The concept of author’s purpose is a notion that is often discussed in classrooms, and identifying the author’s purpose is a skill that is frequently evaluated on state reading tests. Fortunately, this topic is as easy to teach as it is to learn. Watch this video or continue reading and you’ll understand author’s purpose just about as well as anyone.
Author’s Purpose: Three Reasons for Writing
There are three main reasons or purposes for writing. Any text that you encounter (whether the menu for your favorite restaurant or Shakespeare’s Hamlet) will serve one of the three following purposes:
1. Writing to Entertain
The primary purpose of texts that are written to entertain is to amuse readers. This does not mean that the text must be happy; the text could be a tragedy, but the main reason for writing the text is to amuse readers.
Of course, this is not to say that stories, poems, or plays cannot be informative. These texts may even express values and ideas that will persuade readers to view the world differently. Nonetheless, if the text is not entertaining, readers are unlikely to find enlightenment or be moved by such a text. Therefore, the primary purpose of any text, poem, play is to entertain readers.
2. Writing to Inform
The primary purpose of texts that are written to inform is to enlighten the reader or provide the reader with information about a topic.
- Expository Essays or Articles
- Instructions or Directions
- Encyclopedias or Other Reference Texts
Again, the lines separating these distinction may blur. A text that is written to inform may entertain readers. For example, many readers find reading the newspaper to be very entertaining, but the primary purpose of the majority of the text is to provide information. From other reference texts, some readers may learn about ninjas, dinosaurs, or robots solely for enjoyment, but the author’s main purpose in writing such texts is to inform the reader.
3. Writing to Persuade
In a text that is written to persuade, the author’s primary purpose is to compel readers to take action, convince them of an idea through argument, or to reaffirm their existing beliefs.
- Campaign Speeches
- Persuasive Letters or Notes
As with the others purposes for writing, there may be crossover with writing to persuade. For example, readers or viewers may find a television commercial to be extremely entertaining. Such a video may even go viral because so many people find it enjoyable. Nonetheless, the primary purpose of such a text is to persuade people to purchase a product or service.
Identifying the Author’s Purpose
Identifying the author’s purpose may be challenging to students who have not had much exposure to this skill, but after a little bit of practice, most students whom I have had the pleasure of teaching correctly identify the author’s purpose with consistency. Here are three questions that you can ask yourself to help you identify the author’s purpose:
1. Is the text a poem, play, or story?
If the text is a poem, play, or story, then it’s safe to say that the author’s main purpose is to entertain readers. If the text is not a poem, play, or story, ask yourself the next question.
2. Does the text provide a lot of facts and information?
If the text is primarily providing readers with facts and information, then we can conclude that the author’s main purpose in writing the text is to inform readers. If the text does not contain an abundance of what appears to be factual information, then go to the next question.
3. Is the text attempting to get the reader to do something?
If the text contains many arguments and claims, or a call where the reader is urged to take action, then the author’s main purpose is to persuade. If the text does not appear to be persuasive, reanalyze the text and repeat the process.
Common Core State Standards Related to Author’s Purpose
View All CCSS Standards Related to Author's Purpose
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.6 – Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.4 – Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 – Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Reading: Informational Text Standards
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.6 – Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.6 – Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.6 – Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author distinguishes his or her position from that of others.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.6 – Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6 – Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6 – Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.