Once my students and I have narrowed our research topics to a manageable size, it's time to start thinking about our research in more detail. To do this, I introduce them to our next prewriting strategy: Content-Purpose-Audience (C-P-A).
I quickly explain that we're going to use the C-P-A to help organize our research. I provide each of my students with a copy of a sample completed C-P-A on one side and a blank C-P-A chart on the other side. Eventually, they will fill this in for their own topics.
We then read the sample together. As we do, I point out that the Content boxes include Main Idea and Key Details, the Purpose boxes include Think/Do, and the Audience boxes include People and Questions. Once my students have an overview of what the C-P-A is, it's time to put this strategy into action.
Know Who Your Audience Is
For many students, this is their first experience writing a research paper in MLA Format for someone other than their classmates or their teacher. Knowing who they're writing to helps them further focus their research (and take it seriously). We start in the bottom boxes by determining who our Audience is and what Questions these People might have about the research topics we've chosen.
I model this by choosing the People who will be interested in reading my research. When I was creating my lists for possible research topics, I remember writing traveling as one of my interests. Because I chose the Arabic Language as my research topic, I decide that people traveling to the Middle East or Africa would make a solid group of people who would be interested in reading my research. In the People box, I fill this in.
Once I determine the People I'm writing to, I have to anticipate Questions they might ask about Arabic. This means that I have to think like the People I'm writing to. In a Think-Aloud, I ask: If I were travelling to the Middle East or Africa, what would I want to know about the Arabic Language? Here's what I came up with:
- Which countries is Arabic spoken in?
- Where did it originate?
- What are the rules of Arabic?
- How many people speak it?
- What does it look like?
- How does it sound?
- How long does it take to learn it?
- Who are some well-known Arabic authors?
After I've modeled this step for my students, I have them determine the People they're writing to and the Questions these people might ask about their research topics. We talk about how generalized groups of people: teenagers, adults, parents, younger children aren't specific enough. I advise them that the more specific the group of People, the better our thinking will be when anticipating the Questions these People might have and the more likely we are to find the answers to our research Questions.
As we work on the Audience part of the C-P-A, we spend a lot of time sharing our research topics, potential Audiences and the Questions real People might ask. Doing so, allows us to eliminate People who might not be interested in our topics and eliminate Questions that don't have much depth.
Research Questions First, Then Flesh Out Content and Purpose
Once we determine who we're writing to and what these people might wonder, it's time to test out these questions in the research databases. With our audience's questions in mind, we've narrowed our topics to make them more manageable.
After we've found the answers to our audience's questions, we fill in our answers in the Key Details box in the Content section. I like to have my students draw an arrow from the Questions box to this box to remind them that each part of the C-P-A is connected.
As we discovered in our research this semester, we had to modify some of our Questions (or completely reword them) to make them match our Key Details (Answers). This gave some of my students and I the opportunity to clarify our research for our Audiences (and ourselves). It also provided for an interesting discussion about how research changes as we conduct it. For students who had little success finding any answers for their research questions, I asked them to switch topics and start over.
Here are some of the answers I listed in my Key Details box:
Arabic is spoken in Iraq, Morocco, Syria and other countries located in the Middle East, Africa, and on the Arabic Peninsula.
One rule in the Arabic Language is that there are no capital letters. It's also read from right to left.
I found pictures of the Arabic Alphabet to show what it looks like.
Arabic originated "In the 7th and 8th centuries CE" when "Arab armies" defeated the territories around them to create the Nation of Islam.
After we fill in the Key Details box, it's time to determine the Main Idea. This is: the one most important thing we want our readers to know. For my topic, I wrote:
The one most important thing I want my readers to know is the Arabic language is complex and requires deep study.
From our Content box, it's time to move into the Purpose for our research. One of these boxes will serve as the ending paragraph (conclusion) for our research paper. In the Think box, I wrote:
Before traveling to the Middle East or Africa, familiarizing yourself with the Arabic Language is important in having a better understanding of these cultures.
In the Do box, I wrote:
My readers should study Arabic by taking a class.
I've found that students struggle most in the Purpose section of the C-P-A. After students have completed the bulk of their research, it's easier for them to work in the Think and Do boxes because they have had the opportunity to process what they've learned by conducting their research. This will help them more clearly identify what they want their readers to Think and Do by the time they've finished reading their research papers.
A Solid Fit
The C-P-A is a great strategy to use for research writing because it allows students to test their research topics as they're conducting their research before they've invested a lot of time into their research projects. It also allows them to make changes as they go.
Working in and out of the C-P-A helps:
solidify the topics we've chosen
determine who we're writing to
narrow our focus
provide opportunities to check the work we've done
allow for flexibility (we can revise our prewriting at any time)
hold us accountable for the work we're doing and the work we've completed
organize our research in ways that will make it clearer for us to understand
clarify our ideas for our readers
For more on Content-Purpose-Audience (C-P-A) see: The Writing Teacher's Strategy Guide.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.