Non-fiction can be divided into several types of texts which all aim at influencing, convincing, persuading or defending a point of view. When dealing with such a text, it is necessary to identify what sort of text it is, to analyse its structure and the linguistic devices used so as to understand the arguments which are developed.
I) Identifying the type of text
1) Press articles
The sources, title and subtitles clearly point to press articles. Yet, there are different sorts of articles: leading articles (articles de fond), columns (chroniques), editorials (éditoriaux) or reviews (critiques).
Even if they have a different structure, editorials, columns and reviews are subjective and express the opinion of the newspaper, the journalist or critic.
2) Critical texts and essays
Philosophical or political essays and book or film reviews put arguments forward in using a clear structure: arguments and examples are carefully and gradually organised so as to back up a particular thesis.
Formal language is used: long, often complex, sentences and specific vocabulary or imagery. Being able to pick up simple sentences helps to understand the text.
A simple sentence is composed of the elements that are absolutely necessary to grab its meaning: subject, verb, complement.
III) dentifying the structure
The main sequence in an argumentative text is composed of:
an introduction: it presents the theme or issue and what is at stake;
a body with arguments: it presents and defends the thesis: arguments, examples, references, testimonies, quotations, comparisons, anecdotes, precisions, refutation, counter-arguments;
a conclusion: it rephrases the thesis, sums up the justification and gives the final position.
The first sentence of each paragraph always gives key information which is then further developed.
Most people have no idea how advanced the technology has become: now faces can be tracked from half a mile away thanks to software called Intelligence Pedestrian Surveillance.
2) Arguments and examples
The writer proves his·her thesis thanks to arguments: the substantive reasons that justify it to convince the readers. Arguments have a general scope while examples deal with particular instances and illustrate arguments; they prove how relevant arguments are with a real case.
It takes a lot of courage to whistleblowers to reveal sensitive information. (general scope) After revealing international spying by the NSA, Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong then to Moscow in order not to be jailed. (particular instance)
III) Being familiar with characteristics
1) Link words
Link words (conversely, obviously, besides...) are used to relate these arguments and examples. They establish logical connections between the ideas that are developed: cause, consequence, explanation, illustration, listing, comparison, contrast, compromising, conclusion… That’s why it is necessary to pick them out.
2) Abstract vocabulary and figures of speech
Figures of speech are used to give a forceful demonstration whether to argue for or against a thesis. Comparisons and similes assert similarities in a positive or negative way. Hyperbole uses exaggeration for effect:
Millions of school children every year… (in a speech against school uniforms)
There are many abstract words linked to ideas, notions, feelings and emotions.
How to detect the autor’s opinion
Various devices can be used to give one’s opinion.