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non-fiction and media texts


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Non-Fiction and Media Texts
 

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Non-fiction texts are everywhere. Some, such as the advertising flyers that drop through our letterboxes daily, often end up flying straight into the nearest recycling bin unread; but others (like the magazine you might have just put down to look at this website), provide you with fun, advice and entertainment; some - like this website - should prove very helpful; and a very few are capable of gaining such close attention that they change minds, even lives. Welcome to the world of non-fiction!

Non-fiction texts form such an important part of our daily lives - some are of little or no value but some can change your life.

  • Nonfiction texts include newspaper and magazine articles, text books, religious writing, websites, biographies, travel writing, letters, signs, menus, brochures, leaflets... even cereal packets and much, much more. For school exams, you won't be studying cereal packets, however (but make sure you have that extra Weetabix on the day of the exam!).

  • Unlike the imaginary worlds, situations and characters created for fictional texts, non-fiction texts are based on reality: real people, real things and real events. But... a key understanding is that being based on reality doesn't make these texts necessarily factual or true. Slant and lack of balance are central aspects of many nonfiction texts - they are not often purely informative - they are usually disguised persuasion.

  • While nonfiction is based on the real world and fiction is based on an imagined world, there are important overlaps, with each genre borrowing elements and techniques from the other. It is this overlap that can make fiction seem more like nonfiction and nonfiction more persuasive than it really should be.

  • Fiction often borrows from nonfiction to help create a sense of realism and believability, for example by using real place names in which to set its stories; but non-fiction borrows from fiction in much more subtle and important ways - ways that can add greatly to its appeal to an audience and to its persuasiveness. This is done most especially by borrowing from the main story-telling form and structure called narrative; it is through the use of story-telling techniques that allow nonfiction writers to create engaging, absorbing and interesting texts rather than dry informative articles they would otherwise be. 'Narrativised' nonfiction and media texts are everywhere - they work to  involve and entertain as well as inform and, most subtly often, persuade.

  • For example, a newspaper story often represents real people as 'fictional'-type characters making them into 'heroes' and 'villains' and, using a narrative structure, can create suspense and tension to make us want to read on to find out just what does happen next!

Media Texts

Media texts are a sub-category of non-fiction. They include texts such as newspaper and magazine articles and advertising. An important aspect of these texts (and, in fact, many other non-media texts) concerns the audience for which they are written which, because it is always a mass audience, is always composed of individuals completely unknown to the writer. This can be important when you analyse these texts because many address their reader as if he or she were a personal friend - a highly persuasive technique that is, in the circumstances, rather suspect and always worthy of comment.

  • TIP! Media texts often include images such as photographs and illustrations. Remember that this exam is testing your abilities to analyse and discuss the use and effects of language so it is best to avoid any prolonged discussion of images.

In your exams you will be tested on your ability to analyse, discuss and compare non-fiction or media texts. Usually you will also be asked to compare texts that share a similar theme but which have either a different genre or form or which approach the same theme from different angles.

 

WHAT ARE THE EXAMINERS LOOKING FOR?

While exam questions vary, the skills you need to write a good answer do not. As with all texts you'll be studying, it comes down to your ability to detect what effects the text is creating on its reader and to work out why these effects were created - that is, the writer's purpose. Remember - with media and non-fiction texts, while your focus (because this is an English exam...) must always be on language choices, you'll also be asked to consider visual aspects too, such as design, layout and use of images).

In the exam, typically, you'll be asked to analyse a pair of texts that share a common theme. This means you'll be "breaking the texts down" into the individual "parts" that you feel the writer has chosen with extra care so as to achieve a particular purpose. Then you'll need to think about the methods the writer has used and how these were intended to affect the text's readers; finally you'll be asked to discuss the results of your analysis as well as compare some aspect of both texts.

There are four useful 'levels' at which you can consider texts:

What the text is about
- its subject matter

 

Who the text has been written for
- its audience

 

Why the text was written
- its writer's purpose

 

How the text has been made to 'work' for its particular audience and purpose
- the writer's methods and their effects

As well as this, a more subtle consideration that you could give is at the level of context. This means thinking about how the reader or audience will use the text - in what situation and then working out how the text's writer and designer have altered the text to suit this context. For example, a magazine ad will try to prevent the reader quickly flicking through the magazine by trying to arrest their attention. Thus, the ad's designer will try to create something in the ad that will account for the likelihood of the ad being skipped easily in the rush of reading through a magazine - and so on. You might want to think how the writer of a newspaper article takes account of context, too - or the producer of a leaflet.


WHAT KINDS OF EXAM QUESTION ARE THERE?

There are four typical types of exam question you could come across (note that the examples below are not based on any particular nonfiction texts):

Questions that ask you to identify or locate details:

'What types of exercise are discussed in the newspaper article?'

'Identify five advantages and five disadvantages to exercising regularly mentioned in the newspaper article.'

'List five facts and five opinions the writer includes in the newspaper article.'

 

Questions that ask you to explain and summarise:

 'What impressions does the article create concerning the need for exercise?'

 'How does the writer defend the need for exercise?'

 'What are the writer's attitudes towards exercise?'

 

Questions that ask you to discuss the writer's techniques:

 'How does the writer try to persuade the reader that exercise is a good thing?'

 'What impression of fitness does the writer create?'

 'How is the article made convincing?'

 

Questions that ask you to compare texts

 'Which of the two articles do you consider the most persuasive? '

 'Which of the two texts do you find the more interesting and why? '

This type of question needs a close discussion on the two articles.

You will need to comment on aspects of audience, purpose, language and style.

As before, you are being tested on your awareness of how language can be used effectively for a specific audience and purpose.

Again, this type of question expects a considered, reflective and insightful response using your own words with support provided by quotations from the text.


WHAT YOU NEED TO DO TO GAIN A HIGH GRADE

As with all texts, non-fiction and media text need the skills of analysis and commentary. In any text, its writer's aim is to create a style that will suit a particular kind of reader or audience to achieve a certain purpose.

The style created will utilise the two aspects language has: its form and its content. These two aspects will be working together to create certain effects on the reader, and, in turn (and accumulating through the structure of the text), these effects, the writer hopes, will achieve the text's purpose.

The purposes of non-fiction texts are various and most often a combination:


HOW TO TACKLE NON-FICTION AND MEDIA TEXTS

REVISING

Look out for and read a selection of non-fiction and media texts to practise your close-reading skills by...

1. Thinking about how their genre conventions and form act to 'condition' the way you are responding to them.

2. Summarising their subject matter, content, circumstance and their 'story' to gain a sense of the 'big picture'.

3. Considering who the texts are intended for and all that this implies - their target audience.

For example, a broadsheet newspaper article might seem rather boring to a fifteen-year-old student (especially if in the exam you comparing it with a leaflet aimed at a younger audience), but it certainly will not have been 'boring' to its intended audience: they expect it to be that way - it is a part of their genre expectations.

Imagine a jazzy-looking broadsheet article that broke all its existing genre conventions; would its reader still trust its content and feel it to be authentic? Would they even bother to read it? You can see how genre, form and audience are always important considerations for you to consider and comment upon.

4. Finally, work out how the text has been styled to create certain effects on its reader and especially how these individual effects accumulate and work as a structure.


WHAT METHODS ARE USED...

Non-fiction writers can choose from a wide range of methods to create effects that will help them achieve their purpose.

Non-fiction writers use language effectively

 

Non-fiction writers use effective
'presentational devices' 

 

Non-fiction writers use effective
'non-language devices'

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IS YOUR ESSAY BASED ON FILM OR TV EXTRACT?

This web page focuses on printed non-fiction and media texts.

If you need help with analysing a film or TV extract, click for free guide.

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EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!

Analysing a Magazine or Newspaper Advertisement

Magazine and newspaper advertisements are one kind of media text that deserve a few extra words, even though all that is said on the rest of this web page is valid.

These days, only a very few ads exist purely to give information; those that do are perhaps ads for a product recall owing to a fault or such like. Most advertisements are produced to try to sell a product or to create an emotional response to a brand name ("Are you a Nike person...?"). Yet only a few do this in an obvious way.

 

SO JUST HOW DO ADS WORK?

There was a time when advertisements were more informative - they informed the public about a product being available, at what price and where. Those days have long gone. Now ads work at a more subtle level of association. The ad works by trying to create an emotional link between a consumer product and an attractive lifestyle. It does this in such a way that members of the target audience are made to feel that if they purchase the product, they will 'buy a way into' an attractive lifestyle.

'CUEING'
Ads are short on space and have a lot of work to do if they are to succeed and be persuasive. If they achieve success, it is because they rely on a process called cueing. The cue is usually an image or some language that triggers or signals a pleasant memory, most often of a modern, desired lifestyle.

MESSAGE AND CODE
Ads can be broken down into two parts: a message and a code. The message is simply the offer of a product (or service). The point about the message is that it can be rejected - you don't have to buy the product! So how does an advertiser make it more difficult to reject the message? By associating the message of the product with a code. The code within an ad is far more subtle and persuasive. The code is the highly persuasive 'cued' idea that triggers thoughts of a desirable lifestyle - one that buying the product or service will provide.

You might be able to see that codes operate because they are culturally and ideologically determined. What does this mean? Well, we all share particular ideas called dominant ideologies in our culture or society about what we would most like to be - or, more accurately fear not being; and we have come to believe in our consumer society that a product might help us achieve this more easily. Advertising codes operate insidiously by reminding us of what we absolutely don't want to be: odd, different, 'un-cool'. This is the power of the code.

Always remember that ads are rarely intended to work alone; an ad is usually a part of a larger ‘advertising campaign’ using a mixture of different media forms such as TV, radio, posters and magazine ads.

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14.01.09