What Have you Got to Say for Yourself?
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, it’s always important to make sure your writing is polished. Is your grammar solid? What about sentence structure? Flow? Editing plays a big piece of the readability of your final product. But, while there are similarities in both fiction and nonfiction, the structure and ideas that go into nonfiction are more than a simple outline and creativity. That’s not to say that one is easier or harder than the other to write. Each genre has its challenges.
The biggest area you’ll want to focus on when it comes to nonfiction is not only building your authority but offering credible sources that back up what you say. Just because you have an opinion about something, doesn’t make it a fact. And opinions have their place in nonfiction guides and books, if you clearly state that it’s your view, thought, opinion, or whatever you care to label it. Just don’t pass it off as researched information if that’s not what it is.
When creating a nonfiction book, keep in mind who your readers are. What will they expect out of your book? Is it a book on scientific data? Then supply scientific data. If it’s a political opinion piece, be sure to express so. When it’s somewhere in the middle, personal experience combined with data, it’s important to separate what comes from a study and is factual and what is either heresy or personal experience.
For example, did you know that xx% of all adults read this type of news source. If you’ve quoted something of that nature, it’s important to not only get it from reliable sources, but also cite the source, and let your readers know you put the work into getting it right. Credibility matters. Once you lose it, it’s hard to get it back.
Do you remember when Oprah Winfrey had author James Frey on claiming his book, A Million Little Pieces, was true? His version of the truth wasn’t so true
after all, and his credibility was forever lost. This book was a massive seller, and then…he fell like Humpty Dumpty. His ego might have been duct taped back together, but the reading audience didn’t trust him anymore. Too little, too late. He’d lied. He was no longer trustworthy.
Facts matter. When people read nonfiction, they expect the truth. Not made-up half-truths.
Give it a Bit of Style
When you structure a nonfiction book, you’ll want to make sure that it makes logical sense to your reader. It doesn't always have to follow a linear timeline. It can be grouped by categories or topics. It can be grouped by a build-up of investigative reporting that will lead to a strong conclusion. It can simply be in the order that feels right to you.
The idea is that before you get too far, consider the flow of the book and what would make sense to the person reading it. Will you encourage them to jump around to sections as preferred? Will you recommend that they read it in the order that you wrote it? These are all things to consider, as your structure can help you define the way the reader chooses to use or read your book.
Often, you’ll find readers are only interested in certain sections and may skip over chapters. Will the book make sense to them still, if they dig in and start at chapter three, because they feel like one and two will simply be a review for them? Or if you’ve built up something large early on, will they lose the core of the book if they jump around? A simple way to do this is by thinking about how you’ll group chapters together prior to writing your book.
Brainstorm the ideas you want to cover. Make a mind-map. Write them down. Whatever works for you, whether it’s a fancy outline or a hand-drawn sketch on a cocktail napkin. As long as it makes sense to you! Once you’ve got the basics of what you’d like to cover, you can then flesh out what order would make the reader’s experience better.
If it’s a topic you’re intimately familiar with and know like the back of your hand, don’t assume your readers will know it that well. Be sure to write things in a manner that you’ve spoken to in your blurb or jacket cover. If you say you’re going to discuss how to do something, be sure to discuss that. Don’t skip to step five, assuming everybody knows how to do steps one through four.
Planning is an important step when it comes to writing nonfiction. Ever read a book that simply doesn’t make sense? Don’t be that writer. Proper planning will save you that frustration!
Can you Back that Up?
Research is an important part of nonfiction. People want to know you have taken the time to give them the facts. It’s why they picked up your book in the first place. They’re trusting you to answer their questions. Can you back up what you’re saying?
Good research is an important part of the journey when it comes to non-fiction. Pulling from multiple sources, whether studies, polls, and other reputable unbiased sources will show your readers that you’re offering a well-rounded view, and it’s not simply one perspective. Now, if your book is about one perspective, cool. Fine. Just make sure the reader is aware it may be a bit one-sided and isn’t a scientifically balanced book showing both sides of a situation.
Reputation matters. Don’t risk your reputation just to make a point. When creating a reference piece, backup your information. Again, an opinion piece is all well and good. We need those books just the same, but don’t state that it’s fact when it’s opinion. People need to know the difference and be aware that the words they’re reading represent one-side, or both sides of a situation, especially if it’s something that’s easily weighted.
Did you ever watch a show, believing you were watching a documentary, only to find out later it was speculation? Ouch. They may have slid in a tiny disclaimer early when you ran to grab a snack in the kitchen. Maybe it was omitted in the “about” area on the television guide. Did you feel duped?
You’ll often see shows like this on conspiracy theories. Did we land on the moon? You’ll see a show filled with experts and people talking about hoaxes, and they’ll tilt the scientific details one way or another.
There’ve been big movies like this also, propaganda passed off as truth. Hard pill to swallow if you go in thinking you’re getting the facts, but you’re getting the facts fed to you in a certain way to make it feel real. It’s manipulated, only showing one side.
That’s like watching a liberal news story, then turning and listening to a conservative news story. Each side shows its own views. Don’t do that to your readers, not if you’re trying to be seen as someone to trust.
There’s a book called Freakonomics that speaks to this. It’s about how one fact, when displayed in different ways can become slanted. They only give you the information they want you to know, and the facts are taken out of context.
Use reliable sources, my friend. Be reliable.
Be a Hero and Quote Your Source
Maybe you’re not sure of the proper way to quote your sources. No worries, we’ve got your back. Take your pick from any of these great resources which explain why citing is so important, and show you different styles of citing whether it’s basic facts, quotes, data analysis or statistics.
We're all familiar with The Chicago Manual of Style (here's the online version
), but we've included a few more sources that you might find helpful.
You’ll find clean, easy-to-understand
information about citing sources from the UC Santa Cruz University Library, here.
Purdue University offers a great chart
that shows when and how to cite resources.
You'll find a list of fact checking sources
and data and statistical sources at the University Libraries of Las Vegas on Journalism and Media Studies.
MIT Libraries is another strong source to learn more about citing, why it's important,
and tips on how to do it properly.
When writing a nonfiction book, consider your layout, flow, the information you’re providing and properly citing your research.
- Differentiate between fact and opinion
- Provide research, facts, or study links to back up your claims
- Save your reputation. Don’t fabricate information as fact when it’s not
- Consider the layout of your book—make sure it has a logical path for readers to understand
- Take time to polish, edit, and clean up your work for the best reception
- Enjoy writing something you’re passionate about!