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Organizational Features of Expository Texts

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Reading an expository text can seem like an intimidating ordeal. Read this lesson to find out how to use specific features of expository text to help you understand the material.

Expository Texts

Most people read expository text every day. This type of writing includes any text with the purpose to explain, describe, or give information on a subject or topic. Newspapers, textbooks, magazines, encyclopedias, both in the physical and online world, all contain different forms of expository text.

In order to become a proficient reader of expository writing, you must be able to use the organizational features, or the characteristics of the text arrangement common to this type of writing. This lesson describes the purpose of and how best to use each type of organizational feature.

Table of Contents

The first organizational feature is the table of contents, which is a list of chapters or sections that the text contains provided in order of appearance. This is a useful feature because not only does it show how the text is arranged, but it also includes the page numbers for each chapter or section. Some more detailed table of contents might even show the units each chapter is separated into or the location of other content like pictures and graphs.

So how do you use the table of contents? Imagine you are doing a project for a science class and you need information on how flowers reproduce. Looking through the table of contents, you might see that plant biology is covered in chapter 3. Furthermore, you might be able to find that reproduction specifically, is covered in the second section of that chapter. You can then read that section to find the information you need.

Headers and Subtitles

Most expository texts also have headers and subtitles that occur beneath the titles of the larger chapters or sections. These smaller titles fall under the main topic of the chapter or unit and give an idea of what the smaller section is about.

For example, let's return to the science textbook. You have found the section titled 'Plant Reproduction', but it's 20 pages long and includes every type of plant! How do you find information just on flowers? Look for the headers or subtitles to locate a smaller section that details only flower reproduction. Headers and subtitles can be very helpful when browsing any type of expository text for specific information.

Captions

Another organizational feature in expository texts is the caption, which is the title or brief explanation occurring beneath a picture, image, graph, or other illustration. Captions are very important when using pictures and images for understanding or finding information.

For instance, say you have now found the section on flower reproduction. Most likely there will be an image of a cross-section of a flower, labeling the important parts involved in reproduction like the pistil and the stamen. Reading the caption will explain that the image is showing where these reproductive organs are in flowers.

Footnotes and Endnotes

The fourth feature involves footnotes and endnotes. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page and include short clarifications for specific terms or phrases. Each footnote corresponds to some part of the article and is labeled with a number or symbol to show this relationship.

Say you are reading that article about flower reproduction and come across the phrase agent of cross-pollination with a small 1 appearing after it. This leads you to the bottom of the page, where there will be another small 1 with the clarifying footnote that wind and bees are examples of agents of cross-pollination because they transfer pollen.

Endnotes are the same as footnotes, but with one small difference: they occur at the end of the whole chapter or section. Endnotes might include the sources for the article or other important clarifications.

Be sure to reference the footnotes and endnotes when they appear in order to get further explanation of unfamiliar terms and phrases.

Glossary

The next organizational feature is extremely useful. The glossary for any expository text is a short dictionary including all the important terms in the whole text. All the vocabulary words that are in bold will appear in the back of the book in the glossary. Additionally, the words are listed in alphabetical order for easy reference.

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