"If uncovering the truth is the greatest challenge of nonfiction writing, it is also the greatest reward." -Candice Millard
Non-fiction texts provide the reader with information that is untouched and everything but a fallacy. Some works of writing that are not fictitious educate individuals about a famous person, occurrence or series of events in history.
Non-fiction texts have many purposes and come in various types. However, a primary objective of literary non-fiction is to relate the facts in an honest yet colourful way to intrigue bookworms and keep them coming back for more.
The GCSE English Language option enables interested pupils to analyse non-fiction texts thoroughly. The AQA exam board divides the analysing non-fiction texts topic into four sections: non-fiction text types, purpose and audience, language and structure and, last but certainly not least, responding to non-fiction texts.
All of the previously mentioned sections develop a student's understanding and set them on the correct path of becoming an expert in examining works of non-fiction.
Non-fiction Text Types
A non-fiction text can be anything that isn't fiction or made up. There is a wide variety of non-fiction works that can be observed in daily life. Some of the most common examples include advertisements, reviews, letters, diaries and blogs, newspaper articles, information leaflets or magazine articles.
The examples mentioned above are aimed at various distinct types of audiences and are usually available in a wide variety of languages.
Literary non-fiction uses writing elements that are similar to fiction with the purpose of creating a piece of writing about real-life events that are gripping and absorbing for the reader. The literary techniques of withholding information, vivid imagery and rhetorical devices can all be used to make the reading experience more enjoyable.
Some of the most well-recognised examples of literary non-fiction include feature articles, essays, travel writing, accounts of famous events and autobiographies or biographies. All of these examples are written with the purpose of educating and entertaining readers at the same time.
Students examining this section from the GCSE English Language subject, dig further into the following examples of non-fiction texts:
- Biography: writing that is based on someone's life and read by those who are interested. If the person of interest decides to write about their own life story, it becomes an autobiography. An autobiography is also commonly known as a memoir. Extraordinary experiences of famous or everyday people are included in biographies to capture the reader's attention. Examples of must-read biographies include The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson,
- Letter: printed on paper for many audiences and various purposes such as an informal letter to stay in touch with friends or family, a formal letter that can be written to express disappoint or provide information and structured to show that text is directed to someone. Open letters are usually addressed to an individual in particular, but is published in a public forum such as a newspaper,
- Review: this can be a quick passage that gives an opinion about a restaurant, concert, album, film or book. Critics are often paid to write reviews for a living. Reviews must inform, describe information, entertain, analyse and advise the reader. The audience of those reading reviews can be specific or general depending on the interest of the reader,
- Newspaper Articles: news reports, featured articles and editorials, columns or opinion pieces are all examples of newspaper articles that are suitable examples of non-fiction texts. News reports are featured in the front of a newspaper and tell the reader what good news events are going on in the world. Feature articles explore issues raised by news stories in more depth. Editorials and opinion pieces are written by well-known columnists who have the purpose of informing or entertaining their audience using engaging themes that can be persuasive or narrative,
- Blogs: usually entirely personal and written from the author's point of view. The language is creative, and the tone can be either informal or formal depending on how the writer wishes to organise their thoughts. Blogs are often used by non-profit organisations or massive corporations to communicate informally with their audience. Since they are regular, they respond to current events of interest very quickly.
The above mentioned are only a few examples of non-fiction texts that are explored in further detail. Essays, such as an expository essay or one used in supporting an argument, and travel writing are additional texts that are considered by students exploring the English Language GCSE subject that will improve their literacy skills and further their comprehension of works from the non-fiction genre.
Superprof also offers a useful guide to help students successfully analyse fiction texts.
Purpose and Audience
When analysing a non-fiction text, it is important to keep 'TAP' in mind:
- Text type,
Whether a writer is producing a text of fiction or non-fiction, they must always keep in mind their audience to affect the reader. A document can have many purposes such as entertaining, persuading, advising, analysing, arguing, describing, explaining, informing and instructing.
Besides, it is important to note, that a writer may have more than one purpose when creating a literary work.
To correctly identify the purpose of a literary text, you can look at the content, tone, structure and its language to determine if it is formal or informal.
Comparing texts is a task undergone by students examining this section of the GCSE English Language subject. The most useful reason to compare texts is to determine how each author identified the purpose of their writing.
Under the careful instruction of their educator, students compare texts that are from different periods. For example, a modern day text is compared with one that was written over 100 years ago. When two passages are linked together, pupils learn how to summarise and synthesise.
Summarising can be completed by finding three or four main points by reading an excerpt from a text. Synthesising is accomplished by comparing the differences of both texts that were written a few decades apart.
Different viewpoints, purposes, methods used to convey perspectives, context and intended audiences are all analysed from both texts to identify the differences.
Remembering the importance of quoting from both texts shows off your reading skills!
The audience is continuously considered by the author when writing a text. Whether it is an individual or a group of people, someone will respond in a way that achieves the purpose of the writing. Texts appeal to a specific audience, for example, an article about selfies will likely be intended for teenagers.
Writers are literary experts and know how to tailor their writing to an audience by adapting language, style, layout and organisation.
For regular people, who do not have university degrees in English literature, to determine the intended audience of a non-fiction text, specific details need to be carefully watched. The following are some signs of the intended audience:
- The content,
- The tone,
- The vocabulary choice,
- The use of language (is Victorian English or slang being used?),
- The use of personal pronouns,
- How the layout supports the purpose of the text.
By considering a few examples, students grasp a basic understanding for who the non-fiction text is intended.
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Language and Structure
Writers are experienced in using literary terms and language features to affect their readers deliberately. The way in which a non-fiction text is opened or ended also have a dramatic influence on the reader.
By examining powerful examples of speeches, poems and open letters, pupils analyse the use of language that was utilised to deliver the desired message.
Some of the most commonly used language features that are reviewed by students include the following:
- Nouns: that may be either concrete, abstract or proper,
- Adjectives: words that correctly describe nouns,
- Verbs: also words that describe nouns such as action words, past tense, present tense or future tense,
- Adverbs: words that modify verbs,
- Pronouns: something or someone that is the subject of the sentence. It can either be first, second or third person,
- Prepositions: words that show where something is in place or time.
Literary techniques or devices such as a simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, and repetition are often used in non-fiction texts by even the least experienced writers.
Using language terminology on assessments shows that pupils understand which features the writer is using and how they affect the reader. Language analysis framework of 'SQuID' can be used to understand better:
- S = Statement: identify the language feature that is being used,
- Qu = Quote: the next quote from the text the word or phrase you are analysing,
- I = Imply: carefully identify what the words or images imply to you,
- D = Develop: develop the analysis with a comment on the reader's response.
The language as mentioned above analysis framework is only an example. There are other ways in which students may analyse language from a specific text.
However, the 'SQuID' structure is on the GCSE English Language syllabus and comes highly recommended from the AQA exam board.
The structure of a text is how it fits together and is organised. By reviewing past exam questions, students are asked to comment on how writers structure their books to intrigue readers. Possessing a basic understanding of the terminology used for the structural features of text is invaluable.
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Some of the most commonly used structural features include openings, focus, shifts, pace, the order of events, endings, dialogue, bullets, sentence structures, and paragraph lengths.
The structure of a non-fiction text could be chronological, separated into blocks by subheadings, question and answer, problem and solution or letter structure.
Annotating, for language and structure, to extract the fundamental ideas of text to answer a question on an examination correctly is highly recommended. It is imperative to remember not to highlight all the language features you find. Annotating in a unorganised way can be incredibly distracting; therefore, it is essential to pick out word choices or literary devices that are striking.
When annotating language, think about how each word or phrase will adequately support your answer.
Annotating structure is a bit different, and readers should look for active openings, headings and subheadings, focus and focus shifts, contrast and pace, time and place, repetition and patterns, paragraph and sentence lengths and valid conclusions.
By annotating correctly and taking the time to grasp the basic concepts of language and structure, students are preparing themselves for success.
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Responding to a Non-fiction Text
When responding to a non-fiction text, there are many factors to consider to receive the best examination results and skyrocket to the top of your class. The following are necessary concepts to grasp to ensure success:
- Analysing an extract: identifying explicit and implicit information, how the author used language features, how the writer utilised structure, comparing two different texts and evaluating texts are all necessary to correctly analyse an extract from a piece of writing,
- Annotating: using coloured markers or pens to annotate different aspects or features might help you to be selective when identifying the evidence needed to answer the question,
- Understanding the question: the key to a successful answer is focusing on the question and using keywords from the question to demonstrate your understanding,
- Structuring a longer answer: longer answers are needed when you are asked to compare or evaluate one or more non-fiction texts. A longer answer should always include a brief introduction, the main body and a short conclusion,
- Using quotations and close analysis: quotes need to be short and to the point. They should not be massive chunks from your text. Make sure that excerpts are correctly copied.
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All the above are essential concepts that help pupils correctly respond to non-fiction texts.
The AQA exam board provides nervous students with a sample exam question and answer to prepare and plan studying strategies for the following examination effectively.
By studying the analysing non-fiction text topic of the GCSE English Language curriculum, students learn to grasp knowledge and love for non-fiction texts outside of the classroom that will follow them throughout their professional endeavours.
Superprof offers excellent articles about successfully comparing texts, writing well-structured works of fiction and non-fiction, and learning how to become seasoned listeners and speakers that all guide pupils through the GCSE English Language subject.
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