There are three main contexts to consider when approaching writing:
- purpose of the writing
- type of writing
- reading audience
First of all, writing exists within the context of what you want to accomplish, your purpose: to inform, instruct, analyze, argue logically, evaluate, etc. For example, if your purpose is to argue logically and persuade your reader of the validity of your stance on an issue, you’ll know even before you start prewriting that you’ll need to include support that addresses the opposing side in order to create a balanced presentation.
Secondly, writing exists within the context of the type of writing you intend to do: blogging, business proposal, case study, academic writing, etc. In a study of college writing, you’ll most likely be writing either research or non-research essays. Knowing the type of writing that you intend to do can help you make decisions about content, format, and overall approach. For example, if you’re writing a non-research essay offering your own reflections or observations on contemporary manners, you may decide that it’s fine to use a light-hearted tone and informal writing style. You may decide on a more formal approach if you’re writing an essay based on an assigned textbook reading on contemporary manners for a sociology course.
Third and most important, writing exists in the context of communication, as a conversation between you and your reader/s. Considering your audience – your readers’ knowledge of your topic, their interests, age, etc. – will help you identify the amount, depth, and type of information to include in your writing.
All three contexts are important to consider, sometimes before and definitely after you prewrite. Note that it’s also useful to consider contexts in the writing and revising stages to ensure that you’re clearly addressing your purpose, audience, and conventions for the writing type.