At the University much of the writing that you do will be for the purpose of communicating information. In some cases, you will write to demonstrate your own understanding of specific information. For example, in exams or assignments you may be asked to explain or summarize information that you have read or heard in class. In other cases, you will write to inform others about a topic on which you have gathered information. Examples of this include reports about experiences, surveys or lab activities, as well as papers in which you read sources and describe previous research on a particular topic.
Because the specific purposes and audiences for informational writing vary greatly, it is important to pay close attention to the assignment and to consider who the proposed audience is for your writing. The key to writing to convey information effectively is to understand the point of view and previous knowledge of your reader. If the audience is your instructor, make sure that you understand his or her expectations. Carefully read any information your instructor provides about the assignment and make sure you understand what criteria the instructor will use to evaluate it. If the instructor provides a rubric or a grading sheet, look at this before you start writing, and think about how you can best shape your writing to fit the guidelines.
If the writing assignment has a different audience, you should try to find as much information about your possible readers as you can. You need especially to consider how much the possible readers know about your topic and try to match the amount and type of information you provide to what those particular readers need to supplement what they already know. For example, if you were writing about a concept or idea in your major for advanced students in that major, you would assume that they already know something about basic information in the field. On the other hand, if you are reading to introduce first-year students to the same topic, you would need to provide much more background information. You might need to explain unfamiliar terms, give more details, or explain more specifically what links one point to another.
FOCUS: Reader’s Knowledge & Point of View
- Assume that you are writing for a person of your own age from your own country. Describe your favorite food from your home country.
- Assume that you are writing for an American university student who has never been to your country. Describe your favorite food from your home country.
Compare your two descriptions. How are they different? Why?