How to Analyze the Purpose of a Text

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  • 0:01 The Purpose of a Text
  • 0:33 A Variety of Purposes
  • 2:54 How to Determine Purpose
  • 3:51 Purpose Practice
  • 6:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn how to analyze the purpose of a text. We will explore some of the primary purposes and practice determining purpose using some writing samples.

The Purpose of a Text

Writers write for a reason. They have something to say, and they have a motive for saying it. In other words, every piece of writing has a purpose.

The purpose of a text is simply the writer's reason for writing. Many texts have more than one purpose, but usually one will stand out as primary. Readers have the job of determining the purpose or purposes of a text and understanding why the writer is writing and what the writer wants the reader to do with the text.

A Variety of Purposes

Writers may choose from a variety of purposes, which usually fall into three main categories: to entertain, to inform, and to persuade. Let's take a close look at each of these.

First off, some writers write simply to entertain or amuse their readers. Texts created to entertain are often imaginative works like novels, stories, or poems. Such texts may also, of course, make important observations about human nature and the ways of the world, but the entertainment factor is primary. Think about that mystery novel you had a tough time putting down or a poem you enjoyed years ago or just last week. Were you entertained by these? Then the writer achieved his or her purpose.

Second, writers often write to inform their readers. These texts provide facts about some topic that the writer believes is important and necessary for the reader to understand. Informative writing is usually clear and well-organized. Think about the textbooks you've studied for classes or the encyclopedia articles you've read. These are examples of informative texts.

Writers who write to inform may also be writing to instruct, explain, or describe. When writers instruct their readers, they offer a series of steps to accomplish a specific task. Instruction manuals, how-to books, and recipes are types of instructional writing. When writers explain, they tell their readers how something works. An article about the discovery and use of electricity, for instance, fulfills the purpose of explanation. When writers describe, they provide sensory details that allow their readers to form a mental picture of some person, place, or thing. An eye-witness account of a traffic accident or a personal essay about the writer's childhood are examples of descriptive writing.

Finally, writers frequently write to persuade their readers to assent to a particular belief or opinion or to act in a particular way. Persuasive writing states the writer's position, offers evidence to support that position, and invites the reader to adopt the position. Persuasive writing is found in everything from advertisements to movie reviews and from academic arguments to political speeches.

How to Determine Purpose

To determine a text's purpose, readers should ask themselves the following series of questions.

1. Is the text a novel, a story, or a poem? If the answer is yes, its purpose is probably to entertain.

2. Does the text offer a set of facts? If so, its purpose is probably to inform.

3. Does the text provide a series of steps to accomplish a specific task? If so, it is a text that instructs.

4. Does the text tell how something works? If so, its purpose is to explain.

5. Does the text provide sensory details that allow the reader to form a mental picture? If the answer is yes, it is probably a text that describes.

6. Does the text attempt to change the reader's opinion about something or encourage the reader to act in a particular way? If so, it is probably intended to persuade.

Purpose Practice

Let's practice determining the purpose of a text by looking at some writing samples. For each of the following, decide whether the text's purpose is to entertain, to inform, to instruct, to explain, to describe, or to persuade.

Sample #1 - How to make a greeting card. First, select the stickers or embellishments you wish to use. This will help you determine your color scheme. Second, select the paper you will need for the card's base and any matting you might want to use. Third, gather your tools. You will probably need a paper cutter, scissors, and some adhesive as well as a stamp or template for the greeting. Fourth, cut out the card and matting. Fifth, fold the card base. Sixth, apply the embellishments to the card base or matting. Seventh, create the greeting with a stamp or template. Eighth, assemble the card, using the adhesive to attach any matting to the card base.

Notice that this sample offers a series of steps to accomplish a specific task. Its purpose is to instruct.

Sample #2 - Vote for Mike Anderson! He's the candidate that has a plan to get workers back to work. He's the candidate with experience (as mayor, as a member of the city council, and as a member of the school board). He's the candidate with integrity. He's the candidate who has the support of the local police and fire departments. Vote for Mike Anderson. He's the best candidate for the job!

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