Any time you are preparing to write, you should first ask yourself, “Why am I writing?” All writing, no matter the type, has a purpose. Purpose will sometimes be given to you (by a teacher, for example), while other times, you will decide for yourself. As the author, it’s up to you to make sure that purpose is clear not only for yourself, but also – especially – for your audience. If your purpose is not clear, your audience is not likely to receive your intended message.

There are, of course, many different reasons to write (e.g., to inform, to entertain, to persuade, to ask questions), and you may find that some writing has more than one purpose. When this happens, be sure to consider any conflict between purposes, and remember that you will usually focus on one main purpose.

Bottom line: Thinking about your purpose before you begin to write can help you create a more effective piece of writing.

Why Purpose Matters

  • If you’ve ever listened to a lecture or read an essay and wondered “so what” or “what is this person talking about,” then you know how frustrating it can be when an author’s purpose is not clear. By clearly defining your purpose before you begin writing, it’s less likely you’ll be that author who leaves the audience wondering.
  • If readers can’t identify the purpose in a text, they usually quit reading. You can’t deliver a message to an audience who quits reading.
  • If a teacher can’t identify the purpose in your text, they will likely assume you didn’t understand the assignment and, chances are, you won’t receive a good grade.

Useful Questions

Consider how the answers to the following questions may affect your writing:
  • What is my primary purpose for writing? How do I want my audience to think, feel, or respond after they read my writing?
  • Do my audience’s expectations affect my purpose? Should they?
  • How can I best get my point across (e.g., tell a story, argue, cite other sources)?
  • Do I have any secondary or tertiary purposes? Do any of these purposes conflict with one another or with my primary purpose?