Essay Writing: To Entertain, to Inform, or To Persuade

When you were taught how to write an essay, you were told that you need to keep in mind all of the rules for punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Following the basic essay format (introduction/body paragraphs)/conclusion) is a given as well. However, there is one more skill that should be covered: audience and purpose. While the two terms differ a bit in definition, together they create something very important. When writing an essay, it is important to ask WHY are you writing this and WHO are you writing it for? The answer to the first question depends greatly on the answer to the other one. Let’s explore this further.

The WHY of an Essay

WHY does a person write an essay? Typically the purpose of any piece of writing falls into one of three categories: to entertain readers or tell them a story (narrative writing), to inform readers about a topic or idea (expository writing) or to convince readers to do or think something (argumentative or persuasive writing). A narrative essay typically includes characters and dialogue, as well as conflict and resolution. An expository essay includes facts and figures, as well as a logical order or sequence, while an argumentative essay features reasons, arguments and claims.

Here are some typical examples for each essay format:

The WHO of an Essay

In addition to knowing the purpose of an essay, however, you should give some thought to their audience. WHO is this essay written for? Is it friends, relatives, or some group within the general public? For example, if you are writing an expository essay about the advantages of the latest generation of smart phones, you need to stop and think about what your readers already do—or don’t—know about the topic. Friends might have a much higher comprehension of what these phones can do than their parents do. Knowing the audience of the writing will guide you in knowing what facts, terms, and jargon need to be explained and which ones do not.

In narrative writing,, knowing the audience helps you choose the story’s plot and details. For instance, a story written for a group of 10-year-old summer campers or for a room full of 70-year-old nursing home residents would most likely emphasize much different details.

In argumentative or persuasive writing, knowing the audience is probably the most essential. If an essay is written to convince people to do or believe something, it is vital to know what opinions they might already have. In other words, writing an essay on why the 2015 Star War’s “The Force Awakens” is the best film in the franchise might be met with enthusiasm in peer readers, but those who stood in line to see the first film in 1977 may need a lot of convincing to agree.

Knowing how to write an essay (grammar, spelling and organization) is important, but remember that so is the why and the who!

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