Finding the Author's Purpose

High school student completing a standardized test
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Knowing what author's purpose questions look like is one thing. Finding it is quite another! On a standardized test, you'll have answer choices to help you figure it out, but distractor questions will often confuse you. On a short answer test, you'll have nothing but your own brain to figure it out, and sometimes it isn't as easy at it seems. It may be helpful to practice these types of questions while preparing for standardized tests.

Look For Clue Words

Figuring out why an author wrote a particular passage can be as easy (or as difficult) as looking at clues inside the passage. I've mentioned in the "What is the Author's Purpose" article several different reasons an author would have to write a passage of text, and what those reasons mean. Below, you'll find those reasons, with the clue words associated with them.

  • Compare: Author wanted to show similarities between ideas
    Clue Words: both, similarly, in the same way, like, just as
  • Contrast: Author wanted to show differences between ideas
    Clue Words: however, but, dissimilarly, on the other hand
  • Criticize: Author wanted to give a negative opinion of an idea
    Clue Words: Look for words that show the author's negative opinion. Judgment words like "bad", "wasteful", and "poor" all demonstrate negative opinions.
  • Describe/Illustrate: Author wanted to paint a picture of an idea
    Clue Words: Look for words that provide descriptive detail. Adjectives like "red", "lusty", "morose", "striped", "sparkling", and "crestfallen" are all illustrative.
  • Explain: Author wanted to break down an idea into simpler terms
    Clue Words: Look for words that turn a complicated process into simple language. A "descriptive" text will use more adjectives. An "explanatory" text will usually be used with a complicated idea.
  • Identify/List: Author wanted to tell the reader about an idea or series of ideas
    Clue Words: Text that identifies or lists, will name an idea or series of ideas without providing much description or opinion.
  • Intensify: Author wanted to make an idea greater
    Clue Words: Text that intensifies will add more specific details to the idea. Look for superlative adjectives and "bigger" concepts. A baby sadly crying is descriptive, but a baby mournfully howling red-cheeked for 30 minutes is more intense.
  • Suggest: Author wanted to propose an idea
    Clue Words: "Suggest" answers are usually positive opinions and try to sway the reader to believe. The author will provide a point, then use details to prove it.

Underline the Clue Words

It helps to use that pencil in your hand when you're reading if you're unsure what the author's purpose is. As you read, underline the clue words in the text to help you get a better idea. Then, either compose a sentence using the key words (compare, explain, illustrate) to show why the author wrote the piece or select the best answer from the choices given.

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Your Citation
Roell, Kelly. "Finding the Author's Purpose." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Roell, Kelly. (2020, August 26). Finding the Author's Purpose. Retrieved from Roell, Kelly. "Finding the Author's Purpose." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 9, 2023).