Understanding Writing Situations

What is the Context?

The remaining elements of this model of writing as a social activity deal with the setting in which the writing takes place.

Physical context refers to the context in which a writers and readers interact with a text. Writers compose texts in a variety of physical settings that can affect what and how they write. For instance, a writer might not be able to do his or her best work in a crowded library or in a noisy corporate cubicle. Similarly, readers might react differently to a text depending on where they read it. Whether a document is read on a crowded bus or train, for instance, rather than in a quiet office, might affect how a reader feels about the text. Even factors such as the lighting available to a reader or the quality of the printer and paper used to create a document can affect the reading of a document.

The community - or social context - to which readers and writers belong can also affect the reading and writing of a document. Writers and readers from the same or similar communities are more likely to communicate effectively with each other via a document than writers and readers who come from different communities. Readers familiar with specific political and social issues, for example, are less likely to expect a writer to define those issues in detail. For instance, readers familiar with violence in American secondary schools will not need to be educated about the issue - they will already know the key points. This reduces the amount of time and effort writers need to devote to providing background information about the issue. Rather than going into detail about the causes and effects of school violence, writers can spend more time developing other aspects of a document.

Cultural context refers to a larger set of similarities and differences among readers. For instance, readers from the American Midwest might find it easier to understand the allusions and metaphors used in a document written by someone from Oregon than those in a document written by someone from Peru or Sri Lanka. Similarly, modern teenagers might find it easier to follow what's being said in a document written one month ago by a high school senior in Milwaukee than a document written in 1897 by a retired railroad engineer from Saskatchewan.

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Introduction