WHAT IS THE AUTHOR’S PURPOSE?
When we talk of the author’s purpose, we refer to the ‘why’ behind their writing. What motivated the author to produce their work? What is their intent, and what do they hope to achieve?
The author’s purpose is the reason they decided to write about something in the first place.
There are many reasons a writer puts pen to paper. It’s crucial that our students possess the necessary tools for identifying these various reasons and intents.
Identifying the author’s purpose accurately is essential if the student is to effectively evaluate a piece of writing.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF AUTHORS’ PURPOSES?
Depending on who you talk to when the question is raised about how many types of author’s purpose there are, you’ll generally be quoted a number ranging from around 3 to about 7.
A good starting point for students beginning to learn more about the different types of authors’ purpose is, to begin with, the central three: to persuade, to inform, and to entertain. These can easily be remembered with the PIE acronym.
However, these three represent only an introduction. In the interest of covering the topic a little more comprehensively, we will define five different types of authors’ purposes, look at some examples of each in use, and give a few pointers helpful in identifying them.
AUTHOR’S PURPOSE DEFINITION
The author’s purpose is their intent (or purpose) for writing something. To either persuade, inform or entertain an audience.
You will most commonly see these three aspects attributed as being the author’s purpose however, other elements such as describing and explaining are also commonly sighted.
Throughout this article, we will explore the author’s purpose in much more detail.
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THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF AUTHOR’S PURPOSE
THE AUTHOR’S PURPOSE 1: TO PERSUADE
Definition: This is a very common purpose of writing, particularly in nonfiction writing. When a text is written to persuade, it will aim to convince the reader of the merits of a particular point of view. With this type of writing, the author will attempt to persuade the reader to agree with this point of view and/or subsequently take a particular course of action.
Examples: This purpose can be found in all kinds of writing. It can even be in fiction writing when the author has an agenda, whether consciously or unconsciously. However, it is most commonly the motivation behind essays, advertisements, and political writing, such as speeches and propaganda.
How to Identify: To identify when the author’s purpose is to persuade, students should ask themselves if they feel the writer is trying to get them to believe something or take a specific action. They should learn to identify the various tactics and strategies used in persuasive writing, such as repetition, various types of supporting evidence, hyperbole, attacking opposing viewpoints, forceful phrases, emotive imagery and photographs etc.
We have a complete guide to persuasive writing here if you would like to learn more.
THE AUTHOR’S PURPOSE 2: TO INFORM
Definition: When an author’s purpose is to inform, they usually wish to enlighten their readership about a real-world topic. Often, they will do this by providing lots of facts. Informational texts are geared toward imparting information to the reader to educate them on a given topic.
Examples: Many types of school books are written with the express purpose of informing the reader. Added to textbooks, we also have encyclopedias, recipe books, and newspapers.
How to Identify: In the process of informing the reader, the author will use facts, which is one surefire way to spot the intent to inform.
However, when the author’s purpose is persuasion, they will also likely provide the reader with some facts to convince them of the merits of their particular case. The main difference between the two ways facts are employed is that, when the intention is to inform, facts are presented only to teach the reader. When the author’s purpose is to persuade, they commonly mask their opinions amid the facts.
Students must become adept at recognizing ‘hidden’ opinions through practice. Teach your students to beware of persuasion masquerading as information!
If you want to learn more about writing an information report, be sure to read our complete guide here.
THE AUTHOR’S PURPOSE 3: TO ENTERTAIN
Definition: When an author’s chief purpose is to entertain the reader, they will endeavour to keep things as interesting as possible. Things happen in books that are written to entertain, whether in the form of an action-packed plot, inventive characterizations, or sharp dialogue.
Examples: Not surprisingly, a great deal of fiction is written to entertain, especially genre fiction. For example, we find entertaining examples in science fiction, romance, and fantasy – to name but a few.
How to Identify: When writers attempt to entertain or amuse the reader, they use various techniques to engage their attention. They may employ cliffhangers at the end of a chapter, for example. They may weave humour into their story or even have characters tell jokes. In the case of a thriller, an action-packed scene may follow an action-packed scene as the drama builds to a crescendo. Think of the melodrama of a soap opera here rather than the subtle touch of an arthouse masterpiece.
THE AUTHOR’S PURPOSE 4: TO EXPLAIN
Definition: When writers write to explain, they want to tell the reader how to do something or reveal to them how something works. This type of writing is about communicating a method or a process.
Examples: Writing with the purpose of explaining can be found in instructions, step-by-step guides, procedural outlines, and recipes.
How to Identify: Often, you will find this type of writing organized into bulleted or numbered points. As it focuses on telling the reader how to do something, often lots of imperatives will be used within the writing. Diagrams and illustrations are often used to reinforce the text explanations too.
Read our complete guide to explanatory texts here.
THE AUTHOR’S PURPOSE 5: TO DESCRIBE
Definition: Often, writers will use words to describe something in more detail than be conveyed in a photograph alone. After all, they say a picture paints a thousand words, and text can help get us beyond the one-dimensional appearance of things.
Examples: We can find lots of descriptive writing in obvious places like short stories, novels and other forms of fiction where the writer wishes to paint a picture in the reader’s imagination. We can also find lots of writing with the purpose of description in nonfiction too – in product descriptions or descriptive essays, for example.
How to Identify: In the case of fiction writing which describes, the reader will notice the writer using lots of sensory details in the text. Our senses are how we perceive the world, and to describe their imaginary world, writers will draw heavily on language that appeals to these senses. In both fiction and nonfiction, readers will notice the writer will rely heavily on adjectives in their writing.
FREE AUTHOR’S PURPOSE ANCHOR CHARTS & POSTERS
THE AUTHOR’S PURPOSE IN TEACHING ACTIVITIES
The Author’s Purpose Task 1. The Author’s Purpose Anchor Chart
Whether introducing the general idea of the author’s purpose or working on identifying the specifics of a single purpose, a pie author’s purpose anchor chart can be an excellent resource for students when working independently. Compiling the anchor chart collaboratively with the students can be an effective way for them to reconstruct and reinforce their learning.
The Author’s Purpose Task 2. Gather Real-Life Examples
Challenging students to identify and collect real-life examples of the various types of writing as homework can be a great way to get some hands-on practice. Encourage your students to gather various forms of text together indiscriminately. They then sift through them to categorize them appropriately according to their purpose. The students will soon begin to see that all writing has a purpose. You may also like to make a classroom display of the gathered texts to serve as examples.
The Author’s Purpose Task 3. DIY
One of the most effective ways for students to recognize the authorial intent behind a piece of writing is to gain experience producing writing for various purposes. Design writing tasks with this in mind. For example, if you are focused on writing to persuade, you could challenge the students to produce a script for a radio advertisement. If the focus is entertaining, you could ask the students to write a funny story.
The Author’s Purpose Task 4. Classroom Discussion
When teaching author’s purpose organize the students into small discussion groups of, say, 4 to 5. Provide each group with copies of sample texts written for various purposes. Students should have some time to read through the texts by themselves. They then work to identify the author’s purpose, making notes as they go. Students can discuss their findings as a group.
Remember: the various purposes are not mutually exclusive; sometimes, a text will have more than a single purpose. It is possible to be both entertaining and informative, for example. It is essential students recognize this fact. A careful selection of texts can ensure the students get an opportunity to discover this for themselves.
Students need to understand that regardless of the text they are engaged with, every piece of writing has some purpose behind it. It’s important that they work towards recognizing the various features of different types of writing that reveal to the reader just what that purpose is.
Initially, the process of learning to identify the different types of writing and their purposes will require conscious focus on the part of the student. There should be plenty of opportunities created to allow for this necessary practice in the classroom.
However, this practice doesn’t have to be exclusively in the form of discrete lessons on the author’s purpose. Simply asking students what they think the author’s purpose is when reading any text in any context can be a great way to get the ‘reps’ in quickly and frequently.
Eventually, students will begin to recognize the author’s purpose quickly and unconsciously in the writing of others.
Ultimately, this improved comprehension of writing, in general, will benefit students in their own independent writing.
THE AUTHOR’S PURPOSE DEFINITION AND TUTORIAL VIDEO
This video is an excellent introductory guide to present to students looking for a simple visual breakdown of what the author’s purpose is and how it can impact their approach to writing and assessment
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The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing, can be found here. Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.