The structure of a text describes how the author chooses to organize the supporting details in a passage. To identify the organizing structure of a passage, look at the order in which the author presents information and the transitions used to connect those pieces. Specific text structures are described in the table below.
Words to Look For
Cause and effect
The author describes a situation and then its effects
because, as a result, consequently, therefore, for this reason
Compare and contrast
The author explores the similarities and differences between two or more things
similarly, like, in addition, however, alternatively, unlike, but
Problem and solution
The author presents a problem and offers a solution
if…then, problem, solution, answer
The author describes a thing or process
for example, for instance, such as, to illustrate
The author lists events in the order in which they happened
first, second, next, after, before
Every author chooses text structure, words, and content with a specific purpose and intention. Reading questions generally require you to figure out what the author is trying to say and what tools they are using to send their message.
Finding the author’s purpose requires identifying the author’s main idea and intended audience: What is the author trying to accomplish by writing this text? The purpose of most text passages will fall into one of four modes: narrative, expository, technical, or persuasive.
In a narrative, the author tells the reader a story, often to illustrate a theme or idea the reader needs to consider. The author will use the characteristics of storytelling, such as chronological order, characters, and a defined setting.
In an expository passage, the author simply explains an idea or topic to the reader. The main idea will probably be a factual statement or a direct assertion of a broadly held opinion. Expository writing can come in many forms, but one essential feature is a fair and balanced representation of a topic: the author may explore one detailed aspect or a broad range of characteristics, but they intend mainly to present the details or ideas to the reader to make a decision.
Similarly, in technical writing, the author’s purpose is to explain specific processes, techniques, or equipment so the reader can use that process, technique, or equipment to obtain the desired result. In this writing, look for chronological or spatial organization, specialized vocabulary, and imperative or directive structures.
The categories of writing discussed above mostly communicate information to a reader so that the reader can take action or make a decision. In contrast, in persuasive writing, the author actively sets out to convince the reader to accept an opinion or belief.
The structure, purpose, main idea, and language of a text all converge on one target: the intended audience. An author makes decisions about every aspect of a piece of writing based on that audience, and readers can evaluate the writing by considering who the author is writing for. By considering the probable reactions of an intended audience, readers can determine many things:
The audience for a text can be identified by careful analysis of the text. First, the reader considers who most likely cares about the topic and main idea of the text: who would want or need to know about this topic? The audience may be specific (e.g., biologists who study sharks) or more general (e.g., people interested in marine life).
Next, consider the language of the text. The author tailors language to appeal to the intended audience, so the reader can determine from the language who the author is speaking to. A formal style is used in business and academic settings and can make the author seem more credible. Characteristics of a formal style include:
An informal style is used to appeal to readers in a more casual setting, such as a magazine or blog. Using an informal style may make the author seem less credible, but it can help create an emotional connection with the audience. Characteristics of informal writing include:
The tone of a passage describes the author’s attitude toward the topic. In general, the author’s tone can be described as positive, negative, or neutral. The mood is the pervasive feeling or atmosphere in a passage that provokes specific emotions in the reader. Put simply, tone is how the author feels about the topic. Mood is how the reader feels about the text.
Words That Describe Tone
Diction, or word choice, helps determine mood and tone in a passage. Many readers make the mistake using the author’s ideas alone to determine tone; a much better practice is to look at specific words and try to identify a pattern in the emotion they evoke. Does the writer choose positive words like ambitious and confident? Or does he describe those concepts with negative words like greedy and overbearing? The first writer’s tone might be described as admiring, while the more negative tone would be disapproving.
When looking at tone, it’s important to examine not just the literal definition of words. Every word has not only a literal meaning but also a connotative meaning, which relies on the common emotions and experiences an audience might associate with that word. The following words are all synonyms: dog, puppy, cur, mutt, canine, pet. Two of these words—dog and canine—are neutral words, without strong associations or emotions. Two others—pet and puppy—have positive associations. The last two—cur and mutt—have negative associations. A passage that uses one pair of these words versus another pair activates the positive or negative reactions of the audience.
To decide the connotation of a word, the reader examines whether the word conveys a positive or negative association in the mind. Adjectives are often used to influence the feelings of the reader, such as in the phrase an ambitious attempt to achieve.