Welcome to our creative commons OER (open educational resource) for Writing 121 at the University of Oregon. This resource is designed for students to be a zero-cost, high-quality guide to academic writing, with the goal of preparing you for success in college and beyond.
Audience, Purpose, Context
Four key elements will shape much of the writing you are asked to do in college. Students, professional writers, editors, and publishers all consider these elements when they begin a new writing project:
- Purpose: The reason the writer composes a piece of writing.
- Tone: The attitude the writer conveys about the topic and the intended audience.
- Audience: The individual or group the writer intends to address.
- Content: The subject matter and ideas contained in a piece of writing.
Figure 1 Purpose, Audience, Tone, and Content Triangle
Your purpose, audience, and tone shape the content of each new writing task you will complete during college. These might include essays, research reports, scholarship applications, cover letters, and more.
The purpose for a piece of writing identifies what a writer is trying to accomplish with their writing and the reasons motivating them to write. Basically, the purpose of a piece of writing answers the question “Why write it?” For example, why write a play? To entertain a packed theater. Why write an email to your employees? To inform them of changes in policies or procedures. Why write a letter to your Senator? To persuade her to address your community’s needs. Why keep a diary? To keep a record of your journey through life. Knowing your purpose for any given writing task will help you remain focused and coherent.
The audience for your writing is the expected reader or readers. An audience may be a certain professor, a group of classmates, people who research a subject you are writing about, or a wider community. Consider the specific traits of your audience members and what might be appealing or interesting to them. Use your imagination to anticipate your potential readers’ demographics, education, prior knowledge, and expectations. This will ensure that you are as detailed as you need to be in your writing.
Tone identifies a writer or speaker’s attitude toward their topic. You may pick up a person’s tone of voice fairly easily in conversation, and the same is often true of writing. Just as speakers transmit emotion through voice and signers through body language, writers can create a range of attitudes, from excited and humorous to dry and critical. Tone creates intentional and unintentional emotional responses from readers. Ultimately, a good writer strives to build a relationship between the audience and their text using tone. To stimulate these connections, writers reflect attitudes and feelings with useful devices, such as sentence structure, word choice, punctuation, and formal or informal language. Keep in mind that the attitude of your writing should always appropriately match the audience and the purpose.
Keep the big picture elements of purpose, audience, and tone in mind while reading this resource and engaging in your own writing process. We hope the ideas and lessons provided here give you a useful starting place to write with greater confidence and skill in college as you encounter the demands and expectations of academic coursework. First-year writing courses are required at nearly every college and university in the world, so nearly every college student encounters these common ideas about writing. Students of various ages, identities, backgrounds, academic backgrounds all take first-year writing courses at various points in their journey through college, and we hope after engaging with these materials that you find a sense of belonging with other writers and feel ready to take on any writing challenge. Writing as Inquiry is informed by our combined 30+ years of teaching experience, our engagement with current research and best practices in the field of Composition and Rhetoric, and a keen sense of developments in writing instruction and assessment across Oregon.
The University of Oregon is located on Kalapuya ilihi, the traditional indigenous homeland of the Kalapuya people. Following treaties between 1851 and 1855, Kalapuya people were dispossessed of their indigenous homeland by the United States government and forcibly removed to the Coast Reservation in Western Oregon. Today, Kalapuya descendants are primarily citizens of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, and they continue to make important contributions to their communities, to the UO, to Oregon, and to the world.
In following the Indigenous protocol of acknowledging the original people of the land we occupy, we also extend our respect to the nine federally recognized Indigenous nations of Oregon: the Burns Paiute Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Coquille Indian Tribe, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, and the Klamath Tribes. We express our respect to the many more tribes who have ancestral connections to this territory, as well as to all other displaced Indigenous peoples who call Oregon home. Hayu masi.