Skip to main content

Writing Prompts for Analyzing Nonfiction

OWL logo

Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

Below, we provide a number of writing prompts that teachers can use to help students analyze nonfiction texts in remote classrooms. Although these writing prompts were written with a few common nonfiction genres in mind, they can be easily adapted to work for other nonfiction genres (or even, with a little more work, fiction genres).

General Analysis Prompts for Nonfiction Writing

  • Purpose
    • What is the purpose of the text?
    • What kind of text is this? Is this appropriate for the writer’s purpose?
  • Organization
    • What structure does the text broadly follow?
    • How is the text laid out/organized?
    • Is the overall structural organization appropriate to the text type?
    • In your opinion, are any sections that might improve the text missing?
  • Connectives/Transitions
    • Does the "flow" or progression of ideas in this text seem smooth and logical?
    • Can you identify any clear instances of transitional or connective elements in the text?
    • Is there an appropriate variety of these transtitional/connective elements?
  • Language
    • What other interesting or unusual language features do you see in the text?
    • In your opinion, does the text demonstrate a varied vocabulary, or is it too dry and repetitive?
  • What is your overall impression of the text? Why?

Narrative Nonfiction Writing

  • What is the story about? What is the main topic of the text?
  • Who is the main character? Who are the other important characters in the story?
  • Where does this story take place? How does the place influence the storyline or sequence of events?
  • Are there any conflicts/problems in the story?
  • How does the conflict progress? Do things get worse or better?
  • How does the conflict get resolved?
  • What are the most emotionally-charged parts of the story?
  • How would you have reacted differently if you were the main character?
  • Do you remember any similar series of events you experienced?
  • What was the most memorable part of your own experience?

Informational Reports

  • What is the main topic of this report?
  • Is the overall purpose of the report clear? What would the author like us to do with this information?
  • How does the author start and end this report?
  • How efficiently did this report convey information to the reader?
  • What makes this report interesting/uninteresting?
  • What might the author have done differently to convey information more clearly/interestingly?
  • What were you surprised to learn about the topic?
  • What other topics would this type of informational report be good for describing?
  • What makes this type of writing different from narrative writing?

Argumentative Writing

  • What is the author's main argument?
  • What would the author like us to do, if anything?
  • How effective was the argument, from your point of view?
  • Do you have any prior beliefs or opinions that might affect how persuasive you perceived the argument to be? What about other readers who are likely to read this piece?
  • What would be some other good topics for this type of argumentative writing?
  • What were the primary sources to support the author’s argument?
  • What makes this type of writing different from an informational report or a narrative?

The table below provides a summary of the features common to a few important nonfiction genres. You may want to consult it as you draft your own writing prompts.

Nonfiction Genre


Information Report


Example topic

Account of a class field trip

Description of local ecosystem

Should personal travel be banned during a pandemic?


To provide personal perceptions or observations of some event the author experienced

To provide vital information about some topic or content area

To persuade others; to put forward a position on an important or controversial topic and support it


  • Orientation (i.e., information about who, what, where, when)
  • Sequential series of events
  • Introduction of problem/conflict, if present
  • Resolution
  • Personal interpretation of event's significance
  • General statement of topic's importance
  • Vital background information about topic
  • Specific characteristic 1
  • Specific characteristic 2
  • Specific characteristic 3
  • Summative conclusion reiterating topic's
  • Introduction: history of debate, summary of a recent development/counterargument,  or a provocative statement of purpose
  • Personal statement of position
  • Argument 1 and supporting points/evidence; argument 2 and supporting points/evidence, etc.
  • Conclusion and recommendation

Examples of transtitional/connective elements

Related to passage of time (e.g., one day, once upon a time, later, next, afterward, in the end, etc.)

Subheadings structure information

  • Introducing each argument (e.g., first, second, in addition, etc.)
  • Introducing the conclusion (e.g., therefore, in conclusion, etc.)

Other language features

  • Past tense language to describe what happened
  • Dialogue to recount what important figures said
  • Generalizations using present tense
  • Specialized vocabulary to explain complex systems and ideas related to topic

  • Evaluative vocabulary indicating writer’s belief
  • Specialized vocabulary to explain complex systems and ideas related to topic, as well as to enforce the author's credibility


Gibbons, P. & Cummins, J., (2002). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching second language learners in the mainstream classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.