Text: Distinguishing Features of Reading Types

The types of reading you do in college will depend on your major and your elective options.  It helps to be able to identify the type of source you’re being asked to read in each class. That way, you have some expectations about why you’re reading it, what you should expect to learn from it, and how to read it effectively.


Literature includes poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and drama.

Primary goal: to entertain.

Distinguishing Features

  • Artistic use of language
  • Plot = action
  • Characters
Line drawing: a flat line, labeled "exposition" shifts to a rising angle labeled "rising action." The peak is labeled "Climax." Then a downward sloping line labeled "Falling Action," into a flat line labeled "Denouement."

The dramatic arc that many fictional stories follow.

Works of fiction and drama usually follow a similar plot structure, called a dramatic arc. “Exposition” provides setting and background information.  “Rising action” is where the events of the story start to get complicated.  The “climax” is where the drama reaches its most dramatic moment.  “Falling action” then shows the fallout from the climax, and “resolution” (also known as a denoument) is the closing action where the issues of the plot are fully resolved.


  • the Harry Potter series of books, by J. K. Rowling
  • the plays and sonnets by William Shakespeare


Journalism is news, usually focused on current events.

Primary goal: to inform.


Because of this purpose, the writing is neutral: it shows no opinion, just facts.

Distinguishing Features

Illustration of an inverted pyramid. The wide top is labeled "Most Newsworthy Info: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?"; Middle is "Important Details"; narrow bottom is "Other general info, background info."

The Inverted Pyramid structure of news articles

The inverted pyramid is a metaphor used by journalists to illustrate how many news articles are organized. Many blogs and editorials follow this structure, in addition to most newspaper pieces.

This upside-down pyramid consists of three parts. The widest part at the top represents the most substantial, interesting, and important information the writer means to convey, while the lower parts illustrate that other material should follow in order of diminishing importance.

This format is useful for two reasons. First, readers can leave the story at any point and understand it, even if they do not have all the details. Second, readers get a sense of how important different content is, depending on where it appears in the article.

Journalism relies on research. They refer to sources by name, but don’t have separate citations at the end of the piece.


  • articles from The New York Times
  • stories from the evening news

Actor Dennis Franz gives a demonstration of pulling out the key features from a newspaper story in this video clip.

Download a transcript for this video here (.docx file).


You’re likely quite familiar with these already. Whether in ebook or print form, textbooks are commonly associated with formal education.

Primary goal: to educate.

Distinguishing Features

A textbook is an organized body of material useful for the formal study of a subject area. A good textbook is distinguished by:

  • Photo of a stack of roughly 20 textbooks. Prominent titles include Gray's Anatomy, Pathology, Fundamental Neuroscience, and Calculus.A discrete, well-bounded scope: all the material should relate to a solid understanding of the subject, usually mixing theory and practice for each topic as it covers the subject domain.
  • Use of examples and problems: the student should be able to better grasp each presented concept by following examples, and then applying the concept in structured exercises or problems.
  • An internally consistent style: after the first few sections, there should be little or no surprises for the student in terms of layout and presentation of material. The text’s user can get comfortable with the layout, the tempo of presentation, and the pattern of figures, illustrations, examples and exercises.
  • Utility for future reference: once reviewed, the textbook should isolate material that is useful to the future application of subject knowledge in well organized appendices and tables.
  • A structure that makes sense: the textbook is not just a collection of useful material, it is a guide to the student for an order of review which will aid in mastering the subject area.

Academic Journals

An academic or scholarly journal is a peer-reviewed periodical that focuses on a narrow field of study. Academic journals serve as forums for the introduction and presentation for scrutiny of new research, and the critique of existing research.

Primary goal: to distribute new ideas.

Distinguishing features

Academic journal articles are generally written by experts in a particular field.  They assume that readers have a depth of knowledge about the subject matter, as well.

This video defines scholarly articles, and shows their differences from other types of writing.