In addition to audience and context, every communication task you face as a working engineer will have a purpose. Explicitly identifying and analyzing that purpose will guide the decisions you make about your communication tasks.

How do I identify my purpose?

You may have just one purpose for your communication task, but for some tasks, you may be seeking to achieve several goals. Sometimes, your purpose will be identified for you. Other times, you will need to identify it for yourself.

In their book, Writing Today, Richard Johnson-Sheehan and Charles Paine argue that the basic purposes of communication in the workplace are to inform or persuade. More specifically, the authors break those purposes down as follows [1]:

To inform To persuade
to describe
to refine
to review
to notify
to instruct
to advise
to announce
to explain
to demonstrate
to illustrate
to convince
to influence
to argue
to recommend
to change
to advocate
to urge
to defend
to justify
to support

How do I analyze my purpose?

You’ll likely reference your communication task’s purpose when making decisions like what information to convey, and how to convey that information.

Suppose a new engineer has joined your team. Your supervisor has asked you to instruct her about internal procedures for conducting project meetings so she can begin participating immediately (your primary purpose). You also want to advise her about the personalities involved so she can understand how to work around their quirks (your secondary purpose).

With your purposes in mind, you can decide how best to accomplish them. For instance, you can decide if a formal presentation would be more appropriate and effective than an informal talk. You can also think about the content you should include. Would brief bios of the other team members’ help? Would she respond better to step-by-step instructions or an overview of procedures?

You will make many other decisions related to your communication task. Use your defined purpose(s), as well as the other elements of the communication situation to inform all your decisions.


E. Sproat, D. L. Driscoll, A. Brizee, Purposes. Purdue Online Writing Lab. [Online]. Available: