Rhetorically speaking, purpose is about making decisions as a writer about why you’re writing and what you want your audience to take from your work.
There are three objectives you may have when writing a research paper.
- To inform – When you write a research paper to inform, you’re not making an argument, but you do want to stress the importance of your topic. You might think about your purpose as educating your audience on a particular topic.
- To persuade – When you write a research paper to persuade, your purpose should be to take a stance on your topic. You’ll want to develop a thesis statement that makes a clear assertion about some aspect of your topic.
- To analyze – Although all research papers require some analysis, some research papers make analysis a primary purpose. So, your focus wouldn’t be to inform or persuade, but to analyze your topic. You’ll want to synthesize your research and, ideally, reach new, thoughtful conclusions based on your research.
You must be able to move beyond the idea that you’re writing your research paper only because your professor is making you. While that may be true on some level, you must decide on a purpose based on what topic you’re researching and what you want to say about that topic.
You must decide for yourself, within the requirements of your assignment, why you’re engaging in the research process and writing a paper. Only when you do this will your writing be engaging for your audience.
Your assignment or project instructions affect purpose. If your professor gives you a formal writing assignment sheet for your research paper, it’s especially important to read very carefully through your professor’s expectations. If your professor doesn’t provide a formal assignment sheet, be prepared to ask questions about the purpose of the assignment.