When you are asked to analyse the structure of a text as part of your English Language course, you are being asked how the writer has chosen to put that text together. Remember that when writers write stories or descriptions, they choose what order they will tell the reader certain things and at what pace. Usually, they have made these choices to create a particular effect on the reader.
For example, if I am writing a story about a robbery, how should I begin? Should I start by describing the house itself so my readers can picture the scene clearly? Or would I prefer to begin with the robber himself, zooming in on his old clothes or explaining his motive so that perhaps the reader will feel more sympathetic towards him? Or should I introduce the owner of the house as he hears a crash downstairs, so that the reader is thrown straight into the action (a technique called beginning ‘in medias res’)?
At the end of the same story, I might want to finally reveal the identity of the robber. How should I build tension before the shock? Should I use lots of one-sentence paragraphs to slow the reader down? Or should I use lots of dialogue so they can hear the characters’ opinions? Or should I use lots of punctuation like question marks and ellipses to force them to pause and consider clues?
These are the types of decisions that writers make as they put together a story. It’s your job to work out why they have made each decision.
You can analyse structure at various different levels:
When you analyse the structure of the whole text, you can discuss the following elements:
- How the writer has chosen to open and close their text.
- How the focus shifts from paragraph to paragraph as the text progresses.
- What overall structure the narrative has (linear, non-linear, or cyclical).
- What narrative perspective the writer has chosen (first or third person).
When you analyse the structure of individual paragraphs, you can discuss the following elements:
- How the paragraph opens (the content of its topic sentence).
- How the paragraph closes (the content of its concluding sentence).
- The length of the paragraph (whether it contains one sentence or many sentences; lots of complex sentences or lots of simple sentences).
- Its cohesion with surrounding paragraphs (how it flows in the text).
When you analyse the structure of sentences, you can discuss the following elements:
- The sentence length (if it is particularly short or particularly long).
- The first or last word of the sentence (if they are noticeable for a particular reason).
- Repetition of words, word classes, or structures within the sentence.
- The sentence type (declarative, interrogative, exclamatory, or imperative).
- The sentence form (simple, compound, or complex).
When you analyse the use of punctuation, you can discuss the following elements:
- The types of punctuation used.
- Repeated punctuation and the possible reason for this.
- The way that the punctuation breaks up sentences or paragraphs.
- The tension created through placement of punctuation.
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Note: Some of the information about analysing structure above may not be consistent across all exam boards. These are elements that teachers at Get My Grades consider to be relevant to structural analysis, but advice from exam boards may vary (especially around the issue of sentence types and forms).