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Good Writing

what is good writing?

audience and purpose

organization

care and imagination

lucidity, simplicity, directness

myths about good writing

Writing and Convention

conventions of writing

formal and informal writing

research and writing

writing in a discipline

grammar and usage

common errors

The Process of Writing

outside the classroom

inside the classroom

Citation Styles

mla | apa | acs

Sites

wordnet

etymonline

world wide words

english grammar

geoff nunberg

more writing sites

new! the guide wiki

about the guide

Creative Commons License
The Guide by Paul Schacht and Celia Easton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

SUNY Geneseo's Writing Guide

Audience and purpose

"What will I say?" is probably the most important - and the most challenging - question that any writer faces. But other questions, too, demand an answer. For whom am I writing? For what purpose? Your answers to questions about audience and purpose will influence every choice that you make in writing, from organization to tone to diction to citation style.

A writer's audience can range in size from one (consider, for example, the diarist or the letter-writer) to all humanity. Beyond the writer's primary audience may lie a secondary one: the diarist may hope that his or her diary will someday interest all humanity. Most writers write for a fairly well defined primary audience consisting of readers who share an interest in the subject-matter: vegetarian cooking, for example, or web design, or cytokinesis.

College writers are unusual in writing for an audience that will in most cases never read them. The college writer's reader is the professor, but the professor will typically ask the writer to write as if she or he will be read by a larger group, such as scholars of literature, history, or biology.

When trying to decide, then, how much information to provide about the plot of a novel or the laws of motion, you'll do best if you imagine that you are writing for a roomful of people like your professor. Such people

On the other hand, they do need to be convinced that your thesis matters - in other words, that their time is not wasted reading what you've written - and they usually appreciate being reminded of small facts that even a specialist may forget, such as how far the protagonist walked to get to London or how long after getting there he was arrested for stealing a handkerchief.

The purpose of a college essay will vary with the assignment. The major types of college essay reflect the different purposes that professors typically wish students to take up. The purpose of the expository essay is to convey a body of information, relate a narrative, detail a process, or explain a relationship (such as cause and effect). The purpose of a personal essay is to reflect on some aspect of the writer's own experience.

The type of essay most commonly assigned to college writers is the persuasive essay. When you write to persuade, be sure to do the following:

You can find more on audience and purpose in The Guide's discussions of sexism and racism in language and writing.