Identifying a Non-literary Text's Main Idea, Purpose & Audience

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  • 0:04 What Is a Non-Literary Text?
  • 0:57 Finding the Main Idea
  • 2:05 Purpose
  • 3:29 Intended Audience
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

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.

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