Purposes for Writing
Getting a good grade, making a million dollars, or contributing to society may be among your reasons or motives for writing. However, as a writer, you also have more specific purposes for writing to help you make key decisions about content, structure, or style. When your main purpose is to express your feelings, you may write a private entry in your journal. When your main purpose is to explain how your sales promotion increased the number of your company’s customers, you may write a factual report to your boss. When your main purpose is to persuade others to see a movie you like, you may write a review for the local newspaper. In each case, the intended use or impact of what you write helps determine what you write and how you write it.
Because writing is, or should be, for yourself first of all, everything you write involves at least some purpose that benefits you. Of course, expressing yourself is a fundamental purpose of all writing. Without the satisfaction of expressing your thoughts, feelings, reactions, knowledge, or questions, you might not make the effort to write in the first place. A closely related purpose is learning: Writing helps you discover what you think or feel, simply by using language to identify and compose your thoughts. Writing not only helps you form ideas, but actually promotes observing and remembering. If you write down what you observe about people, places, or things, you can actually “see” them more clearly. Similarly, if you write down facts, ideas, experiences, or reactions to your readings, you will remember them longer. Writing and rewriting facts, dates, definitions, impressions, or personal experiences will improve your powers of recall on important occasions such as examinations and job interviews.
Subject- and Audience-Based Purposes
Although some writing is intended only for yourself—such as entries in a diary, lists, class notes, reminders—much of your writing will be read by others, by those readers who constitute your “audience.” You may write to inform others about a particular subject—to tell them about the key facts, data, feelings, people, places, or events. Or you may write to explain to your readers what something means, how it works, or why it happens. You may write to persuade others to believe or do something—to convince others to agree with your judgment about a book, record, or restaurant, or to persuade them to take a certain class, vote for a certain candidate, or buy some product you are advertising. You may write to explore ideas and “truths,” to examine how your ideas have changed, to ask questions that have no easy answers, and then to share your thoughts and reflections with others. You may write to entertain —as a primary purpose in itself or as a purpose combined with informing, explaining, persuading, or exploring. Whatever your purposes may be, good writing both teaches and pleases. Your readers will learn more, remember more, or be more convinced when your writing contains humor, wit, or imaginative language.
Combinations of Purposes
In many cases, you write with more than one purpose in mind. Purposes may appear in combinations, connected in a sequence, or actually overlapping. Initially you may take notes about a subject to learn and remember, but later you may want to inform others about what you have discovered. Similarly, you may begin by writing to express your feelings about a movie that you loved or that upset you; later, you may wish to persuade others to see it—or not to see it. Purposes can also contain each other, like Chinese boxes, or overlap, blurring the distinctions. An explanation of how an automobile works will contain information about that vehicle. An attempt to persuade someone to buy an automobile may contain an explanation of how it handles and information about its body style or engine. Usually writing to persuade others will contain explanations and basic information, but the reverse is not necessarily true; you can write simply to give information, without trying to persuade anyone to do anything.
Subject, Purpose, and Thesis
The thesis, claim, or main idea in a piece of writing is related to your purpose. As a writer, you usually have a purpose in mind that serves as a guide while you gather information about your subject and think about your audience. As you collect and record information, impressions, and ideas, however, you gradually narrow your subject to a specific topic, and thus clarify your purpose. You bring your purpose into sharper and sharper focus—as if progressing on a target from the outer circles to the bull’s-eye—until you have narrowed your purpose down to a central thesis. The thesis is the dominant idea, explanation, evaluation, or recommendation you want to impress upon your readers.