Identifying the Structure of a Text

Lesson Transcript
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're going to spend some time learning how to identify the structure of a text. We'll identify some of the primary structures found in both fiction and nonfiction texts.

Text Structure

You look down at your English assignment and groan. You are completely baffled. Your teacher told you to pick out three books, at least one of which is fiction, and identify their structures. Right now, you don't even know where to start. Never fear! By the time you get to the end of this lesson, you'll have all the tools you need to complete your assignment, and who knows, you might even find it relatively fun. Let's start by defining a few terms.

First, the structure of a text is simply how it's organized. Writers make deliberate decisions about how to order and present their information and ideas. To analyze a text's structure, you need to think critically about those decisions and try to discover the organizational plan the writer is using.

Second, we need to distinguish between fiction and nonfiction. A work of fiction comes directly from the author's imagination. Fiction books include fantasies like the Harry Potter series, mysteries like those written by Agatha Christie, and other novels and short stories. Nonfiction, on the other hand, deals with facts, people, and events from the real world. History books, biographies, science texts, and self-help books are examples of nonfiction. Fiction and nonfiction texts feature different kinds of structures, so that's what we'll talk about next.

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  • 0:04 Text Structure
  • 1:20 Fiction Structure
  • 2:36 Nonfiction Structure
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Fiction Structure

The structure of a work of fiction includes four basic elements:

  1. The plot, or story line, which is the sequence of events in a story
  2. The characters, or the actors in a story
  3. The setting, or the place or places of action
  4. The conflict, or the primary problem of a story

Think about one of your favorite stories, perhaps Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and let's analyze its structure. The novel's plot goes something like this: Harry discovers he is a wizard, and a very special one at that. He enters the Wizarding World and has all sorts of interesting adventures as he adapts and learns how to use his magic. Along the way, he runs right into a mystery. Someone is trying to steal the powerful Sorcerer's Stone, and he and his friends have to figure out who before it's too late.

In terms of characters, we meet and get to know Harry Potter and his best friends, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. We also follow the stories of other characters, like Dumbledore, Hagrid, Draco Malfoy, and Neville Longbottom. The story's action takes place mostly at the wizarding school Hogwarts, but we also see secondary settings, like the Dursley home and Diagon Alley. The story's primary conflict, we discover as we read, is the battle between good and evil, between Harry and the dark wizard Voldemort.

Nonfiction Structure

Now let's turn our attention to nonfiction texts. These are a bit different because they're written primarily to convey information or interpretations of information. Authors choose from various structures according to their purposes. Let's look at five common structures or organizational patterns:

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