In this lesson, you will learn how to identify some aspects of a non-literary text, including the main idea, the author's purpose, and the intended audience.
What Is a Non-Literary Text?
Have you ever seen an advertisement on a billboard? Or read an article in a newspaper or magazine? If so, then you have read a non-literary text. Non-literary texts are texts such as advertisements, brochures, and newspaper or magazine articles and editorials. They're typically short and to the point, and they don't use a lot of figurative language like imagery and metaphor. They are also non-fiction, though there are literary examples of non-fiction as well, such as biographies.
In addition, non-literary texts usually contain facts and figures, especially articles and brochures. As you can see, there are a number of text types that fall under this category, and they can cover a wide variety of topics. However, they all share a number of qualities, including having a main idea, a purpose, and an intended audience.
Finding the Main Idea
The main idea of a text sums up the overall idea or theme, or what information the text is trying to convey. Since non-literary texts tend to be short and succinct, the main idea is usually stated early on, in the title or subheading, or in the first paragraph. For example, take a look at the title from this editorial in The Guardian:
'The Guardian view on climate change: good news - but not yet good enough.'
This very clearly sums up the main idea of the article: That what's being done to stop climate change is good, but there is more that needs to be done. If you weren't sure from the title, the subtitle confirms this:
'Eleven of the last 12 months have been the hottest on record. Though progress on cutting carbon emissions is encouraging, more must be done.'
This is fairly typical of newspaper and magazine articles, and makes the main idea easy to find. In shorter non-literary texts, such as advertisements, the main idea is even more clear because there is little extra space for details. An advertisement will typically state the main idea in bold as the first text on the page.
Considering the Purpose
Another aspect of non-literary text to consider is purpose, or why the author wrote the piece. Some purposes might be to inform, to persuade, to criticize, or even to entertain. The author's wording and the information they choose to include will give you clues as to why the text was written. Let's look at The Guardian article again.
This article is full of facts and figures. For example: '. . .world governments agreed to address that by eliminating the substitute chemicals - called HFCs - potentially reducing rising temperatures by as much as 0.5C in a relatively short time.'
The article also includes opinion words like 'good news', and persuasive phrases such as 'Governments should take the simple measures needed. Altering the fuel to be less polluting, preventing outflow during shipping and harbourage, and improving monitoring to reduce emissions need not be costly and will be invaluable in the fight against marine and air pollution as well as climate change.'
The combination of these facts and persuasive phrases tell us that the article has two purposes. One is to inform the reader about the actions being taken to slow climate change. The other is to persuade the reader that these are positive measures, but that further steps still need to be taken. You can also see with this article that the main idea can give you a clue as to the author's purpose.
Determining the Intended Audience
Finally, you should also consider the intended audience of a text, or who it was written for. Newspaper articles, including The Guardian article, have a wide intended audience, since their articles are aimed at anyone who might be reading the newspaper. However, other texts have more specific audiences. For example, an article in 'Women's Health' magazine would be aimed at women.
Brochures and ads are also more targeted. Consider an ad or brochure telling about a new brand of flea and tick medication for cats. This would be specifically aimed at cat owners.
There are a few things to consider when determining intended audience. First, what is the level of language? Is it highly specialized and scientific, or is it written so that anyone could understand it? Second, what is the main idea? Who would be most interested in this topic? Third, the location or genre of the text can help as well, as you saw with the 'Women's Health' example. The level of language might also change based on where the article is located. All of these can help you figure out who the author had in mind when writing the text.
Okay, let's take a moment where we review what we've learned. Examples of non-literary text include newspaper and magazine articles, brochures, and advertisements. They're short and to the point, and often contain facts and figures and little figurative language.
When finding the main idea of the text, which sums up the overall idea or theme, or what information the text is trying to convey, you can usually look in the title or subtitle. Since the text is short, it will be stated early on. The main idea will tell you the overall theme of the text, or what it's about. The main idea can also tell you about the author's purpose, as it did in The Guardian article that we looked at earlier in the lesson.
The purpose is why the author is writing it, such as to inform, to persuade, or to criticize. Word choice and what details are included can give you clues when determining this. Finally, intended audience, or who the article is written for, is another aspect to consider. The language level, location of the text, and main idea can all help you determine who the author had in mind when writing the article.