Reading Nonfiction: GED Test Prep
From essays to commentary to reports and memos, nonfiction texts are written for many different purposes and have many different functions. This article describes the kinds of nonfiction texts you will see on the GED Language Arts, Reading Exam.
NONFICTION TEXTS CAN be literary or functional. The literary nonfiction you might see on the GED Language Arts, Reading Exam includes essays and autobiography/memoir. The functional texts you will see include commentary on the arts and business communications.
How Nonfiction Is Different
While nonfiction texts may be imaginative, they differ from fiction because they are not about imagined people and events. Rather, nonfiction texts deal with real people and real events.
There are other important differences between fiction and nonfiction. In nonfiction, there is no narrator, so there is no "filter" between the author and the reader. In a nonfiction text, the author is speaking to the reader directly, expressing his or her point of view. Thus, the voice in a nonfiction text is the unique voice of the author.
Point of view is important in nonfiction. Remember, point of view establishes a certain relationship with the reader. First-person texts are more personal but also more subjective. Third-person texts are more objective but less personal. The point of view an author chooses will depend upon his or her purpose and audience. For example, an annual report would likely use the third person, which is appropriate for a formal business document, while an essay about a personal experience would probably use the first-person point of view and explore the impact of that experience on the writer.
There are many different types of essays. The four most common types are:
- descriptive: describing a person, place, or thing
- narrative: telling a story or describing an event
- expository: exploring and explaining an idea or position
- persuasive: arguing a specific point of view
There are essays about every imaginable topic, from what it is like to grow up poor (or rich, or bilingual) to why we should (or should not) clone human beings. The basic structure of an essay is main idea support. Even if the writer is describing an experience, he or she has a reason for telling that story, and that reason—why the writer thinks the story is important enough to tell—is the main idea.
Essays will often make their main idea clear in a thesis statement. This statement is likely to come at the beginning of the essay. Notice here how the author states his thesis at the end of the opening paragraph of his essay:
When you think of former president Bill Clinton, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Unfortunately, for many people, the first thing they think of is Monica Lewinsky. Like millions of people around the globe, I was horrified by how much the Whitewater investigation delved into Mr. Clinton's private affairs. No one needed to know the sort of details that were revealed by Ken Starr's investigation. But while I don't want to know the details, I do believe we have a right to know what sort of lives our politicians are living. I believe their behavior in private is a reflection of their true values and how they will behave in office.
One type of writing that you may see in essays (as well as other forms of literature) is satire. Satire is a form of comedy in which the writer exposes and ridicules someone or something in order to inspire change. Satires rely heavily on verbal irony, in which the intended meaning is the opposite of the expressed meaning. Satirists also use hyperbole, which is extreme exaggeration, as well as sarcasm and understatement in order to convey their ideas.
Jonathan Swift's 1729 essay "A Modest Proposal" is one of the most famous examples of satire. In the essay, Swift proposes that the Irish, who are starving, eat their own children to prevent "the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden to their parents or country." Here's a brief excerpt:
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or ragout.
Of course, Swift is not really suggesting that the Irish become cannibals. He is using this ridiculous proposal to criticize the British for oppressing the Irish, especially poor Irish Catholics, who often had many children. The outrageous nature of Swift's proposal reflects his feelings about the absurdity of British rule in Ireland at the time and the British government's inability to find a satisfactory solution to the Irish famine.
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