An ELT Glossary : Text Types (2)

This entry deals with text type in terms of division into descriptive, narrative, expository, directive and argumentative text types. For an entry dealing with text types used in ELT - simplified, authentic and lexically enhanced texts - see Text Types (1)

Texts can be divided into five basic types, each with a different purpose and different organisational and linguistic features : 

1. Descriptive text 

Descriptive text literally describes what people, places etc are like. The language used appeals to the readers senses (creating a mental picture what things look, feel, smell, taste, sound like) and its main features are :
it would be found in genres such as travel guides, and novels.

Example : Brooks, T. (2011) The Measure of the Magic, Random House 
Humming tunelessly, the ragpicker walked the barren empty wasteland in the aftermath of a rainstorm. The skies were still dark with clouds and the earth was sodden and slick with surface water... 

2. Narrative Text

Narrative text recounts events and is typical of fiction, anecdotes, news articles etc. The typical structure of a narrative is :
  • A structure which typically divides into : a) Setting (introduction of characters, places and other background details); b) Complication (a problem faced by the characters); c) Resolution - what happens in the end 
while common linguistic features  include :
  • The use of past verb forms - past simple, continuous and perfect (though see also the use of the "historic" present in narrative genres such as anecdotes). 
  • Dynamic verbs describing actions.
  • Time adverbials and sequencers to show the chronological relationship of the events. 
  • The use of both direct and indirect speech - predominantly direct speech in some narrative genres, such as novels, and a mix of both in others such as news articles.
Examples : Both from Mankell, H. (2000) The Fifth Woman, Vintage

a) Nyberg remained out on the jetty.. The forensic technicians had just arrived. Wallander went over to Höglund.She was standing with Chief Holgersson. The others followed. Finally they were all assembled. The man who had discovered the sack was sitting nearby.

b) "I have to work," he replied. "But you're right, I am tired."
Then there was a moment of sadness. They talked about his father, her  grandfather. They said goodbye, and he watched her vanish through the glass doors that slid open and closed behind her.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

3. Expository text 

Expository text is factual in content and aims to provide information on a specific topic. Examples include textbooks, glossaries (like this one!), and articles in professional journals - eg English Language Teaching Journal - and popular publications such as National Geographic or  Scientific American. Typical features include :

  • Layout - use of headings and subheadings; connected text divided into fairly long paragraphs; inclusion of visual information - diagrams, graphs, tables, photographs etc; provision of an index in books.
  • Citations and references to the work of other authors and researchers.
  • Lexis, often including technical terminology, related to the specific topic being discussed
  • A high proportion of stative verbs - eg include above.
  • Impersonal style, using eg passive verbs, avoiding reference to the writer etc. 

Examples : This article is itself an example of expository text, while the following comes from McKenna, E (1987) Psychology in Business Lawence Erlbaum Associates Ltd 

Social control
In social control the influence is exercised from above on a vertical basis, rather than on a horizontal basis as in social comparison. Experiments on obedience to authority, such as the famous study by Millgram, have shown that a significant number of people are prepared to inflict pain on others because an authority figure instructs them to do so.

4. Procedural (or Directive)

Procedural text explains "how to" do something - ie it details the steps in a procedure. A typical examples of a genre using procedural text would be a recipe or entry in a DIY manual. It may start with a list of  materials and/or tools needed, and the the steps would most likely be divided into numbered points or bullet points. Other typical features include :

  • the use of the imperative and/or the simple present or modal verbs with the second person pronoun you
  • adverbs of manner to modify those verbs.
  • a high proportion of lexis in the specific lexical field of the topic
  • time adverbials, including adverbial clauses
  • sequencing expressions

For an example of a recipe see here , and for an example of a procedural text from a gardening website explaining how to take dahlia cuttings, see here

5. Persuasive (or Argumentative)

Persuasive text covers a wide range of genres from advertisements to political speeches. common features include :

  • the use of vocabulary with emotional connotations - positive to "sell" the writer/speaker's product or idea, and negative to describe any opposing ideas.
  • Rhetorical devices such as repetition, tricolons, parallel syntax and metaphor
For examples, see eg Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech   

NB : Text types should not be confused with genre types. Few genres use one text type only. For example :

  • An article in a gardening magazine may contain features of both expository text (factual information on a plant) and procedural texts (advice on how to grow it)
  • Fictional genres - novels, short stories, fairytales etc - will combine features of both narrative text (what happened) and descriptive text (what places, people etc looked like).
  • History textbooks will combine features of narrative texts (the events), and expository texts (other factual information such as who was involved, the reasons for the event etc)
  • Advertisements will often include a large amount of descriptive text, focusing on the advantages of the product, to achieve their main purpose, which is persuasive. 
  • Business reports may combine elements of narrative texts (eg what has happened to sales in the recent past) with elements of persuasive text eg when passing to the recommendations being made. 

Further Reading

Jones, R.H. Discourse analysis, Routledge