Tips for Reading Nonfiction

Need help reading the websites, speeches, and articles featured on this site?
Use these core strategies to tackle even the most complex informational texts.

Analyze Purpose and Perspective

As you may know, an author’s purpose is his or her reason for writing. There are many different purposes an author might have for writing: to inform or explain, to persuade, to entertain, or to express thoughts and feelings. Perspective is the lens through which a writer views a topic. That lens is colored by the writer’s values, beliefs, and experiences and can influence readers’ perceptions of the topic.

Analyzing purpose and perspective can help you better understand where the writer of any informational text is coming from. It can also help you determine how a writer might want you to react to his or her ideas. Use these strategies to help you analyze an author’s purpose and perspective:

  • Identify the basics. Notice the title of the text, the text type, the subject, and the intended audience. These elements can give clues to the author’s purpose. For instance, while reading the news online, suppose you come across an editorial titled “Why Teens Need More Sleep.” What might you infer about the author’s purpose?
  • Examine other clues to the purpose. If there are many facts and statistics, the author’s purpose may be to inform. Statements of opinion, appeals to emotion, and calls to action typically indicate the author’s purpose is to persuade. If the writing includes descriptions of intriguing conflicts or humorous details, then the author’s primary purpose might be to entertain. And if you encounter observations or statements that reveal the writer’s feelings, then the primary purpose is probably to express thoughts.
  • Look for direct statements that reveal perspective. Sometimes, a writer will make direct statements that reveal his or her opinions and beliefs about a topic. Consider this example from an editorial about cell-phone use and driving. Pay particular attention to the direct statement of opinion in bold, and consider how the writer’s personal experience has shaped that opinion.

    “According to an eye-opening recent report, a staggering 70 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 admitted to talking on their cell phones while driving in the last 30 days. Even worse, 30 percent admitted to texting while driving. As a car-accident victim of another driver’s alarming distraction, I urge you to realize that more must be done to enforce the laws that many states have now put into place. And time is of the essence. People’s lives depend on it.”

  • Examine language and tone for clues to perspective. When an author’s opinion about a topic isn’t directly stated in the text, you can sometimes determine his or her opinion by looking closely at the word choices. Do you notice any words that seem to put a positive or negative spin on the topic? What does the language communicate about the writer’s attitude, or tone? In the example above, notice how the words eye-opening, staggering, and alarming reveal a sense of urgency and distress.