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 Supporting Details

Any idea that a writer wants to express must be supported by details. Details can include facts, definitions, quotations, or other information and examples. You can use these strategies to help you analyze supporting details:

  • Identify the central idea or ideas. In order to analyze the supporting details, you first need to determine the central ideas communicated in the text. What does the writer most want readers to understand about the topic?
  • Track the organization. Think about how the writer has organized the information he or she is presenting. Are there enough details to support each central idea, or are some ideas undeveloped? Are the details just a series of unrelated pieces of information, or are they grouped in a purposeful way?
  • Consider relevance and significance. Each detail included should relate directly to the topic and the central ideas. Are all of the details relevant to the topic? Are there any unnecessary details? The details should also be significant, or important. For example, in an article about rehabilitation programs for war veterans, the writer shouldn’t include just any information about war veterans, but rather should provide supporting details that are significant to their rehabilitation.
  • Determine appropriateness for the audience. In his or her choice of supporting details, a writer should take into account the audience’s prior knowledge of the topic. For example, an article about heart transplants would be written very differently for an audience of high-school students than for an audience of surgeons. Ask: Do the details explain things I already know? Are there any details that don’t make sense to me?