= A photograph of a student sitting and writing on a paper and notebooks resting in the student’s lap

Source: stadt, land, fluss, helter-skelter, Flickr

A photograph of a machine type button that has a question mark on it

Source: clueless, markhoekstra, Flickr

When you write an essay, you write within a context. Things are going on in the world that you and your readers know. If you think there is something going on that will come to mind for your readers, you should mention it. Not only will this prevent your readers from dismissing you as a clueless author, but it will also connect your essay to what your readers are already thinking about. Making this connection will increase the impact of your essay tremendously.

Let’s try to match some essay topics with events in a community context. For each of the essay topics below, decide which of the events listed is most likely to be relevant.

icon for interactive exercise

It’s probably not too hard to match the events with the topics they relate to, but how would you refer to them in the context of the essay? Let’s look at some possibilities.

Usually the context is part of the introductory paragraph, so we’ll explore context by using the first paragraphs of some possible essays. Imagine you are writing an essay meant to inform readers about camp life (from the last section). One of the events in the interactive you just completed mentions camp and could give context to that version of the essay: “A 5K race benefits an area camp.”

A photograph of men and women running in a road race. They are wearing typical runner’s gear and paper number plates.

Source: 20080217_IMG_4103, Joshua and Amber, Flickr

Here are three ways the introduction could be written to include the 5K race. You should read the examples and decide which one fits the context into the introduction most successfully.

  1. The runners in the recent 5K race at City Park helped Camp Compstead provide scholarships for ten high school-age campers this summer. Last summer, I went to Camp Timber Trail and had a wonderful experience. One of my most memorable experiences involved a toad. One night, after dinner, we all went to the campfire area and sang camp songs, and the counselors talked to us about what was going to happen the next day. A group of us decided to take the long way back to the cabin, so we walked toward the pond.

  2. The runners in the recent 5K race at City Park helped Camp Compstead provide scholarships for ten high school-age campers this summer. For many of these runners, the reason for the race was probably irrelevant. Who cares about a summer camp? Well, I have had experiences at summer camp that I would not exchange for anything. Some of the memories will be with me for the rest of my life, such as an adventure with a toad. One night, after dinner, we all went to the campfire area and sang camp songs, and the counselors talked to us about what was going to happen the next day. A group of us decided to take the long way back to the cabin, so we walked toward the pond.

  3. The runners in the recent 5K race at City Park helped Camp Compstead provide scholarships for ten high school-age campers this summer. These campers will be able to go to Camp Compstead, even though they wouldn’t have been able to afford it without the scholarships. The racers should be very proud of having helped these high school students have a real camping experience. When I went to camp, I had an experience with a toad. One night, after dinner, we all went to the campfire area and sang camp songs, and the counselors talked to us about what was going to happen the next day. A group of us decided to take the long way back to the cabin, so we walked toward the pond.

Which one of these introductions most effectively uses the context of the 5K race to introduce the story of the toad? Click on your choice. When you have answered the question, check your understanding to see the advantages and disadvantages for each possible response.

a. Response 1
Try again.

b. Response 2
Correct!

c. Response 3
Try again.



Check Your Understanding

Explanation:

Response 1 is probably not the best choice because the example makes an awkward jump from the 5K race to “Last summer.” The only connection is that the word “camp” is mentioned in both cases. If you were in a conversation with someone and made the statement about the 5K race, you would be puzzled if the person you were talking to said, “Last summer I went to Camp Timber Trail.” You would wonder what that had to do with a 5K race. The context has to be incorporated in a way that smoothly transitions into the main topic of the essay.

Response 2 is the best choice, as you now know. This example smoothly transitions from the context of the race and campers being given a chance to experience camp, to the value of a camp experience, and then to the memories of camp that include (for this author) the toad story.

Response 3 makes an awkward jump from the benefits of the race to “an experience with a toad.” If you were in a conversation with someone and made the statement about the race, you would be puzzled if the speaker jumped from the race to a comment about a toad at camp. The context has to be incorporated in a way that smoothly transitions into the main topic of the essay.


As you have seen in this lesson, it’s important to keep audience, purpose, and context in mind. Many audiences will not be just like you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate. You just need to think about what to explain and what to emphasize when you revise.