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.

Examine Word Choice and Tone

In any informational text, the writer chooses each word carefully. Some choices are made for the purpose of clarifying meaning, and other choices are made for style or effect. Writers can’t use spoken language to convey their attitude toward a subject, so they must rely on their choice of words and details to communicate their tone. A writer’s tone might be described as admiring, stern, cynical, condescending, impatient, or hopeful, for example.

Use these strategies to help you examine word choice and tone:

  • Analyze the details. One clue to a writer’s tone is his or her choice of details. For example, does the writer of a biographical essay include only details that reveal the subject’s flaws?
  • Examine word choice. Look closely at the writer’s choice of words or phrases. Do the words selected have positive or negative connotations, or associations? For example, a writer might describe the following event in a variety of ways: The politician explained his behavior.
    • Example 1: The politician squirmed to excuse his indiscretions.
    • Example 2: The politician calmly and rationally justified his actions.

    By looking closely at the choice of the words squirmed, excuse, and indiscretions in the first example, you can glean that the writer has a negative opinion of the politician. In the second example, however, the use of words with a positive connotation (calmly, rationally, and justified) reflects the writer’s respect for the politician.

  • Analyze the effects. Consider the cumulative impact of the writer’s choices on the meaning and tone of the text. What do the details and language suggest about the writer’s viewpoint on his or her subject? What impression of the topic do you get from reading?