What is The Author's Purpose?

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Here's your heads up for the day: most standardized tests have a reading comprehension section. I'm fairly certain you knew that, but in case you didn't, you're welcome. What you may not have known is that in most reading comprehension sections, you will be called upon to answer questions about the author's purpose, along with other concepts like main idea, vocabulary in context, inferences and more.

If you have no idea what author's purpose means you're going to have a hard time finding it, huh? I thought so. Take a peek below to read a little more about this reading skill and how you can find it in those long reading passages on standardized tests. 

Author's Purpose Practice

Author's Purpose Basics

The author's purpose is basically the reason he or she chose to act in a particular way, whether that's writing the passage, selecting a phrase, using a word, etc. It differs from the main idea in that author's purpose not the point you're supposed to get or understand; rather, it's the why behind why the author picked up a pen or selected those words in the first place. It can be difficult to determine because, after all, you may not be inside the mind if the writer. You may not actually know why she or he chose to include a particular phrase or idea. The good news? The majority  of author's purpose questions will come in multiple choice format.

So you won't have to come up with the reason for an author's behavior. You'll just need to select the best choice. 

If you're trying to determine the author's purpose on a standardized test, your question may look a little something like this:

1. The author most likely mentions the Depression in lines 33 - 34 to:
A.

identify the primary purpose for Social Security.
B. criticize FDR's adoption of a program that would run out of money.
C. contrast the effectiveness of the Social Security Program with that of family care.
D. list another factor that contributed to the need for the Social Security Program.

Author's Purpose Key Words

There are a few key words associated with the author's purpose. Often times, you can narrow down what an author was trying to accomplish by looking at the language he or she used while writing. Take a look at the words below. The bold word will be used in the answer choices. The phrase following the bold words is an explanation of what it really means when you see it. If you click on the "How to Find the Author's Purpose" below, you'll see each of these phrases explained thoroughly so you can understand how to determine when each is being used in context. 

  • Compare: Author wanted to show similarities between ideas
  • Contrast: Author wanted to show differences between ideas
  • Criticize: Author wanted to give a negative opinion of an idea
  • Describe/Illustrate: Author wanted to paint a picture of an idea
  • Explain: Author wanted to break down an idea into simpler terms
  • Identify/List: Author wanted to tell the reader about an idea or series of ideas
  • Intensify: Author wanted to make an idea greater
  • Suggest: Author wanted to propose an idea

If you can master these bad boys, then you'll have a much easier time answering those reading comprehension questions on your next standardized test, mostly because these key words are often used so very often in those questions! Bonus!

How to Find The Author's Purpose

Sometimes, reading for the author's purpose is as simple as just that; you read, and you figure out that the writer really hated the Red Sox and wanted to criticize the whole franchise. Other times, it isn't so simple, so it's good to have a technique to guide you when you're looking!