Informational Texts: Main Idea, Purpose & Audience

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

This lesson describes what is and is not informational text. You'll discover the purpose, features, and audience of informational text. You'll also explore examples of informational text.

A Category within Nonfiction

At first, the phrase 'informational text' sounds a bit self-explanatory, right? Perhaps you're thinking it must be any writing that informs the reader, like another way of saying 'nonfiction'.

Well, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that this is not the definition of informational text. The good news is that you're on the right track overall.

Informational text is a category within nonfiction writing. This form of communication transfers information from one person to another about the nature of the world and human beings. It has various features that help set it apart from other types of text.

Examples of informational text include reference books (like encyclopedias), newspapers, and even online articles just like this one.

This lesson will go into more detail about the features of this form of text and the audience for this type of writing.

The Purpose of Informational Text

The purpose of informational text is to uncover information about a subject area and to educate the reader about that specific topic.

For example, if you pick up a book called 'The History of Popcorn', you expect to come away with information about the origins of popcorn and how it became a popular snack.

When you read the biography of Orville Redenbacher, the businessmen associated with the popcorn brand, you expect to learn about his life: where he was born, how he lived his life, and what challenges he faced. You would find out that he began his career selling popcorn kernels outside the back of his car.

This sounds informative, so why isn't it considered informational text?

Biographies are not considered informational texts because they have a different purpose. The focus of a biography is on the story and timeline of a specific individual and not an overall subject. The biography does cover the topic of popcorn, but the book's primary subject would be the life of Redenbacher in particular.

By contrast, informational text is typically written without characters to tell the story. A book called 'The History of Popcorn' might include information about those who sold popcorn, but the primary focus would still be on the subject of popcorn overall.

Instructions are Not Informational Text

So what about a pamphlet you pick up in the grocery store for 'How to Make the Perfect Stovetop Popcorn'? This sounds informative, and doesn't include any characters. Is this informational text?

Nope again. Instructions like these are educational and helpful (not to mention tasty, in this case), but their purpose is to teach you how to do something and guide you through the steps to accomplish a task. Instructions like these are sometimes called procedural text, since you are following a procedure when you walk through each step.

Procedural text teaches you how to do something, whether it's making popcorn in a pan on the stove or caulking your tub.

By contrast, informational text will teach you about a topic but not necessarily how to take specific actions to achieve a goal.

It may help to remember the term 'informational' by thinking of how the main job of this type of text is to 'inform' you in an overall way about a subject rather than sharing an individual story or teaching you how to accomplish something.

The Audience for Informational Text

We're all readers of informational text simply by living in the world. From a young age, we are exposed to books in school that are considered this genre. When we go online to do any type of research, we typically end up reviewing articles that are informational text.

When do we seek out informational text? We've already discussed how informational text is not learning about the life of a particular individual alone, like a biography of Orville Redenbacher. It's not procedural text like instructions for making popcorn. So when do we need it?

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