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What Are the Best Tips for Writing Nonfiction?

Jacob Queen
Jacob Queen

Nonfiction comes in many different flavors, including instructional material, ruminations on a particular subject, opinion pieces, and biographies, so the approach can vary a lot between each of the different types. One of the main guidelines across all forms of nonfiction is for the writer to focus on what he or she knows about; if knowledge is lacking, then researching highly-reliable source material is usually recommended. After the writer gathers all his information, he will often proceed to create an outline of some kind to help structure the writing process and make sure everything is presented in a sensible manner. Another important goal in writing nonfiction is for the writer to avoid being overly opinionated, although there are exceptions to this when the material is meant to have a strong editorial slant or if it is biographical in nature. Since most nonfiction is generally educational, it is often considered important to present all the material in a way that is relatively easy for the reader to understand, and this is often even more important in material that is naturally very complex.

Research is usually crucial when writing nonfiction, and it is vital for the writer to make sure all of his research sources are suitably authoritative. Determining the reliability of a source can be difficult, and it will often depend on the subject. For example, a reliable source for a piece about biological science might be a book by a scientist or a paper from a university study — sources with a lot of academic backing —, but a reliable source for a book or article about doing housework might be an interview with someone who has no professional degree at all, or even the writer himself.

Stacks of nonfiction books.
Stacks of nonfiction books.

When writing nonfiction, many writers take detailed notes while researching, and some even create an outline to help guide them through the writing process, which can help with staying focused. This kind of outline could be as simple as a list of key ideas, or it could go into great detail on exactly how the material should be presented. When creating this kind of outline, it is often necessary for the writer to structure the information so that if flows in a natural way and layers on additional facts so that they build on each other.

Good nonfiction writing presents the material in a way that is easy for the reader to understand.
Good nonfiction writing presents the material in a way that is easy for the reader to understand.

Another common issue with writing nonfiction is the question of opinion and whether or not there should be any kind of editorial voice in the work. If the writer is approaching the piece from the perspective of a journalist or documenter, it is generally considered inappropriate to over-editorialize the piece. For example, if someone where writing a school history book, it would not be considered acceptable for the writer to fill the book with his or her own opinions. In fact, there would usually be a requirement that the writer hold back on those aspects, letting the readers decide what to think for themselves.

If the target audience for the material can't understand what's being discussed, then it isn't usually going to be very helpful. This means that it is often important for the writer to keep the audience for his work in mind and concentrate on creating material that the person can understand easily. If the material is meant for an audience of lay-people, it may be necessary to simplify the explanation of certain technical subjects. Even if the audience is more knowledgeable, it is still usually important to make everything as clear as possible.

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Discussion Comments


This is a great article. I want to write a non-fiction book, but was not sure how to start. Thanks!

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    • Stacks of nonfiction books.
      By: Africa Studio
      Stacks of nonfiction books.
    • Good nonfiction writing presents the material in a way that is easy for the reader to understand.
      By: Gandolfo Cannatella
      Good nonfiction writing presents the material in a way that is easy for the reader to understand.