How to Write a Non-fiction Analysis

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The term "non-fiction" is often used interchangeably with "factual," a convention that implies non-fiction writing maintains a level of objectivity. However, two authors writing on the same topic can do so in very different ways; focusing on different aspects of an issue, presenting the issue in a particular light or making particular choices about language with the aim of influencing the reader in one way or another. Being aware of these choices is the key to analyzing non-fiction texts.

  • Read more than one text covering broadly the same issue in order to examine the differences between the approaches taken by the authors. This is an easier starting point than working with one text in isolation, particularly if you you do not have any prior knowledge of the field they are writing about.

  • Establish the broad thrust of the piece --- the writer's overt intention in writing the piece, i.e., whether he trying to inform in an unbiased manner or persuade you of the correctness of a particular view. Discuss any relevant historical background which will put the piece in context.

  • Look at the choices the writer has made in terms of the information he chooses to include and information he chooses to omit. Examine his motivation for these choices in terms of the intended audience, the purpose of the text and the type of media in which the text appeared. For example, large numbers of figures are not appropriate for a children's website.

  • Examine the style of the language, again considering audience, context and purpose. Is the writer technical or poetic in his style, does he reference popular culture or classics and what does this say about his assumptions about the reader?

  • Look for rhetorical devices, particularly those disguised within a piece of writing that presents itself as purely objective. Examples include opinion or partial fact presented as fact, juxtaposition, repetition and tautology and the use of sarcasm or humor, and the issues treated by humorous or sarcastic sections. What are the purposes of the rhetorical devices the writer uses? Is he successful?

  • Evaluate the conclusion drawn by the piece. Do the facts and arguments presented in the piece lead logically to the conclusion? If not, is this because of poor writing and fuzzy thinking or is it a deliberate and cynical attempt to derive a particular conclusion from facts that do not warrant it?

References

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