Categorising Formats

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent Written Word Supplement on Monday 26th January 2015


In our daily lives we’re exposed to an almost endless array of text formats. Some slot neatly into a category: they give us information or provide us with a description. Others cross boundaries, combining logical argument, emotional persuasion and vivid imagery to make their point and cast their spell on us.

One way to force your brain to really think about what type of language use is dominant in any given format is to label it in your brain, or better still, fill them into the grid we’ve provided!

So here’s your challenge: I’ve given you a list of language types below.

Your job is to decide which category they mostly belong to. Of course there’ll be some overlap but don’t stress about that.

Instead ask yourself which type of language dominates?

If the answer is…

mostly facts = information

mostly logical opinions = argument

mostly emotive manipulation = persuasion

mostly vivid imagery = description

There’ll also be some listed below that you’d need more information about before you could intelligently decide where to put them. For example, a cookery blog would fall mostly into the language of information; a company blog would be persuasive (buy our stuff!); a political blog would be argumentative and a personal diary-style blog would be descriptive.

You may also feel that some belong in two (or more) categories as they would combine elements of more than one type of language use. My advice is leave the ones you’re not sure about til the end – maybe just mark them with an asterisk so your remember to come back to them. And if a format belongs in more than one category, that’s ok too.

Right, in no particular order, as they say on the X-factor, here are the formats.

Diary entry

Election leaflet


Letter of Application


Competition entry / Nomination

Travel Guide

Book / CD / DVD blurb

Personal Ad (e.g. on a dating website)

Letter to the Editor


Campaign speech / Political speech




Personal essay

Instructions / How to video

Twitter bio

Newspaper article (opinion piece)


Memoir / biography / autobiography

Personal Statement (e.g. applying for UCAS)


Court case (case for the prosecution / case for the defence)

Satire / Parody

Travel Writing (travelogue)



Victim impact statement

Current Affairs programme (Primetime, Tonight w/V B)


News report



Academic essay / thesis

Script / Dialogue

Labels / Packaging


Short story

Blackmail letter

Online forum (e.g.

Leaflet (e.g. in doctor’s surgery)

Billboard / poster


Movie trailer



Speech / Talk

Sports Journalism

Press Release


Categories photoIf it helps, draw a grid like the one above and as you write each one into the grid, cross it off the list.

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