WRITING FOR A PURPOSE

Good writing does not just happen. It is purposeful, meaningful, relevant, and appropriate to its intended readers, and it is easy to understand. To achieve these criteria, the writer must first ask and answer several questions: 

1. What do I want this writing to achieve? (What is its purpose?)

2. Who will read it?

3. What will be the content of the writing? (What might the anticipated readers need to know, want to know, and like to know?)

4. How can I best communicate this information to achieve my purpose? (What language, layout and format will be most suitable?)

 

Purpose

Very often, you are given your purpose by someone else, a teacher or employer, who requests you to do the writing. However, that person may not clearly state why you are writing. Therefore, your first task is to ask what that person wants your writing to achieve. Possible goals are:

  • To report
  • To explain
  • To clarify
  • To gather information
  • To find out exactly what they want
  • To correct mis-information
  • To persuade
  • To apologise
  • To justify.

 

Also consider what you want to gain from the writing task. Personal goals in business or study situations can include all of the above, as well as:

  • To impress your employer or teacher
  • To demonstrate your writing skills
  • To demonstrate your knowledge on a certain topic
  • To get a promotion or good grades
  • To achieve a good reputation
  • To achieve outcomes important to you.

 

Your reader

Many documents will be read by more than one person. For instance, you might write a memo to your department, but it might also go to your boss. Therefore, you should identify likely readers of your document, and consider what they want and expect, and how they might interpret your message. 

Like all forms of behaviour, writing is governed by certain cultural and social expectations. For example, in most countries, business writing is expected to be more objective, formal and factual than creative writing, or writing for magazines. It must also be formatted according to standards established in that country. In an increasingly global economy, business writing must also meet international expectations. Students must also be able to meet international standards.  

Despite these international standards, however, different cultures might have quite different ideas about what is acceptable or expected. For instance, in some countries, direct requests, statements and refusals are acceptable, while in other countries, directness may be considered rude and immature. Different cultures might have quite different formal ways of starting and ending a letter. For example, in some English speaking countries, it is polite to complement the reader and to wish them good health. In others, it is acceptable to simply address the reader as Dear Mr. X , then get straight to business. In yet others, it is common to use the reader’s first name and to sign with your first name after the first communication between you.

 

It is important to meet the expectations of your intended audience regarding what is appropriate. Until you become more familiar with your reader and his/her way of communicating, the safest action is to be more formal.

Content

Decide what your readers need to know, want to know, and would like to know. For example, imagine that you are writing a short report on a conflict in the workplace. You might include the following:

  • Need to know: a description of the problem, who is involved, and possible solutions;
  • Want to know: some consequences of the problem; circumstances contributing to the problem;
  • Would like to know: your recommendations based on first hand experience; how a similar problem was successfully resolved; staff viewpoints on the problem. 

The content can also vary from culture to culture.

 

Method of communicating

These decisions include:

  • what style of writing to use – formal or informal
  • what format to use – eg. a memo, a notice on the board, a newsletter article, a report, a letter etc.
  • what language might be most effective – positive and friendly or cool and distant? persuasive and emotive or neutral and factual? It also includes choosing the best words to communicate your message

 

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