Nonfiction is writing that is based on facts, real events, and real people. Examples of nonfiction are biographies, autobiographies, textbooks, or any piece of writing about a real-world topic. Nonfiction can be written as facts or in the form of a story.

Main Idea

In all forms of writing, the main idea is what the author wants the reader to understand. It may be what the text is about in general, or there could be context clues and figurative language that lead the reader to the main idea.

Example 1.

George Washington Carver was in charge of farm research at Tuskegee Institute, a college in Alabama. He taught students how to farm. He also worked with southern farmers on their land. In the southern part of the United States, most farmers had grown cotton for so many years that the soil had worn out. Carver showed them how to improve the land.

The main idea of this passage is that George Washington Carver taught important farming skills and helped improve the land.

Example 2.

A good magic trick makes people believe they are seeing something amazing. But magic doesn't have to be hard to look real. One easy trick is to "bend" a spoon. First, hold the spoon's handle inside your hands with the end of the handle under your thumbs. Push the spoon's bowl down on the table. Next, let the handle slide down inside your hands. Since your hand is covering part of the handle, it will look like the spoon is bent.

The main idea of this passage is that it is easy to make a spoon appear bent.

Author's Purpose

Author's write for three different purposes: to inform, entertain, or persuade. Many nonfiction texts are informational, which means the author writes to tell you facts about a person, event, topic, etc. Nonfiction texts can also be written to entertain. This can be identified by key words. A nonfiction text can also be written to persuade, or argue, about a topic.


In 1860 and 1861, the Pony Express was the fastest way to get news to and from the West. The trail was around 2000 miles long. It took most people weeks or months to ride that far, but the Pony Express could make the trip in just ten days. The Pony Express had 184 stations along the trail ten miles apart. The rider would switch to a new horse at each station and only take his mail pouch with him. Every 75-100 miles, the rider would get to a home station to rest. He would give his mail pouch to a new rider. The mail never stopped moving, even while the horses and riders rested.

The author's purpose is to inform the reader about the unbelievable efficiency of the Pony Express. Facts are stated and the writing is in a neutral perspective.


Last weekend we went camping. If I knew we would run into so much trouble, I would have stayed home and watched TV. When we arrived, it was sunny, so we hiked up the mountain slowly. Before we even got to the rest point, we were tired and thirsty. That's when we realized there was no water. It seemed like forever before we reached our camping ground, and we couldn't wait to set up the tent. Oops! Dad left the set-up manual at home! We spent another hour trying to put up one tent. It was already dark and getting cold, so we huddled together in the same tent. Outside, we heard shuffling noises and a howl. None of us dared to move. It must be the wolves. We stayed like that the entire night, and I have to say, it was quite an adventure!

The author's purpose is to entertain the reader about a real story of a camping trip gone wrong.


In the last 30 years, obesity in children and teenagers has nearly tripled. If you think fatty food is ok, think about the consequences. Even something as simple as chocolate milk contains half of your daily fat and sugar requirements and is readily available in school lunches. Fatty, processed foods and drinks contain unnatural preservatives and chemicals that cause dreadful diseases. Everyone needs to get involved to help eliminate revolting, unhealthy foods from school lunches.

The author's purpose is to persuade the reader to be part of eliminating unhealthy school lunches to reduce chances of obesity and other diseases.


To summarize a piece of writing is to form a general description in your own words of the text. This means you must be able to identify the main idea of the text.


NASA has studied Jupiter from Earth and from space. Some NASA scientists use telescopes on Earth to study Jupiter. The Hubble Space Telescope flies above Earth. It has taken pictures of Jupiter. From 1979 to 2007, eight NASA spacecraft studied Jupiter. Some of those spacecraft flew past the planet. Some stopped to visit. The missions studied the air and gases around Jupiter. Some missions studied the planet’s moons and rings. The missions took close-up pictures of some of the unusual things found on Jupiter.

A summary of the paragraph would be:

In the past, NASA used a variety of spacecraft and telescopes to study Jupiter. These missions studied Jupiter's surface, atmosphere, and moons.

Using Previous Knowledge

Reading nonfiction means constantly connecting information to previous knowledge. This helps the reader gain a context for what they are reading. Having previous knowledge about a topic can increase comprehension. Readers try to make sense of what they read by seeing how it fits with what they already know.


Bobby was busy with his bucket and spade. The sandcastle was nearly complete. Then a huge wave crashed onto the shore. On seeing that his day’s work has been ruined Bobby started to cry.

Main idea: Bobby's sandcastle was destroyed.

Prior knowledge: A bucket and spade are used to make things out of sand at the beach.

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