Critical Thinking Questions Regarding Nonfiction

Thinking critically about nonfiction invites you to analyze how you make meaning out of your own stories.
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Reading nonfiction provides unique opportunities for students to apply critical thinking skills. Unlike fiction, nonfiction attempts to report truthful events and insights, so the questions you ask can focus more on why the writer chose the scenes she did and the choices she made in structuring the narrative, as opposed to the invention-focused choices more commonly associated with fiction. Reading nonfiction allows students to assess the effects of storytelling when the stories are real.

1 What Do You Believe?

Whenever we read a piece of nonfiction, we automatically make a decision as to whether or not we believe the story we are reading. We can then ask ourselves whether we think the issue is that of truthfulness on the part of the writer, or if the writer herself is deluded as to the truth of the events that have transpired. In some cases, readers will dismiss events that writers claim to be irrefutably true. In others, readers unflinchingly believe stories -- or parts of stories -- that have admittedly been manufactured.

2 Which are the Facts, and Which are the Opinions?

In any published piece of nonfiction, a level of mastery is expected of the author, and this mastery of storytelling often persuades us to accept many statements as facts that we would otherwise challenge. When reading nonfiction you can challenge yourself to identify statements that are undeniably facts as well as those that are cleverly shrouded statements of opinion. Doing this will attune you to narrative techniques that manipulate credibility, all while sharpening your critical thinking skills.

3 What Choices Did the Writer Make?

With every word penned, writers make choices. Nonfiction writers commonly make choices about what to include and what to leave out of a story. Often, events or insights are left out so the reader can draw certain conclusions for themselves, without having to be told the idea explicitly. Asking questions regarding choices of what was written and how it was written will raise your awareness of how an audience can be led to an idea without having the idea simply told -- which tends to be boring and unsatisfying to the reader.

4 What is the Writer's Vision, and in What Ways Can You Respond to It?

Nonfiction writers write for different reasons. Biographers aim to communicate facts of a person's life, while memoirists often choose to tell individual, episodic stories that -- as a collective -- imply larger contemplative themes. If you can identify what an author's vision or intention might be, you can then assess whether or not she achieved her goal and, additionally, other ways in which you can interpret the events she has set to the page.

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."