Genre, audience, purpose and style

To be clear about the type of writing you are aiming for, you need to identify and understand four key areas - genre, audience, purpose and style. Make these part of your planning when you start to write a non-fiction text.

Genre, audience, purpose and style - or GAPS!

With each piece of writing you will be tested on your understanding of genre, audience, purpose and style, so you need to be clear about the kind of writing you are aiming for - who exactly are you writing for and what you are trying to tell them?

For example, your text might be trying to:

  • change someone's opinion
  • encourage someone to do something in particular
  • make sure your audience knows and understands something

The examiner wants to see that you can adapt the way you write to meet different genres, audiences and purposes.

Identifying GAPS

When it comes to the writing tasks in the exam, your first step is to clearly identify:

  • the genre - what type of text should you be writing, eg a magazine article
  • the audience who will be reading your text, eg teenagers
  • the purpose of your text, eg to convince people to do more sport
  • your chosen writing style, eg informal

Make notes on these four areas and use them to help plan your writing. Show that you understand how each of these will persuade the examiner to give you marks.

Showing you understand GAPS


Genre means the form of your non-fiction text. The lists below describe a few different forms.

If your non-fiction text is a letter:

  • put your address at the top right of the paper
  • put the address of the person you are writing to at the top left of the paper
  • start with "Dear..."
  • sign "Yours sincerely," (if you know the person's name) or "Yours faithfully," (if you don't - eg if you're addressing an organisation).

If your text is a newsletter:

  • give the newsletter a bold heading
  • use all the presentational devices you think you need - eg picture boxes and captions, subheadings, boxes for quotations etc

If it is a magazine article:

  • use a heading
  • write an introductory paragraph
  • use a by-line ("by X" or "writes X")

TIP: make sure you understand what different genres look like. If in doubt, look back to Section A of the exam. Are any of the texts used there the kind of text you are writing? If so, look at the form and the presentational devices they use.

Make sure all language or presentational choices match your audience and purpose.

Acknowledging genre

The next thing you need to do is show that you know what type of text you are writing.

  • If you're writing a letter, you should include a comment such as, "I'm writing to you because..." or "...and that's why I thought I'd sit down and write you a letter."
  • If you're writing a speech, include a comment such as, "It's great to see so many of you here," and sign off, "Thanks for listening," or "Have a safe journey home."
  • If you're writing an article, think how a published article might open, eg with an appealing description such as "Think you know about teenagers?" Or it could start with a more personal point of view such as "Whenever I'm out with friends, there's always one topic of conversation that's bound to come up."

You also need to signal your purpose and audience as soon as you can: this means showing that you know who you are writing to and why.

More on GAPS


You can signal the audience you are writing for by:

  • using the right vocabulary in the headline of your newsletter (either chatty or formal language)
  • choosing a specific publication to write your magazine article in
  • using the right words and expressions throughout your writing


You can signal the purpose of your writing by:

  • explaining why you are writing your letter in the opening sentence
  • explaining what your article is about in the introductory paragraph
  • saying what your newsletter is aiming to do in a big bold headline

Sample questions - notes and answers

Sample notes

Here are some notes based on responses to two sample questions, which clearly identify the genre, audience, purpose and style appropriate to answer each question.


Write a letter to a friend, explaining why you would like him or her to join you in a visit to a place which you think is very special.


GENRELetter (of invitation)
AUDIENCEA friend (a teenager like you)
PURPOSEExplain and describe (one of your favourite places)
STYLEChatty but persuasive and detailed

Some people think it's wrong that primitive peoples and their communities are disrupted by tourists and TV crews, and that they should be left in peace. Write an article for a travel magazine which argues for or against this idea.


GENREMagazine article
AUDIENCEAdults (who make decisions about where to go on holiday)
PURPOSEArgue (for or against tourism to primitive places)
STYLEFormal and serious but personal and persuasive

A sample answer

Look at the following sample question and answer for ideas on how to write a persuasive letter.


Write a letter to the local newspaper complaining about an article critical of teenagers. Argue that teenagers simply do not have enough facilities to keep them busy.

After laying out the addresses and dates correctly, you might go on to write:

Dear Sir,

I'm writing to complain about an article in your newspaper criticising teenagers. Teenagers are not that bad; they just don't have enough to do.


This is correct, but it is not very interesting. The writer would struggle to write for the rest of the 45 minutes they have in the exam.

A better response would be to ask yourself why you would write a letter like this. The answer is probably because you read the article in the newspaper and it made you cross. The next step would be to ask yourself why it made you cross. The answer to this may be that you are a parent with a teenage son who doesn't have much to do, perhaps because the local playground was sold off. Suddenly you have a scenario and your ideas will come thick and fast. The letter can therefore begin something like this:

Dear Sir,

I was appalled to read the article in your newspaper last week criticising teenagers. As a parent of one myself, I feel personally insulted by the arrogant tone and ignorant attitude of your journalist.

My own son, for example, used to play in the local playground until two months ago when it was closed and bulldozed. All this was done just so some adults (who you might think are excellent role models) could get a nice view from their windows...


This letter now stands out. It ticks all the right boxes and, as a result, this piece of work will get a high grade:


GENRE Letter
PURPOSE Argue a point and make someone do something about it
AUDIENCE Newspaper editor and readers of the newspaper (the best letters get printed)
STYLE Formal and forceful

Remember the key points for writing non-fiction texts:

  • get the genre (form) right (eg magazine article, newsletter or letter)
  • be clear and imaginative
  • use clear and varied sentences and paragraphs
  • use the appropriate language techniques and presentational devices
  • make sure you use correct punctuation and spelling

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