Locating Information in a Factual Text

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

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

In this lesson we explore the basics and the some useful techniques to finding information in a factual text. Additionally, we examine an example to aid application of the principles discussed.

Info in Factual Texts

Let's face it: factual, non-fiction writing can be boring. For many people, it's not easy to trawl through pages of text full of facts and figures, even if one knows that info is important.

But finding this information and absorbing it is incredibly important to success in virtually all areas in both school and the workplace. This includes standardized testing, especially the ICAS English - Paper F exam.

In this lesson we will explore how to find info in factual texts, a couple techniques for preparing yourself to find relevant info quickly, and tackle an example.

Finding Info

Have you ever written a five-paragraph paper? If you've made it this far, you've probably got a few under your belt. The typical five-paragraph paper, as you know, has an introduction (likely including a thesis statement or two), a few body paragraphs with the majority of your supporting evidence/information, and a conclusion.

It may come as a surprise that this formulaic paper mimics the way most paragraphs are written in factual texts. Indeed, most paragraphs begin with a topic sentence or two explaining to you the theme or point of the whole paragraph. The following sentences then list the information that supports the statement made at the beginning of the paragragh--just like the supporting bodies in your familiar five-paragraph paper! The last sentence usually connects the info from the beginning of the paragraph to the next one, or prepares the paragraph transition.

Not all paragraphs are like this, of course, but many are. Knowing this, it can be easy to find the real 'nuts and bolts' information you are after in a factual text. If all you're after is the info presented in the text, you can disregard the topic and transition sentences. These are used to either prove the point of the original author or to enhance the writing rhetorically. Instead go right to the middle of paragraph and look for facts, figures, or keywords (if you know what type of information you are looking for). This can get you quickly to the info within a factual text without worrying about the story the author is trying to present.

Test Techniques

In standardized tests, like the ICAS English - Paper F exam, this knowledge can be incredibly useful, especially when confronted with a long passage of information with which you are not very familiar. Don't get caught up in the narrative being told; since you are just reading a passage of this factual text, it likely doesn't matter to you anyway. Instead, hone in on the info present in the text which may be useful when answering the test questions. When approaching passage questions on a standardized test, there are a couple techniques we can use to help us find the information we need quickly.

Read the Questions First

Reading the questions before the passage can help you both recognize the info you need before you see it and cut down on reading time. After all, once you've read enough of the passage to answer the question properly, there's no point in reading further. This can save you some precious time in a timed test.

Organize the Passage

Numbering the sentences, numbering the paragraphs (if it's a long passage), or finding some other way to quickly organize the passage before reading it can help when you need to refer back to passage when answering the questions. After all, reading a question and thinking 'I remember that information from line 12!' is a lot more useful than thinking 'I remember that from…somewhere.' It can save you time, and help you organize the passage before you've even read it.

Circle Names & Numbers

Like we discussed above, a lot of the information comes by way of the boring stuff: numbers, people, and long names of important things that require a definition. Quickly scanning the passage for these and circling them can help give you signposts as you read of information that might be important later.


Now that you understand where to find information and have some tricks to help you, let's try an example. The following passage and questions are short, but the above principles and tricks can still be applied.

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