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.

Student Writing

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:

Let’s practice identifying the purpose of paper topics. Read the following paper topics and select each one's purpose.

What is audience?

Cartoon, speaker listens to audience member who says “Yes, I’d like to ask a very specific question that pertains only to me, and then go on and on and on . . .”

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.