WHAT IS TRANSACTIONAL WRITING?
Transactional writing is an umbrella term that covers many different nonfiction writing genres.
The purpose of each transactional writing text type is to communicate ideas and information to others.
The purpose of a text can be defined as:
- To persuade
- To argue
- To advise
- To inform.
Sometimes two or more of these purposes will be combined in a single text type.
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WHAT ARE THE TRANSACTIONAL TEXT TYPES?
Any nonfiction writing genre that sets out to persuade, argue, advise, or inform can be classified as a transactional text type. Generally, they can all be grouped loosely under one of the following types:
- Article (Read our in-depth guide to writing an article here)
- Letter (Read our in-depth guide to letter writing here)
- Review (Read our in-depth guide to writing a book review here)
Each of these genres (and subsequent sub-genres) will follow specific conventions of language and structure.
What We’ll Look at in this Article
In this article, we’ll look at each of these transactional text types in more detail, as well as some other text types that don’t sit comfortably in any of the five broad genres listed above.
We’ll provide you with all the tools required to help students confidently approach writing any piece of transactional writing.
We’ll examine what students need to consider before they even begin putting pen to paper, breaking down each transactional writing genre into the specific criteria of language and structure.
Finally, we’ll provide some tools, tips, and techniques students can use to polish their transactional writing and help them achieve their text’s purpose.
HOW TO GET READY TO WRITE A TRANSACTIONAL TEXT
As with any writing task, preparation is key. Luckily, there’s a helpful acronym we can learn to keep the essential elements of transactional writing preparation clear in our minds: GAPS
Before beginning to write, students should fill in the GAPS by answering the following questions prompted by each letter in this acronym.
Let’s take a look:
Genre – What type of text are you being asked to write? What are the features of that genre?
Audience – Who are you being asked to write for? Is it an individual or a group?
Purpose – What are you trying to achieve in the text? Persuade, argue, advise, or inform?
Style – Is the text formal or informal? Relaxed or serious in tone? Simple or complex?
Usually, these questions can be quickly answered by closely reading the question or writing prompt.
In instances where the students have a freer rein on what they write, they must ensure that they have answered these questions clearly before beginning the writing process.
Failing to answer these questions definitively before starting to write will all but ensure the writing will lack clarity of purpose.
TRANSACTIONAL WRITING GENRES AND THEIR CRITERIA
Once a student has determined which writing genre they are creating, they need to ensure they have a firm grasp on the features of that genre.
Below, we’ll briefly examine some of the main criteria of each of the most common transactional writing genres. There isn’t space to cover each genre in detail here, as that’d require a complete dedicated article.
Luckily though, you’ll find comprehensive (and wonderfully written) articles on each writing genre on this very site!
Let’s gain a brief overview of some of the main criteria of the most common transactional text types.
1. HOW TO WRITE AN ARTICLE
The term ‘article’ covers a lot of ground here. We can expect to find articles in magazines, newspapers, and websites. We can also consider many forms of essays, such as persuasive essays for example, as articles.
STRUCTURE OF AN ARTICLE:
Articles are usually long-form pieces of prose writing on a specific topic. They can be balanced in their outlook considering many points of view, or they can present a very subjective opinion on the topic being written about.
The subjects that articles can explore are almost inexhaustible. Anything you can form an opinion on could make for the subject of an article. Some common topics for articles include:
- Current affairs
Articles tend to follow a basic 3-part structure of introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
The introduction tries to grab the reader’s attention and usually outlines the main point of the article.
A series of body paragraphs usually follows that provides more detail on each of the main points covered in the article.
A final concluding paragraph then brings it all together at the end.
LANGUAGE OF AN ARTICLE:
To decide on the type of language to be used in an article, the writer will need to have first identified the audience and purpose of the text.
Regardless of which language register is used, it should be suited to the background of the target reader in terms of complexity and word selection.
Words should also be chosen to ensure the purpose of the article is achieved. For example, where an article is intended to be persuasive, emotional language may be selected. Whereas in an academic article on a historical topic, detached language devoid of emotional color may be more appropriate.
- Heading and subheadings
- Attention grabber or ‘hook’
- Introduction answering who, what, when, where, why, and how?
- Body paragraphs
- May contain pictures with captions
2. HOW TO WRITE A LEAFLET
Standard leaflets are made by folding a sheet of paper to create 2, 3, or more panels. They are often colorful and are usually distributed for free to provide information mostly on goods or services.
STRUCTURE OF A LEAFLET:
In leaflets, the layout and organization of the text are especially important. Usually, they’re printed on folded pieces of paper and card which have implications for how the information in a leaflet is presented.
Leaflets vary widely according to their purpose and the audience they are aimed at. Usually, they will employ subheadings to great effect to guide the reader’s eye through the various sections of information.
Also, information is frequently organized using bullet points and numbers to make instructions, for example, easier to follow.
LANGUAGE OF A LEAFLET:
When leaflets provide instructions, they’ll often use imperatives and the personal pronoun ‘you’.
As always, the language used will be suited to the audience. Where the audience is wide and varied, say, for a tourist attraction, the language will be simple and straightforward to make the information in the leaflet accessible to the widest possible audience.
The tone is often enthusiastic and reassuring, to inspire confidence in the information it contains.
LEAFLET WRITING KEY POINTS
- Easy to read with heading and subheadings
- A colorful and bold presentation style
- Makes an offer of product or service (or provides information)
- Often uses persuasive language
- Use of bullet points
- Short, snappy sentences
- Uses pictures and photographs
- May contain details on directions, map, opening times, price, phone no., etc.
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3. LETTER WRITING
A letter is a written form of communication usually intended to be read by an individual or a small group of people. Only very rarely is it intended to be read by a large group of people, in which case it is usually referred to as an ‘open letter’.
While traditionally letters were written by hand on paper and delivered via the mail, today technology has given us many more options for personal communication including email, text messages, and various other forms of digital messaging.
STRUCTURE OF A LETTER:
Up until recently, letter writing was usually a fairly formal affair. There are standardized formulas for opening and closing letters which are still quite common. For example:
● If a letter opens with Dear Sir or Dear Madam (i.e. the name is unknown) it ends with Yours Faithfully
● If it opens with Dear Mr. Smith or Dear Mrs. Smith (i.e. the name is known) it ends Yours Sincerely.
And while these formal conventions can still apply, some types of text that we can group under the term ‘letter’ are much less formal in their style. Invitations and email are two prominent examples that employ a much looser approach to structure.
LANGUAGE OF A LETTER:
The language used in any type of letter will depend greatly on the audience it is intended for.
For example, while formal types of letters, such as a cover letter as part of a job application, will have a very professional tone, an invitation to a birthday party will likely have a warm and friendly tone.
Emails are used for a wide variety of purposes these days, and even though they can still be used in some more formal type contexts, in general, they are much more conversational in tone than letters.
LETTER WRITING KEY POINTS:
- For formal letters, your address and the date in the top right corner and the recipient’s address to the left
- Opens with an appropriate greeting (e.g. Dear Sir/Madam, Dear Mr X / Ms X, Hi, etc)
- Main body paragraphs.
- Ends with appropriate closing (e.g. Yours Faithfully, Yours Sincerely, Take Care, etc)
4. HOW TO WRITE A REVIEW
Traditionally, when we think of reviews many of us think of book and movie reviews. There are, of course, many other types of reviews to consider.
These days people read and write reviews on almost any product or service, from hotels to restaurants. For example, we might read a review of a theater show before deciding whether to go or a computer game before deciding on buying it.
STRUCTURE OF A REVIEW:
Usually, a review will open with a statement about what is being reviewed before summing up the writer’s opinion. The remainder of the review will be dedicated to explaining why the writer arrived at the conclusion they arrived at with, of course, close reference to the thing being reviewed.
LANGUAGE OF A REVIEW:
When the review is positive, the writer will opt for more positive language, making for a more upbeat experience for the reader. The reverse is true for negative reviews.
The tone of a review will be particularly obvious in the choice of adjectives chosen by the writer.
As the review is subtly trying to influence the reader’s perception of the thing reviewed, it’s important that the reader trusts the writer and this can be achieved by the writer building rapport with the reader.
One effective way to achieve this is through the use of humor, though whether or not this is appropriate will depend particularly on the specific purpose of the review and the nature of the intended audience.
KEY POINTS OF WRITING A REVIEW
- States what is being reviewed (book, movie, article, etc)
- Overview of material
- Body paragraphs explore positives and negatives
- The conclusion summarizes and expresses an opinion
- Provides either a negative critique or a positive recommendation.
5: HOW TO WRITE A SPEECH
Speeches are made to do one of 4 things: to inform, to instruct, to persuade, or to entertain. They are made on all sorts of formal and informal occasions ranging from political campaign speeches to birthday party toasts.
STRUCTURE OF A SPEECH:
Speeches most often follow a simple 3-part structure:
- An engaging and motivating opening
- Strong, well-structured arguments
- A powerful and memorable conclusion
LANGUAGE OF A SPEECH:
A speech should deliver arguments with clarity and consistency. The speaker must be engaging and able to connect with the audience on an emotional level.
So as not to alienate the audience, it is necessary to choose language in tune with the make-up of the audience.
The purpose of many speeches is persuasion and so persuasive devices should be used such as rhetorical questions, objection handling, and emotive language.
KEY POINTS OF SPEECH WRITING
- Opens with a welcoming statement or greeting (Ladies and gentlemen, Dearly beloved, Teachers and classmates, etc)
- Outlines what speech will be about (Today, I will speak to you about…)
- Body of speech makes 3 or 4 points and expands upon each point
- Arguments handle objections
- Conclusion summarizing main points
- Possible call to action at the end
- Thank the audience.
OTHER TRANSACTIONAL TEXTS TO CONSIDER
Again, the criteria above are far from exhaustive and each genre is worth studying in detail before writing – the articles on this site are a great place to start.
Remember too, the features above are general and each genre has a host of subtypes that have their own specific requirements that may not be listed in the bullet points above.
Also, while the genre of writing will inform the style and tone of the text, a lot depends on the purpose and the audience. This will be decided by the student in the preparation phase by answering the GAPS questions listed earlier in this article.
Now, students understand how to prepare to write, how to structure their writing, and which language register to use, it’s time to make sure they possess the necessary skills to get the work done.
WHAT KEY SKILLS ARE NEEDED TO WRITE A TRANSACTIONAL TEXT?
Well, as discussed already, transactional writing texts cover a wide range of genres, serving many purposes, and are directed toward a variety of audiences.
Therefore, the list of techniques and skills described below will not apply in every single transactional text a student writes.
Once the student has mastered each of the skills and techniques below, they will need to apply their understanding of each writing context to decide which is best suited to their current needs.
The acronym AFOREST will help students to remember the specific writing techniques.
Let’s take a look at each in turn:
A – ALLITERATION & APPEAL
Alliteration refers to the repetition of an initial consonant sound in a series of words. Tongue twisters are an easy way to illustrate the concept, e.g.,
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper.
We often see alliteration used in texts that employ headlines as the technique helps grab attention and engage the reader. It can also, of course, be used within the body of the text to help draw attention to a concept or idea.
Appeal is a reminder to consider the audience the text is intended to appeal to, as this will greatly affect the tone of the writing.
It will also inform the pronouns the writer chooses to use in their text.
For example, in a speech where the writer is directly addressing their audience, they may frequently use personal pronouns directly addressing the audience such as you and we.
Instead of… “Action must be taken to prevent this.”
The student writes… “We must take action to prevent this.”
F – FACTS
Facts are an important tool of persuasion and can come in many forms. Essentially, facts refer to any verifiably true statement. Statistics are one convincing tool of persuasion to support factual statements.
Whatever guise facts come in, they can be used to inform or entertain as well as persuade the reader.
O – OPINION
Opinion refers to the sharing of a personal point of view. Opinions bring life to a piece of writing.
While it may not be appropriate to express a personal opinion in some contexts, many types of transactional text would be incomplete without the inclusion of the writer’s opinion. For example, a persuasive essay or a movie review.
Often, a text will open with an assertion of the writer’s opinion with the rest of the piece focused on supporting that opinion to persuade the reader to share the writer’s point of view.
The difference between a statement of fact and one of opinion is illustrated in the following two sentences:
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a very popular combat sport. (Fact)
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the greatest of all combat sports. (Opinion)
R – REPETITION & RHETORICAL QUESTIONS
Repetition repeating certain words or phrases in a text is an effective means of highlighting a message or an idea, as well as reinforcing it in the mind of the reader. Repetition can be used to not only to bring rhythm and a certain poetry to a text, but it can bring clarity too.
“Mankind must put an end to war – or war will put an end to mankind.”
— John F. Kennedy
Rhetorical Questions are questions that are asked, but no answer is expected. Usually, the answer will be either implied or obvious to the audience. They are frequently used in speeches and persuasive texts such as advertisements.
“Why pay more?”
Rhetorical questions are asked for the effect they create, rather than any attempt to elicit an answer. They can be a very persuasive tool to have in any writer’s arsenal.
E – Emotive Language & Exaggeration
Emotive Language is a powerful tool of persuasion. Emotive language in a text can be used to incite strong feelings in the reader.
Whether these feelings are feelings of joy, sorrow, disgust, or desire, writers often use this type of language to evoke a desired reaction in the reader and incite them to take a particular course of action.
Emotive language is commonly understood in contrast to objective, factual writing. This type of language makes a contention or argument, but in a way, that appeals to the reader’s feelings.
For example, if the writer is arguing that there should be no restrictions on business opening hours, they might write the following:
“Forcing businesses to close will steal money from the pockets of our poorest workers. It will steal bread from the hungry mouths of our children.”
Exaggeration is sometimes known as hyperbole and in this context refers to the making of intentionally over-the-top statements to intensify the impact of an argument.
Instead of saying school closures will create problems for students, parents, and teachers alike, we might make a statement like:
“School closures will be the end of the world!”
S – Statistics
Statistics, along with percentages and other numbers, are used as supporting evidence for facts.
“The beginning of the week is an extremely stressful time for many people. So much so that the risk of a heart attack for adult men is about 20% greater on Mondays and 15% greater for adult women.”
T – The Rule of Threes
Three is the magic number. Our brains love patterns as they help us make meaning and help make that meaning memorable. We see it in practice in many common phrases.
“Cool, calm, collected”
“Blood, sweat and tears”
“Location, location, location”
While cliché should usually be avoided, students can come up with their own patterns following the rules of 3 to make their writing more memorable.
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When understood well, the above concepts, strategies, and techniques will ensure that student writers can confidently and competently produce a strong piece of transactional writing in any genre.
As their experience and abilities grow, students will quickly be able to recognize the purpose of any writing prompt and accurately assess their prospective audience to help fine-tune their language register.
Once they’ve selected the appropriate criteria, they’ll be able to choose suitable tools and techniques to produce a polished piece of writing that fulfils all intended objectives.
All that’s needed now is practice – and plenty of it!
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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.