Part 6: How to Analyse Prose Non-Fiction in Year 10 | Critical Writing

Students often comfortable discussing fiction texts, but come unstuck when dealing with prose non-fiction. In this Guide article, we're going to help you get to grips with analysing prose non-fiction with clear explanations of different types of texts and the practical approaches to analysing them.

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Prose non-fiction texts might sound hard to analyse, but it really isn’t! In this article, we’ll walk you through different types of non-fiction – their purpose and unique features. Then we’ll give you a guide for how to analyse prose non-fiction in Year 10.

 

What is in this article?

 

Why analyse non-fiction texts?

Non-fiction texts are texts that are based on facts and reality as opposed to imagination.

When someone says non-fiction, people assume that it is always 100% true. However, non-fiction texts are often based on opinions and unsupported facts.

Non-fiction texts may try to persuade of things without these things being true or supported by evidence.

 

Why analyse essays and speeches?

Essays are pieces of writing that focus on a particular argument, theme or subject.

Speeches also do this. However, they are spoken to an audience, instead of being read. So, speeches are much more simplified and employ different structures and features to make them more interesting.

In Year 10, you are expected to analyse prose non-fiction texts, including essays and speeches. But why?

  • This develops your critical thinking skills. You are expected to distinguish between fact and opinion. You have to decide whether the statements in the essay or speech are reliable and accurate. And you have to determine the persuasiveness of the argument when you analyse prose non-fiction texts in Year 10.
  • When we analyse essays and speeches, we learn about the way these prose non-fiction texts are written. This means that we can apply our knowledge of the structure, form and features into our own writing. This will help us create great persuasive essays and speeches in our assessments.

 

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Why not just cite them?

Citing is essentially giving credit for the ideas used in a text, instead of looking at the way the text’s form and content creates meaning.

When we analyse essays and speeches and other prose non-fiction texts, we are reverse-engineering how the composer uses the form (structure, features unique to form etc.) and content (techniques, examples, evidence, etc.) to create a compelling argument.

This requires you to look deeply into a text and take context and audience into consideration as opposed to just reading and comprehending (which is what you do when you merely cite texts).

 

Types of non-fiction texts you will engage with

In Year 10 English, you may be expected to analyse a range of prose non-fiction texts.

Here is a list of the different text types that you may come across, what they are, and how to analyse them:

 

Essays

As we’ve discussed, essays are a form of prose writing that discusses a certain topic, subject or present an argument.

however, there are many different types of essays that you may need to analyse in Year 10. Let’s see what a few of them are:

  • Argumentative essays: Tries to convince the audience to agree with the composer’s views or arguments using facts, examples and statistics. It usually discusses both sides of the argument.
  • Persuasive essays: Attempts to convince audiences to agree with the composer’s arguments. However, it does this by using ideas and opinions as opposed to facts and examples. They appeal to emotions.
  • Expository essays: This essay informs the audience about a particular topic using research, facts and statistics. However, they still have a thesis and arguments.
  • Informative essays: These are like expository essays, except they are impartial and have no thesis or argument. Think about “How to…” articles.
  • Critical essays: Critical essays analyse and evaluate a text by exploring different arguments that support a main thesis. Critical essays usually discuss the themes in the text and how they’re conveyed through textual examples. These are the types of essays you write in High School English.
  • Descriptive essays: These essays basically describe a certain subject in detail. They can be an object, emotion, event etc. They focus on the senses to create vivid imagery and descriptions of the subject.

 

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When you analyse essays, you need to look at:

  • Thesis: This is the argument or purpose of the article
  • Structure: How the argument is developed and supported
  • Literary, figurative or rhetorical techniques used to convey information or persuade
  • The reliability, accuracy or effectiveness of examples, facts or statistics used

 

Some examples of essays are:

 

Speeches

Speeches are spoken addresses that aim to convince, inform, or entertain an audience.

They have existed in society for a very, very long time – since one early human was trying to convince another to go hunting or move camp. We have records of famous speeches going back thousands of years… even dating back to around 326BC with this speech by Alexander the Great.

You may have heard of Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream, and Kevin Rudd’s Sorry Speech. These are all very well-known and widely celebrated speeches.

 

In Year 10 English, you may be expected to know how to analyse different types of speeches. Let’s have a look at a few of them:

  • Persuasive speeches: Persuasive speeches attempt to convince the audience to agree with the speaker.
  • Informative speeches: These speeches provide knowledge or information about a specific topic for the audience. There are a few different types of informative speeches. For example, a demonstrative speech attempts to show the audience how to do something, whereas a descriptive speech describes a particular subject in a lot of detail.

 

Remember, speeches might fall under the banner of prose non-fiction texts, but they have their own set of unique features you need to look for:

  • Composer’s context: The composer’s context influences what they think is important. Often, speeches reflect an aspect of the composer’s context, whether it is personal, social, historical or environmental…
  • Intended audience: The way a speech is written is determined by the intended audience. For example, legal jargon can be used when talking to an audience of lawyers and legal professionals. However, when you are speaking to an audience of high school students, you will either have to replace the words or explain what they mean for the students to understand.
  • Composer’s purpose: This is the intended message or argument of the speech. The way a speech is composed is determined by what the composer wants to tell the audience.
  • Structure: Speeches usually have an issue-solution structure or a narrative structure. That is, they begin by establishing an issue, explaining it, then providing a solution in the end or they present something as a story explaining its past, discussing its present, and outlining where it may go as a way of conveying a point, idea, or message.
  • Rhetorical techniques: These are persuasive techniques that make a speech sound more interesting, entertaining, persuasive and memorable. They are things like repetition, anaphora, rhetorical questions.
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Presentations

When you think of presentations, the first image that comes to mind is a business person in a meeting, speaking to their coworkers with a powerpoint behind their back.

This is true. However, it is important that you realise that presentations are NOT speeches.

Presentations are oral talks to smaller audiences. They are often more interactive than speeches and rely on visuals to support their message.

The purpose of a presentation is to present information and/or convince the audience to do something. Think of the sales pitch.

When you analyse a presentation, you can’t just focus on the words… you need to consider and unpack the VISUAL ELEMENTSS.

Here is a list of some features you should pay attention to:

  • Composer’s purpose: This refers to what the presentation aims to do. Does the speaker want to sell something or do they want to change procedures?
  • Intended audience: The intended audience will affect the “call to action” in a presentation.
  • Rhetorical techniques: These are techniques that make a presentation sound convincing because it makes it more interesting and memorable.
  • Visual techniques: Visual techniques refer to the ways an image convey meaning, like colour, size, shape etc. CLICK HERE to take a look at how to analyse visual images.
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TED Talks

TED Talks are short talks (less than 18 minutes) produced by TED, a non-profit organisation who aim to share ideas.

Basically, these talks cover a range of topics like technology, science, personal growth and so much more.

People listen to TED Talks because it informs them about particular subjects, learn useful life lessons, broaden their perspective and attitude and be inspired.

When analysing TED Talks, you should look out for the same techniques as speeches and presentations. However, you should also take note of the way the speaker talks:

  • Pace: Refers to the rate of speaking
  • Intonation: The stressed / accented words when speaking; rise and fall
  • Pauses: A brief stop in speech
  • Hand gestures: Refers to the movements made by the hand.

 

Obviously, you can use some of these techniques to analyse the other forms of non-fiction texts if it applies too.

CLICK HERE to watch some TED Talks.

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Vlogs

Vlogs are basically blog entries made through videos.

You may have come across things like “A Day in My Life” or “My Trip to Hawaii” on YouTube. These are vlogs.

People make vlogs to inform others of their thoughts, personal lives, food, travel or basically anything else. Think of it as a diary or journal but in video form.

When you analyse vlogs, you have to consider:

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The different features of non-fiction texts

Prose non-fiction texts aren’t the same as fictional texts. So, obviously, there are features unique to non-fiction texts that you need to look at when you are analysing it.

 

Argumentation

Argumentation – also known as the argumentation theory – looks at the way humans communicate with each other through logical reasoning.

In terms of analysing prose non-fiction texts, argumentation is the way the composer develops their argument to make it sound convincing.

The Toulmin Model of Argument recognises that good, realistic, and persuasive arguments consist of 6 components:

  • Claim: A statement acting as a thesis. The audience is expected to take it as truth.
    eg.  Schools should ban mobile phone usage in classroom.
  • Ground: These are the facts, evidence, data or any other information that supports your statement. This component includes rhetorical and persuasive devices that make the prose non-fiction text sound persuasive.
    eg. Students are lacking concentration and focus in classes. 
  • Warrant: A statement that links the claim and the ground.
    eg. Mobile phones distract students from concentrating in class. 
  • Backing: Information that doesn’t necessarily support the claim but supports the warrant.
    eg. Students can access so many different addicting apps on their phones like games and social media. 
  • Rebuttal: Brings up a counter argument where the claim doesn’t apply. These can be used anywhere in the prose non-fiction text.
    eg. However, students can use their phones to research relevant information in the classroom. But this still has the potential to distract students. 
  • Qualifier: Terms that signify the degree of the claim like mostly, always, sometimes, definitely, possibly etc.
    eg. This ban must be applied to schools as soon as possible. 

The claim, ground and warrant are required to create a persuasive argument. However backing, rebuttal and qualifier are not always needed.

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When you analyse prose non-fiction texts in Year 10, you should look out for these points to evaluate the text. It will help you bring your analysis to the next level because you are looking at the effectiveness of the text and how it’s written.

 

Structure

When we analyse prose non-fiction texts, it is easy to overlook the structure of the text.

However, it is crucial that you don’t do this.

The structure of any text helps the composer develop their message and convey its importance.

When you look at prose non-fiction texts, you will find that they always have a logical progression of arguments. This structure creates a persuasive argument.

  1. Introduces issue/problem
  2. Expands on the issues with a series of arguments
  3. Provides a solution – call to action

 

You might think that prose non-fiction texts like biographies or autobiographies are just a series of life experiences. However, they are all based on a narrative structure. This makes the text more interesting and captivating to read compared to a series of experiences and facts. Usually, they follow the structure:

  • Establishes a status quo
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Falling action
  • Resolution

 

These are just some structures that are used in prose non-fiction texts. You should make yourself familiar with these different structures.

 

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Use of evidence

To write a convincing piece of writing, you need to use evidence. Evidence is PROOF that your argument is valid.

This includes data, statistics, examples, analogies, techniques, studies etc.

Remember, without evidence, lawyers cannot build a case.

 

So, when you analyse prose non-fiction texts, you need to look at the evidence used and see how it helps the composer convey their message.

To do this, you need to determine if it is:

  • Accurate
  • Reliable
  • Relevant to the argument raised
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Rhetoric

Rhetoric refers to the ‘art of persuasion‘. It is basically a set of linguistic techniques that make your argument sound more persuasive.

Humans have developed rhetorical skills and devices over thousands of years, long before written arguments existed.

Here is a list of some rhetorical devices.

Technique

Description

Examples

Logos Using logic (facts, statistics and data…) to convince an audience of your argument.According to the Cancer Council, nearly 1/3 of Australians have skin cancer. 
PathosAppealing to the audience’s emotions to convince them of your argument. Usually by using figurative language like emotive language, high modality, metaphors etc.We are all humans. It is time we start acting like it. 
EthosShowing authority or credibility to convince an audience of your argument. Usually by stating your status, experience etc.Noel Pearson establishes that he is an Indigenous Australian before he talks about the changes needed to establish Indigenous Australian rights. 
AlliterationRepetition of the first letter/sound of wordsCorrine couldn’t carry the carrots anymore.
AnaphoraRepetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of the sentence.“We brought the alcohol. We brought the guns. We brought the diseases. ” – Paul Keating
Emotive LanguageWords that are deliberately chosen because of their ability to evoke an emotional reaction from the audience.From “The boy was killed” to “The young and innocent boy was killed in cold blood”
High Modal wordsWords that show high certainty.Must, will, it is, need to…
PronounsWords that replaces a noun in a sentence.He, she, we, I, our, it, they…
RepetitionRepeating a word or phrase.Go, go go!

 

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Figurative devices

Figurative devices are another type of persuasive techniques that is used to create a more vivid image of something. It usually adds depth to the meaning of the subject.

Remember, figurative devices are just as important as rhetorical devices in prose non-fiction texts. When you are analysing them, make sure you have a balance between both devices.

Here are some examples of figurative language:

Technique

Description

Example

HyperboleAn exaggerationYesterday was scorching hot. I nearly died.
IdiomA commonly used phrase which has abstract meaning.‘You can’t judge a book by it’s cover’ means that you shouldn’t be judging people or things based on their appearances. 
MetaphorA comparison that says that one thing is the same as the other.The blanket of stars…
MotifA recurring image, symbol or icon throughout a text.Anwar Sadat uses the motif of God in his address to the Israeli Knesset.
OxymoronA pair of words that contradict each other but are put together.Bitter sweet, terrifyingly beautiful, living death
PersonificationSaying than an object or non-living subject has human featuresDeath crawled up on Mrs Greenway.
SimileSaying that something is LIKE another thing.Your cheeks are as red as an apple. 
SymbolismWhen an object represents more complex ideas.In William Deane’s speech, the golden wattle symbolises Australian identity. 
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Filmic techniques

Some prose non-fiction texts come in a video format. This means that you not only need to analyse rhetorical and figurative devices, but also filmic techniques.

Let’s take a look at some filmic techniques:

Techniques

Description

Examples

Close up shotsWhen the camera is positioned very close to the subject. It makes a more intimate feel.english-guide-year-10-how-to-analyse-prose-non-fiction-close-up-of-girl
CutsAn edit between shotsIf you want to watch a video about different cuts and transitions…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAH0MoAv2CI

Diegetic soundsSounds that come from the movie world.If you hear footsteps and see the character walking in sync with the sounds… that is an example of diegetic sounds.
Extreme close-up shotCamera is positioned so close to the subject that it only focuses on one specific aspect.english-guide-year-10-how-to-analyse-prose-non-fiction-extreme-close-up-shot
Facial expressionsLooks at what emotion is represented on the face.english-guide-year-10-how-to-analyse-prose-non-fiction-extreme-facial-expressions
Foreground / BackgroundForeground refers to what is placed at the front of the image and background is what is in the back. Usually, the placement of objects indicate their significance.english-guide-year-10-how-to-analyse-prose-non-fiction-foreground-background
GazeThe direction that the subject is looking at. This can be directly at the audience, or something within the visual text.english-guide-year-10-how-to-analyse-prose-non-fiction-gaze
High-angle shotWhen the camera is placed higher than the subject, and looks down on them. It usually makes the subject look inferior.english-guide-year-10-how-to-analyse-prose-non-fiction-high-angle
LightingRefers to how illuminated the image is. It can be bright lighting, dim lighting or even a filtered lighting.english-guide-year-10-how-to-analyse-prose-non-fiction-lighting
Low-angle shotWhen the camera is placed below the subject and looks up at them. It often makes the subject seem superior.english-guide-year-10-how-to-analyse-prose-non-fiction-low-angle
Non-diegetic soundsSounds that aren’t part of the movie world, but is used to enhance what is happening on screen.When you hear a music soundtrack but you don’t realise it’s source in the movie world, then it is a non-diegetic sound.
PanWhen the camera swings on a horizontal or vertical planehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBL6vu9NQtw

This is an example of a panning shot

 Tracking shot When the camera moves and follows a character or object.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLuEskAhRGE

Here are some examples of tracking shots.

Voice overA narrator speaks, but we cannot see them talking on screen.Think of all the movies when you hear the character’s thought or God narrating the story.

 

 

Strategies for analysing non-fiction texts

In our Year 9 article, How to Analyse Prose Non-Fiction Texts, we went through the strategies for analysing non-fiction texts as well as a step-by-step analysis with an example. We will quickly go through it now, but CLICK HERE if you want to see it in detail.

 

Tips to analyse prose non-fiction texts

Reading prose non-fiction texts can sometimes be difficult, let alone analyse them. But it doesn’t have to be! Use these tips to make analysing these texts a lot easier:

  • Read it out loud. This will make your reading process slower and give you time to make sense of and understand what is written.
  • Read it multiple times. In your first reading, you should aim to get a general understanding of the text. In your second reading, begin looking for techniques and features. In your third reading, try to analyse the techniques and find meaning. 
  • Read titles and headings first. Predict what the content will be about, then read the rest of the text.
  • Discuss the text with others. This can be your friends, teachers and parents. This way, you can develop your understanding of the text because they can offer new perspectives or challenge you to think more deeply about the text.

Matrix students are so adept at this because they learn to follow a process for analysis.

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The step-by-step Matrix MethodTM to analyse prose non-fiction texts

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What you should do:

  • Find out what the text is about:
    1. Topic
    2. Genre and form
    3. Composer’s context
    4. Intended audience (and speech’s context)
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Here you need to:

  • Look for techniques
  • Consider the structure and its purpose
  • Make notes
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  • Find meaning in techniques
  • Link to composer’s purpose and audience reception
  • Collate your notes

 

Applying this to digital media

Non-fiction texts also exist in digital form. Websites and multimedia texts are important parts of our day-to-day existence and their prevalence is increasing.

In the next article, we give you an overview of a variety of digital texts, their purpose, and features before providing you with a process to analyse them.

 

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2019. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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