Writing for Diverse Purposes & Mediums

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

The act of writing has changed greatly in the age of electronic media and global communication. Yet there are some basic principles about writing for various purposes and audiences that still prove useful. That's what you will learn in this lesson - how to write for a diverse outlet of mediums and purposes.

The Act of Writing

Whether you are writing with a pen, a typewriter, or a personal computer, there are some guidelines about how we change our writing to match a situation, a purpose, or a particular audience. Tools of writing, and even vocabularies, change over time with our changing culture. Particularly in the past two decades, the world of communication has exploded with new technology and possibilities. Some of the writing you are asked to do is still grounded in print mediums. But there are other aspects to using writing: a script for a video, an online blog, a report on a process, or analysis of a work of fiction.

Let's look at some of the standard guidelines used to help you sort out the variety of writing tasks. The basic categories of purpose, audience, and rhetorical situation are still useful for today's writers.

Purpose for Writing

Consider the many reasons that people use written communication. On the informal side, you may be leaving a note for a friend, texting or sending email. Keep in mind, though, that in today's electronic-driven world, emails can also be used for business and professional communication. In that case, you would need to be more professional in your formatting of the email, more formal in word choice, and more careful about the conventions of correct grammar and usage. Of course, if you are texting your friend, this is probably the most informal and abbreviated use of writing.

Perhaps you are writing to apply for a job, a scholarship or an intern position. You would then need to use a higher level of language, and make sure you proofread for grammar and spelling. There are many online templates available for written formats like resumes and application letters; these can be most helpful. You would also want to present yourself in the best possible terms, almost like selling yourself. But, be sure to avoid empty phrases like ''very excited'' or ''a good student''. Be specific and choose your words carefully.

One of the most complicated kinds of writing is the writing many of us do for higher education. There are some particular guidelines for academic writing, which is the most formal style most of us ever use. Sentence structure tends to be more complex; this is the time to use that semi-colon correctly! Paragraphs are longer: usually 5-8 sentences, but possibly longer still. And your choice of words should be formal and reserved, like the textbooks you read in college. You might also be asked to format your written work in a certain style, like MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychological Association).

Academic Writing requires time spent in the library
academic writing

In addition to a research paper, you may be asked to analyze fiction, like a novel or poem. There are special guidelines for doing so which are beyond the scope of this lesson. This all sounds rather overwhelming, but, thankfully, college freshman writing courses are specifically designed to acquaint new students with academic writing.

Rhetorical Situation

The circumstances surrounding a writing task can be called the rhetorical situation. Understanding the purpose for writing is a part of making the finished product match the situation. For example, in a business situation, you may have the purpose of selling something, which could be a product or a service. This may take the form of a print ad in a magazine, online advertising, ads on television, or billboards and signs. Writing like this needs to be carefully worded to make the potential customer want to use or buy whatever is being offered. Shorter sentences, or even absence of complete sentences, and action words are common features.

Vintage Print Ads
vintage ads

You may be thinking that ads today look very different from these vintage ads from a 1950s newspaper. They do indeed, but the principles of short, snappy phrasing and attractive offers in bold letters have not changed much.

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