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

You’ve heard it before (and chances are, you’ll hear it again). When you work with your kids on essay writing, they need to keep in mind all of the rules for punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Following the basic essay format (introduction/body/conclusion) is a given as well.  Before the lesson is over and you assign an essay, 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. (Think of them like hydrogen and oxygen—each one is different, but when they are put together you get water!)

When writing an essay, it is important to ask WHY are you writing this and WHO are you writing it for? (And no, your kids can’t say they are writing to make Mom happy.) 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), to inform readers about a topic or idea (expository) or to convince readers to do or think something (persuasive).  Narrative writing typically includes characters and dialogue, as well as conflict and resolution. Expository writing includes facts and figures, as well as a logical order or sequence, while persuasive writing features reasons, arguments, claims and opinions.

Here are some typical examples of each type of writing:

Narrative Expository Persuasive
A science fiction story A book report An opinion
A short story A research paper A book review
A mystery or horror story An essay on how to do something A letter of recommendation or complaint
A biography or autobiography A news report An advertisement
A poem A newspaper or magazine article A movie review

The WHO of an Essay

In addition to knowing the purpose of an essay, however, your kids should give some thought to their audience. WHO is this essay written for?  Is it their parents, friends, relatives, or some group within the general public? For example, if they are writing an expository essay about the advantages of the latest generation of smart phones, they need to stop and think about what their 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 your kids in knowing what facts, terms, and jargon need to be explained and which ones do not.  

In narratives, knowing the audience helps kids 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 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.

The how of writing a strong essay (grammar, punctuation, and spelling) is  important, but remember that so is the why and the who!

If there is topic you would like to see here, please feel free to email it to  I welcome your thoughts, feedback, ideas, and suggestions.  In the meantime, write on!

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