Rhetorical Context and Purpose

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize rhetorical context in relation to content

In any writing project, three key factors–purpose, author, and audience–all work together to influence what the text itself says, and how it says it. Revisiting these factors, the rhetorical context, can help with expanding and revising your draft.


When revising a draft, it can be helpful to ask yourself again, “Why am I writing?” Remember that all writing, no matter the type, has a purpose. Purpose will sometimes be given to you (by a teacher, for example), while other times, you will decide for yourself. As the author, it’s up to you to make sure that purpose is clear not only for yourself, but also–especially–for your audience. If your purpose is not clear, your audience is not likely to receive your intended message.

There are, of course, many different reasons to write (e.g., to inform, to entertain, to persuade, to ask questions), and you may find that some writing has more than one purpose. When this happens, be sure to consider any conflict between purposes, and remember that you will usually focus on one main purpose as primary.

Bottom line: Making sure your purpose is clear can help identify areas needing revision or areas for further exploration.

Why Purpose Matters

If you’ve ever listened to a lecture or read an essay and wondered “so what” or “what is this person talking about,” then you know how frustrating it can be when an author’s purpose is not clear. By clearly defining your purpose before you begin writing, it’s less likely you’ll be that author who leaves the audience wondering.

If readers can’t identify the purpose in a text, they usually quit reading. You can’t deliver a message to an audience who quits reading.

If teachers can’t identify the purpose in your text, they will likely assume you didn’t understand the assignment and, chances are, you won’t receive a good grade.


Identify the purpose for the piece of writing in the following scenarios: