Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Behind the Books: Author Purpose vs. Writing Styles

This year, I’m taking a close look at what I call the Nonfiction Triumvirate—nonfiction categories, writing styles, and text structures. For the last month or so, I’ve been focusing on Nonfiction Categories. If you missed the discussion, you can scroll down or use the search box to see past posts.

Today, I was planning to  plunge into writing styles, but thanks to a conversation I had with teacher-librarian Matthew Winner, aka The Busy Librarian, at the recent AASL conference, I realized that before I can get into the nitty gritty, I need to address one aspect of Common Core that really frosts my britches.

Common Core emphasizes author purpose quite a bit. This has lead to a plethora of Easy as P-I-E anchor charts that drive me batty. They claim that there are three possible purposes for writing—to persuade, to inform, or to entertain. And as a result students should learn to master persuasive/opinion writing, expository writing, and narrative writing.

This all seems so misguided to me.

So false.

So shallow.

So disappointing.

As far as I’m concerned, there are many, many possible reasons to write, and most of them have nothing to do with wanting to inform or entertain. In my opinion, if either of these are a writer’s sole purpose, sole motivation, the result will be a piece with no soul.

Nonfiction writers—all writers—have to dig deep. They have to get in touch with their passions and their vulnerabilities. If they don’t, their writing will fall flat, and no one will want to read it.

Here’s how I think about it. My mission as a writer is to share the beauty and wonder of the natural world with young readers. But each manuscript I write has a more focused purpose, and that purpose is often closely linked to who I am—my personality, my beliefs, my experiences in the world.

And that purpose, that central nugget, that creative core is what drives me to dedicate years of my life to a single manuscript. It spurs me on despite the obstacles and setbacks and challenges, and of course, through the inevitable criticism and rejection of early drafts.

I’ll be honest, to me, the Common Core’s use of the term “author purpose” is insulting. And I’m not alone. This is a complaint I frequently hear from fellow nonfiction writers.

And yet it’s true that within nonfiction, there are different kinds, or styles, of writing. An expository writing style is quite different from a narrative writing style. (Although some people recognize a distinct persuasive writing style, I do not. In my experience as a reader and a writer, a persuasive/opinion text has either a expository writing style or an narrative writing style.)

An expository writing style describes, explains, or informs, while  a narrative writing style tells a story or conveys an experience. I’ll take a close look at these two writing styles after Thanksgiving.

Stay tuned.


  1. Oh, Melissa, this is a post for my heart and soul. I am working w/a 5th grade class and we are writing "for real." I am covering author's purpose sooner or later w/this Project Based Learning "project," and have CC's reasons for writing.I may use this if that's OK. We are writing our own NF bios and I am a former school librarian at this school. Btw, I met you at AASL, too, and heard one of your sessions. Kids, teachers, readers are all lucky to have you and your books, Melissa.

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Kathy. Please do feel free to use it with your students.