How to investigate language in non-fiction texts
- A non-fiction text deals with real-life events and issues and often contains facts and information.
- Non-fiction is a broad genre that might include histories, biographies, newspaper reports, diaries, letters, information leaflets and magazine articles.
- Non-fiction writers make language choices to present their viewpoint, influence the reader and create a particular effect.
Finding the writer's viewpoint
By investigating language choices, you can think about how and why the writer could be trying to influence the reader:
- A writer may be using persuasive language to convince the reader to agree with their viewpoint in a magazine article or to encourage them to buy something in an advertisement.
- A writer might use language to amuse or entertain the reader and present a topic in a light-hearted way.
Choice of word or phrase
It’s useful to look at how a choice of a word or phrase can change the impact of a text. For example:
- ‘The coral reef has been damaged by an increase in tourism.’
‘The coral reef has been devastated by an increase in tourism.’
At first glance the two statements look similar. But the choice of the word devastated increases the impact of the second example, and focuses the reader's attention on the seriousness of the issue.
Paying close attention to individual words and phrases will help you to understand what impact a writer intends.
It’s also useful to investigate patterns in how words and phrases are used by a writer.
A writer may deliberately use lots of positive abstract nouns - like dream, love, peace, happiness - in a perfume advertisement to give the writing a sophisticated tone.
In a piece of travel writing about rock climbing, the writer may use lots of ‘ing’ verbs - like reaching, grasping, leaping - to create a strong sense of physical drama.
Try to notice when a writer does something more than once, and think about where your attention is being directed.
Choice of language techniques
The writer may use a language technique to draw attention to an important idea or point. The effect of the language technique will depend on how it is being used. For example:
- Alliteration - repeating a particular sound. For example, ‘Poppy’s prolific poops’. In this example the alliteration helps focus the reader on this phrase. This choice also gives the writing a more humorous tone.
- Imagery - carefully selecting visually descriptive language, creating images in order to have a particular effect upon the reader. For example, ‘The reef is a graveyard of coral’. This choice of metaphor creates a serious tone and seeks to give emphasis to the issue of the destruction of coral reefs by linking with the idea of death.
Or a writer may choose to include information that uses language in a particular way. For example:
- Expert comment - using facts or opinions from expert sources can add strength to an argument and help to influence a reader. ‘Marine biologists predict that the coral will die off completely in the next decade’ feels convincing because ‘marine biologists’ sound like they know what they are talking about.
- Statistics - using a numerical statistic may give writing more credibility or authority. ‘Over 90 per cent of people voted in favour of the proposal’ suggests that significant numbers of people support the proposal and may help to persuade the reader that what is being discussed is a good idea.
Investigating language will make you more aware of the different ways that texts work to influence their readers. Writers may use language choices to shock, advise, amuse, inform, persuade - or a mixture of these. Seeing these techniques in action will also help you learn how to use them effectively in your own writing.
Find out how much you know in this short language quiz!
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