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.

Trace an Argument

Whether on billboards or blogs or editorials, people love to share their opinions on pressing problems and issues. For example: Too much technology negatively affects our brains. Anyone adopting a pet should consider a shelter animal. Support the new city council proposal. How do you decide where you stand on these issues?

Formulating your own viewpoint starts with understanding, or tracing, any argument you read. Use these strategies as a guide:

  • Identify the claim. Think about what the writer wants readers to do or believe. Look for the claim, or a statement of the writer’s position, in the first or last paragraph. Sometimes, the claim is not directly stated. In that case, examine the reasons and evidence the writer provides. Ask: What do these details suggest about the writer’s viewpoint?
  • Examine the reasons. Identify the writer’s reasons, or statements that support the claim. Words and phrases like one reason, another reason, or because often signal the introduction of a reason. Strong arguments usually include more than one reason.
  • Follow the evidence. Keep track of any evidence that the writer uses to prove each reason. Evidence comes in many forms, such as facts, statistics, quotations, examples, or personal stories.
  • Look for counterarguments. Notice how the writer acknowledges and addresses opposing viewpoints. Why is the writer’s position superior to other viewpoints? Look for the answer to this question in a counterargument that provides further support for the writer’s claim.
  • Rely on transitions. To help you follow related ideas, a writer will use transitions, such as More importantly, in addition, further, and in contrast. Look for these transitions to help you understand the connections between the claim, support, and counterclaims.