Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.
How do authors communicate information? Without a few helpful techniques, nonfiction writing could be as overwhelming and monotonous as a phone book or the list of classified ads at the end of a newspaper - boring!
First things first. What is informational text? An informational text is a nonfiction text that's meant to inform, explain, or teach the reader about something. In school, you use many different types of informational texts, including the following:
- journals or other publications
Authors of informational texts use a number of different organizational features and structures to help you better understand what you're about to read. Let's take a look at those now.
Organizational features are ways for an author to break up a text so information is easier to find and read. One of the most common organizational features found in an informational text is the heading. Headings appear at the top of major sections and give the reader an idea of what to expect. If you look at the top of your video viewer, you'll see that the section you're watching has the heading ''Organizational Features.'' As you can see, the heading tells you exactly what the information in the section is about!
Underneath headings, you may also find subheadings that give you clues about parts of the larger section. Both headings and subheadings are usually indicated by a different style or font than the rest of the text. These differences may be from a different font size, or if the text is bold, underlined, or italicized. Bold, underlined, or italicized fonts may also be used to highlight key words, phrases, or quotes for the reader.
In addition to organizational features, authors can also organize the information using different text structures. Informational texts usually use one of five different text structures:
In many instances, you'll find that informational texts use more than one type of text structure at the same time. Let's go over these structures in more detail.
Compare-contrast text structure highlights the similarities and differences between two or more things. Authors can use this structure to compare two or more things in a single paragraph. They can also dedicate entire paragraphs and even sections to a single point of comparison. For example, a literature essay might compare and contrast plot developments in Shakespeare's Hamlet to that of the movie The Lion King. Both have a proud king killed by accident (supposedly) by the evil brother, and after some time the prince returns to reveal the truth after having ghostly visions.
Sequential text structure is used to organize information chronologically, with chronologically meaning in the order that events happened. It can also be used to explain steps in a process. Sequential text structure is especially helpful in social studies and science. Imagine learning about historical events like the conquest of America or reading steps in a scientific experiment out of order. That would be very confusing!
Cause-effect text structure shows the relationship between an event or action and the events that happened after it. To determine if a structure is cause-effect, it has to meet two criteria:
- The causal event has to happen before the effect event.
- The effect event could not have happened without the causal event.
This structure is often seen in expository or persuasive writing. For example, an article might outline the transmission of the HIV virus, and the effects of its spread in a region. Or it could be to explain a set of rules, like forbidding cell phone use in class because they distract the students, who then get docked points for participation and usually don't understand the material because of their lack of focus.
Descriptive text structure focuses on explaining or discussing a specific topic. Authors often use descriptive text structure along with another type of text structure. For example, descriptive structure might be used to explain the people or events in a sequential text structure. Like describing the setting of Rome, the dress, and the overall roles of the people in discussing the events of Julius Caesar.
Problem-solution text structure is pretty self-explanatory! This structure explains a problem or an issue and then describes various ways to go about fixing that problem. For example, a climatology journal might describe the nature of climate change, then outline possible ways to curb it.
All right, let's take a moment to review what we've learned about organizational features in an informational text, which we learned is a nonfiction text that's meant to inform, explain, or teach the reader about something. Authors use various organizational features, which are ways for an author to break up a text so information is easier to find and read, as well as text structures, to make information more accessible to the reader. Organizational features include headings and subheadings that explain to the reader about what they're about to read, with headings being at the top and subheadings being beneath the headings. Both headings and subheadings are indicated by different fonts than the rest of the text.
Bold, italicized, and underlined text is also used to highlight certain information for the reader. Authors also use different text structures to organize their information. Common text structures include:
- compare-contrast, which highlights the similarities and differences between two or more things
- sequential, which is used to organize information chronologically (with chronologically meaning in the order that events happened)
- cause-effect, which shows the relationship between an event or action and the events that happened after it
- descriptive, which focuses on explaining or discussing a specific topic
- problem-solution, which explains a problem or an issue and then describes various ways to go about fixing that problem
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