What is an author’s purpose? Why do writers write? What are they trying to achieve in their writing process? And how do they write in ways that help them achieve their goals? In this article, we will define what an author’s purpose is, the different types of writing, and how to identify the author’s purpose in fiction and nonfiction writing alike.
Author’s purpose definition
The author’s purpose is the reason behind their work. It is the ‘why‘ that motivated the writer to start writing in the first place. Any work you read, whether it is a magazine, a novel, an essay, or a blog, has some purpose. There is a reason it was written in the first place, which is the author’s purpose. A single piece of work may involve elements of persuasion, information, and entertainment but will typically have one main purpose. For example, blogs and landing pages typically drive readers to take action. They are informative and can even be entertaining, but their main purpose is to persuade.
Novels are informative regarding the characters, setting, and sociocultural background, but they are not meant to persuade—they are written for entertainment purposes. Essays are primarily informative but may also be written with the intent to persuade. They may even be entertaining if the author uses humor or interesting anecdotes, but the author’s primary purpose in an essay is to inform the reader about the topic.
What is an author’s purpose?
There are five general authors’ purposes. In any book, fiction or nonfiction, children’s fiction or adult, classic or modern, the author writes with a purpose. An agreed-upon relationship between author and reader begins when the reader decides to read the book. In that relationship, the author is at any one point doing one of five things, fulfilling one of the five purposes.
The top three author’s purposes are:
The purpose of persuasive writing is to persuade or convince the reader to follow a particular point of view. The author wants the reader to buy into their viewpoint by using facts and statistics to support their claims. They present the facts in an informative way but add their own opinions too. They might emphasize facts or research that support their point of view. They may also use sentences and phrases that evoke an emotional response from the reader.
When readers’ emotions are targeted, they are more receptive to the message. Consider the emotional targeting easily observed in political writing. Political leaders and speakers, who must hone the craft of persuasion, often rally up a crowd or gather more support for their campaigns by playing on people’s emotions. Fear, for example, is an incredibly powerful emotion that can motivate people to take almost immediate action when triggered.
Informative writing is a matter of fact and free from the author’s opinion or bias. It is written with the intent to educate the reader about a particular subject. This type of writing often heavily features bulleted or numbered points to clarify the points made in a section.
For example, an author of a school textbook is to inform students about the topic. As such, they will introduce the topic with real-world examples, facts, and statistics and make sure to cover opposing points. Unlike persuasive writing, the writer has no personal or political agenda—their purpose is pure. They write to inform the reader, to enlighten them on a subject. Many informative texts feature sections and paragraphs followed by bullet points to summarize the information.
Works of fiction are written with the intent to entertain the reader. A fiction writer’s purpose is to immerse the reader in the story’s world through a vivid setting, rich characters, and an engaging plot. Some nonfiction writing also aims to entertain the reader. Books full of facts and statistics may be exciting but will not engage a reader unless the content is also entertaining. For example, Yuval’s Sapiens is nonfiction and informative but also contains elements of humor and facts presented in such a way that makes the reader more curious than before.
How to identify the author’s purpose
How do you identify the author’s purpose when reading a book? A good starting point is to ask yourself some simple questions. By enquiring into the text and identifying elements of persuasion, attempts to inform, or literary devices such as humor or hyperbole to entertain, you can approach the text with a prepared mind. Why is that important? It prevents you from being led to believe something without even being aware that you are being persuaded. It helps you think more critically about whatever it is you find yourself reading.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”Aristotle
How to identify persuasive writing
You can identify persuasive writing by the tone and type of language used. Is the author trying to make me believe something? Is the author trying to convince me or persuade me to take a particular standpoint on the topic? Does the author back up their claims with supporting evidence? Do they offer several viewpoints on the same topic or stick to just one or two? Do they attack other viewpoints? Do they use evocative imagery, hyperbole, or photographs to emphasize their point? Do they play on my emotions? Do they make me want to take action?
An example of persuasive writing
We know that persuasive writing tries to convince the reader to believe a particular viewpoint or take a particular course of action. Check out the following example to see how an author might persuade a reader.
“Mental health issues among adolescents are on the rise. According to the CDC, more than 1 in 3 high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019. In the same year, almost 1 in 6 American high school students experience suicidal tendencies, a 44 percent increase since 2009. Given the drastic rise in mental health issues among our vulnerable youth, it’s more important than ever to fund school-based mental health resources such as therapy and counseling. We must show support to our future leaders by extending a hand and offering a compassionate and supportive ear.“
How do you feel after reading this piece? Do you agree with the author? Do you want to do something to help these vulnerable high school students? Do you feel like you learned something? What makes the above text persuasive? The author makes a statement, then backs it up with supporting evidence. He then adds some emotional input by highlighting how the youth are vulnerable. Finally, he uses the modal verb ‘must’ to persuade the reader to follow his cause.
How to identify informative writing
Facts and statistics are found in both persuasive and informative writing. So, how do you tell the difference between the two? Are these facts presented objectively, or is there an opinion included? Does the author use bulleted or numbered points? Does the author ask clarifying questions or offer a summary at the end of each section? Have I learned something new after reading this?
An example of informative writing
The following is an excerpt from an informative essay written by Mallory Beinborn, entitled ‘Four Hoofed Therapy Machines,’ published in Wink: An Online Journal. Notice how the author presents the information:
Autism is the third or fourth most common developmental disability, and according to NARHA Strides Magazine, it “occurs in approximately 5-15 per 10,000 births” (Brown 1). Children and adults with Autism have a dysfunctional sensory system. This means, “One or more senses are either over-or under-reactive to stimulation” (Hatch-Rasmussen 1).
The author uses facts and statistics, but unlike the persuasive author, the informative author does not try to use those facts and statistics to prove the validity of their opinion. Instead, they present the information to enlighten and educate the reader. Note that the above example is only an introduction. The text goes much further in achieving its goal of informing the reader about autism and its challenges.
How to identify entertaining writing
When authors write for entertainment purposes, they employ a variety of styles, devices, and techniques to immerse the reader in the world of the story, whether it is a detective story, science fiction, high fantasy, or romance.
Does the author write about a fictional setting with fictional characters and a developing plot? Are there action-packed, hyperreal scenarios? Is there a build of tension, a climax, and a resolution?
Note that both persuasive and informative writing can also be entertaining. As mentioned, a writer may use a funny or otherwise emotionally evocative anecdote. This may well connect to penetrating writing, such as deceptive setting, conflict, and current themes. The purpose of their anecdote, though entertaining, is still to persuade.
An example of entertaining writing
“Nearly ten years had passed since the Dursleys had woken up to find their nephew on the front step, but Privet Drive had hardly changed at all. The sun rose on the same tidy front gardens and lit up the brass number four on the Dursleys’ front door; it crept into their living room, which was almost the same as it had been on the night when Mr. Dursley had seen that fateful news report about the owls. Only the photographs on the mantelpiece showed how much time had passed.“J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone
No attempts at persuasion. Fiction writer Rowling’s Harry Potter series is pure entertainment. Rowling uses descriptive writing to describe how the sun rose in the same garden and ‘lit up the brass number four,’ but since this is a fictional story, she cannot be said to educate the reader. Her description may be called informative since it paints a picture of the scene so that the reader can more deeply immerse themselves in the story. Overall, this is writing for entertainment purposes.
Other than descriptive picture painting passages, entertaining writing often features a sharp dialogue between interesting characters. The relationship between the characters, the plot points, and the setting of a story makes it so entertaining and sets it apart from other types of writing.
Everything you read has a purpose. If there were no purpose, it probably would not have been written. As a reader, it is relatively easy to recognize the author’s purpose, especially having read the outlines and definitions of each type above.
It is important to be able to recognize an author’s purpose. These days we are flooded with information and content, and the unfortunate truth is not all of what we read is there to help us. Some people can skillfully combine facts and statistics and merge them with their own opinion to convince others. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is important for you as a reader to understand that a piece of text wants to convince you. Without knowing a text’s intent, you may take it as purely informative and go about your day with a manipulated point of view.
Similarly, if you need a purely informative piece of writing about a topic, for example, the history of New York City between 1800 and 1900, then knowing about the author’s purpose is key. Perhaps you have to write an essay on the topic. If that text is persuasive, but you do not realize it, you will be sharing opinions that are not your own and believing facts that have been presented persuasively.