Anytime you are writing anything, from a grocery list to a research paper, you need to have a purpose and an audience in mind. These two elements should shape what you write and how you write it.
You should determine what your purpose is and who your audience is before you craft your research question. Also consider your purpose and audience as you write your thesis and paper.
Source: "What is the Purpose?," Sonia Mercado, IPSI
What is purpose?
When we talk about purpose in writing, we are talking about your goal. In other words, why you are writing? What do you want your audience to get from your writing? You might be thinking, “Well, I’m writing a research paper, and my purpose is to get a good grade.” While a good grade is a worthy goal, your writing will not always be graded. Eventually you will finish high school and college and enter the workforce. Your writing will also have a purpose then, either defined by your supervisor or yourself. Most research papers, however, have one of the following purposes:
- To inform—When you write to inform, you are providing the facts about your topic without giving an opinion or trying to persuade the reader to a particular point of view. Newspapers usually write to inform, although certain features such as editorials aim to persuade. Your research paper can be informative as well. For example, a research paper that defines the major forms of alternative energy and lists the pros and cons of each would be an informative paper.
- To explain—Writing to explain is similar to writing to inform in the sense that it is factual and doesn’t try to persuade the reader. Explanatory writing goes further than informative writing because it attempts to explain who or what someone or something is, and or how or why something happened. Writing to explain makes a complex subject easier to understand. When you write to explain, you add your own interpretation of the facts. For example, a research paper that explains how land pollution is reduced through recycling would be an example of this kind of writing.
- To persuade—When you write to persuade, you use logical and emotional appeals to persuade your readers to adopt your point of view. For example, if you write a paper arguing that all coal-burning electrical plants should be required to adopt clean coal technologies by the year 2015, you are trying to persuade your reader that this plan is the best way to improve air quality and reduce further damage. There may even be an implied or clearly stated call to action for your readers, such as the suggestion that if this option were offered, readers should vote for it.
Let’s practice identifying the purpose of paper topics. Read the following paper topics and select each one's purpose.
What is audience?
Source: "I'd like to ask a question…," Mark Anderson, Andertoons
As you probably already know, the audience of your paper is the person or persons who will read it. You may have just one audience: your teacher. You may have multiple audiences: your teacher and your classmates (when you give a presentation, for example). Knowing your audience is crucial to writing an effective paper. Knowing your audience lets you determine how much background information to write on a subject and how much and what kind of evidence you need to present.