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Dr. Tarkan-Blanco

Understanding College and Other Writing Situations (Contexts)

(Adapted from
Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers)

In this lesson, you will learn to:

· Understand a writing situation

· Use “purpose” and “audience” in your writing

· Use “role” and “genre” in your writing

· Understand context and special requirements

What is a writing situation?

Consider two situations: (1) you are texting a message to a friend or (2) you are completing a research paper for a criminal justice class. In both cases, you are writing, but if you are going to be successful, the results need to be very different. A criminal justice paper in the short, casual style of a text message definitely will not impress your professor. Similarly, texting friends in long paragraphs followed by a works cited page would make them impatient and likely wonder who has stolen your phone.

As such, for each task they encounter, effective writers analyze the writing situation, which is the context in which they write. A
writing situation is a combination of several elements, most importantly your purpose and audience. Effective writers adjust their writing to fit that situation.

Elements of writing situations

Topic: What will be the subject of your writing?

Purpose: What should the writing accomplish?

Audience: Who are your main readers?

Role: How do you want your audience to perceive you?

Genre: What form or type of writing do your readers expect?

Context and special requirements: When and how will your writing be read? Do you have requirements such as length, format, or due dates?

Understanding a writing situation guides your writing process (i.e., planning, drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading) and shapes your final draft. For example, consider the following task: “In a five-page paper for a political science course, describe government restrictions on giving political campaigns.” Your
informative purpose would require careful research and an objective, serious style, complete with a list of works cited or references, in a paper that explains without judging or arguing. In contrast, imagine the following assignment: “Write a 300-word newspaper editorial arguing that people should (or should not) be allowed to give as much money as they want to a political candidate.” As a short editorial, your writing would reflect your persuasive purpose for a public audience. It would state and explain a position quickly, probably have an energetic style, and include no list of references.

What does purpose mean for writing?

A writer’s
purpose is the reason he or she is writing. It is the general result that he or she wants the writing to achieve.

Purposes for writing

· To express yourself

· To build connections

· To entertain readers

· To inform readers

· To persuade readers

****The purpose of most college writing is to inform and persuade.

What is expressive writing?

Expressive writing is writing to convey your thoughts, experiences, feelings, or opinions. Some expressive writing is for your eyes only, as in diaries, personal journals, or exploratory drafts. Some expressive writing just blows off steam. For example, writing that “Congressman Jameson is a total idiot” might make an author feel good, but simply expressing that belief will not change many minds. At best, it lets people know where you stand. Finally, some expressive writing has the purpose of engaging or entertaining readers.

What is writing to connect?

In our connected digital world, people do a lot of writing simply to connect to others. They tweet messages, put status updates on social networking sites, comment on others’ postings, and share notes, photos, and videos. Why? The primary purpose is to maintain friendships or relationships. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter often do impart information and do try to persuade others. However, the main purpose is to establish and deepen human contact.

What is writing to entertain and engage?

Why do people write novels, movie scripts, comic scripts, or jokes? For many reasons, perhaps, but the most important is to entertain. And why do people read sports pages, romances, or horror novels? Mainly for enjoyment. Much writing happens to entertain, and much reading occurs not because people have to do it but because they want to do it. Of course, there is “light” entertainment and “serious” entertainment; after all, for all the messages in
Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote it for an audience who bought theater tickets. Personal essays are a form of expressive writing written for wider readership.

What is writing to inform?

The essential goal of informative writing is to educate your readers about observations, ideas, facts, scientific data, and statistics. Like all good educators, therefore, you want to present your information clearly, accurately, completely, and fairly.

Below is a checklist to assess your informative writing:

· Is its information clear?

· Does it present facts, ideas, and observations that can be verified?

· Does its information seem complete and accurate?

· Does it explain ideas or concepts clearly and effectively?

· Is the writer’s tone reasonable and free of distortions?

Here is a paragraph written to inform:

“Diamonds in the rough” are usually round and greasy looking. But diamond miners are in no need of dark glasses to shield them from the dazzling brilliance of the mines for quite another reason: even in a diamond pipe, there is only one part diamond per 14 million parts of worthless rock. Approximately 46,000 pounds of earth must be mined and sifted to produce the half-carat gem a woman might be wearing. No wonder diamonds are expensive!

–Richard B. Manchester, “Diamonds”

As informative writing, this paragraph works because it focuses clearly on its
topic (diamonds in the rough), presents facts that can be verified (who, what, when, where), and is written in a reasonable tone.

Informative writing comes in many types and varieties, such as informative (expository) essays, process and analysis essays, cause and effect analysis essays, and textual analysis.

What is writing to persuade?

Persuasive writing, also called
argumentative writing, seeks to persuade readers to support a particular opinion. When you write to persuade, you deal with debatable topics—those that people can consider from more than one point of view. Your goal is to change your readers’ minds—or at least to bring their opinions closer to yours. You want your audience to think beyond their present position (for example, reasoning why national security should—or should not—limit individual rights) or to take action (for example, register to vote). Examples of persuasive writing include newspaper editorials, letters to the editor, opinion essays in magazines, reviews, sermons, advertising, fundraising letters, books that argue a point of view, business proposals, and so on.

Questions to assess persuasive writing:

· Does it present a point of view about which opinions vary?

· Does it support its point of view with specifics?

· Does it provide sound reasoning and logic?

· Are the parts of its argument clear?

· Does it intend to evoke a reaction from the reader?

Argument is a frequent purpose in college writing. There are three types of argument: Argument Essays, Proposal and Solution Essays, and Evaluation Essays.

What does “audience” mean for writing?

audience consists of everyone who will read your writing, but it especially refers to
readers to whom you are most directly aiming your words. For example, anyone can try to read an issue of the
New England Journal of Medicine, but that publication is aimed at doctors and medical researchers. An article about how to treat a certain illness would be written very differently if, instead of doctors, the audience consisted of parents whose children had that illness. The article would be even more different if it were written for children themselves. Effective writers know they need to adjust their writing for different audiences.

Questions to analyze your audience:

In what setting are they reading?

· Academic setting? Specifically, what subject?

· Workplace setting? Specifically, what business area?

· Public setting? Specifically, what form of communication? (newspaper? blog? poster?)

Who are they?

· Age, gender, economic situation

· Ethnic backgrounds, political philosophies, religious beliefs

· Roles (student, parent, voter, wage earner, property owner, veteran, and others)

· Interests, hobbies

What do they know?

· General level of education

· Specific level of knowledge about topic: Do they know less than you about the subject? As much as you about the subject? More than you about the subject?

· Beliefs: Is the audience likely to agree with your point of view? Disagree with your point of view? Have no opinion about the topic?

· Interests: Is the audience eager to read about the topic? Open to the topic?

Resistant to or not interested in the topic?

What is their relationship to you?

· Distance and formality: Do you know your audience personally or not?

· Authority: Does your reader have the authority to judge or evaluate you (a supervisor at work, a professor)?

There are four general kinds of audiences

· General educated audiences

· Specialist audiences

· Your professor (who represents your general or specialized readers)

· Your peers (classmates, coworkers, friends, or others like yourself)

What is a general educated audience?

A general educated audience is composed of experienced readers who regularly read newspapers, magazines, and books, whether in print or on the screen. General educated readers usually approach a piece of writing expecting to become interested in it, to learn something, or to see a subject from a perspective other than their own. As a writer, you need to work to fulfill those expectations.

What is a specialist audience?

A specialist audience is composed of readers who have a thorough knowledge of specific subjects or who are particularly committed to certain interests or viewpoints.

Examples of specialized audiences include:

· Members of specific academic disciplines, such as chemistry, political science, art history

· People in specific professions, such as finance, education, engineering

· People with common interest or hobbies, such as fans of anime, of certain television shows; of cooking, of NASCAR

· People with common political beliefs (conservatives, liberals, independents) or views (on health care, the environment, immigration)

· People with common experiences, such as veterans, single parents, athletes.

What is my professor’s role as audience?

As your audience, your professor functions in three ways. First, your professor assumes the role of your target audience by reading and responding to your writing as though he or she is one of your intended general or specific readers. Second, your professor acts as a coach who is dedicated to helping improve your writing. Third, your professor evaluates your final drafts.

What is role in writing?

A role in writing is a personality or identity. It may surprise you to learn that you can take on different roles (personalities or identities) for different writing situations. For example, suppose you are trying to persuade readers to save energy.

· You might emphasize your role as a prospective parent who is personally worried about energy for your future children.

· You might present yourself as a conservationist concerned about the environment.

· You might present yourself as someone giving budget advice to consumers.

The point is that the role your readers see can affect how they react to your argument. For example, some readers unfortunately dismiss students as young or naïve. So, you might want to emphasize your role as a voter or taxpayer on some issue, not your role as a student.

What is genre in writing?

To say that a writing fits in a particular
genre means that it can be grouped with others in a category of writings that share features in common. There are many genres of writing.




An argument essay

A cause-and-effect essay

An informative essay

A lab report

A reader encountering each genre would expect to see certain characteristics. For example, imagine that you turned in a lab report that began, “It was a warm, sunny April afternoon as I walked into the chemistry lab, shivering with gleeful anticipation at the prospect of titrating beakers full of colorful substances, arrayed on the lab bench like dancers in a Broadway musical.” Your chemistry professor would almost certainly give you a low grade for failing to write something that fit the objective and precise genre of a lab report.

Questions for analyzing genre

· What is the purpose of the writing?

· Who is the apparent audience?

· Are there clearly identified parts of individual works? Are there headings, for example?

· What kind of evidence or sources seem to count in this genre? Readings?

Author’s experiences? Measurements or data? Observations?

· What is the tone or style of words in the genre? Formal? Informal? Friendly? Stuffy? Cautious? Energetic?

· What seems to be the writer’s role? For example, is he or she an impartial observer who keeps in the background or a center of attention whose experience and personality are on display?

· What documentation style, if any, does it use?

What are context and special requirements in writing?

Context refers to the circumstances in which your readers will encounter your writing. For example, persuading people to buy fuel-efficient cars when gas costs $2 per gallon is very different than when it costs more than $4. Arguing that we should have a military draft is different in a time of war than in a time of peace.

Special requirements are practical matters such as how much time you are given to complete an assignment, the required length of your writing, the format of your final draft, and so on. For example, your professor expects more from an assignment that you had a week to complete than from one written in class. In the second case, your readers realize you had to write in relative haste, though no one ever accepts sloppy or careless work. Make sure you know—and follow—all special requirements.

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