1.5 Determine Your Purpose
Linda Macdonald and [Author removed at request of original publisher]
By the end of this chapter, you should be able to
- Identify the purpose of your messages and clarify what you hope the message will achieve, and
- Apply your understanding of purpose in a written document or presentation.
Before you develop your communication strategy, determine what information must be communicated and why.
If, for example, you need to obtain information regarding progress on a new mobile app, you need to clarify exactly what information you want. Do you need the names of the people involved in the development, or a timeline for coordination with human resources, or are you collecting demographic information from the Marketing Department?
You also need to determine what you want the recipient to do in response to the message. Should the recipient arrange a meeting to discuss the app? Email a progress report? Respond immediately in person? Clarifying exactly what you as the sender want and what the recipient should do focuses the message, facilitates the flow of work, and minimizes time spent on sending and receiving emails.
To develop your strategy, describe your intended goal with an action verb. Do you want to inform, persuade, introduce, update, or entertain? Is there some other action that best describes your general purpose? Most business messages are informational, but messages often have multiple purposes. For example, your email to a client may be to inform them of changes to their account, but your tone and language may be designed to build you and your bank’s credibility.
In addition to its general purpose (e.g., to inform, persuade, entertain, or motivate), every piece of writing also has at least one specific purpose or intended outcome– what will happen once your communication has been read or heard. Define what you want the audience to think, feel, or do as a result of your message. What is it you hope to accomplish? For example, you may be writing an email to a renter informing them that the building’s laundry facilities will be closed on Wednesday so that upgraded machines can be installed. You want this audience to accept the message despite the inconvenience. You also want them to feel pleased with the improvement to the housing unit.
A cover letter in application for a co-op or internship position has multiple general and specific purposes, making writing them a particularly challenging task to write. The résumé primarily satisfies the purpose of informing your audience of your key skills and attributes, and your cover letter will confirm this information. When you write a cover letter, your primary general goal is to persuade the reader.
Your cover letter will have several specific purposes. Your goal is to make the audience feel confident in your ability to do the job, recognize your professionalism and credibility, and act on moving you forward in the hiring process to the interview. Defining your general purpose as persuasive rather than informative shifts your perspective from “I”, in an informational discussion of your skill set and experience, to “you” as you write to persuade the reader that you satisfy the organization’s needs and bring value to the company.
Apply the information from the reading to the following scenario. You will continue working with this scenario in the following chapter:
You have been hired for a co-op position in your field with your ideal employer. You are starting your co-op during the busy season. Your supervisor has asked you to write an email introducing yourself to the other members of your department.
In preparing to write this email, identify one or two general purposes or goals (use action verbs). Then identify at least three specific purposes (focus on what you want the audience to think, do, or feel).