In another post, we looked at the first question that every serious student/candidate must ask when confronted with a composition topic:
What approach should I adopt in this composition exercise?
Am I expected to narrate, describe, discuss, explain, argue or am I expected to use a combination of two or more of these approaches?
We also looked at how to determine the correct approach for composing a particular essay and the important requirements of each approach. It was made clear that it is only when you are sure of how to write your composition that you will have taken the first significant step toward success.
In this post, we shall look at the next important requirement of the topic which your examiner, and of course the marking scheme, expects you to fulfill. This all-important requirement is the PURPOSE for which you are writing.
Every kind of writing has at least one objective. It may aim at any of the following:
(i) Entertaining the reader/listener
(ii) Convincing or persuading the reader/listener
(iii) Informing or educating the reader/listener.
The truth is that every composition topic has a purpose. As stated already, it is important for you to write in conformity with this purpose because marks are awarded for this. It forms an integral part of the content.
Therefore, if you do not write according to this purpose, you will be off the mark – you will be deviating from the required content!
Thus, it is only wise for you to ask yourself this question:
Why am I writing this letter/essay?
In other words, what is my objective, my goal? Or what do I have to achieve in this composition, what impact should my composition have on my intended audience?
The following are examples of topics which should quickly show you what purpose you should be writing for.
1. TO ENTERTAIN
a. Give an account of a pleasant dream you had recently.
b. Write a story titled “The Cat and the Mouse” for publication in your school magazine
c. Give an account of an excursion you made with your classmates to a place of interest in your country.
d. Write an interesting story to illustrate the proverb: “A good name is sooner lost than won”
e. A publishing company is inviting writers to send stories for publication in a book to be titled “Folktales from my Country”. Write a popular tale for your entry.
f. Your close friend missed an interesting event that took place in your school when he/she was on admission at the hospital. Write a letter to him/her describing what happened.
g. Describe a political rally you recently attended.
h. Write a story which ends with; “one gets such an opportunity once in a lifetime.
2. TO CONVINCE / PERSUADE
a. You have been suspended on the charge that you instigated other students to demonstrate against your school authorities. Write a letter to the Chairman of the Board of Governors, stating clearly what happened and asking for his/her help to reverse the decision.
b. The Association of Writers in your country is organizing an essay writing competition on the topic: “Hard work. A reliable key to success in life.” Write your contribution.
c. Many post-secondary courses have been introduced into the country’s Polytechnics and you would like to study one of them. Write a letter of application to the Principal of a Polytechnic, stating the course you would like to pursue, and giving at least three pieces of information about yourself that will help in your selection.
d. As the principal speaker at an inter-school debate, write your contribution for or against the motion: “The youth of today have more opportunities than their predecessors”
e. As the main speaker in a debate, write your contribution for or against the topic: “The disabled can make a meaningful contribution to national development”
f. You are the principal speaker in a debate on the motion: the National Health Insurance scheme can solve all the health problems of the country. Write your arguments for or against the motion.
3. TO INFORM OR EDUCATE
a. Your sister who has been abroad for five years is planning to return home. Write a letter to her describing three important changes that have taken place in the country.
b. Write a speech on the topic: “The achievements of my school in the last academic year”
c. You have been asked to give a talk to a group of foreign tourists on the role of traditional healers in your area. Write out your speech.
d. Write an article for publication in a national newspaper on the topic: “The problem of street children and how to solve it”
e. Your pen-pal in a foreign country has written to ask you to describe some aspects of your culture to him/her. Write back to tell him/her about an annual festival of the people of your locality.
f. You recently participated in a local festival. Write a letter to your pen-pal describing three exciting experiences which you had during the festival.
From the examples given so far, you can make the following observations:
1. Narrative approach topics usually have the purpose of ENTERTAINING.
2. Argument approach topics usually have the purpose of CONVINCING/PURSUADING.
3. Description, Explanation or Discussion approach topics usually have the purpose of INFORMING/EDUCATING.
At this stage, it is important for you to note that though a topic may have one overriding purpose; it may also seek to achieve other additional purposes.
For example, in topic 3 c. above, your composition should not only aim at educating the tourists but also convincing them at the same time to show interest in visiting some traditional healers in your area as a follow-up, first-hand fact-finding tour.
This way, they would have contributed to the foreign exchange earnings your country gets from tourism.
Indeed, you should also aim at entertaining them – if only slightly – to sustain their interest in your speech. However, the primary purpose is to educate the tourists and the rest are only secondary.
HOW CAN THE PURPOSE AFFECT THE ESSAY?
After you’ve been able to establish what your purpose is (to entertain, educate or convince your audience), you will surely start thinking about how this purpose should influence your composition.
The purpose to entertain
- First, your language should contain words and expressions that are interesting to hear or read. To entertain means to create laughter, a smile and sustained interest. This also means you must often sound informal rather than extremely formal.
- Secondly, the material you use for your content should be extraordinary, startling and interesting. Do not just choose anything. Choose the one you believe will create the most laughter and interest.
The purpose to convince or persuade
Before you can convince your reader or listener you have to first make him/her understand you.
- Thus, first of all, your language must be precise, clear and straightforward. You need to remain simple, reducing informal language to the minimum or avoiding it altogether, depending on the type of audience you are addressing in the composition.
- Secondly, use points, examples and details to support the view you express. Also, where appropriate, sound interactive by posing rhetorical questions to win your audience’s sympathy and confidence. Most topics which ask you to argue or use the argument approach expect you to adopt the purpose to persuade and to remain faithful to this purpose throughout the essay.
The purpose to inform or educate
- Here, you need to adopt the role of a teacher. Your language must be clear and precise in order to effectively carry your message across.
- Obviously lengthy, complicated and strange constructions will not help you in your attempt to educate anybody so remain simple and familiar. Where you have to use an expression which is not easily understandable given the peculiar circumstances of your audience (e.g. a local, specialized term), go on and explain it. You may do this in parenthesis.
- As far as content is concerned, you need to display ample knowledge of the subject you are explaining, describing or discussing. It is only then that your audience will regard you as fully qualified to educate them. It is only then that they will put their trust in whatever you say. It is only then that you will achieve your purpose to inform and educate. And, of course, it is only then that you will deserve a high mark. A composition is basically about communication. After all, whatever you write is meant to be read by or heard by somebody – not the examiner.