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What is a Text Feature? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Text Features Defined
  • 1:50 Directional Text Features
  • 2:30 Supplementary Text Features
  • 3:44 Visual Aid Text Features
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You think the newest computers and smart phones have more features than dusty old books? You might think again after reading this lesson, where you'll see text features defined along with a few examples of these helpful textual enhancements!

Text Features Defined

If you have a book handy, open it toward the front, and what do you find? You probably came across a title or copyright page. You may have even had the fortune of finding a table of contents. Many times, we pay these sorts of things no mind. We're used to seeing them all the time in just about every book we've encountered, so we tend to take them for granted. A few centuries ago, however, text features, or elements existing independently of a main text and intended to enhance readers' experiences with the text, would have been much appreciated.

Given a scroll's general unwieldiness, our ancient predecessors found it difficult to navigate efficiently from one part of a text to another, so text features would have been of relatively little use to them beyond a simple title. However, from around the first century A.D., people have been binding pages of various materials together (i.e. papyrus, parchment, paper) to form what we would refer to as the 'book.'

Ever since, writers have found it useful, or even necessary, to include text features like page numbers, while textual scholars and other commentators began filling margins and more pages with additional information and even images relevant to their subjects. To make things easier to discuss, we'll classify text features into three different categories: directional features, supplementary features, and visual aids. Let's take a look now at the various types of text features that belong to each category.

Directional Text Features

Like road markers or mall directories, directional text features are intended to help direct readers to specific locations in a text. These elements could be as simple as a table of contents, chapter headings, or page numbers, but other directional text features might be more involved.

For example, an index is an often exhaustive list of specific subjects and their locations in the text and usually follows the main body of the text. For instance, if you were reading a book on nuclear physics and wanted to know everywhere that 'quarks' were discussed, you could consult the book's index to find out.

Supplementary Text Features

Much like an index, supplementary text features often fall at the end. However, some, such as footnotes or sidebars, are also frequently found inserted throughout the text. Think about how a history textbook might have additional information on a particular topic outlined in a page's margin. Just as vitamins and other dietary supplements help our bodies obtain nutrients we're perhaps not getting from the food we eat, supplementary text features provide information that readers wouldn't otherwise get from the text.

Some of these features are often rather extensive in the amounts of information they supply, leading to their tendency to be found after, or otherwise separated from, the main text. Some of these larger textual supplements include glossaries, which are collections of vocabulary defined according to a particular subject. There's also the appendix, which represents additional material that's typically expository or bibliographic in nature. For instance, appendices could be used by a psychologist to list sources of research or by Tolkien to offer additional exposition on the history of hobbits.

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