Lesson 1: Purpose, Subject, & Audience

It’s not likely that anyone reading this blog has sat down recently to write an essay on the use of symbolism in Wuthering Heights. It is, however, likely that someone among us has recently sat down to write an email to a coworker/employee about the use of the color copier for non-essential printing jobs. Though the topics of these two writing projects vary, each requires the writer consider the same basic elements while crafting the piece: purpose, subject, audience. These three elements make up any piece of writing, no matter the topic, length, or context.

1)      Purpose—WHY am I writing this?

My writer’s style guide lists these three key elements as 1) Subject 2) Audience 3) Purpose. However, it seems Purpose must come first. Without it, why did you sit down to write in the first place? Purpose is the driving force behind the work. It will determine what you write about (subject) and how you arrange your argument for maximum impact (audience). Also, the purpose drives the intended result. “Why am I writing this?” ties directly into “What do I hope to accomplish?” For example, my purpose in trying to write an essay about Wuthering Heights might be to get an A in English class. In the case of the email,  I might be trying to cut down on copying costs.

2)      Subject—WHAT am I going to write about?

Decide what about the subject is most interesting and/or important. In the case of the essay, you probably won’t write an essay that describes the entire plot. Rather, you will pick a specific element of the plot and focus on what it does. For the email, you probably won’t want to waste a lot of time explaining exactly how the copier works, why you need copies, or the difference between color ink and black ink. More likely, you will try to explain only the most important part—that is it less expensive to use the b&w copier. Subject requires attention to both inclusion and exclusion. Think about the information that will best serve your purpose and include only that. Avoid over explanation and digressions.

3)      Audience—WHO is going to read this?

This is harder than it seems because you have to intuit what your intended audience does and does not know. When challenged, my students at Penn State often just said the audience for their paper would be “the general public.” This is problematic for many reasons, but mostly because it makes your job as the writer harder (not easier as my former students believed). To include every possible reader, is, well, impossible, or at least not practical. Decide who will best understand your topic (or decide who you would like to try to get to understand your topic) and go from there. You will have to think about what the reader already knows so you can include only the essential information. In the case of the essay, the reader must have read the book. Unless it is a book review in which you are trying to convince someone to read (or not to read) Wuthering Heights, an essay about the use of symbolism must assume the reader knows what the book is about and has read at least most of it. In the case of your employees, they probably know about cost and how a copier works, so armed with that knowledge, you can explain exactly why you need the reserve the color copier for color-necessary jobs, and use the b&w for everything else.

In class this week, we will talk more about how these three elements are essential to embarking on any writing project. We will work with examples and try our hand at creating some of our own.

In the meantime, think of a the last think you had to write. What was the purpose? Subject? Audience? Which element was the most difficult to tackle? Feel free to comment below.


About Taylor

Teacher/Writer/Word Nerd View all posts by Taylor

5 responses to “Lesson 1: Purpose, Subject, & Audience

  • Mike

    Nice post! Just found a flier for your workshop last week. Hoping to make it to class this week, pleased to see this great writing resource in Fremont. Thanks for starting.

  • Kennedy

    we do just what u said at my school

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