Introduction to Topic, Audience, and Purpose

Your exact writing process will depend on your situation. A writer’s situation is a combination of everything that directly affects a given piece of writing, including these basic elements:

This unit focuses on helping your narrow your topic, audience, and purpose.


This video explains the way topic, audience, and purpose shape your writing by making this analogy: Writers guide readers through ideas, like tour guides lead groups through a city. As you watch the video, notice the stated similarities between writers and tour guides. Can you think of other similarities?

Download transcript.


The writing process begins with understanding your assignment. Once you understand what is expected of your work, then you can refine your topic, audience, and the purpose.

Your topic is what you are writing about. Often, your topic will be assigned, and you will need to narrow it. For example, if the assignment asks you to propose a change in traffic policies in your town, you might consider situations that affect bike riders, laws related to distraction, or the use of red light cameras. Specific strategies for exploring and narrowing your topic are covered in the prewriting unit.

Your audience is your readers. As you write, think about not only your actual readers (classmates and teachers) but also about specific groups of readers beyond the classroom. For some assignments, you may be able to share your writing with these outside groups. Learning to assess different audiences’ needs and expectations will help you in your professional and personal life as well.

Your purpose is why you are writing. Purpose sounds simple, but figuring out your purpose and keeping your writing in line with that purpose is one of the most challenging aspects of writing. At the beginning of your writing process, your purpose is one of three types:

By the end of the writing process, your purpose also answers these questions:

As this list of questions indicates, purpose connects your topic and your audience. Who is reading (audience) and why you want their attention (purpose) affects what you say (topic) and how you say it (tone, organization, print/online/spoken, words/images/moving images).


The study pages review each concept in more detail; they provide examples to help you distinguish effective from ineffective topics, audiences, and purposes. Before taking the post-test, make sure you understand narrow versus broad topics, appropriate audiences, and the differences between informing, persuading, and entertaining.

This unit does not have a LearningCurve activity. To prepare for the post-test, if assigned, review your results from the pre-test.

Don’t forget to work smartly!