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Purpose and Audience

Purpose and Audience

Author: Martina Shabram

In this lesson, students will learn about purpose in the context of writing.

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Video Transcription

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Hello, students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram. And I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts. So let's get started.

What are we going to cover today? Well, today's lesson is about discerning the purpose and audience of our texts and identifying that purpose and audience by assessing content, mode, and language.

So before you begin a writing task, what do you do? Do you make sure your computer is charged or your pencil sharpened? Those are both great activities before you write. But you're going to want to add something in. Consider the purpose, which is the intended goal or value of a text.

Before you write, you want to know the purpose of your text because the purpose will govern just about all of the tools you use, including the mode, tone, level of formality, and structure. So how do you find out what this all important purpose is? Well, ask yourself, what is the goal of this text. What do I hope it will achieve?

Maybe this is a paper for an English class. Its purpose might be to describe the symbols in Alice in Wonderland. Or, maybe this is an email to your friends proposing an Alice in Wonderland themed party. Maybe for that email, the purpose is to convince them of how fun the party will be.

Also a great purpose, and going to necessitate a different kind of writing than the first example. Or maybe this is a professional presentation where you're writing an informational piece on a recent Alice in Wonderland charity swimming event. Again, a fine purpose and a totally different kind of writing.

So do you get a glimpse of how influential the purpose is? Let's explore how different purposes will create different kinds of writing. So there are many kinds of purposes-- entertainment and information, argument or discussion.

Stories are often designed to make people laugh. So their purpose is entertainment. Instruction manuals are meant to inform and guide. And advertisements-- well, they're meant to convince you to buy. All of these purposes will change the mode the author will choose. All of these purposes are also more specific than the mode itself but can be served by that particular mode's structure, tone, and other features.

So let's review mode. In this course, we've discussed narrative, descriptive, informative, and argumentative. Each mode can be particularly useful for different purposes. Let's take the argumentative mode. This could be deployed when your purpose is to justify a recent purchase to your friend, to entice friends to join you on a trip, or to debate the policies of a political candidate.

But say your purpose was to describe the candidate's policies to your dad, who's unfamiliar with that politician. The argumentative mode wouldn't fit. You're not trying to convince your dad to vote for that candidate, just trying to tell your dad about the candidate's platform. So you'd want to use the informative mode. So choose wisely.

And note that in an academic setting, you may well be assigned a particular mode to use, such as when you take an argumentative writing class. If you're assigned an argumentative paper, your purpose is going to need to be argumentation.

So in the case we just talked about where you're writing an argumentative essay for a class, the audience you're writing for is whom? Well, it's your teacher, to start with. And thus, it's an academic audience and probably an informed audience. Those factors will also influence the way you write.

In general, the audience of a piece of writing is the reader of a text, which can be intended, targeted by the author, or unintended, not targeted by the author. What does that mean? Well, think about it this way. In the argumentative writing class, your intended audience is your teacher, who you know is going to read your paper. So you write with her in mind.

But say you're in class on the day the paper is due and you find out that you'll be sharing your paper with peers. Well, now you have a new additional audience. And it's one that you hadn't intended in the first place. So it's always important to keep in mind your intended audience as well as potential unintended audiences.

You know how this works because you're an audience, too. For example, say you want to bake a birthday cake. So you go to the library to pick up a cookbook. As you browse the titles, you'll probably notice a lot about the intended audience of each cookbook.

The cookbook about grilling will probably expect an audience who owns a deluxe grill. The one about vegan cooking might assume that its audience has knowledge of the ethical ideologies of veganism. And I wouldn't select the cookbook for a professional baker, right. That's for an audience with a lot more technical skills than, at least, I have. So I'll probably need to pick up beginners baking.

Now as a writer, you'll want to consider your audience just as you considered which cookbook to select. You might consider your audience's age, gender, interests, moral or religious philosophy, political ideology, and level of education or expertise.

A skillful writer will navigate these audience traits carefully. So as you assess your audience, ask yourself, what does my audience already know. How interested will they be in this detail? Am I describing details in a way that will make sense to my audience? What characteristics do I think they'll have? And given my audience, how can I write the most effective text possible.

For example, let's pretend that my audience is a group of doctors and I want to describe an experience that I had in their ER. What do you think the purpose of this text is? The author seems to want these doctors to reduce wait times at other ERs to match the good service at this ER.

So consider the details that the author chose. Do you think this is effectively targeted to this audience? Let's ask some of our questions. Since these are presumably doctors in charge of emergency rooms, I would think that they would likely be compelled by this topic.

An architect at a local development company-- maybe not so much. But a doctor-- yeah. These doctors are experts. So I assume that they know what it means to be assessed by an intake nurse and have vitals taken. If we were writing this to an audience who had never been to a hospital, now then it wouldn't be so clear.

Now this one, this is hard to answer. But it's so important. If I want to convince these doctors to replicate this ER in other locations, it wouldn't be effective to begin with a litany of the ways in which this trip wasn't perfect, right. So I would argue that focusing on the specific details of what was positive in this visit is an effective way of writing to this audience and for this purpose.

So we've already begun to discuss the close relationship between a text's purpose and its audience. It's like a cycle. The purpose is my reason for writing the text. But I hope to achieve that purpose with a specific audience, and thus speaking directly to that audience is part of my purpose. These things are inherently linked.

So the audience is not something I can consider after I've already written. I have to write with a particular audience in mind and target my words to them. So say my purpose is to write a guidebook of historical sites for visitors to my hometown. Those visitors themselves are part of my purpose. I would write for visitors differently than I would for locals, right. And I'd use a different approach if I was writing to an expert audience about historical sites, maybe a more descriptive mode and definitely a more precise vocabulary.

Now what if I'm writing to a younger audience, say, making this historical guide into a proposal to local school kids, trying to convince them to visit these sites? Well, that will change the approach I take to this purpose, right. I'll need a more simple vocabulary, for sure. But I might also use different sentence structures and even a different tone.

School kids might not be convinced by a somber tone. I might need a more excited, lighthearted one. So different approaches will work better with different audiences. And I thus want to think carefully about my intended audience and my purpose as I write.

So what did we discuss in this lesson? We focused on a text's purpose and its audience. We explored how those two elements will each influence the way a text is written. And we also discovered the ways that audience and purpose are linked.

Well, students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Notes on "Purpose and Audience"


(00:00 – 00:09) Introduction

(00:10 – 00:22) What are we going to learn today?

(00:23 – 01:45) Purpose in Writing

(01:46 – 03:12) Purpose and Mode

(03:13 – 05:04) Audience

(05:05 – 06:51) Assessing Audience

(06:52 – 08:20) Purpose and Audience

(08:21 – 08:39) Recap and Goodbye

  • Purpose

    The intended goal or value of a text.