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A Writer's Handbook

Why You Write

An Academic Setting 

  • Class assignments, scholarships, peer reviews, academic complaints or appeals, and journal articles are all examples of academic writing. These instances of writing stem from assignments or from a desire to give information to people in academic arenas. 

A Professional Setting 

  • Memos, cover letters and résumés, performance evaluations, reports, policy documents, proposals, form letters, news articles, creative writing, media writing, and technical writing are all examples of professional writing.
  • Depending on the type of profession you choose, you will constantly be in communication with coworkers and supervisors; those of you in more creative fields will be communicating with larger and more widespread groups of people. 

A Peer-to-Peer Setting 

  • Text messages, social media posts, and virtual media are examples of informal peer-to-peer communications. These types of writing happen on a day-to-day basis and generally lack standard rules and format. Communication between peers is often instantaneous, and thus, unchecked for tone and meaning – this is often what gets people in trouble when communicating emotion immediately. 

Main Writing Purposes

  • Entertainment
    • The purpose of writing for entertainment is just that: to entertain. This type of writing often involves telling a story, creating a narration, writing creatively. Writing for entertainment has academic merit, but is often not the focus of a general college writing class. 
  • Information
    • The purpose of writing for information is also just that: to inform. This type of writing basically lays data, processes, and information out to the audience with no bias or argument to it.
  • Persuasion
    • The purpose of writing to persuade is to argue a position and hope to sway the audience in the direction of your beliefs. This type of writing is generally called an argument and can be used to argue a position on an issue or argue a stance in a literary work (or among a group of literary works). Argument can also be termed “analysis” because the writer is analyzing a subject and synthesizing elements within the subject to come up with a main idea – the writer then presents this idea as his or her argument on the subject.
  • Research
    • The research paper can be a mix of informative and persuasive techniques depending on the assignment. The main aspect of this type of writing is to present an in-depth look at a subject with support from primary and secondary sources (see discussion on primary and secondary sources on a later page).


You might say, “Isn’t my teacher the audience for all my papers in class?” But, often, this is not the case. Most teachers will discuss the audience for the papers due in classes and will expect students to use appropriate format, style, and language for the intended audience. To understand what type of appropriate elements of writing to use, writers must think about the following questions: 

  • “Who is the audience?”
  • “What does my audience already know about my subject?” 
  • “What attitudes and beliefs does my audience have?”
  • “Are there specific technical words or is there language that I need to use to reach the audience – or stay away from because the audience is not familiar with it?”
  • “How formal do I need to be with the audience?” 

Peer Audience

Usually writing to peers in everyday tasks is very informal and often will include lack of punctuation, spelling, or syntax. However, some academic assignments ask writers to respond to their peers. Although this is still informal, teachers expect respectful discussion between peers, and if graded, the writing might have specific assigned elements. 

Societal Audience 

If you encounter assignments that ask you to address a section of society, or society as a whole, this will most likely be more formalized than regular peer to peer communication. These types of writing assignments might call for extra background information or explanation of technical terms within a subject that a specific audience may not understand. Especially true for persuasive papers, writers will need to understand the audience’s feelings on the subject so the writer can find common ground to connect with the audience before trying to persuade. 

Academic Audience 

This is usually the most formal of the writing needs, but do not mistake formality with language over-indulgence. Some students purposely search the thesaurus for “big words” to sound more academic, but often this just makes writing look like it is trying to be too academic. Formality in an academic setting usually means no use of first or second person pronouns (no I, me, my, we, us, our, you, etc.) and use of a formal structure and organization. Many times, an academic audience will be aware of the subject you are discussing which means you will not have to use as much background explanation on the subject. 

The main idea to remember when thinking about purpose and audience, especially within a class is to read the assignment directions to find out what you will be writing for and for whom you will be writing.

Exercise 1

Select the link below to launch Exercise 1:  For the following ideas, think about what the purpose and audience would be: