Texts are structured in different ways in different subjects, but the majority of reading that undergraduates do falls into just three categories:

  1. An argumentative/thesis structure
  2. A problem – solution structure
  3. A report structure

The purpose of an argumentative text is to persuade the reader to accept a point of view, an opinion or perhaps a new truth. In a way, a problem – solution text also presents an argument and attempts to persuade the reader that the solutions presented are workable and worth implementing. A report does not present an argument, but it may still be biased if all the facts are not presented. It is important to find out whether the facts have been taken from a credible source.

The following activities will focus on an argumentative structure.



1 The title of the research paper
2 The abstract
3 A presentation of the research problem INTRODUCTION
4 The purpose of this particular research paper
5 An overview of the writer’s position, arguments and/or scope of research
6 A review of past research relevant to this paper THE LITERATURE REVIEWN
7 A description of the methods used to carry out the research THE METHODS SECTION
8 A presentation of the research results THE RESULTS SECTION
9 An interpretation and discussion of the results THE DISCUSSION SECTION
10 A summary that ties together the research and the thesis THE CONCLUSION
11 Recommendations
12 The reference list



The extracts below have been taken from a research paper entitled Crazy about You: Reflections on the Meanings of Contemporary Teen Pop Music written in 2002 by Phillip Vannini and Scott M. Myers from Washington State University. { }

Identify in which section of the research paper each of these extracts is likely to appear and write it beside the extract. Use the 12 section names that were referred to in Task One. You don’t need to try to understand the exact content of each extract. Just look for clues that help you find the answer. Check your answers after every four questions to see whether you found these clues.

Click here to show QUESTIONS 1 - 4
Click here to show QUESTIONS 5 - 8
Click here to show QUESTIONS 9 - 12
Click here to show QUESTIONS 13 - 16


1. Purpose

People speak to be listened to. Writers also write to be listened to. Just like speaking, writing is a form of communication and people always communicate for a reason, or purpose. Being aware of the writer’s purpose for communicating a message helps you understand why the writer has chosen to mention some facts or details and not others, or perhaps why the writer has chosen to use certain words and not others. It, therefore, helps you recognise bias in a piece of writing which gives you the chance to decide whether you agree with or trust what the author says. As an undergraduate you need to become good at this particular skill.

We cannot see into an author’s head, but there are usually clues available to us that can assist us in working out what the author’s purpose is. Essentially, a text is written to achieve at least one of these three general purposes:

  1. To entertain (E)
  2. To inform (I)
  3. To persuade (P)



I This text is about an entertainer, Madonna. Its purpose is simply to inform the reader about the celebrity who earned the most money over the past year.
E This is taken from a short story whose purpose is to entertain the reader.
I This is a news report about a film festival, so it is informing the reader. However, such a text might be found in a weekly entertainment or gossip magazine, in which case its purpose could also be to entertain.
P The writer tries to persuade the reader that giving evaluation questionnaires to students right at the end of a course is not the best time to do it. The writer makes his/her point in quite an entertaining way.
P The writer seems to inform the reader in an objective way that e-cigarettes are not poisonous. However, take a closer look at the phrase “Current data do not indicate…” The writer actually puts forward an argument and tries to persuade the reader that such cigarettes are harmless. If the article was written by the company that produces these cigarettes, there is a possibility that this research could be biased, because it would not be in the company’s interest to criticise its own e-cigarette.


Important to note:

You can see from these examples that the writer may sometimes inform the reader by entertaining him/her. Note also that although a writer’s purpose may seem to be to entertain or to inform, the underlying purpose could be to persuade the reader to accept an argument.

Note that a writer may also have more than one purpose in mind when writing. Examples 4, 5 and 6 involve more than one purpose.

The underlying purpose of a text is not often stated explicitly, or directly, and so the reader may need to look for clues and think critically about the writer’s reason for writing.


Within these three general purposes for writing there are purposes that are more specific. For example, a financial expert might write in a money magazine to persuade the reader to buy shares in an investment fund or a company manager might write a report to inform an employee about her performance over the past year.


To entertain To inform To persuade

to amuse

to frighten

to arouse emotions

to appeal to imagination and fantasy

to clarify

to analyse

to explain

to report information needed for decision-making

to evaluate activities

to introduce a new area of knowledge

to give instructions

to present the results of research

to sell something

to argue for specific action to be taken

to weaken an opponent’s argument

to raise questions

to criticise

to present one’s interpretations of research results


2. Perspective

The writer’s perspective is a term that means the writer’s opinion, point of view, attitude or feelings about a particular idea, situation or topic. The vocabulary the writer chooses to use will often be a clue to the writer’s perspective. This is often referred to as the writer’s tone.


The sentences below express different attitudes or feelings about Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. Which of these tone words describe the writer’s attitude? In most cases more than one attitude is expressed.


  1. Factual, dramatic

  2. Irritated, critical

  3. Frank, reassuring

  4. Concerned, cautious

  5. Sentimental



Now let’s look at some further tone words. Learning how to identify and express the writer’s tone will help you better understand the writer’s purpose in writing. Look at the tone words below on the left. Their meanings or synonyms (words with the same meaning) are on the right. However, three of the meanings are in the wrong place. Can you reorder them and drag them into the correct place. You may need to use a dictionary for this activity.


skeptical doubtful
disapproving critical
impartial unbiased




Now let’s put everything you have learned together and look at text structure, writer’s purpose and tone in a whole text.


Abraham Maslow and the pyramid that beguiled business

The psychologist Abraham Maslow's theory of human motivation is 70 years old but continues to have a strong influence on the world of business. What is it, and is it right?

Definition of ‘to beguile’ = to fascinate or charm someone, sometimes in a deceptive or misleading way

The box above contains the title and first paragraph of the text you are going to read. By asking yourself questions about the people, the things, the pictures, the ideas, and situations mentioned in this part of the text a possible structure may already start to take shape. Write your questions in the box below. One has already been done for you.


Some Possible Answers:

You may have thought of some different questions from the ones below, but note how these questions about content help you to begin thinking about a structure for the text.


Who is Abraham Maslow?

What is ‘the pyramid’?

How did the pyramid beguile business?

What sort of deception is mentioned by the writer?

What is Maslow’s theory of motivation?

How does it influence business?

Is his theory correct or not?

1. Who Abraham Maslow is

2. A description of the pyramid/theory of motivation

3. Its influence in the business world

4. A discussion about how correct the theory is and how it has beguiled the world of business



This task has three levels of difficulty:

  1. Less challenging
  2. Quite challenging
  3. Challenging

Try level C first and if you find this task too difficult, choose either levels A or B.

Now read the full text and work out how the article is structured. It contains 8 different sections. As you read the article, click on tab A, B or C and complete the flow chart that outlines the text structure.

Reprinted with permission from BBC :

Abraham Maslow and the pyramid that beguiled business

By William Kremer and Claudia Hammond BBC World Service 31st August, 2013

  1. The psychologist Abraham Maslow's theory of human motivation is 70 years old but continues to have a strong influence on the world of business. What is it, and is it right?

  2. There is a commonly reproduced symbol which many believe holds the secret to personal fulfilment and business success. It usually takes the form of a triangle, but variants in the shape of 3D pyramids and staircases are not uncommon. It regularly appears in university psychology modules, and may pop up in other degree courses too. On management training courses it's as inevitable as biscuits and role-playing.

  3. In 1943, the US psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation, in which he said that people had five sets of needs, which come in a particular order. As each level of needs is satisfied, the desire to fulfil the next set kicks in. First, we have the basic needs for bodily functioning - fulfilled by eating, drinking and going to the toilet. Maslow also included sexual needs in this group. Then there is the desire to be safe, and secure in the knowledge that those basic needs will be fulfilled in the future too. After that comes our need for love, friendship and company. At this stage, Maslow writes, the individual "may even forget that once, when he was hungry, he sneered at love". The next stage is all about social recognition, status and respect. And the final stage, represented in the graphic as the topmost tip of the triangle, Maslow labelled with the psychologists' term "self-actualisation". It's about fulfilment - doing the thing that you were put on the planet to do. "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy," wrote Maslow. "What a man can be, he must be."

  4. While there were no pyramids or triangles in the original paper, Maslow's hierarchy of needs is now usually illustrated with the symbol. And although the paper was written as pure psychology it has found its main application in management theory. Managers use Maslow's hierarchy to identify the needs of their staff and help them feel fulfilled, whether it's by giving them a pet project, a fancy job title or flexible working arrangements so they can pursue their interests outside the workplace.

  5. In the second half of the 20th Century, bosses began to realise that employees' hopes, feelings and needs had an impact on performance. In 1960, Douglas McGregor published The Human Side of Enterprise, which contrasted traditional managerial styles with a people-centred approach inspired by Maslow. It became a best-seller.

  6. Some managers began to move away from a purely "transactional" contract with a company's staff, in which they received money in exchange for doing a job, to a complex "relational" one, where a company offered opportunities for an individual to feel fulfilled, but expected more in return. Bill O'Brien, President and CEO of Hanover Insurance, put it well in an interview published in 1990. "Our traditional organisations are designed to provide for the first three of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs," he said. "Since these are now widely available to members of industrial society our organisations do not provide significantly unique opportunities to command the loyalty and commitment of our people."

  7. According to Douglas Kenrick at Arizona State University, the appeal of Maslow's hierarchy can be explained by the fact that it reflects a pattern of growth we observe in children. "I have a child who is six years old and I noticed that when he was an infant he couldn't care less about public opinion," Kenrick says. "In kindergarten he started to worry about making friends but he didn't really care about getting respect from those people. And now he's in the first grade and you can see he's beginning to think about his friends' opinions and what status they hold him in." Kenrick also thinks the longevity of the hierarchy of needs can be explained by the pyramid which came to represent it, and which "captures a complicated idea in a very simple way".

  8. Maslow's theories have many supporters today, but critics point to dozens of counter-examples. What about the famished poet? Or the person who withdraws from society to become a hermit? Or the mountaineer who disregards safety in his determination to reach the summit? Muddying things slightly, Maslow said that for some people, needs may appear in a different order or be absent altogether. Moreover, people felt a mix of needs from different levels at any one time, but they varied in degree.

  9. There is a further problem with Maslow's work. Margie Lachman, a psychologist who works in the same office as Maslow at his old university, Brandeis in Massachusetts, admits that her predecessor offered no empirical evidence for his theory. "He wanted to have the grand theory, the grand ideas - and he wanted someone else to put it to the hardcore scientific test," she says. "It never quite materialised."

  10. However, after Maslow's death in 1970, researchers did undertake a more detailed investigation, with attitude-based surveys and field studies testing out the Hierarchy of Needs. "When you analyse them, the five needs just don't drop out," says Hodgkinson. "The actual structure of motivation doesn't fit the theory. And that led to a lot of discussion and debate, and new theories evolved as a consequence."

  11. In 1972, Clayton Alderfer whittled Maslow's five groups of needs down to three, labelled Existence, Relatedness and Growth. Although elements of a hierarchy remain, "ERG theory" held that human beings need to be satisfied in all three areas - if that's not possible then their energies are redoubled in a lower category. So for example, if it is impossible to get a promotion, an employee might talk more to colleagues and get more out of the social side of work. More sophisticated theories followed. Maslow's triangle was chopped up, flipped on its head and pulled apart into flow diagrams. Hodgkinson says that one business textbook has just been published which doesn't mention Maslow, and there is a campaign afoot to have him removed from the next editions of others.

  12. The absence of solid evidence has tarnished Maslow's status within psychology too. But as a result, Lachman says, people miss seeing that he was responsible for a major shift of focus within the discipline. "He really was ground-breaking in his thinking," Lachman says. "He was saying that you weren't acting on the basis of these uncontrollable, unconscious desires. Your behaviour was not just influenced by external rewards and reinforcement, but there were these internal needs and motivations."

  13. Unlike the psychoanalysts and behaviourists who preceded him, Maslow was not that interested in mental illness - instead of finding out what went wrong with people, he wanted to find out what could go right with them. This opened the door for later movements such as humanistic psychology and positive psychology, and the "happiness agenda" that preoccupies the current UK government.

  14. Maslow's friend, management guru Warren Bennis, believes the quality underlying all Maslow's thinking was his striking optimism about human nature and society. "Abe Maslow, a Jewish kid who really grew up poor, represented the American dream," he says. "All of his psychology really had to do with possibility, not restraints. His metaphysics were all about the possibilities of change, the possibilities of the human being to really fit into the democratic mode."


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Paragraphs Content description

Of course, your own words may be quite different from these, but note how similar your ideas are to those in the chart.




  1. The writers’ purpose in paragraph 2 is to create interest in the topic. They do this using an informal tone and by creating a sense of mystery and importance about what is to come.
  2. Factual, informal, unbiased
  3. To entertain and to inform
  4. b) The importance and influence of Maslow’s theory of human motivation is declining in the world of business and within education.
    The writers would probably not accept that Maslow’s theory is clear and simple. It is problematic. Also note the phrase “Muddying things slightly …” in paragraph 8.
  5. The authors’ main purpose in writing this article is to raise questions about a theory that has been widely accepted for a long time.


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