There are many types of patterns and rules in the English language that convey meaning. These patterns are called cues and conventions. Textual cues and conventions are elements of a written text, such as structure and form, that shape its purpose. Understanding textual cues and conventions helps readers unpack the meaning of written works.

Textual Textual

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Table of contents

    Textual English Meaning

    In English, the word "textual" is an adjective that describes something related to a written work. Textual cues and conventions are thus cues and conventions within a written work that convey meaning. Readers should be on the lookout for them when analyzing how an author presents information. Understanding how they work also helps writers, as it teaches them how to use textual features to communicate efficiently.

    When analyzing the textual cues and conventions in a given text, readers should consider information like how the words are laid out on the page, what words are stylized, and what order information is in.

    Textual, Text Symbol, StudySmarterFIg. 1 - Textual cues are elements of a text which convey meaning, like structure and form.

    Textual Features

    There are many features of texts that convey meaning to readers. The following list outlines the main features of a text that can convey meaning for readers to unpack.


    A text's structure is the way a text is laid out or how an author organizes information. For instance, perhaps the author of a news article puts the most crucial information at the beginning to ensure the reader can understand the article's content immediately. Or perhaps the author of a fictional text described events out of chronological order to suggest that the main character is losing his mind. The order of events and information in a text always affects how the reader understands what is happening in the text, so its structure is one of the most impactful textual features.

    Signal Words

    Signal words are words that indicate what is coming next in a text. These serve as cues and conventions because they help readers follow how the author's intentions. For example, if a writer uses the signal phrase "as a result," the reader understands that the author is trying to communicate a causal relationship between ideas. The following is a list of common signal words to watch out for in texts:

    • For example,

    • Similarly,

    • In addition,

    • First,

    • Next,

    • Last,

    • Ultimately,

    • Although,

    Signal words can compare and contrast ideas, explain a sequence or steps in a process, indicate time, or signal a summary.

    Textual, Walk Signal, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Signal words indicate what is coming next.


    Writers often use headings to break up their text, like in this article! Headings keep the information organized and tell the reader what part of the text contains what information. Headings are like signposts telling readers where to go or where they are headed.


    The font is the visual appearance of a text. Writers can use font style and size to communicate meaning. For instance, when a writer uses a larger or more impactful font for some words and not others, they suggest that these words are more important.


    The form of a text is the way the author laid out the words on a page. For example, poets often use techniques such as enjambment. This lays out the words in their poems deliberately to emphasize certain parts over others. Also, journalists often include photos between texts. The decision of where to put those photos and how to break up the information in the text conveys meaning about what parts of the text relate to others.

    Reflect on the form of this text. How did the author present the information? How does that impact the meaning of the text?

    Textual Approach in Literature

    Textual cues and conventions convey meaning in both non-fictional and fictional texts. Textual cues are particularly meaningful in fictional literary works, as authors often use them to communicate thematic messages or help readers follow the development of a text.

    Textual, Reader, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Readers should analyze textual features in literature.

    When analyzing textual cues and conventions in literature, the reader should consider how the layout of the above textual features may convey meaning to the story. For instance, readers can ask themselves questions like the following:

    • Are there chapter titles? Or are the chapters just numbered? How does the naming of the chapters inform the reader?

    • How long are the chapters? Does the length impact the reader's understanding of the story?

    • What font does the author use? Do they switch between fonts? Does the font impact the reader's perception of the text?

    • Are there headings within the chapters? How does that impact the readers' understanding?

    • How does the author lay out the text? Are certain sections longer than others? Are certain types of information presented before other types?

    • Does the author use italicized or bolded text? What is the impact of these features?

    • How does the author introduce the characters? For example, does a third-person narrator directly state who each character is, or does the reader have to find out through dialogue?

    There is a significant debate among literary critics as to whether or not understanding authorial intent is vital in literary analysis. Some scholars believe readers should only analyze texts to understand the author's meaning. In contrast, others feel that the reader's response to a text is also a valid interpretation, even if the reader notes an idea within the text that the author did not intend when writing. In recent years, the second school of thought has become more popular as it considers readers' ability to unpack multidimensional meaning from a text.

    Therefore, when asking the above analytical questions, do not worry too much about whether the author intended to convey meaning through each and every textual cue. Instead, focus on what impact the textual cues have on your interaction with the text. For example, perhaps a poet broke up stanzas randomly, but you feel that the breaks emphasized the grouping of ideas on the page. This response is still valid and makes for insightful analysis as long as you highlight evidence in the text.

    Textual Symbolism

    A rich feature of a fictional text is symbolism.

    In literature, symbolism is the use of an object or an action to represent an idea.

    Readers can use textual cues and conventions to help them unpack the meaning behind symbols in a text. For instance, in The Great Gatsby (1925), F. Scott Fitzgerald introduces the symbol of the green light at the end of the first chapter while introducing the main character Jay Gatsby. A critical reader would note that the introduction of two major elements (the main character and a symbol) occurs simultaneously. The author might thus be suggesting a connection between what the two elements represent. Fitzgerald then references the symbol several times throughout the text. Readers who note the significance of where the symbol is mentioned the first time will then be attentive to where it comes up later in the text and what it reveals.

    Textual, Green Light, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The green light in The Great Gatsby is an example of symbolism in literature.

    Examples of Textual Cues and Conventions in English

    To practice identifying and analyzing textual cues, consider some of the textual cues in this article. For example, look at the first line. Here the writer introduces the overall topic of this article. The writer defines "cues and conventions," explaining the following article will be about "textual cues and conventions." Putting summative information at the top like this is itself a textual cue, as it serves as a reference for the reader.

    This author also uses headings and subheadings to organize information. The font size is slightly different between these two types of headings to indicate which are more general and which are more specific. For example, the larger heading "Textual Features" is then divided into subcategories.

    It is also interesting to note the form of this text, or how the author chose to arrange the information on the page. For instance, this author uses bullet points to divide example analytical questions. The author also sets apart the definition of symbolism to make it stand out and ensure it is clear.

    Can you spot any other textual cues and conventions in this article? How do they impact your understanding?

    Textual - Key Takeaways

    • In English, the word textual is an adjective describing something related to a text, a written work.

    • Textual features that serve as cues and conventions include structure, signal words, form, font, and headings.

    • Readers should consider how textual features impact the story's meaning when analyzing literature.

    • In literature, symbolism is the use of objects or actions to represent an idea.

    • Readers should consider the structure and form with which authors present symbols when analyzing literature.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Textual

    What does textual mean?

    The word textual is an adjective that describes something that relates to a written work. 

    What are textual cues?

    Textual cues are elements of a textile structure and form that convey meaning.

    What are some textual features?

    Structure, form, font, and headings are all examples of textual features. 

    What are textual conventions in English?

    Textual conventions include the structure and form of a text. 

    How can textual cues be a way to follow a certain text?

    Looking out for textual cues like headings and signal words can tell readers what is happening next in a text. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or False? Text structure and form are the same things. 

    Which of the following is a question a reader could ask when analyzing textual cues in a novel?

    Which of the following is a signal word?


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    Team English Teachers

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    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
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