Skip to main content

Example 3

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 This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.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 3: Grocery List

Finally, consider a simple (and fictional) grocery list. Identifying the basic components of text, author, audience, purposes, and setting reveals that even a simple text like a grocery list has its own specific rhetorical situation. This list was written by an elderly retired woman who sends her husband on an errand to the grocery store.


The text is the grocery list itself. The grocery list is a handwritten list of five items. The list reads, “1% milk, whole wheat bread, non-fat grated mozzarella cheese, cookies for the grandkids (you decide), 8 bananas.” Notice how the varying specificity reflects the author’s varying attitudes of seriousness about what her husband buys. She is specific about everything except the cookies, which she is fine with letting her husband decide.

The grocery list is written on the back of an old receipt in black ballpoint pen ink. The author writes small to get the whole list on the back of the receipt. She relies on her years with her husband to know other specifics that are otherwise omitted from the list (e.g., whether he should get a quart or gallon of milk or whether he should get one or two loaves of bread).

The husband carries along his reading glasses, but even still has difficulty reading the small handwriting on the grocery list. The husband also relies on the conceptual tools he’s developed over decades of marriage to his wife. For instance, he knows that there is no more milk in the refrigerator at home, so he should buy a whole gallon of milk.


Let’s say that this particular list is written by an elderly retired woman who sends her husband on an errand to the grocery store. She gives him a list of things to buy. Her background includes a few decades of marriage to her husband and all the experience (from her perspective) that suggests to her that she needs to give him a list to make sure he doesn’t forget anything.


The audience for this grocery list is the author’s husband who is an elderly retired man. He runs errands for his wife on occasion. Similar to his wife’s background, this husband has a few decades married to his wife and all the experience (from his perspective) that tells him he doesn’t really need the list his wife wrote him.


The author’s purposes in writing the list are straightforward. She wants to make sure that her husband does not forget anything that she sends him to the grocery store to buy. Her attitude while writing the list is direct and serious. She doesn’t want him to forget anything!

The man who is the audience of the grocery list wants to buy the groceries quickly. While he does not mind running errands for his wife (and wants to be the kind of man who does nice things for his wife), he wants to hurry back and watch a ball game on television. This man’s attitude is slightly annoyed because he might miss the start of his game.


Let’s say this grocery list was written a year or so ago. It was written in the small home of the retired couple in Seattle, Washington, USA. It was thrown away in a garbage can outside the grocery store while the husband carried the few groceries back to the car. The community and conversation is narrow and intimate including only the elderly retired woman and her husband . . . that is unless someone different finds the list and discusses it with someone else. At that point, a different community and conversation has begun discussing the text.

Other Analysis

As should be evident from this example, even something as simple as a grocery list has its own rhetorical situation with an author and audience trying to identify their perspectives with each other.