Writer Purpose in Rhetoric and Composition

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In composition, the term purpose refers to a person's reason for writing, such as to inform, entertain, explain, or persuade. Also known as the aim or writing purpose.

"Successfully settling on a purpose requires defining, redefining, and continually clarifying your goal," says Mitchell Ivers. "It's an ongoing process, and the act of writing can alter your original purpose" (Random House Guide to Good Writing, 1993).

Examples and Observations

  • Lee Clark Johns
    Writers often confuse their business purpose (or the problem to be solved) with their writing purpose. The business purpose is the issue they are addressing; the writing purpose is why they are writing the document. If they focus only on the business purpose, they easily fall into the trap of telling the story of what happened. Readers usually want to know what you learned, not what you did.

Responding to Questions About Purpose

  • Joy Wingersky
    As a writer, you must decide what your writing purpose is and match your point of view to that purpose. Do you want to sound more authoritative or more personal? Do you want to inform or entertain? Do you want to remain distant or get close to your reader? Do you want to sound more formal or informal? Answering these questions will determine your point of view and give you greater control over a writing situation.

Seven Purposes

  • John Seely
    We use language for a wide variety of purposes, which include communicating information and ideas, and when we speak or write, it is helpful to reflect on what our main purposes are:
To Interact
An important function of language is to help us get on with other people, to interact. . . . This kind of language use is sometimes referred to--dismissively--as small talk. . . . Yet interacting with others forms an important part of most people's lives and the ability to talk to people one does not know . . . is a valuable social skill.
To Inform
Every day of our lives we communicate information and ideas to other people. . . . Writing or speaking to inform needs to be clear and this means not only knowing the facts, but also being aware of the needs of your audience.
To Find Out
Not only do we use language to inform, we also use it to find out information. The ability to ask questions and then follow them up with further enquiries is very important in both work and leisure. . . .
To Influence
Whether I look at life as a private individual, as a worker, or as a citizen, it is important that I should be aware of when others are trying to influence me, and of how they are trying to do it. . . .
To Regulate
Advertisers and politicians may try to persuade us of the rightness of a particular course of action; kegislators tell us what to do. They use language to regulate our actions. . . .
To Entertain
Fortunately language isn't all work. There is also play. And the playful use of language is both important and widespread. . . .
To Record
The previous six purposes all presuppose an audience other than the speaker or writer. There is one use, however, that does not. It is predominately a purpose for writing, although it can be spoken. In many different situations we need to make a record of something . . . so that it is not forgotten.

Purpose in Analytical Essays

  • Robert DiYanni and Pat C. Hoy II
    The purposes for writing analytical essays vary, but primarily these essays give readers a chance to see the results of rigorous analytical work that you have done as part of the drafting. That work usually depends on the critical reading, questioning, and interpretation of a text of some kind. The process of that reading, questioning, and interpreting is less evident in the analytical essay than in the exploratory essay, but the process is reflected indirectly by the way you establish relationships between the text you have read and what you have to say about that text, between your evidence and your claim.

Communicating With a Reader

  • Ilona Leki
    In recent writing instruction, purpose for writing has become a central focus. Many classrooms now include, for example, unevaluated writing journals in which students can freely explore topics of personal interest to them and from which they may select entries to develop into full essays (Blanton, 1987; Spack & Sadow, 1983). Writing on topics selected in this manner goes a long way toward ensuring the kind of internal motivation for writing which presumably results in the commitment to task which, in turn, is thought to help writing and language improve. But the immediate purpose for writing about a particular subject is neither language nor even writing improvement. It is, rather, a more natural purpose, i.e., communication with a reader about something of personal significance to the writer.
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Nordquist, Richard. "Writer Purpose in Rhetoric and Composition." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/purpose-rhetoric-and-composition-1691706. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Writer Purpose in Rhetoric and Composition. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/purpose-rhetoric-and-composition-1691706 Nordquist, Richard. "Writer Purpose in Rhetoric and Composition." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/purpose-rhetoric-and-composition-1691706 (accessed March 24, 2023).