Oftentimes, when writing any kind of text, it helps to determine the purpose or reason why you are writing. The first thing you can do is narrow your purpose to one of the three broad categories:
-- to entertain -- the main function of the text is for the reader to enjoy reading it. Novels, memoirs, short stories, screenplays, and after-dinner speeches are examples of texts that are normally meant to entertain.
-- to inform -- the main fuction of the text is to give the reader unbiased information about a certain topic. News articles, documentaries, encyclopedias, and almanacs are examples of informative texts. A common assignment in high school and college courses is an informative research paper.
-- to persuade -- the main function of the text is to sway the reader's opinion. Newspaper columns, movie reviews, editorials, and stump speeches can be categorized as persuasive texts. An argumentative research paper, one where the author defends his or her position with sources, is a common assignment given in high school and college courses.
After you have narrowed your purpose to one of the three categories, you can think about who the audience is for this particular text. Are they expecting you to write formally or informally? Objectively or subjectively? What kind of tone and language should you use? Will you need to cite outside sources? How long should this paper be?
Suppose your audience is a college professor. She wants you to write an informative research paper on the Obama election as the final assignment for her modern politics course. Because this is an academic paper, you should write in formal, academic language. Because this is an informative paper, you should write objectively. Because your professor described this as a research paper, you should cite multiple sources. And because this is a final paper, you should expect the length to be fairly substantial -- perhaps anywhere between five to fifteen pages.
On the other hand, suppose you want to write a scathing opinion article in the college newspaper about the Obama election. In this scenario, your audience is college students who are interested in politics. Because this is not an academic essay, you don't have to write in formal, academic language (perhaps you could write more conversationally?), but you should probably write articulately in order to increase your authority. Because this is an opinion piece, you don't have to be objective. Because this will appear in a college newspaper, you are not be required to submit a works cited page, but you should ALWAYS give credit when using statistics, quotes, or information that is not your own. Because newspapers feature limited space, you should plan on a length of 500 words or less.
written by Luke Rolfes