Reading What’s Real: 11 Types of Nonfiction

23 Apr 2021


If you had to guess, which book category would you suppose is the largest in the United States, by both volume and sales revenue? Would you guess Romance? Mystery?

It’s actually neither! In fact, it’s not any genre of novel. Believe it or not, according to NPD Booskscan, it’s actually nonfiction.

Nonfiction, by definition, is prose writing that is about real facts, people, and events. Does that sound boring? It shouldn’t. We live in a fascinating world and nonfiction books can teach us about any wonderous part of it that piques our interest.

It is true that once upon a time nonfiction books tended to be very dry and straightforward. While the information was great, the reading could be a trudge. Thankfully, though, nonfiction has come a long way in recent years and has really embraced storytelling and diversity.

Take a look at these 11 cool types of nonfiction that you’ll want to add to your library–and possibly even your writing repertoire!.

11 Types of Nonfiction

1. Traditional 

Traditional nonfiction takes on a topic and seeks to educate us on it. It doesn’t necessarily get fancy but gives us the lowdown on a moment in history, an animal, a style of architecture, or any other topic. 


2. Autobiography

An autobiography is the story of a person’s life, written by that very person (sometimes with the help of a ghostwriter). It is typically written in the first person and covers the author’s life chronologically. In most cases, autobiographies cover the life of someone famous.


3. Biography

A biography is much like an autobiography, but with one major difference: It’s written by someone other than the subject. So, instead of someone telling you their own life story, you have a writer telling you the life story of someone famous or significant. These books will typically be written in the third person and also tell their story chronologically. 


4. Memoir

A memoir is a story of a person's life told by that same person. Wait, isn't that an autobiography? Yes and no. There are some distinct differences. A memoir is more likely to be focused on one event, time period, or aspect of the author's life. Memoirs also tend to be emotionally driven rather than simply reporting the events. A great memoir can read much like a good novel.


5. Expository

Expository nonfiction does just what the name implies: It exposes something or brings something to light. Some possible topics would include political, cultural, or environmental issues. The key to great expository nonfiction is for the author to have a deep knowledge of the subject matter and bring to light things that most people would not already know. 


6. Prescriptive Nonfiction (Self-Help)

Need help figuring out a problem in your life? Prescriptive nonfiction may have the answers. Better known as self-help books, prescriptive nonfiction offers aid, coaching, and advice for people looking to improve their lives in one way or another. It could be about weight loss, self-confidence, leadership, or any other popular subject. This vein of nonfiction has a massive market, and is unlikely to go away anytime soon. 


7. Narrative 

This is a category than can actually include almost any of the other categories as well. Narrative nonfiction is any nonfiction writing that uses a storytelling style to convey the information. Rather than simply reporting the facts, narrative nonfiction frames the information dramatically, but still truthfully.


8. Browsable 

Browsable nonfiction is informational nonfiction broken down into small, easy-to-read chapters, with things like lists and fun facts. The topics can be anything from how to play a sport to farm machines or former U.S. presidents. A reader can open up the book at any point and glean fun and interesting information without having to read the book from cover to cover. 


9. Active

Want to learn how to do something? Get a book that teaches you with a step-by-step process. That’s active nonfiction. Active nonfiction is meant to educate the reader on how to do something new. It could be building a treehouse, cooking scrumptious desserts, or creating entertaining party games for kids. The “active” in active fiction comes from the idea that the reader doesn’t just read, but needs to follow the instructions and do what the book is telling them to do. 


10. Academic Texts

Most of us are familiar with academic texts. These books are used in educational settings and teach students about any one particular subject, usually including quizzes or other assignments in them. They should be authoritative and comprehensive. 


11. Travel Guides and Travelogues 

Travel guides are just what they sound like, guides for traveling to a specific location. They can provide a traveler with information on the coolest landmarks, best restaurants, places to stay, and other tips to make the most of a trip. Travelogues do the same thing, but in a more creative way. A travelogue is told from the perspective of a person who takes the trip and provides a first-person account of the destination.


Nonfiction is Always Evolving

One thing remains constant: Nonfiction is about facts and the truth. How we choose to tell it is an ever-evolving thing. Fifty years ago, if you put a memoir to film, you’d probably end up with a documentary–and that’s okay.

However, more recently, memoirs like “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Under the Tuscan Sun” have all the storytelling, plot, and voice to make wonderful feature films.

If you’ve shelved the idea of reading—or even writing—nonfiction because it’s just too dull for your tastes, it may be time to look again. It’s a new world in nonfiction and chances are there’s something out there that will keep you turning the pages. Enjoy!

Tyler Omoth 
Tyler grew up knowing he wanted to be a writer. In 2005 he landed his first professional writing role as a radio advertising copywriter. Since then he has penned over 70 books for children as well as blog posts, white papers, press releases, greeting cards and articles. He's even managed to get a few short stories and poems published. He's written for just about every kind of business out there and loves the challenge of finding the right voice to fit each client, even if it means matching their existing voice. He believes that the best writing strikes an emotional chord, even if it's just a 30-second advertisement. He is Hubspot certified for content marketing and knows how to create content that is SEO friendly. A Minnesota transplant living in Tampa, FL, when he's not writing Tyler is probably watching baseball or embracing the chaos of life with his wife, Mary, and twin toddlers, Gavin and Rachel.

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2 thoughts on “Reading What’s Real: 11 Types of Nonfiction

  1. Actually, the reverse is the case for me: I consider fiction boring(a waste of time) and nonfiction exciting and productive. I would rather spend my time reading a 700-page Chicago manual of style than any of, say, J.K Rolling’s or even Ernest Hemingway’s.

    1. We can definitely appreciate a good nonfiction book, as well! Glad to hear we aren’t the only ones.

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