Determining the Author’s Purpose
When trying to determine an author’s purpose in writing, there is one question that must be asked as you read: “Why?” Although there are additional methods to determine an author’s purpose—all of which we’ll discuss here—“why” is the most pressing question you need to answer. Put another way, the purpose of an author’s writing is the reason the author sat down and put words on a page.
Why Does It Matter?
Determining an author’s purpose is an important part of evaluating a piece of writing, as it allows us to determine what type of writing is being used, and how the piece should be both interpreted and evaluated. An author who sits down to write an expository piece, for instance, is coming from a very different angle than an author who has written a persuasive piece. The evidence given in each type of writing will likely differ, as will the method in which the information is delivered.
Determine the Writing Type
When determining an author’s purpose, know that there are four common types of writing employed: expository and persuasive, as mentioned above, as well as descriptive and narrative. Each of these styles of writing reveals something about the author’s purpose in writing, and each has elements that will help you identify the author’s intent.
Step One: Read the Piece
The first step in determining an author’s intent is to simply read through the text. Reading through the piece will familiarize you with what the author is saying, and will help you begin to break down the elements of the text.
Step Two: Ask “Why?”
Once you’ve read through the author’s passage, ask yourself, “Why has the author written this?”
If the piece is largely informative, the author has written to inform (expository writing).
If the piece seems to have a particular agenda or offers a compelling argument as to why the audience should believe or behave a certain way, the author is writing to persuade (persuasive writing).
If the author is writing to describe (descriptive writing), the language will likely be filled with adjectives and adverbs that paint a verbal picture. Finally, if the author is writing to narrate (narrative writing), the piece will likely recall a past event.
Sifting through an author’s writing to find these elements will get you one step closer to determining the author’s purpose.
Step Three: Find out about the Author
Now that you’ve asked “why?” and you’ve identified elements within the piece that point to certain types of writing, you can move on to the final step (if you have not already determined the author’s purpose or intent). This final step involves looking into the author. Not all materials will provide an author’s background, but some will include a small snippet about the author. You can use this information to help identify the author’s purpose.
If a piece lists an author’s profession as a journalist, the piece is likely to employ expository writing. If a piece lists the author’s profession as a lobbyist, scientist, or doctor, it is likely that the author’s intent is to persuade. If the piece identifies the author as a writer by trade, the piece may simply be a narrative or descriptive piece.
Using these three elements of evaluation will help you determine an author’s purpose in writing. By reading the piece, asking “why,” and learning more about the author’s background, you are creating a large-scale picture of the author’s overall purpose for crafting a piece. You will then be well-equipped to respond to any questions regarding an author’s intent.
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