Why Do We Write?

Hey everyone! This post will be the first of a three-part series that will explore the connections between why we write, the rhetorical triangle, and audience. With these posts, you will be able to identify the reason you’re writing something, your intended audience, and how best to write for your audience, all of which will make you a better writer. Let’s begin.

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Many people will immediately respond “to communicate,” which is a redundant answer if you think about it. Writing is a form of communication, so to say we use a form of communication to communicate is using the word to define itself. We do write to communicate, but we write to do something specific in our communication.

Many students will say we write “to get good grades,” or “because I have to,” both true answers. However, writing does not only take place in an educational setting. We write reports, summaries, and resumes for employers. We also write emails and texts daily to our family, friends, co-workers, and professors, and we certainly don’t write those for grades. While grades might be the motivation someone needs to think about their writing, grades are not the reason we write.

Another common answer to this question is “to express ourselves,” which is a true but limited answer. Many people do write to express their feelings and opinions, but “to express” is almost synonymous with “to communicate,” leading us back to the first problem we encountered.

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In a small, informal survey we conducted with English 1A students, many students focused on a more particular answer, saying “to inform, to persuade, to entertain.” This answer is almost perfect, encompassing why we communicate in any medium. Indeed, we write to do all of these things, but this answer misses one key component: audience.

Writing is a process that involves two parties: the writer and the audience, and your professor isn’t your only audience member. If we ignore that relationship when contemplating our writing, then we ignore a large part of why we write. When we don’t understand why we write, we don’t try as hard, think as critically, or enjoy our writing as much as we could, which often leads to poor writing.

When I begin writing, I have to understand everything about my topic before I write even one word. I spend time in my head thinking about what I want to argue and how I want to argue it. After I figured that out, I spend all my time thinking about who I am arguing with or for. Who is going to read my writing, and how am I going to make them care about it? To me, it’s like a problem-solving or strategy game, and that’s when I start having fun. Reading and writing should both be worthwhile experiences, so I work to make sure my readers feel like they got something out of my writing.

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We don’t write just to communicate, get good grades, express ourselves, or inform, persuade, and entertain because we also write to engage our audience. Now you’re probably wondering, “So why the hell do we really write?” The answer is embedded in the rhetorical triangle, which we will talk about later, so keep an eye out for our next post!

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