Analyzing Structure in an Informational Text

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we examine several of the most common structures that an informational text might use and the different ways each structure helps an author create an argument or deliver their message.

Structure in an Informational Text

For many things, the structure is pretty important. Making sure a bridge has the correct structure, for example, is of paramount importance to the safety of motorists and pedestrians alike. Also, making sure you structure your diet properly is important to your overall health and well-being.

Similarly, the structure of an informational text is incredibly important in determining a book or essay's clarity and the strength of its argument. In this lesson, we'll discuss common structures and how to recognize the structure when analyzing a book or text.

Types of Structure

Informational texts can use a variety of structures - basically, the author adopts whichever structure he believes best gets his message or argument across to his readers. There are five common structures that we will examine here: cause and effect, compare and contrast, chronological order, problem and solution, and description.

Cause and Effect

Cause and effect structures in informational texts are relatively common. An author uses this structure when he wants to make a direct correlation between one event, idea, or action and its result. An example of a cause and effect structure would look something like this:

'The Tigers are a very bad team. Earlier this year, they had zero players voted as league All-Stars. The Warriors, on the other hand, have three All-Star players. The Warriors beat the Tigers yesterday, 119-89.'

This is a basic cause and effect structure. The causes here are that the Tigers are bad and do not have very many good players while the Warriors have some very good players. The causes led to the seemingly natural effect: the Warriors crushed the Tigers last night.

Cause and effect structure can also be reversed, where the effect is listed first, with little change to the meaning of the text. Cause and effect structure can be identified easily by noting the author's use of background information and context to lead to a predictable result - the effect.

Compare and Contrast

Authors of informational texts use the next type of organization structure, compare and contrast, to analyze the similarities and differences between two similar ideas, people, places, or things. This structure can be used within a single paragraph, or adopted as the structure of an entire text. An author will often spend one section laying out the first subject, and the next section laying out the second, followed by a third comparing and contrasting the two. This structure can also be used in one paragraph, such as in the following example:

'Even though both Stephanie and Jim are Democrats, Stephanie believes in tighter limits on gun control while Jim does not. Stephanie also wants to lower taxes in the state, while Jim wants to raise taxes.'

Even in this short passage, the author notes several ways in which Stephanie and Jim are different and how they are the same. Compare and contrast can be identified by noting keywords and noting that a passage has two subjects. Words and connecting phrases like 'although,' 'both,' 'however,' or 'as well as' are a good sign the author is about to compare and contrast two different subjects.

Chronological Order

Informational texts that are structured in chronological order relate a series of events or actions in the order in which they occurred. Chronological order is commonly used in history textbooks or in background sections in other textbooks. Chronological order structures relate events in logical sequence, helps the reader understand the manner in which events unfolded, and encourages the reader to think critically about why one event followed another.

Problem and Solution

Problem and solution structures in an informational text are used to explain situations in history or everyday life where an issue was addressed. Generally, an author will spend some time laying out exactly what the problem is before explaining how that problem was addressed and by whom, followed by the resulting solution. For example:

Devin hit his knee hard when he fell. After two weeks, he was still in a lot of pain. The next week, Devin went to the doctor. The doctor referred him to a knee specialist who did some x-rays and discovered Devin had torn some muscles in his knee. He gave Devin a prescription and scheduled Devin for physical therapy.

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