Understanding Text Features in Non-Fiction

How the Features of Informational Text Supports Comprehension

Room full of stacks of books.

Eli Francis elifrancis / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 1.0

Important tools to help students to understand and access information in informational texts are "text features." The text features are both ways in which the authors and editors make the information easier to understand and access, as well as explicit means of supporting the content of the text through illustrations, photographs, charts, and graphs. Using text features is an important element of developmental reading, which teaches students to use these parts to understand and comprehend the content of the text.

Text features are also part of most states' high-stakes tests. Students in fourth grade and above are usually expected to be able to identify the text features common to most non-fiction and informational texts. At the same time, they help struggling readers find and identify the information they are expected to know in content area classes, such as social studies, history, civics, and science.

Text Features as Part of the Text

Titles, subtitles, headings, and sub-headings are all part of the actual text, used to make the organization of the information in a text explicit. Most textbook publishers, as well as informational text publishers, use these features to make the content easier to understand.


The chapter titles in informational texts usually prepare the student to understand the text.


Subtitles usually immediately follow the title and organize the information into sections. Titles and subtitles often provide the structure for an outline.


Headings usually begin a subsection after a subtitle. There are multiple headings for each section. They usually lay out the major points made by the author in each section.


Subheadings also help us understand the organization of the thoughts contained in the section and the relationships of the parts. Title, subtitle, headings, and subheadings could be used to create guided notes, as they are pivotal parts of the author's organization of the text.

Table of Contents

Works of fiction seldom have tables of content, whereas works of nonfiction almost always do. At the beginning of the book, they include the titles of chapters as well as subtitles and page numbers.


Found at the back of the book, the glossary provides definitions of special words within the text. Publishers often place words to be found in the back in boldface. Sometimes the definitions are found adjacent to the text, but always in the glossary.


Also in the back of the book, the index identifies where topics can be found, in alphabetical order.

Features That Support the Content

The internet has given us a rich and easily accessible source of images, but they are still incredibly important in understanding the content of information non-fiction texts. While not actually "text" it would be foolish to assume that our students understand the relationship between the content and the picture on the same page.


Illustrations are the product of an illustrator or artist and create an image that helps us better understand the content of the text.


A hundred years ago, photographs were difficult to produce in print. Now, digital media makes it easy to create and recreate photographs in print. Now they are common in informational texts.


Captions are printed below the illustrations and photographs and explain what we are seeing.

Charts and Diagrams

Unlike illustrations, charts and diagrams are created to represent amount, distance, or other information shared in the text. Often they are in the form of graphs, including bar, line, and plot and whisker graphs, as well as pie charts and maps.

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Your Citation
Webster, Jerry. "Understanding Text Features in Non-Fiction." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/text-features-in-non-fiction-3111227. Webster, Jerry. (2020, August 27). Understanding Text Features in Non-Fiction. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/text-features-in-non-fiction-3111227 Webster, Jerry. "Understanding Text Features in Non-Fiction." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/text-features-in-non-fiction-3111227 (accessed June 5, 2023).