Skip to main content

Example 2

OWL logo

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

Example 2: Research Paper for a High School or College Class

One of the most common rhetorical situations that people reading this will face or have faced is a research paper for some sort of class. Consider the following fictional example of the rhetorical situation surrounding a research paper written by a 19-year-old female university student from China who is attending her first year of classes at Purdue University in Indiana, USA.


The text in this example is a 12-page research paper that argues for more efficient ways of harnessing hydroelectric power. The paper uses the Xiaolangdi Dam on the Yellow River in China as an example of what could be done better. Alternately, when the student prepares her paper to present at a conference, the text at the future conference would be her actual verbal presentation and any presentation aids she chooses to use (such as a PowerPoint or a handout).

As a paper for class, the medium is a stack of twelve computer-typed white sheets of paper. As a conference presentation, the medium is the author’s spoken voice accompanied with a digital PowerPoint display.

As a paper for class, the student uses a computer with a word processing program to actually type the paper. Using a computer not only makes the paper neat and readable, but it is also required. The actual physical tool used to write the text greatly affects how the text is received. She also uses the conceptual tool of research that she’s learned in class to help her find the material she needs. As a conference presentation, the student uses a computer and a digital projector to display the necessary images at her presentation. She also uses the conceptual tools of public speaking that she learned in her first-year communication and speech course at Purdue University.


The author for this research paper is a 19-year-old female university student from China who is attending her first year of classes at Purdue University in Indiana, USA. She struggles at times with the mechanics of written English. She is an only child. She is studying agricultural engineering. All this has affected how and what she writes.


There are two audiences for this paper. The primary and most immediate audience for this paper is the student’s instructor. Her instructor is a 25-year-old female PhD student from New Mexico, USA, studying in English at Purdue University. This instructor teaches the first-year writing course that the student is writing the research paper for. The student also hopes that she can eventually develop her paper into a conference presentation, so she writes her paper with both her instructor and a future conference audience in mind.

The instructor has previous experience working with students whose first language is not English. The future conference audience will have had immediate background in the other presentations at the conference.


The author has a few different purposes for writing this paper. First and foremost, writing this paper is a class requirement and she must do well on it to get a good grade in the class. Secondly, she has chosen to write her paper about a hydroelectric dam near her home in China because she feels strongly about clean, hydroelectric power. Thirdly, she feels she needs continued practice writing in English (which is not her first language), so she looks forward to the feedback she’ll get from her instructor in hopes she can improve the way she writes. Her attitude is hopeful and earnest as she writes the paper. But she is also worried because she fears she may not have enough mastery of the English language to write the paper well.

The instructor wants the student to master certain writing processes and principles and will be reading the paper with these concerns in mind. The future conference audience will likely want to hear more about the impact of different energy sources on the environment. The instructor retains a helpful but expert attitude toward the student’s paper. The future conference audience fosters an interested and egalitarian attitude toward the student’s presentation. Notice how each of these attitudes can affect the way that the student’s research is received.


Because of the split nature of the student’s purposes, the settings for the paper are split as well.

As a research paper, the text is situated within the fifteen-week structure of a typical American university semester. Also, the student’s research about hydroelectric dams and the Xiaolangdi Dam in particular reflect the most current information she can locate. When she presents her research at a conference a year or two later, she will need to make sure her research is still up-to-date.

As a research paper, the text occurs within the confines of the curriculum of the student’s first-year writing class. As a conference presentation, the text occurs within the specific confines of a presentation room at an academic conference.

As a research paper, the student’s text is part of a small conversation between her and her instructor in the small community of a first-year writing class. As a conference presentation, the community and conversation of her text got substantially larger: the community and conversation possibly involve a worldwide community of engineering and agricultural experts, researchers, and professionals.

Other Analysis

Research papers are common texts for students to prepare. It is important for students to be able to see their own writing projects in their own rhetorical situations. When they do so, students will be better able to communicate within the constraints of the rhetorical situations they find themselves in. The last example of a rhetorical situation is about a very common sort of text that many people may not have considered in rhetorical terms.