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Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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What is Nonfiction?

What is fiction and nonfiction? Nonfiction is a genre of literature based on facts, actual events, or real people. In contrast, fiction is a genre of literature that describes imaginary settings, events, and characters. Nonfiction is a broad category that includes self-help books, academic textbooks, cookbooks, reference books, journalism, travel guides, parenting books, and educational resources. Is nonfiction real? Nonfiction texts are intended to inform and educate readers on a particular topic or various topics by presenting accurate and truthful information. Some forms of nonfiction can be confused for fiction because they are written as prose like a novel, but the essential difference is that the text must be factual to be nonfiction.

A library collection of children and young adult nonfiction books.

A library collection of children and young adult nonfiction books including almanacs and books about chocolate.

Characteristics of Nonfiction

An author writes about real people, places, and events to inform readers or express ideas in nonfiction writing. Nonfiction writing is fact-based, which means it includes information that is true and can be verified.

Nonfiction writing may include text features such as:

  • photographs
  • captions
  • diagrams
  • maps
  • glossaries
  • table of contents
  • cited sources

Nonfiction writing may be organized using various text structures such as:

  • cause and effect – the writer describes actions (cause) that led to the main event (effect)
  • sequential – the information is presented in order (the beginning, middle, and end)
  • problem and solution – the writer will present an issue that needs to be fixed, followed by one or more possible ways to fix it.
  • descriptive – the writer includes details to help a reader create mental images of the subject
  • compare and contrast – the writer uses details to explain ways in which two or more subjects are alike or different

Types of Nonfiction

There are two main types of nonfiction writing: literary and informative.

Literary Nonfiction

The literary nonfiction definition, or creative nonfiction, is a sub-genre of nonfiction where the author uses storytelling to inform, educate, and entertain the reader. Like all nonfiction, the people, places, and events must be factual and verifiable in literary nonfiction. Literary nonfiction is often considered more engaging than informative nonfiction because the author uses fewer technical words, inserts their point of view, or includes personal accounts. The writer uses literary techniques to immerse the reader rather than merely presenting facts. Sometimes, an author may recall events from one person’s perspective where another person’s perspective might be different. However, literary nonfiction must still be based on facts; otherwise, it becomes a work of fiction. A literary nonfiction text is typically read in order since literary nonfiction tends to tell a story.

Literary nonfiction can be presented in several ways, such as historical, travel writing, science writing, humor, autobiographies, and memoirs. Historical nonfiction is writing about a past event from one person’s perspective. Autobiographies, biographies, and diaries are personal accounts of a person’s life and experiences. Science writing can focus on a discovery, a scientist, or the impact of science on the world. Travel writing, or travelogues, includes personal accounts of the writer’s adventure or experiences. These examples are considered literary nonfiction because they contain personal narratives, imagery, or the author’s perspective.

Informative Nonfiction

Informative nonfiction presents facts to inform a reader or explain a concept. The author of an informative nonfiction text takes an objective, unbiased view when writing on the topic. Informative nonfiction can still be written to entertain, but its primary purpose is to teach or inform the reader. Typically, an informative nonfiction text is organized by chapter and broken into subtopics. A reader can use the table of contents to locate the subtopic they are interested in and read the text in any order.

Reference books such as encyclopedias, news articles, and textbooks are examples of informative nonfiction. A writer may interview a person of interest and publish the interview to share details about the person’s life, profession, or involvement in an upcoming event. This interview is considered nonfiction because it is based on facts provided by the interviewee.

An encyclopedia provides details on various topics, from historical events to current events and political leaders to cultural traditions. Textbooks offer detailed information on one topic. Often these nonfiction texts include summaries and questions to help a reader review or study the information. News articles focus on current events and provide facts and details of the event and the people involved. News articles may include quotes that state an opinion, but the writer remains unbiased in presenting the information.

Nonfiction Examples

Literary Nonfiction:

  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Krakauer pieces together the events of a young man who ventures into the wilderness in 1992.

  • Educated by Tara Westover –

This book is the author’s memoir of her experience in a survivalist family and her experience in seeking education.

  • Night by Elie Wiesel

Night is a memoir by the author recounting his experience during the Holocaust in German concentration camps.

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were unknowingly donated to science, and her impact on the medical world.

Informative Nonfiction:

  • The Encyclopedia Britannica

The Encyclopedia Britannica is a general knowledge text with thousands of biographies and articles on various topics.

  • National Geographic Concise Atlas of the World

This atlas is a collection of maps and graphics of various regions of the Earth.

  • The Chicago Manual of Style

This manual is a guide on grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and style.

Lesson Summary

Nonfiction writing is based on actual events and facts. It includes accounts from real people and details of real places. Fiction writing includes imaginary details, people, and events. Nonfiction writing has text structures, including diagrams, photographs, and captions. There are two main branches of nonfiction. Literary nonfiction is nonfiction writing that tells a story and uses literary techniques to express ideas and entertain. As a result of using imagery and other literary techniques, some literary nonfiction may be confused with fictional stories. The main difference is literary nonfiction is based on real people, places, and events, whereas an author makes up the people, places, and events in a fictional text. Biographies, historical fiction, travelogues, and diaries are examples of literary nonfiction. Informative nonfiction is writing intended to inform readers of real people, places, and events. Examples of informative nonfiction include encyclopedias, textbooks, newspaper articles, and interviews in publication. A writer can structure their nonfiction writing to present details using text structures such as problem and solution, cause and effect, sequential, compare and contrast, or descriptive.

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