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Primary Purposes

When you write an assignment at university you may be expected to demonstrate that you

  1. are knowledgeable about the latest information in your discipline
  2. can develop an argument and reason on the basis of evidence
  3. can design and conduct independent research
  4. are prepared for graduate employment, perhaps in a particular profession such as medicine or engineering
  5. can reflect on how you and other people feel and think.

These are the five Primary Purposes for writing at university. Although many assignments require you to show some ability in several of these areas, the Genre Families have been grouped according to their main purposes:

  1. Demonstrating Knowledge and Understanding
  2. Developing Powers of Independent Reasoning
  3. Building Research Skills
  4. Preparing for Professional Practice
  5. Writing for Oneself and Others

One of the most important things to understand about university writing is its purpose.

Some assignments have a very professional purpose - for example, if you are studying medicine, you may be asked to diagnose a patient and recommend treatment. If you are studying business, you may be asked to analyse a business and give advice about what the business should do next.

Other assignments follow practical work. For example, you may conduct a scientific experiment, and then write up a report of your work.

Some assignments ask you to write an essay to answer a question, to develop an argument or a discussion.

This table shows the Primary Purposes of the 13 Genre Families.

Genre Families

Primary Purposes



1. Demonstrating Knowledge and Understanding

Literature Surveys

Methodology Recounts

Research Reports

2. Building Research Skills



3. Developing Powers of Independent Reasoning

Event Recounts

Public Engagement

4. Writing for Oneself and Others

Case Studies

Design Specifications

Problem Questions


5. Preparing for Professional Practice