects of the subject.

description of aspect A

description of aspect B

etc.

Conclusion

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Describing objects, locations & directions

b. Describing a sequence of events.

Describing a sequence of events is simply telling a story.

State clearly when events happened or how one event caused another. Questions may be introduced by:

Give an account of...
Trace...
Examine developments in...

Intoduction

First situation

then A happened

then B happened

etc.

Final situation

Conclusion

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Reporting & narrating

c. Describing a process

This is like telling a story but here the connections between the facts must be clearly shown and explained. Group the events into steps or stages.

Examples of such questions are :

Explain/What is the connection between...
Describe the procedures by which...

Definition of process

Main equipment/Main steps

Step One

leads to

Step Two

leads to

Step Three

Conclusion

Summary of process

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Describing processes & developments

d. Describing and explaining

Some of the words and phrases which introduce this type of description are:

Explain the causes/reasons....
Account for....
Analyse the causes....
Comment on (the reasons for)....
Show that....
Show why...
Examine the effect of....
Suggest reasons for....
Why did...?
What are the implications of...?
Discuss the causes of....
Discuss the reasons for....

When we are asked to describe or explain causes, factors, functions or results, the examiner wants us to group our facts. Similar causes are put together, for instance the economic causes of a situation. There are basically two main ways to organise this type of essay.

The question is "Describe the causes of A. Illustrate your answer by specific examples."

i.

Introduction to causes of A

Cause 1 + example

Effects 1

Cause 2 with example

Effects 2

Cause 3 with examples

Effects 3

Cause 4 with example

Effects 4

etc.

Conclusion

ii.

Introduction to causes of A

Causes + examples

Transition

Effects

Conclusion

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Expressing reasons and explanations / cause and effect

2. The argument essay

There are two main methods of presenting an argument, and in general the one you choose will depend on exactly how the essay title is worded.

a. The balanced view

If the essay title begins with something like:

Give the arguments for and against....
Assess the importance of....
Examine the arguments for and against....
What are the advantages and disadvantages of...?
Evaluate....
Critically examine the statement that....
To what extent is...true?

or even just the word

Discuss....

then it is clear that a balanced essay is required. That is to say you should present both sides of an argument, without necessarily committing yourself to any points of view, which should always be based on evidence, until the final paragraph.

At its simplest your essay plan will be as follows:

Introduce the argument to the reader.

e.g. why it is particularly relevant topic nowadays
or refer directly to some comments that have been voiced on it recently.

Reasons against the argument

Reasons in favour of the argument

After summarising the two sides,
state your own point of view,
and explain why you think as you do

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Arguing and discussing; - Expressing degrees of certainty; - Generalising; - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences; - Giving examples

b. The persuasive essay

This second type of argumentative essay involves stating your own point of view immediately, and trying to convince the reader by reasoned argument that you are right. Perhaps the essay title will begin with something like:

Give your views on....
What do you think about...?
Do you agree that...?
Consider whether....

Or perhaps the title itself will be so controversial that everyone will hold a definite opinion in one direction or another.

The form of the essay will be, in outline, as follows:

Introduce the topic briefly in general terms,

and then state your own opinion.

Explain what you plan to prove in the essay.

Reasons against the argument.

Dispose briefly of the main objections to your case.

Reasons for your argument

the arguments to support your own view,

with evidence and examples.

Conclusion - Do not repeat your point of view again.

End your essay with something memorable

e.g. a quotation or a direct question.

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Arguing and discussing; - Expressing degrees of certainty; - Generalising; - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences; - Giving examples

c. The to what extent essay

In this type of essay the examiner is giving you a statement. It is obviously true but truth is never 100%. You must decide how true it is? Are there some areas where you disagree with the statement. If so, describe how far you agree, and your points of agreement and disagreement. Words used in the question are:

To what extent ....
How true ....
How far do you agree....

A possible answer structure is:

Introduction to problem

Aspect 1 - true

Aspect 1 - false

Aspect 2 - true

Aspect 2 - false

Aspect 3 - true

Aspect 3 - false

etc

Conclusion

a ‘subtraction’ sum

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Arguing and discussing; - Expressing degrees of certainty; - Generalising; - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences; - Giving examples

3. Compare and contrast essays.

a The Contrast essay

Contrast or distinguish between questions usually present you with two or more terms, instruments, concepts or procedures that are closely connected, and sometimes confused. The purpose of the essay is to explain the differences between them. The question may be of the form:

Contrast ....
Distinguish between ...
What is the difference between....
What are the differences between....
How are ... and ... different?

A suitable answer structure would be:

Introduction to differences between A and B

Contrast A & B in terms of first difference

Contrast A & B in terms of second difference

Contrast A & B in terms of third difference

etc

Conclusion

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences; - Defining; - Generalising; - Giving examples

b. The Compare essay

Compare questions usually present you with two or more terms, instruments, concepts or procedures that are closely connected, and sometimes confused. The purpose of the essay is to explain the similarities between them. Words used are:

Compare ....
What features do ... and ... have in common?
What are the similarities between....
How are ... and ... similar?

A suitable answer structure would be:

Introduction to similarities between A and B

Compare A & B

in terms of first similarity

Compare A & B

in terms of second similarity

Compare A & B

in terms of third similarity

etc.

Conclusion

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences; - Defining; - Generalising; - Giving examples

c. The compare and contrast essay

Compare and contrast essays require you to indicate areas in which the things to be compared are similar and different.

Compare and contrast....

There are two main ways to answer such questions:

i.

Introduction to differences and similarities between A and B

Difference 1

Difference 2

Difference 3

etc.

Transition

Similarity 1

Similarity 2

Similarity 3

etc.

Conclusion

ii.

Introduction to differences and similarities between A and B

Aspect 1 - similarities

Aspect 1 - differences

Aspect 2 - similarities

Aspect 2 - differences

Aspect 3 - similarities

Aspect 3 - differences

etc

Conclusion

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the four common academic purposes.
  2. Identify audience, tone, and content.
  3. Apply purpose, audience, tone, and content to a specific assignment.

Imagine reading one long block of text, with each idea blurring into the next. Even if you are reading a thrilling novel or an interesting news article, you will likely lose interest in what the author has to say very quickly. During the writing process, it is helpful to position yourself as a reader. Ask yourself whether you can focus easily on each point you make. One technique that effective writers use is to begin a fresh paragraph for each new idea they introduce.

Paragraphs separate ideas into logical, manageable chunks. One paragraph focuses on only one main idea and presents coherent sentences to support that one point. Because all the sentences in one paragraph support the same point, a paragraph may stand on its own. To create longer assignments and to discuss more than one point, writers group together paragraphs.

Three elements shape the content of each paragraph:

  1. Purpose. The reason the writer composes the paragraph.
  2. Tone. The attitude the writer conveys about the paragraph’s subject.
  3. Audience. The individual or group whom the writer intends to address.

Figure 6.1 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 for a piece of writing identifies the reason you write 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 theater. Why write instructions to the babysitter? To inform him or her of your schedule and rules. Why write a letter to your congressman? To persuade him 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. To learn more about reading in the writing process, see Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?”.

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

A summary shrinks a large amount of information into only the essentials. You probably summarize events, books, and movies daily. Think about the last blockbuster movie you saw or the last novel you read. Chances are, at some point in a casual conversation with a friend, coworker, or classmate, you compressed all the action in a two-hour film or in a two-hundred-page book into a brief description of the major plot movements. While in conversation, you probably described the major highlights, or the main points in just a few sentences, using your own vocabulary and manner of speaking.

Similarly, a summary paragraph condenses a long piece of writing into a smaller paragraph by extracting only the vital information. A summary uses only the writer’s own words. Like the summary’s purpose in daily conversation, the purpose of an academic summary paragraph is to maintain all the essential information from a longer document. Although shorter than the original piece of writing, a summary should still communicate all the key points and key support. In other words, summary paragraphs should be succinct and to the point.

A summary of the report should present all the main points and supporting details in brief. Read the following summary of the report written by a student:

Notice how the summary retains the key points made by the writers of the original report but omits most of the statistical data. Summaries need not contain all the specific facts and figures in the original document; they provide only an overview of the essential information.

Analysis Paragraphs

An analysis separates complex materials in 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 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 the points relate to one another.

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

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

A 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.

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 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 at his or her job.

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 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, analyze, synthesize, 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.

Exercise 1

Read the following paragraphs about four films and then identify the purpose of each paragraph.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. To create the feeling of being gripped in a vice, 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 theater at the end feels like staggering out of a Roman dungeon.
  4. 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 will 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 specific 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.

Exercise 2

Consider the essay most recently assigned to you. 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’ senses of humor in mind. Even at work, you send e-mails 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, their ethnicity, their religious beliefs, or their gender. Certain topics and assignments will require these kinds of considerations about your audience. For other topics and assignments, these measurements may not influence your writing in the end. 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. This refers to 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 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 college tuition costs.

Exercise 3

On your own 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.

1. Your classmates

  • Demographics ____________________________________________
  • Education ____________________________________________
  • Prior knowledge ____________________________________________
  • Expectations ____________________________________________

2. Your instructor

  • Demographics ____________________________________________
  • Education ____________________________________________
  • Prior knowledge ____________________________________________
  • Expectations ____________________________________________

3. The head of your academic department

  • Demographics ____________________________________________
  • Education ____________________________________________
  • Prior knowledge ____________________________________________
  • Expectations ____________________________________________

4. Now think about your next writing assignment. Identify the purpose (you may use the same purpose listed in Note 6.12 “Exercise 2”), 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. For more information about the writing process, see Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?”.

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 coworker 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 don’t 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 one hundred thousand in 1920 to just a few thousand. Contact your local wildlife conservation society today to find out how you can stop this terrible destruction.

Exercise 4

Think about the assignment and purpose you selected in Note 6.12 “Exercise 2”, and the audience you selected in Note 6.16 “Exercise 3”. 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 third graders 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 third graders. 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.

Exercise 5

Match the content in the box to the appropriate audience and purpose. On your own sheet of paper, write the correct letter next to the number.

  1. Whereas economist Holmes contends that the financial crisis is far from over, the presidential advisor Jones points out that it is vital to catch the first wave of opportunity to increase market share. We can use elements of both experts’ visions. Let me explain how.
  2. In 2000, foreign money flowed into the United States, contributing to easy credit conditions. People bought larger houses than they could afford, eventually defaulting on their loans as interest rates rose.
  3. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, known by most of us as the humungous government bailout, caused mixed reactions. Although supported by many political leaders, the statute provoked outrage among grassroots groups. In their opinion, the government was actually rewarding banks for their appalling behavior.
  1. Audience: An instructor

    Purpose: To analyze the reasons behind the 2007 financial crisis

    Content: ____________________________________________

  2. Audience: Classmates

    Purpose: To summarize the effects of the $700 billion government bailout

    Content: ____________________________________________

  3. Audience: An employer

    Purpose: To synthesize two articles on preparing businesses for economic recovery

    Content: ____________________________________________

Collaboration

Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Exercise 6

Using the assignment, purpose, audience, and tone from Note 6.18 “Exercise 4”, 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: ____________________________________________

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.

This is a derivative of Writing for Success by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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