Types of Nonfiction Writing (Made Easy)

Are you trying to wrap your head around the differences between the types of nonfiction writing? Let me make that headache go away. First, there are two broad categories of nonfiction: research nonfiction and creative nonfiction.

Research nonfiction is straight factual writing. Essentially, it means journalism (the kind stuff you find in the newspapers). Creative nonfiction, by contrast, is any writing that embellishes facts with storytelling. (Examples would be the genres of memoir and the personal essay.) Creative fiction is also sometimes called literary nonfiction or narrative nonfiction.

That’s one way to categorize types of nonfiction writing. A more elaborate way—one you may remember from school—is to break nonfiction writing into the following four categories:

  • Narrative Nonfiction (Creative Nonfiction)
  • Expository Nonfiction (Informational Nonfiction)
  • Persuasive Nonfiction (Argumentative Nonfiction)
  • Descriptive Nonfiction (Illustrative Nonfiction)

That first category is what we were just talking about: creative nonfiction, factual writing that also tells a story.

types of nonfiction writingThe second, third, and fourth categories are subsets of research nonfiction, the other broad category we talked about, which is simply straight factual writing. Essentially, factual writing can be broken down into those three types: expository (meaning “informational”), persuasive (meaning “argumentative”), and descriptive (meaning “illustrative”).

Examples of expository nonfiction would be a news or feature article in a newspaper, or an informational book, such as a self-help book.  Examples of persuasive nonfiction would be a newspaper editorial or an essay by a political candidate. An example of descriptive nonfiction would be a travelogue.

If you are an author, distinguishing between kinds of nonfiction writing is really not a matter you need to worry about. No publishing house or agent is going to ask you to name the category your book falls into: narrative nonfiction, expository nonfiction, etc. They keep it simple: What genre is your nonfiction book? Self-help? Business? Memoir? But because I’m sometimes asked by clients to explain the formally defined nonfiction categories, I thought I’d dedicate this short article to the topic.

Now, there you have it: the types of nonfiction writing in a nutshell. Case closed. No more headache. Go have fun.


Jessi Rita Hoffman … book editing by an industry professional