The author’s purpose of a text refers to why they wrote the text.
It;s important to know the author’s purpose for a range of reasons, including:
- Media Literacy: We want to make sure we’re not tricked by the author. When reading an article online, for example, we want to figure out what the author’s purpose is in order to determine whether they’re going to write with a particular political bias.
- Determining Meaning: We might also want to know the author’s purpose in order to infer and predict what the underlying message might be. If an author’s job is to inform, we can read the text closely in order to examine its logic; but if the purpose is to entertain, we can consume the text with less of a critical lens.
- Understand Genre Convention: If we know the author’s purpose, we can predict and develop expectations about how the piece will be written. For example, persuasive texts should cite sources, while in reflective texts, we should expect first-person language and more intimate language.
Below are a range of possible purposes that authors may have when writing texts.
Author’s Purpose Examples
1. To Inform
Common Text Genres: News articles, Research papers, Textbooks, Biographies, Manuals.
Texts designed to inform tend to seek an objective stance, where the author presents facts, data, or truths to the reader with the sole intention of educating or delivering important information to the reader. It is common, for example, in news articles, where journalists must adhere to journalistic ethics and ensure the information is entirely factual. This is also often the purpose of non-fiction books, academic writing, scientific articles, and of course, this very website you’re reading right now.
Example of an Informative Text
A National Geographic article on climate change informs readers about the state of the planet, providing facts and figures about global warming, melting ice caps, and so on.
2. To Entertain
Common Text Genres: Novels, Short stories, Poetry, Plays, Comics
This type of writing is meant to captivate the reader’s imagination and provide enjoyment. Here, the content needs to be delivered in a way that doesn’t bore and keeps the reader compelled to keep reading. To do this, the writing might be humorous, suspenseful, mysterious, or touching, depending on the genre. The author may also create characters, plot, and settings to keep the reader engaged and entertained, as with novels.
Example of an Entertaining Text
A well-known example is J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, which was written with the primary goal of entertaining readers with its magical world and captivating story.
3. To Persuade
Common Text Genres: Advertisements, Speeches, Opinion columns, Cover letters, Product reviews
In persuasive texts, the author’s main purpose is to convince the reader to accept a particular point of view or to take a specific action. This involves the use of arguments, logic, evidence, and emotional appeals. Persuasive writing can be found in speeches, advertisements, and opinion editorials. To examine some key techniques and strategies authors use to persuade, consult my article on the thirty types of persuasion in literature.
Example of a Persuasive Text
A classic example is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he persuasively argues for the end of racial discrimination in the United States.
4. To Describe
Common Text Genres: Travelogues, Food reviews, Personal essays, Descriptive poetry, Nature writing
Descriptive texts aim to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. These sorts of texts can take us away to a different place and draw us into a complex world created by the author. For example, the author uses detailed and evocative descriptions to convey a scene, object, person, or feeling. The goal is to make the reader see, hear, smell, taste, or feel what is being described. This can be seen in many forms of writing, but is most evident in fiction, poetry, and travel writing, and can be paired with other author purposes, such as entertainment.
Example of a Descriptive Text
An example of descriptive writing is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, especially in its portrayal of the extravagant lifestyle of Jay Gatsby.
5. To Explain
Common Text Genres: How-to articles, Technical manuals, FAQs, Cookbooks, Explanatory journalism
In this type of writing, the author seeks to make the reader understand a process, concept, or idea. The writing breaks down complex subjects into simpler, more digestible parts. The author provides step-by-step explanations, examples, and definitions to aid understanding. This can be seen in how-to guides, tutorials, and expository essays. Of course, this purpose overlaps significantly with to inform, but tends to be more step-by-step or strips complex ideas into clear-to-understand chunks of information.
Example of an Explanatory Text
A real-world example is Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”, in which complex topics such as the Big Bang, black holes, and light cones are explained in a manner accessible to non-scientists.
6. To Analyze
Common Text Genres: Critical essays, Business reports, Scientific research papers, Market research, Literary analysis
Authors who write to analyze seek to break down a complex concept, event, or piece of work into smaller parts in order to better understand it. Analytical writing looks closely at all the components of a topic and how they work together. It’s about making connections and recognizing patterns. It could, for example, aim to identify flaws in a topic, or draw connections, similarities and differences, between multiple different concepts. You’ll commonly find these types of texts in professional contexts, such as reports provided to a company to give them guidance that helps them make better business decisions.
Example of an Analytical Text
“The Art of War” by Sun Tzu offers a comprehensive analysis of warfare strategies, breaking down the complexities of warfare into key principles.
7. To Teach
Common Text Genres: Textbooks, How-to guides, Cookbooks, Self-help books
The author aims to impart knowledge or skills to the reader. These texts often provide step-by-step instructions or delve deep into a topic to ensure understanding. The goal is not only to inform but to enable the reader to perform a task or understand a concept independently. Examples of texts like this can include self-help books and textbooks, which might also contain ‘tasks’, ‘homework’ or ‘revision quizzes’ at the end of each chapter.
Example of an Educational Text
“On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King teaches readers about the art of writing and the life of a writer.
8. To Argue
Common Text Genres: Opinion editorials, Political speeches, Legal briefs, Persuasive essays
For these sorts of texts, the author’s purpose is to persuade the reader to accept a particular perspective, worldview, or ideology, often presenting a thesis and supporting it with evidence and logical reasoning. The goal is to make a case and convince the reader of its validity. Authors could use pathos, meaning emotion, to argue a point (e.g. appealing to a person’s emotional side), or logos, meaning logic (e.g. setting out a clear and logical explanation of why the author’s perspective is correct).
Example of an Argumentative Text
A famous example is “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” by Mary Wollstonecraft, where she argues for women’s rights and equality.
9. To Inspire
Common Text Genres: Motivational speeches, Inspirational books, Success stories, Motivational posters
Authors with this purpose want to stimulate their readers to act or create a change, instill hope, or provoke a sense of awe. These writings often share success stories, motivational thoughts, or beautiful descriptions of nature or humanity. A wide range of texts aim to inspire, from novels about amazing journeys, biographies about great people from history, and even people writing sales copy for brands.
Example of an Inspirational Text
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou is a work meant to inspire readers through its tale of overcoming adversity.
10. To Reflect
Common Text Genres: Diaries or journals, Vlogs and blogs, Retirement speeches, Reflective essays
In a reflective piece, the aim of the author is to share personal experiences, thoughts, or insights in an introspective manner. The goal is to convey the author’s personal journey or internal thought process. These texts often give readers a window into the author’s mind, and they may invite readers to reflect on their own experiences as well. Sometimes, the author will write the piece as a tool for self-improvement, such as to identify where they made mistakes or weaknesses in their processes, so they don’t make those mistakes next time.
Example of a Reflective Text
“Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius is a series of personal writings, reflecting the author’s stoic philosophy and ideas on life.
Common Text Genres: Personal Blogs, Social Media Posts, Personal Essays, Anecdotes, Letters.
In this type of writing, the author aims to share personal experiences, thoughts, ideas, or information with the reader. The writer may offer insights into their lives, discuss their passions, or recount an event that happened to them. We might see this, for example, for someone who writes detailed reflections on their travels in their travel blog, or even a personal email back to friends and family each week.
Example of a Text designed to Share
Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” is a memoir where the author shares her journey of self-discovery as she travels through Italy, India, and Indonesia.
12. To Record
Common Text Genres: Historical Accounts, Diaries, Journals, Biographies, Documentaries.
When writing to record, the author aims to create a detailed and factual account of events or experiences, either for personal reflection or to inform future generations. This type of writing can also serve to preserve personal or historical memories. We see this, for example, in historians’ writing as well as in some journalistic work, such as in the New York Times, which has become known as the paper of record for its longevity in recording important moments in US history.
Example of a Text of Record
Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” is a historical record of her experiences hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.
13. To Provoke Thought
Common Text Genres: Philosophical Works, Thought-Provoking Novels, Reflective Essays, Social Commentaries.
Authors who write to provoke thought aim to challenge their readers, pushing them to think more deeply about certain topics or to see things from a different perspective. They may raise complex questions, explore ambiguities, or critique societal norms. Such authors might be even aiming to get the reader upset, animated, or otherwise achieving cognitive dissonance in order to shift their thinking in some way.
Example of a Thought-Provoking Text
George Orwell’s “1984” provokes thought about totalitarianism, surveillance, and individual freedom.
14. To Criticize
Common Text Genres: Reviews, Critical Essays, Satire, Polemics, Critiques.
When authors write to criticize, their aim is to express disapproval, dissent, or disagreement. They may critique a person, an idea, a societal trend, a piece of work, etc. They typically present their criticisms in a structured, reasoned manner, often supported by evidence. We see this regularly, for example, in ‘letters to the editor’ in newspapers, where everyday people can write into a newspaper in order to share their thoughts or rants for everyone to read.
Example of a Critical Text
In his essay “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson criticizes societal conformity and advocates for individualism.
15. To Predict
Common Text Genres: Speculative Fiction, Futurism Articles, Predictive Analytics Reports, Science Fiction.
Authors who write to predict aim to forecast future events or trends. These predictions could be based on current data, societal trends, scientific understanding, or simply imaginative speculation. This can be anything from a piece written by an economist or political scientist who’s predicting social trends that are upcoming, to a sci-fi novel that attempts to predict a dystopian future where AI has taken over the world!
Example of a Predictive Text
In Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” the author predicts a future society characterized by technological advancements, consumerism, and a lack of individual freedom.
16. To Express Emotion
Common Text Genres: Poetry, Personal Essays, Novels, Letters, Memoirs.
When authors write to express emotion, their main goal is to convey their feelings, or the feelings of someone else, to the reader. They might explore their emotional reaction to events, or evoke emotion in the reader. This is a common purpose of poetry and song lyrics, which have long genre-histories of evoking emotions in audiences, especially when the lyrics are read or sung to a live audience.
Example of an Emotional Text
Sylvia Plath’s poetry, such as in her collection “Ariel,” often expresses deep personal emotions, particularly her struggles with depression.
17. To Explore
Common Text Genres: Adventure Novels, Travel Writing, Scientific Papers, Experimental Poetry, Philosophy Books.
Authors who write to explore aim to delve deeply into a topic, concept, or place. This might involve exploring physical environments, such as in travel writing, or abstract concepts, as in philosophical or scientific texts. Exploratory writing may start without a clear end-goal, and can ramble its way to an unknown conclusion.
Example of an Exploratory Text
Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” explores the concept of natural selection and evolution.
18. To Satirize
Common Text Genres: Satirical Novels, Political Cartoons, Satirical Essays, Parodies.
Satirical writing uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other societal issues. It could, for example, be a satirical novel which tries to undermine or make a joke out of other famous texts or genres. This, obviously, overlaps with the author purpose of to entertain but may also have elements of social commentary.
Example of a Satirical Text
Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” satirizes human nature and the “travelers’ tales” literary subgenre.
19. To Commemorate
Common Text Genres: Eulogies, Obituaries, Commemorative Speeches, Historical Fiction.
Writing to commemorate aims to honor or remember a person, event, or idea. It often involves highlighting the subject’s significance or impact. For example, a person might write a piece that commemorates veterans on Vetertan’s Day. Similarly, an obituary commemorates a person’s life and attempts to sum up their achievements and the things that were of great importance to them.
Example of a Commemorative Text
The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln was a speech to commemorate the lives lost during the Civil War and to reaffirm the principles of liberty and equality.
20. To Plead
Common Text Genres: Petitions, Open Letters, Advocacy Articles, Speeches.
When authors write to plead, they aim to make an urgent appeal or request for something. This could be a plea for action, support, change, etc. These texts commonly ask for social change or a change in perspective from the reader. The author may be pleading for themselves and their family (e.g. a refugee who pleads their case in a newspaper op-ed) or for the less advantaged (e.g. an activist pleading for people to donate to children in poverty).
Example of a Text that Pleads a Case
In “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. pleads for an end to racial segregation and appeals for justice and equality.
21. To Celebrate
Common Text Genres: Commendatory Speeches, Reviews, Praises, Tributes.
Authors who write to celebrate aim to acknowledge, praise, or express gratitude for someone or something. They might celebrate a person, a culture, a historical event, an achievement, or a simple joy of life. A celebratory text, for example, might be a speech someone gives at a graduation ceremony, with the intention of celebrating the graduates’ successes in finally completing their degree.
Example of a Celebratory Text
Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” celebrates the resilience and strength of African American women.
See Also: Examples of Text Types
Texts are written for a range of reasons. By determining the intentions of the author, we can begin to infer genre expectations, whether there will be much bias, or indeed, whether we can simply read for entertainment and throw caution to the wind! Similarly, if you want to be a writer, it’s worth examining other author’s texts that have similar purposes, and take notes on their style and turns-of-phrase to learn from them.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]