Informational texts are both read and written for a wide variety of functions. While the primary function of informational text is to provide information, writers often address their subject matter with different objectives. Many informational texts are straightforward presentations of facts, such as biographical details or steps to accomplish a task; however, some informational texts are subjective. For example, authors may elect to convey facts and explanations through an expository summary, a persuasive essay, or a balanced argument. A reader must bring a critical mind to these texts in order to form his or her own opinion.

In order to best address the various functions of texts, information can be presented differently, such as by varying the content, organization, and form. Young students may read informational texts that cover a range of content, including those that are scientific, historical, geographical, or social. These texts also may vary in the organization of the content conveyed. For example, historical facts may be organized chronologically, instructions or procedures sequenced step-by-step, and an argument presented logically (e.g., cause and effect, or compare and contrast).

Information can be presented in many different formats. Even informational pieces that are primarily presented via text may include a table to document facts or a picture to illustrate a description. Both print materials (e.g., manuals and newspapers) and websites present a considerable amount of information via lists, charts, graphs, and diagrams. In addition, words need not be in the form of continuous text, such as in advertisements or announcements, or in sidebars to the text that offer supplemental information such as definitions, lists, or timelines.

Webpages tend to be multimodal in the ways they present information and contain interactive, experiential features that are not possible to reproduce in a print format. Multimodal texts utilize multiple communicative modes, which are then integrated by the reader in order to extract meaning from the text.74 For example, online text presentations typically integrate the following dynamic elements for visual interest or illustration: videos and audio clips; animated graphics; pop-up windows with information that only appears by clicking, “hovering” above, or “rolling over” it; and a variety of code-based features, such as information that appears and disappears, revolves, or changes color. Print-based texts also are frequently multimodal, containing photographs, diagrams, charts, or other visual features alongside written text.75

Looking for and learning from information from the internet involves comprehension of information arranged within a complex reading environment. Effective learning when reading online, then, necessitates the integration of multiple texts, which may contain contradictory or incomplete information.76 Textual elements and attributes, such as source information, relevance to the assigned task, and relationships to other sources must be recognized and evaluated in order to integrate texts successfully.77,78,79

A fundamental component of successful internet research and comprehension is the ability to locate information that meets one’s needs. Readers need to be able to find and select the websites that will provide the target information, navigate to the relevant web pages, and follow links to new websites. Internet searches for information require the additional comprehension demands of inferring the potential usefulness of yet unseen texts (e.g., when evaluating search engine results or links). In order to begin the search for information, online readers must choose among websites to find the one most likely to contain the target information. Once on a given website or page, readers must continue to infer the relevance of the various types of information and texts presented, while ignoring a barrage of advertising. This may involve self-regulatory processes to maintain focus on the task at hand, so as not to be distracted by other interesting topics or advertising.

The informational texts used in the PIRLS assessments reflect students’ authentic experiences with reading informational text in and out of school. Typically, these passages, as well as some of the ePIRLS websites, have been written by authors who understand writing for a young audience, and are provided by the participating countries as representative of the informational materials their students read.