What Are the Different Types of Written Discourse?

G. Wiesen

There are many forms of written discourse, though they can typically be divided into four basic categories that cover most pieces of writing. Expository writing is a piece that is written to explain something or provide information about an issue, while descriptive writing presents a description of a particular thing through sensual language. Narrative discourse is typically a written work that tells a story, often with a basic structure that includes a beginning, a middle, and an end. An argumentative written discourse, on the other hand, is one that is meant to persuade someone with a particular idea or to argue a certain point of view.

Narrative discourse is usually a written piece that tells a story.
Narrative discourse is usually a written piece that tells a story.

Most forms of written discourse are presented in a prose style, though poetry can be used effectively in some situations. One of the most common forms of discourse is expository writing, which presents information about an issue. An essay written as a comparison and contrast between two different things, for example, is typically a piece of expository written discourse. These works do not argue that one thing is better than another, but simply provide information about them.

Michael Drayton was well known for his descriptive poetry.
Michael Drayton was well known for his descriptive poetry.

Descriptive writing is also quite common and, as the name suggests, describes a particular item, scene, or event. This type often uses sensual language that appeals to a reader’s perceptions, such as smell and sight. A writer using this form of discourse typically tries to paint a mental image for a reader that allows him or her to more closely connect to what is described.

Narrative written discourse typically refers to a piece of work that is created as a story. These works often have a fairly well established structure to them, which presents information and events as they happen through one of several different perspectives. Various characters are often included in this type of written discourse, and events commonly unfold to a satisfactory conclusion. Such works can be fictional or non-fictional, which means they are either invented works or narratives with a basis in real events and people.

There is also a form of written discourse often referred to as “argumentative,” which is used by a writer to attempt to argue a point. Political propaganda and literature is often written in this type of form to present an argument to a reader in order to make him or her think differently. Persuasive works are frequently written in a similar way, though they may be less clearly confrontational in nature and instead present a subtler argument. These types of written works are often created by a writer to persuade the reader into a certain mode of thinking, usually through the presentation of information from a particular perspective.

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Discussion Comments


If you've ever spent ten minutes on a social media site, you get very well acquainted with "argumentative" discourse in a hurry. It seems that's all some people do. But it does illustrate the genre very well.

Sadly, I think social media sites, texting and the like have truly damaged written discourse. Or perhaps, it's just another variation on it. Still, I've noticed a real difference in people's ability to write clearly since the advent of textese.

I'm just an English major, though, and I'm a little protective of my mother tongue and a whole lot suspicious of those who try to subvert good, standard usage.

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