Purpose is the intended goal or value of a text, and the audience is the reader of the text, which can be intended (targeted by the author) or unintended (not specifically targeted by the author).
Thus, assessing, identifying, and directing your writing towards the purpose and audience is an essential task. To figure out what the purpose and audience of a text is, look for these clues:
The content of a text is just what the author has chosen as the subject and what the author telling you about that subject, which is closely tied to the purpose.
EXAMPLEIf the purpose of a piece is to convince people to buy a certain product, the content will feature the product’s most attractive selling points.
Sometimes, authors say exactly what their purpose is. But even when the author doesn’t say it outright, there are other ways you can identify the purpose. Look for the kinds of details, examples, explanations, descriptions, and arguments the author chooses.
To find the audience, assess the overall subject matter and also the way the author addresses it in order to make guesses about the intended readers.
There are four main modes of writing:
But because each mode has its perfect purpose, looking for which modes are used most commonly in any text will likely lead you in the general direction of the purpose, even though the purpose will be narrower than the mode itself.
1c. Word Choice
The words you choose, including both the vocabulary level you select and the connotations and denotations of your words, are related to your audience and purpose.
Vocabulary level can tell you a lot about the intended audience, such as the audience’s level of education or age range. Additionally, the tone struck by the connotations and denotations of the words gives you clues about how the reader is meant to feel.
1d. Level of Formality
How formal or informal a text is depends on its audience, and is revealed in:
Tone is a writer’s attitude towards the subject, as conveyed through a piece of writing.
Looking to the tone that the author affects can tell you what that author’s attitude about the subject is, which can in turn clue you in to the overall purpose and how the author wants the audience to feel about that subject.
EXAMPLEIf the purpose of the text is to inform the reader about an environmental crisis, then the tone is likely to be grave and serious.
Now that you know about the factors that determine purpose and audience, you can practice identifying purpose and audience in a given text.
Consider the following short piece of writing:
Recently, I had to miss class because of an illness. I am sorry that I wasn't able to inform you of this absence in advance. However, I was able to contact Alice Stein just after class and she was generous enough to make copies of her notes and the handout for me. I therefore don't think that I am considerably behind due to my absence, but I am still hoping that I can attend your office hours this week to discuss a few areas of this week's assignment that I could use some help on. I appreciate your understanding!
The tone here is formal, even though this is clearly correspondence. Because this is an email or letter for an academic setting sent from a student to a professor, it is more formal than other kinds of emails, and the tone is pretty neutral.
The direct intent is to inform the professor about the student's absence and that the student will visit office hours. But the underlying purpose seems to be to show the professor how responsible the student is. See how the student emphasizes the steps she took to ameliorate any negative consequences of missing class:
However, I was able to contact Alice Stein just after class and she was generous enough to make copies of her notes and the handout for me.
Now you can bring all of these tools to bear on a more substantive text and assess what purpose and audience you think it’s meant to serve.
In an ideal world, no one would be barred from attending college for lack of finances. Education provides benefits both tangible and intangible. Practically, education provides the lessons, experiences, and training needed to pursue many career paths. Beyond that, college provides students with a richer store of knowledge about their world. With the career-based knowledge gleaned from their major's course of study and the additional knowledge gathered during general education requirements, students set out into the world as more informed citizens. That's where the biggest intangible benefit arises: an educated citizenry creates a stronger and more productive society. Thus keeping students from education due to financial means is a tragedy for individuals and communities. An uneducated populace is a deficit for all and thus education must be made accessible to all.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Martina Shabram.