If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

The structures of informational texts | Reading

Buildings and essays: they’re similar in an unexpected way! They both have STRUCTURE. We’ll explore five different ways to structure a piece of nonfiction writing, using as our example the greatest food in the world… the pizza. Created by David Rheinstrom.

Video transcript

- [David] Hello, readers. Let's talk about structure. When architects and engineers design a building, one of the considerations they have to make is structural support. How's this thing gonna stay upright? How do we make sure it doesn't blow over in the wind or collapse in an earthquake? And so they say, okay, maybe we'll put reinforcing steel in the concrete or put X-braces on the outside or big ol' pylons in the center. Well, writers do pretty much the same thing. When an author creates an informational text, they ask themselves the same question. How's this thing going to stay upright? How shall I structure this text? Because although it's not physical in the way that a building is physical, texts have structure. You can't touch them, but you can see them. Now, there are many ways to structure a piece of writing. But today, I wanna talk about five, chronology, compare and contrast, cause and effect, problem and solution, and description. Let's talk about each one in turn, using the medium of one of my favorite foods, pizza. I recognize that's a really weird-looking pizza. But you can learn anything. I'm going to get better at it before this video is over. So chronology. Chronology is events described in order. Chronos is Greek for time. So anything that has that distinctive C-H-R-O-N root is going to be about time. Chronicle, chronometer, chronically. You can suss out if a text is using a chronological structure if it's a sequence in a particular order, or if it's telling a story from history. Recipes are also chronological, right? In order to bake the cake properly, you have to turn the oven on first. And to that end, you can generally identify this text structure by looking for time words like first or last or finally. So a chronological account could be the history of the origins of modern day pizza in 19th century Naples or a step-by-step recipe for making pizza dough. Here's an example of the chronology of ordering pizza. This is how you order pizza. First, look up reviews or ask a neighbor to find the best pizza near you. Then call the pizza place and place your order. Be sure to give your address. Next, it's time to wait. When the pizza finally arrives, make sure to tip the delivery person. Compare and contrast, you've probably heard of this one. When a text compares two or more ideas, that's a compare and contrast. The compare step discusses similarities, how things are similar. And then the contrast step discusses how those things are different. Look for clue words like same or different, both and neither, in contrast, or on the other hand. Here's an example. When talking about pizza, a long-standing debate is often between deep-dish and thin-crust pizza. One benefit of deep-dish pizza is how efficient it is. Because of its thickness, a 12-inch deep-dish pie can serve six people. One drawback is that it can be quite messy to eat. Thin-crust pizza is good because it's less messy than deep-dish, but it's thin, so it takes a larger pizza, or multiple pizzas, to feed the same number of people as a deep-dish pizza can. Cause and effect. This one does what it says on the tin, right? It describes how one idea or event causes another. Here's an example. To celebrate my great report card, my parents let me order pizza with all my favorite toppings. After we ate, we were too stuffed to do anything else. Now, what caused us to get pizza? My great report card. What was the effect of the pizza? We were stuffed. Maybe it was a stuffed pizza. If you stuff yourself with stuffed pizza, does that make you more stuffed than if you stuff yourself with unstuffed pizza? You may scoff, but this is the stuff that keeps me up at night. Problem and solution. In this kind of text structure, the author describes a problem and then explains how that problem was solved. So imagine you want pizza, but you can't have traditional pizza because you're a celiac. You can't have wheat. Necessity is the mother of invention. Enter the cauliflower crust pizza made from cooked cauliflower, cheese, and a variety of gluten-free flours. All right, so what was the problem? You can't eat wheat and pizza dough is made of wheat. How do you solve that problem? By making pizza crust out of cauliflower, which I promise tastes better than it sounds. Finally, description. This is sort of like an encyclopedia entry that explains basic information about a topic. Like an explainer piece about what pizza is. I'm going to read this as though I have never heard of pizza before. (clears throat) Pizza, a round flatbread traditionally served warm, originated in Naples, Italy in the 19th century. This flatbread is generally baked at very high temperatures, topped with flavorful tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese and served in slices. If you find yourself looking at an informational text and you're struggling to figure out what the structure is, subtract the specifics. If you subtract the specifics, it'll help you think about the structure. And if it helps, you can substitute those specific details about the text with pizza. Is this silly? Yeah, of course. Does it work? I think it does. So is the text structured like a recipe or the history of pizza? If so, it's chronology. Is it comparing two kinds of pizza? Well, then it's a compare and contrast. Does it explain how a good report card led to a pizza dinner? It's cause and effect. Does it explain a pizza problem and how it was solved in a pizza way? Well, that's a problem-solution structure. And finally, does it straightforwardly describe what a pizza is without a detailed chronology, comparison, or problem? Because if so, that's a description. Those are only five possible ways to structure a piece of writing. They're by no means the only ways. But identifying these will give you the tools to learn even more structures so that you can better understand how writers shape ideas. I hope that this helped. And I also hope that you want pizza now, because I certainly do. You can learn anything, David out.