Author, Audience, and Purpose

Learning Objectives:

  • Identify the author of a reading.
  • Identify the author's intended audience.
  • Identify the author's intended purpose.

When you begin reading a textWords that make up a book, essay, article, poem, or speech., your mind must go to work immediately trying to determine who wrote the text, who the text is for, and why the piece was written. This information can change how you interpret the text. When you do this, you're thinking about the most basic elements of a readingA piece of writing to be read. A reading can either be a full work (i.e., a book) or partial (i.e., a passage).: authorA person who wrote a text., audienceThe group of people a writer expects to read a text. Writers use specific language, details, and examples to speak directly to their intended audience. For example, you would write and organize your work differently if your audience was a group of experts in the field of your work than if it was a group of undergraduate students being introduced to the topic., and purposeThe reason the writer is writing about a topic. It is what the writer wants the reader to know, feel, or do after reading the work..

Author: The person who wrote the text. It is important to understand the author of a text as it will change how you interpret the text. For example, if you are looking for information about a medical condition, a friend may give some good advice, but if it contradicts the advice that you get from a well-regarded medical professional, you might want to consider disregarding the information from your friend.

The author information is found in a number of places. It is most commonly found at the front of a book and at the beginning or end of an articleA non-fiction, often informative writing that forms a part of a publication, such as a magazine or newspaper.. In an academic essayA formal writing that the author composes using research, a strong thesis, and supporting details in order to advance an idea or demonstrate understanding of a topic., it is often in the headerInformation that appears at the very top of a page and may appear on subsequent pages of a work. and on the title pageA page that precedes the main writing of a book or research paper that includes the title, author's name, and other information about the work.. In pieces published by institutions, organizations, or corporations, there may not be an individual author; instead, you can consider the institution to be the author.

Audience: Who the writer expects to read the text. Realize that you may not be the primary audience for this text, as the audience for a text is not always the same as the person or people who are reading it because writers cannot always control who reads their work. However, when a writer composes a reading, he or she does so with a specific type of reader in mind. When the writer knows who the audience is, he or she can use specific language, details, and examples to speak directly to that audience. If you are not the intended audience, it may be more difficult for you to comprehendThe ability to understand a subject, reading, or idea. the piece.

You can determine the audience by identifying where the reading is located. For example, an article in Seventeen magazine is intended for teenage girls, while an article in the Journal of Developmental Education is intended for faculty and administrators of college-level developmental education programs, all of whom have college educations and many of whom have advanced degrees.

Purpose: Why the writer chose this topic. Every writer has a reason (purpose) for writing about a topic. You can determine the purpose of a passageA short portion of a writing taken from a larger source, such as a book, article, speech, or poem. by asking yourself, "Why is the writer telling me about this?" or "What does the writer want me to know or do after reading this?" A writer's primary purpose often falls into one of three categories—persuade, inform, or entertain.   

Persuade. In a persuasive piece, authors try to convince the reader that their ideas/arguments have merit. Persuasive writingA form of writing where the author tries to convince the reader that his or her argument has merit. Example: an editorial article is a piece of persuasive writing. is debatable. The author wants to prove that something "should/must" or "should not/must not" be done. The opinionPoint of view that shows a personal belief or bias and cannot be proven to be completely true. section of the newspaper is a good example of persuasive writing.

Inform. In informational writingA genre of writing that is focused on facts and does not contain bias. Example: a dictionary is an informational writing., writers are focused on the facts. There is no biasIn writing, bias indicates a writer's personal prejudice for or against an idea, person, activity, or object. Being objective, or displaying no tendency toward a preference, is the opposite of showing bias. in this type of writing. Encyclopedias are one kind of informative writing.

Entertain. Entertaining writing is created to amuse or interest the reader. Entertaining pieces are not always light and silly; they also include pieces that are very sad or exciting. Novels and short stories are both types of entertaining writing.

Because writers often incorporate multiple purposes in one piece of writing, it is important to focus your attention on the author's primary purpose. For example, a writer will frequently include information in a persuasive piece or try to make an informative piece entertaining for their readers.