Teach Write: An Introduction to Purpose

November 12, 2019

Welcome to Teach Write! This column draws on my 20 years’ experience teaching writing to kids, university students, and adult learners. It includes ideas and exercises that teachers can use in the classroom, and creative writers can use to level up their process.

As part of our preparation for writing a new piece, we need to think about audience – who we are writing for and how the knowledge and needs of that audience affect the way we approach our work. Figuring that out before we start saves us a huge amount of time in the downstream phases, like drafting and revising our work.

Equally important, in terms of maximizing our focus, clarity, and efficiency, is understanding our purpose: identifying the intention or end goal of our work.

The purpose of the piece is so important that particular formats, styles, and conventions have been developed to make the intention of the writing more apparent to the reader. Don’t believe me? Compare the IMRAD format of a lab report or scientific paper – documents designed to present the results of an experiment to fellow scientists – with the format of a picture book. And consider how the format and style of a picture book varies depending on whether its purpose is to educate, entertain, involve, or help a small child drift off to sleep on a blanket of security and love.

So, as writers, one of the first things we need to establish is WHY we are writing a particular piece. Is our goal to:

  • explain, educate, or illuminate?
  • outline a process or provide concrete advice?
  • entertain?
  • inspire and uplift?
  • connect with others through presentation of shared experiences?
  • persuade or present an argument for a particular point of view?
  • motivate action?
  • demonstrate our understanding of how much we’ve learned in class?

That last one, obviously, is pretty specific to students. But notice how the others could apply to creative writing just as easily as to different styles of academic writing.

We’re going to be taking a deeper look at each purpose over the next few months, as we explore different formats and genres of writing, both academic and creative. In the meantime, here’s an exercise to help you start thinking about purpose:

  1. Brainstorm one academic and one creative genre of writing that matches each purpose listed above.
  2. Consider how, as a writer, you’d need to approach each of those genres differently, in order to achieve the intended effect.

Hey, did you know I teach writing workshops? It’s true – I work with adult writers, teachers, and students of all ages. Contact me to learn more.


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