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Comparing & Contrasting the Structures of Texts: Analysis, Meaning & Style

Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will compare and contrast three texts, analyzing their structures, styles, and meanings. We will see these elements fit together to serve authors' purposes and present information effectively.

Structures and Styles

You frown at the paper in your hand and sigh noisily. It's your third English assignment in a week, and you wonder what kind of torture your teacher has in store for you this time. As you read your assignment, you feel your heart sink: 'Compare and contrast the structure of three texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.' How in the world are you going to do that!?!

After a few moments of panic, you take a deep breath, sit down at your desk, and decide that the best way to start is to review what you already know about structure and style. You grab a pen and begin.

Structure, you recall, is simply the way a piece of writing is organized. Nonfiction texts usually feature one or more of five primary structures or organizational patterns:

  • Descriptive, which presents details that appeal to the senses or provides instructions about how to accomplish a task
  • Problem and solution, which presents a problem and suggests one or more solutions
  • Cause and effect, which explores the causes and effects of an event
  • Chronological, which presents a sequence of events in time
  • Compare and contrast, which considers the similarities and differences of two or more subjects

Fiction books, on the other hand, usually exhibit a structure containing the elements of plot or storyline, characters, setting, and conflict.

Style refers to the ways in which writers present their ideas and information. It includes components like word choices, sentence structure, imagery, and tone. Most texts concentrate on one or more of four common styles:

  • Narrative, which tells a story
  • Expository, which presents information about a topic in a formal way
  • Descriptive, which paints a word picture of a subject through sensory details
  • Persuasive, which attempts to convince readers to accept a point of view

Okay! Now that you've reviewed the basics, you're ready to select your texts. You've been really into the Civil War lately so you decide to stick with something you know. You turn to your bookshelf and pull out a novel about a Civil War drummer boy, an article about the causes of the Civil War, and a history book about the Battle of Gettysburg.

A Civil War Novel

Your first book, the novel about the Civil War drummer boy, is pretty easy. Its structure includes the plot or story line, in which the drummer boy, who thinks he's the biggest coward in the world, discovers that he has more courage than he ever imagined; the characters, including the drummer boy, his fellow soldiers, and the commander of their regiment; the setting, which concentrates on an army camp and battlefield; and the conflict, which is the drummer boy's internal struggle.

The book's style is primarily narrative because it tells a story, but there are also descriptive elements as the author includes many details about camp life, the personalities of the soldiers, and the experience of battle. Structure and style combine to give the book a deep meaning about the depths of emotion in an individual soldier.

An Article about the Causes of the Civil War

'This isn't so hard,' you think as you pick up your next text, the article about the causes of the Civil War. This text, you determine, has a cause and effect structure because it deals primarily with why the Civil War happened.

Its style is mostly expository as it formally presents various causes of the war, including the conflict over slavery, the issue of states' rights, and the differences between the North and South. The text is a little bit persuasive in style, too because the author clearly believes that slavery is the primary cause of the war, and he tries to get his readers to hold the same opinion. Again, structure and style combine to create meaning, in this case, a thorough exploration of the causes of the Civil War.

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