Craft and structure include the manner in which an author presents information. How does the author go about giving the message to the reader—in what order and using what techniques? What other things can you learn about the accuracy of the message by studying the author’s techniques?
A text can be structured in a virtually limitless number of ways. In essays and other more structured pieces of writing, there are common themes in structure. These include: sequence, problem/solution, compare/contrast, description, and cause/effect.
Narrative passages basically tell a story. The author usually begins with the first event or scene and tells what happened next in chronological order. The purpose of a narrative passage is to entertain or inform the reader.
Writing in sequence means writing in chronological order. Rather than leaping all around, or making a point and doubling back, writing in sequence requires adhering to a timeline and a specific, logical outline.
Problem/solution structure first states the problem at hand (typically the first half of the essay) before identifying and expounding upon a possible solution for the stated problem.
A compare/contrast essay is used to highlight either the similarities between subjects or the differences between them. Although essays rarely use both in the same piece, it is possible to do so.
Descriptive structure focuses more on providing descriptions of each piece of the proverbial puzzle, rather than simply rushing to the next point.
Finally, cause-and-effect structure first identifies the action prompting a certain reaction (again, often the first half), and then identifies the reaction to the aforementioned action.
The author of a written piece is trying to communicate information to the reader. One way this is done is through stating and supporting a central idea in the writing. If you read carefully, you will be able to both identify this idea and make a sound assumption about the author’s purpose in writing the piece.
The main idea and the topic are basically the same; however, the main idea is the overall idea presented in the topic, while the topic is the general idea. In essence, topic is general (such as the general “sport”), while main idea is specific (such as a more targeted “baseball”).
An author may have many purposes in creating a piece of work. The most common examples, however, are the following types of writing: persuasive, expository, technical, narrative, and expressive. These can be grouped into three different categories: argumentative (persuasive), informative (expository and technical), and entertaining (expressive and narrative).
A persuasive essay is an argumentative essay in which the author works to convince the reader of his or her point or perspective.
An expository essay is a type of informative essay in which an author delivers basic information on a subject, providing insight into an idea in layman’s terms.
Conversely, a technical essay is one that informs. Depending on the target audience, it may do so using more specialized jargon, typically targeting men and women already somewhat familiar with the subject terminology, or using simpler language in an attempt to inform common readers about a rather technical subject or give them easy-to-follow instructions for a technical procedure.
A narrative essay is much like a story; it narrates from beginning to end and is typically used as a means of entertainment.
An expressive essay is one that does not necessarily tell a story, but expresses feelings. This type of writing, though considered entertaining, is most commonly seen in personal essays.
Besides stating facts and giving details, there are things that influence the value and effect of an author’s message. These are things to consider as you evaluate a passage or other prompt when forming conclusions or making predictions.
The point of view from which an author writes can make a huge difference in the content of the message and in how it is presented to the reader. An author’s point of view is simply the framework of his or her position on the topic. For example, an account of a prison break written by a prisoner would be vastly different from that written by a guard.
The words an author uses to communicate with the reader help define the author’s tone. One author might be describing something that can be seen. If the author uses the word eyesore to describe the sight, a different tone would be established than if the author chose the word marvel. In this case, the reader would understand the author’s tone through word choice. Other features of the passage could confirm this tone, such as if descriptions were ridiculing, appreciative, or neutral in nature.
Fact and opinion are opposites. While a fact is an idea or statement based on objectivity and quantifiable fact, an opinion is subjective and typically relies more on the background and worldview of the speaker. “Grass is green” is a fact, while “Grass smells pleasant” is an opinion.
Biases and stereotypes are based on opinion rather than fact and are quite similar in nature. A bias is a tilt or leaning in one direction (i.e. preferring American governmental procedures as an American, rather than foreign ones), and a stereotype is a long-standing assumption about a place, thing, or person. A common stereotype is the notion of blond hair being tantamount to idiocy; this is a stereotype, rather than a fact based on science or quantifiable evidence.
When reading through literature, it is often readily apparent that the author’s writing is heavily influenced by their historical and cultural context. This can be seen in novels from Jane Austen (through speech patterns, home life, and the treatment of women), to contemporary work such as J.D. Salinger (references to PTSD, focus on stilted families). It is important to be able to discern these influences to determine the purpose of the author and the overall theme of a piece.
Sometimes, an author’s words cannot be taken at face value—they do not mean the same as their dictionary definition. This type of figurative language has three main categories:
A simile uses the word like or as, such as in light as a feather. The person or object being described is probably not quite that light, but the author uses these words to emphasize lack of weight.
A metaphor utilizes the same strategy, but does not contain the words like or as. One such expression is used in this sentence: “The cat was a lioness in her pursuit of food.” It doesn’t mean that the cat suddenly became a lioness, just that it appeared to act as a lioness does.
When an author uses personification, he or she applies human traits to a nonhuman entity. One example is: “The house alarm shrieked a warning at the intruders.” The word shrieked here (something a human might do) helps explain the nature of the sound made by the alarm (a nonhuman thing).
The English language is rife with words having multiple meanings―some of them with opposing meanings. When you are asked for the meaning of a word in the passage, keep this in mind: As you scan through the possible meanings of a word, plug these meanings into the piece where the word stands. Then, identify which of the meanings best matches its surroundings.
Context clues can also be extremely helpful when you encounter an unknown word. Most of the time, you will be able to at least approximate the meaning of a new word by studying how it is used in a sentence. This process may not provide an exact answer, but it should help you rule out at least two of the possible answer choices for the item.