Types of Functional Text


Functional text is everywhere you look. It is an inescapable presence in our daily lives. As implied by its name, functional text is text that serves a specific, concrete function -- and one that is instructional or informative rather than expressive. Common examples of functional text include instructions and manuals, maps and schedules, forms, templates and advertisements.

Instructions and Manuals

  • Instructions can suggest or demand a specific action or describe a method for performing a task. A street sign that tells you not to park in a specific area is an instruction, but so is a recipe, which describes a method for cooking a particular dish. Manuals include a set of directions and best practices that concern a specific device, such as a car, a household appliance or a software program.

Maps and Schedules

  • Maps describe one or more element of space. This can include political boundaries, physical placement of footpaths, streets and highways, topographic information describing elevation and surface variation, climate concerns that include average weather patterns and time-bound predictions, and statistics concerning populations existing in specific physical areas. Schedules describe events occurring across a certain span of time. Example of schedules include calendars, which describe time as a series of subdivisions labeled according to cultural convention, and itineraries, which describe specific series of meetings labeled by time, and generic schedules that describe a continuous succession of events, including television listings and bus route guides.

Forms And Templates

  • The form is a type of functional text that combines instructions with a method for recording information. For example, a job application contains a series of blank spaces accompanied by instructions that describe how the applicant should fill those spaces. Other examples include medical history questionnaires and censuses. The template is a type of functional text that includes instructions that the user will replace with her own non-functional text. For example, each section of a business plan template includes text that describes what the aspiring entrepreneur should write in that section. Using the template involves replacing the original, functional text with the user's own ideas.

Text in Advertising

  • People are bombarded by advertising on a daily basis, and through a variety of different media. Though it may take different forms, most of the text in advertising serves a persuasive function. The great exception is fine print, which aims to annotate and inform while obscuring itself. Fine print typically qualifies the more visible, persuasive text in the hope of avoiding false advertising claims.

Functional Text and the Web

  • In "HTML Dog: The Best-Practice Guide to XHTML and CSS," designer Patrick Griffiths observes that the separation of presentation and content -- of functional text from expressive text -- has been the fundamental paradigm behind the World Wide Web Council's recommended practices for accessible design. Multiple types of functional text collide on the Web. Take, for example, a browser displaying a website that combines text-based content pertaining to a particular subject matter with a navigation bar, images and banner ads. Though the website's main content is expressive, all of its hyperlinks, tooltips, image alt attributes and advertisements qualify as functional text. And when you look under the hood at that same website by viewing its source, all CSS, HTML comments and JavaScript descriptions qualify as well. Successful design demands a solid understanding of functional text and the deft management of a website's competing functional and expressive elements.

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