What’s your purpose for writing?
In order to communicate successfully to an audience, understanding the purpose for writing will make you a better writer.
Purpose is the reason, why a person composes a particular piece of writing.
Focusing on purpose as one writes helps a person to know what form of writing to choose, how to focus and organize the writing, what kinds of evidence to cite, how formal or informal the writing style should be, and how much should be written.
The eleven different types of purpose include the following:
1. to express;
2. to describe;
3. to explore/learn;
4. to entertain;
5. to inform;
6. to explain;
7. to argue;
8. to persuade;
9. to evaluate;
10. to problem solve; and
11. to mediate.
However, it should also be noted that you often combine purposes in a single piece of writing.
Explanations of the eleven types of writing purpose are listed below.
In expressive writing, the writer’s purpose or goal is to put thoughts and feelings on the page. Expressive writing is personal writing. We are often just writing for ourselves or
for close friends. Usually, expressive writing is informal,not intented for outside readers.
Journal writing, for example, is usually expressive writing.
However, we may write expressively for other readers when we write poetry (although not all poetry is expressive writing). We may write expressively in a letter, or we may
include some expressive sentences in a formal essay intended for other readers.
Descriptive writing portrays people, places, things, moments and theories with enough vivid detail to help the reader create a mental picture of what is being written about.
By appealing to the five senses an original, unique, and creative way, the writer does not tell the audience that the flower is beautiful; it shows them the flower is beautiful.
Description allows the audience to feel as though they are a part of the writer’s experience of the subject.
In exploratory writing, the writer’s purpose is to ask key questions and reflect on topics that defy simple answers. In those topics where intuition and reflection are more
important than rational analysis or argumentation, writers focus more on their journey of discovery than on any definite answers. In exploratory writing, your readers are
companions, sharing your journey of discovery, listening to your thoughts and reflections.
As a purpose or goal of writing, entertaining is often used with some other purpose–to explain, argue, or inform in a humorous way. Sometimes, however, entertaining others with humor is the main goal. Entertaining may take the form of a brief joke, a newspaper column, a television script or an Internet home page tidbit, but its goal is to relax our
audience and share some story of human foibles or surprising actions.
Writing to inform is one of the most common purposes for writing. Most journalistic writing fits this purpose. A journalist uncovers the facts about some incident and then reports those facts, as objectively as possible, to his or her readers. Of course, some bias
or point-of-view is always present, but the purpose of informational or reportorial writing is to convey information as accurately and objectively as possible. Other examples of writing to inform include laboratory reports, economic reports, and business reports.
Writing to explain, or expository writing, is the most common of the writing purposes.
The writer’s purpose is to gather facts and information, combine them with his or her own knowledge and experience, and clarify for some audience who or what something is, how it happened or should happen, and/or why something happened.
Explaining the whos, whats, hows, whys, and wherefores requires that the writer analyze the subject (divide it into its important parts) and show the relationship of those parts.
Thus, writing to explain relies heavily on definition, process analysis, cause/effect,analysis, and synthesis.
Explain versus inform.So, how does explaining differ from informing? Explaining goes one step beyond
informing or reporting. A reporter merely reports what his or her sources say or the data indicate. An expository writer adds his or her particular understanding, interpretation, or thesis to that information. An expository writer says this is the best or most accurate
definition of literacy, or the right way to make lasagna, or the most relevant causes of an accident.
An arguing essay attempts to convince its audience to believe or act in a certain way.
Written arguments have several key features:
• A debatable claim or thesis. The issue must have some reasonable arguments on both (or several) sides.
• A focus on one or more of the four types of claims: Claim of fact, claim of cause and effect, claim of value, and/or claim of policy (problem solving).
• A fair representation of opposing arguments combined with arguments against the opposition and for the overall claim.
• An argument based on evidence presented in a reasonable tone. Although appeals to character and to emotion may be used, the primary appeal should be to the reader’s logic and reason.
Although the terms argument and persuasion are often used interchangeably, the terms do have slightly different meanings. Argument is a specific type of persuasion that follows certain ground rules. Those rules are that opposing positions will be presented
accurately and fairly, and that appeals to logic and reason will be the primary means of persuasion. Persuasive writing may, if it wishes, ignore those rules and try any strategy
that might work. Advertisements are a good example of persuasive writing. They usually do not fairly represent the competing product, and they often appeal to image, to emotion, to character, or to anything except logic and the facts—unless those facts are in the product’s favor.
Writing to evaluate a person, product, thing, or policy is a frequent purpose for writing.
An evaluation is really a specific kind of argument: it argues for the merits of the subject and presents evidence to support the claim. A claim of value—the thesis in an
evaluation—must be supported by criteria (the appropriate standards of judgment) and supporting evidence (the facts, statistics, examples, or testimonials).
Writers often use a three-column log to set up criteria for their subject, collect relevant evidence, and reach judgments that support an overall claim of value. Writing a three-
column log is an excellent way to organize an evaluative essay. First, think about the possible criteria, the standards of judgment (the ideal case) against which you will measure your particular subject. Writers should choose criteria which their audience will find valid, fair, and appropriate. Then, collect evidence for each of the selected criteria.
Consider the following example of a restaurant evaluation:
Overall claim of value: This restaurant provides a high quality dining experience.
Criteria Evidence Judgment
1. Attractive setting White table cloths,
Subtle glass etchings
2. Good service Waiter’s service prompt
3. [Additional criteria, etc.] [Additional evidence, etc.] [Additional judgment, etc.]
10. Problem Solve
Problem solving is another specific type of argument: the writer’s purpose is to persuade his audience to adopt a solution to a particular problem. Often called “policy” essays
because they recommend the readers adopt a policy to resolve a problem, problem-
solving essays have two main components: a description of a serious problem and an argument for specific recommendations that will solve the problem.
The thesis of a problem-solving essay becomes a claim of policy: If the audience follows
the suggested recommendations, the problem will be reduced or eliminated. The essay
must support the policy claim by persuading readers that the recommendations are
feasible, cost-effective, efficient, relevant to the situation, and better than other possible
Traditional argument, like a debate, is confrontational. The argument often becomes a kind of “war” in which the writer attempts to “defeat” the arguments of the opposition.
Non-traditional kinds of argument use a variety of strategies to reduce the confrontation and threat in order to open up the debate.
• Mediated argument follows a plan used successfully in labor negotiations to bring
opposing parties to agreement. The writer of a mediated argument provides a middle position that helps negotiate the differences of the opposing positions.
• Rogerian argument also wishes to reduce confrontation by encouraging mutual
understanding and working toward common ground and a compromise solution.
• Feminist argument tries to avoid the patriarchal conventions in traditional
argument by emphasizing personal communication, exploration, and true
Once you have determined what type of purpose best conveys to your motivations, then you need to examine how this will affect readers. Writers and readers may approach a
topic with conflicting purposes. It is the job of the writer to make sure both are being met.