Purpose Statements and Preparation

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Determine Your Purpose, Topic, and Thesis

General Purpose

Your speeches will usually fall into one of three categories. In some cases we speak to inform, meaning we attempt to teach our audience using factual objective evidence. In other cases, we speak to persuade, as we try to influence an audience’s beliefs, attitudes, values, or behaviors. Last, we may speak to entertain or amuse our audience. In summary, the general purpose of your speech will be to inform, to persuade, or to entertain.

You can see various topics that may fit into the three general purposes for speaking as shown in the table below. Some of the topics listed could fall into another general purpose category depending on how the speaker approached the topic, or they could contain elements of more than one general purpose. For example, you may have to inform your audience about your topic in one main point before you can persuade them, or you may include some entertaining elements in an informative or persuasive speech to help make the content more engaging for the audience. There should not be elements of persuasion included in an informative speech, however, since persuading is contrary to the objective approach that defines an informative general purpose. In any case, while there may be some overlap between general purposes, most speeches can be placed into one of the categories based on the overall content of the speech.

Table: General Purposes and Speech Topics
To Inform To Persuade To Entertain
Civil rights movement Gun control Comedic monologue
Renewable energy Privacy rights My craziest adventure
Reality television Prison reform A “roast”

Specific Purpose

Once you have brainstormed, narrowed, and chosen your topic, you can begin to draft your specific purpose statement. Your specific purpose is a one-sentence statement that includes the objective you want to accomplish in your speech. You do not speak aloud your specific purpose during your speech; you use it to guide your researching, organizing, and writing. A good specific purpose statement is audience centered, agrees with the general purpose, addresses one main idea, and is realistic.

An audience-centered specific purpose statement usually contains an explicit reference to the audience—for example, “my audience” or “the audience.” Since a speaker may want to see if he or she effectively met his or her specific purpose, the objective should be written in such a way that it could be measured or assessed, and since a speaker actually wants to achieve his or her speech goal, the specific purpose should also be realistic. You won’t be able to teach the audience a foreign language or persuade an atheist to Christianity in a six- to nine-minute speech. The following is a good example of a good specific purpose statement for an informative speech: “By the end of my speech, the audience will be better informed about the effects the green movement has had on schools.” The statement is audience centered and matches with the general purpose by stating, “the audience will be better informed.” The speaker could also test this specific purpose by asking the audience to write down, at the end of the speech, three effects the green movement has had on schools.

Thesis Statement

Your thesis statement is a one-sentence summary of the central idea of your speech that you either explain or defend. You would explain the thesis statement for an informative speech, since these speeches are based on factual, objective material. You would defend your thesis statement for a persuasive speech, because these speeches are argumentative and your thesis should clearly indicate a stance on a particular issue.

The thesis statement is different from the specific purpose in two main ways. First, the thesis statement is content centered, while the specific purpose statement is audience centered. Second, the thesis statement is incorporated into the spoken portion of your speech, while the specific purpose serves as a guide for your research and writing and an objective that you can measure. A good thesis statement is declarative, agrees with the general and specific purposes, and focuses and narrows your topic. Although you will likely end up revising and refining your thesis as you research and write, it is good to draft a thesis statement soon after drafting a specific purpose to help guide your progress. As with the specific purpose statement, your thesis helps ensure that your research, organizing, and writing are focused so you don’t end up wasting time with irrelevant materials. Keep your specific purpose and thesis statement handy (drafting them at the top of your working outline is a good idea) so you can reference them often.  For the purposes of this class, the thesis statement will also serve as a preview statement in your speech and clearly state the 3 main points of the speech.

The following examples show how a general purpose, specific purpose, and thesis statement match up with a topic area:

  1. Topic: My Craziest Adventure
  • General purpose: To Entertain
  • Specific purpose: By the end of my speech, the audience will be entertained by experiences in New Orleans.
  • Thesis statement: In this speech, I’ll discuss the travel, food, and the landmarks I visited on my trip to New Orleans.
  1. Topic: Renewable Energy
  • General purpose: To Inform
  • Specific purpose: By the end of my speech, the audience will be able to explain the basics of using biomass as fuel.
  • Thesis statement: Today, I’ll explain what biomass is, how it is used now, and directions for the future.
  1. Topic: Privacy Rights
  • General purpose: To Persuade
  • Specific purpose: By the end of my speech, my audience will be persuaded that policies should be put in place to protect individual’s privacy when using school-issued computers.
  • Thesis statement: In this speech, I’ll explain why current privacy rules are a problem, propose a solution, and explain the benefits.

    The video below will go over writing General Purposes, Specific Purposes, and Thesis Statements.  Please note that the specific purposes are structured a little differently in this video than in the readings.  Either way is fine to use in your speech outlines.


    Career Cruising, “Marketing Specialist,” Career Cruising: Explore Careers, accessed January 24, 2012, http://www.careercruising.com.

    Greenwell, D., “You Might Not ‘Like’ Facebook So Much after Reading This…” The Times (London), sec. T2, January 13, 2012, 4–5.

    Siegel, D. L., Timothy J. Coffey, and Gregory Livingston, The Great Tween Buying Machine (Chicago, IL: Dearborn Trade, 2004).

    Solomon, M. R., Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2006), 10–11.


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