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OET Writing Guide: Purpose

Purpose is the first of six assessment categories that OET Assessors use to score your Writing sub-test performance. Understanding what we mean by purpose and what is expected of you can go a long way to helping you get the score you want.

In this article, we will explain:

  • The two parts of Purpose you need to include
  • How to identify and understand purpose
  • What you need to do to show purpose in your writing.

If you need more information about the Writing sub-test, including how long it will take and the kinds of letters you might need to write, look at our Writing Information page.

What are the two parts of Purpose?

The first part of Purpose is ensuring the reason for the letter is “immediately apparent”. In other words, making it clear why you’re writing the letter and why the reader should read it.

As you are aware, healthcare professionals are well-known for being time-poor. By starting your letter with a clear explanation of its purpose, the reader doesn’t have to spend time searching for what’s important.

The second part of Purpose is “sufficiently expanding” the reason for your letter. What we mean by this is that the letter should build on what is initially outlined as the reason for writing by adding relevant details.

“Immediately Apparent”“Sufficiently Expanding”
Why are you writing the letter?Will the reader understand the situation?
Why should the letter be read?Are your requests obvious to find?
Does the letter start with a clear explanation?Does the letter provide more detail than your opening explanation?

To effectively give the right kind of care to patients, healthcare professionals need more information than just the high–level overview outlined in the first part. Expanding on your opening, later in your letter, with the relevant information is essential to a strong score in Purpose.

It’s important to remember that OET uses a range of letter types to assess writing skills, including referral, discharge, transfer etc. You will also be writing about a unique patient who will have a unique set of healthcare needs.

Together this means that the purpose of your next letter will be markedly different to others you have read or written yourself. A unique purpose for your unique letter.

Part one: What needs to be made clear?

You can think of Purpose as the ‘reason for writing’ or ‘why you are writing’. Importantly, it must be clear to the reader and personalised to the situation.

In most cases, the Writing task is the best way to understand the purpose of your letter. However, if the Writing task doesn’t have all the information you need, don’t panic. You should be able to find the rest of the information in the final section of the case notes.

Let’s take a look at some examples that walk you through finding the purpose in either the Writing task or the Case Notes.

1. Finding Purpose in the Writing task

The Writing task is located at the end of the case notes and will often include the type of letter you need to write as well as the letter’s main topic.

Here’s our first example:

Writing Task:

Using the information in the case notes, write a letter of referral to Dr Smith, an endocrinologist at City Hospital, for further management of Mrs Sharma’s sugar levels. Address the letter to Dr Lisa Smith, Endocrinologist, City Hospital, Newtown.

In the above example, you can see that this is a referral letter about further management of Mrs Sharma’s sugar levels.

Here is a second example:

Writing Task:
Using the information given in the case notes, write a letter to the Occupational Therapist at the Oldmeadows Extended Care Centre, 13 River Street, Oldmeadows, where Mr Spencer is to be discharged, detailing his treatment to date and other information the therapist may need. Date your letter 10 February 2019.

In this example, the Writing task tells you that this is a discharge letter about Mr Spencer’s recent treatment history.

2. Finding purpose in the case notes

If the Writing task hasn’t given you all the information you need to understand the type of letter or the main topic, you can usually find it in the final section of the case notes (just above the Writing task).

Take a look at our third example below:

Writing Task:
Using the information given in the case notes, write a letter to the Community Health Nurse in Centreville, outlining the patient’s history and requesting ongoing monitoring. Address the letter to the Community Health Nurse, Eastern Community Health Centre, 456 East Street, Centreville.
Case Notes:
Letter to transfer the Pt to the care of the community health nurse in Centreville, where the Pt is moving to live with his daughter.

This example is a letter of transfer requesting ongoing monitoring for this patient.

This Writing task doesn’t include the type of letter; however, it is supplied in the final note of the case notes just above the Writing task.

Showing purpose at the start of your letter

Each of these three examples has a different purpose which you must demonstrate at the beginning of your letter. Take a look below to see an introductory sentence for each of the three examples:

First example:

Thank you for seeing Mrs Priya Sharma, a type 2 diabetic, for further management of her blood sugar levels.

Second example:

Mr Spencer has been a patient at this hospital for the past five weeks and will be discharged tomorrow. He requires your ongoing support and treatment during his rehabilitation.

Third example:

Thank you for accepting Mr Dunbar into your care for the regular monitoring of his diabetes and encouragement to comply with his medication and dietary regimens.

Each example is clearly personalised to the patient’s situation and uses appropriate language to explain the reason for writing.

💡 Rebecca’s Tip: Using the right verbs

Many candidates start their letters with ‘I am writing to refer…’. Sometimes, this is appropriate, but not all tasks ask you to write a referral letter.

Depending on the type of letter you are asked to write, there are other verbs which are equally or more appropriate. Examples of these other verbs include:

  • Transfer
  • Discharge
  • Update
  • See
  • Accept
  • Request
  • Provide
  • Recommend

Part two: Expanding on your purpose with the right details

The second part of Purpose is to sufficiently expand the reason for the letter later in the letter with more details.

When explaining the reason for writing the letter, it is normal to do this at a high level. For example:

Further management of her blood sugar levels, ongoing support and treatment, regular monitoring of his diabetes.

The reader is clear about the situation from this high–level explanation but they will need more detail to continue caring for the patient adequately. This detail should be covered in the last paragraph.

Expanding the purpose includes providing details such as how often the reader should interact with the patient, what specific activities they should support the patient with etc.

Using our three examples, notice how the sample sentences below expand on the initial reason for writing:

First example

Her non-fasting blood sugars are 7-8mmol/L, but her fasting blood sugar levels are usually in the 16+ range, which is high. Therefore, I am referring her to you for your specialist advice.

Second example

Prior to this injury, he received home help for all house cleaning tasks and was independent in all personal care and community tasks. He is keen to return home where he lives alone and maintain his independence.

Third example

He was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation on the same admission and was subsequently prescribed warfarin and sotalol. His hypertension is controlled by Ramipril. As with his other medication, Mr Dunbar is intermittent in his compliance.

Again, the important point to notice is that all three examples are personalised to the situation and use language appropriate to describe it.

Achieving full marks in Purpose is based on whether you are prepared to be flexible in the test and not rely on pre-learned phrases and sentences. Using the case notes to help you to write something personalised and meaningful to the reader will help you achieve full marks for Purpose.

Return to the Writing Guide homepage, or download the Guide as a PDF.