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Analysing non fiction

Responding to a non-fiction text

Responding to a non-fiction text

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Summary

Responding to a non-fiction text

​​In a nutshell

It is time to put everything you have learnt about analysing non-fiction texts together. With your annotation complete, it is necessary to carefully consider the type of question, plan your answer and follow some kind of structure for your introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. In this summary, you will learn how to respond to a text and how to structure your response. 



Question types

"How" questions

Most of the time, a non-fiction analysis question is going to ask you how a certain effect/impression is created, or how effective a named technique is. This relates to the text's purpose. If its purpose is to persuade, the question might ask you how effectively the author persuades the reader, so think about methods specific to that purpose such as persuasive techniques. Similarly, a text whose purpose is to entertain might prompt you to look for any amusing or ironic language which effectively holds the reader's attention, or literary devices like alliteration or rule of three.


Agree/disagree questions

In this style of question, you are given a statement about a specific technique or purpose and asked to what extent you agree/disagree with it. You do not have to come down hard on one side or the other – feel free to nuance the answer, for example by highlighting instances where the author is effective as well as those instances that don't succeed in their aim.


Example question

How effectively does Margaret Smith persuade the reader that turning the nature reserve into a car park is a bad idea?



Planning your answer

Take the most pertinent points from your annotation and the points that most closely answer the question. Looking back at the previous example, it is a good idea to group together certain techniques, as they are likely to be used for creating the same effect, and there is strength in numbers. Make a brief, back-of-the-envelope, bullet-pointed plan for your answers.


Example plan
  • Point – Margaret Smith effectively uses contrast along with persuasive techniques to convince reader that proposal is bad idea
  • Development – "beautiful, bustling, blossoming" contrast with "grotty, infrequent, unreliable". Rule of 3 in both cases but contrasted tones. Alliteration of "b" plosive sound to grab reader's attention



Introduction

A successful introduction should take on a "tell me what you're going to tell me" structure. You should make it clear immediately which direction you will take your response. Answer the question directly – don't just rephrase it. If you can be succinct, summarise what your main points or areas of focus will be. 


Example introduction

Margaret Smith is largely successful in writing to persuade. She effectively uses literary devices, and contrast in tone in particular, to appeal to the Mayor personally. Margaret Smith also effectively uses structural techniques, such as pacing and paragraph length, to further emphasise her reasoning. This analysis will evaluate how effective the letter is in convincing the reader.



Body paragraphs

The paragraphs in the "body" of the text are those where all of your points are made. Typically, a "one paragraph, one point" structure should be used, though there is always an opportunity to include some secondary points in the same paragraph, particularly when underlining a comparison or contrast between two points.


P.E.E.L. structure

Recall that P.E.E.L. is one of the many frameworks you could use to structure your body paragraphs. Here it is reprinted for your reference:

Point
First, make your point. You should lead with an effect that the text has on the reader. Don't mention literary devices just yet.
Evidence
Next, give evidence for your point in the form of a quotation. This can be a whole sentence or perhaps just a simple word or phrase. 
Explanation
Now it's time to mention the device used. Explain how the example you have chosen supports the point.
Link to the question
Finally, wrap up your paragraph by linking it back to the question. If it's a good point, you should be able to directly answer the question. Think of it as a "mini-conclusion" at the end of your paragraph.


Connectives

The coherence and cohesion of your paragraphs (i.e. how they flow) is important so that the reader can follow along easily. 

Ordering
Firstly
Secondly
Finally
Giving examples/evidence
For example
For instance
Such as
This is shown by
[Author] demonstrates
Making comparisons
In addition
Additionally
Moreover
Similarly
Making contrasts
On the one hand / on the other hand
In contrast
However
Alternatively
Linking to question
Therefore
This proves
This further supports
In short


Example body paragraph

Firstly, Margaret Smith is effective in making the reader feel as though the razing of the nature reserve and the building of a car park is a bad idea. This is shown through the use of rule of three as in "beautiful, bustling, blossoming" about the park, compared to the "grotty, infrequent, unreliable" status of the current park and ride scheme. This contrast helps to underline both the severe lack of provision in Brambleby and the need to keep the nature reserve due to its "blossoming" nature. Furthermore, the alliteration in "beautiful, bustling, blossoming" contains a sudden "B" plosive sound, catching the reader's attention. These devices used together show just how "ludicrous" an idea the scheme is, and Smith is therefore highly effective at convincing the reader of her viewpoint.



Conclusion

Your conclusion should briefly sum up the points you have made into one cohesive position or statement that directly answers the question. No new points should be made in a conclusion. Think about how well the author has achieved their purpose. What overall effect has the author's use of language/structure had on the reader?


Example conclusion

In conclusion, it has been shown that Margaret Smith's letter is largely persuasive. She shows that, while she has approved of some of the Mayor's actions in the past, her aversion to this new plan is strong, and this is shown through the structural technique of contrast and through numerous rhetorical devices. Other structural techniques, such as paragraph length and pacing, further highlight the immediacy of her disapproval. Finally, the clear "problem and solution" structure, as well as Smith's ironic manipulation of the traditional letter structure, show that she is trying to find solutions to the problems the car park is supposed to solve, while emphasising her bewilderment that the plans were approved of in the first place.


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Exercises

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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

How do you structure a PEEL paragraph?

How do you link back to a topic sentence?

What does respond to a text mean?

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