Developing nonfiction essays

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use. This resource provides an introduction to creative nonfiction, including an overview of the genre and an explanation of major sub-genres. It is focused on story, meaning it has a narrative plot with an inciting moment, rising action, climax and denoument, just like fiction. The pieces can vary greatly in length, just as fiction can; anything from a book-length autobiography to a word food blog post can fall within the genre.

Additionally, the genre borrows some aspects, in terms of voice, from poetry; poets generally look for truth and write about the realities they see. Creative Nonfiction encompasses many different forms of prose. As an emerging form, CNF is closely entwined with fiction.


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Many fiction writers make the cross-over to nonfiction occasionally, if only to write essays on the craft of fiction. This can be done fairly easily, since the ability to write good prose—beautiful description, realistic characters, musical sentences—is required in both genres. The talented CNF writer will certainly use imagination and craft to relay what has happened and tell a story, but the story must be true. It is the language of learning and understanding the world around us.

Expository writing is everywhere in everyday life, not just academic settings, as it's present anytime there's information to be conveyed. It can take form in an academic paper, an article for a newspaper, a report for a business, or even book-length nonfiction. It explains, informs, and describes. Start where you know the information best. You don't have to write your introduction first.

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In fact, it might be easier to wait until the end for that. If you don't like the look of a blank page, move over the slugs from your outline for the main body paragraphs and write the topic sentences for each. Then start putting in your information according to each paragraph's topic. Be clear and concise. Readers have a limited attention span. Make your case succinctly in language that the average reader can understand. Stick to the facts. Although an exposition can be persuasive, it should not be based on opinion only. Support your case with facts, data, and reputable sources that can be documented and verified.

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Consider voice and tone. How you address the reader depends on the kind of essay you're writing.

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An essay written in the first person is fine for a personal travel essay but is inappropriate if you're a business reporter describing a patent lawsuit. Think about your audience before you begin writing. An expository essay has three basic parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Each is crucial to writing a clear article or effective argument. The introduction: The first paragraph is where you'll lay the foundation for your essay and give the reader an overview of your thesis.

Use your opening sentence to get the reader's attention, and then follow up with a few sentences that give your reader some context for the information you're about to cover. The body could be considerably longer, depending on your topic and audience. Each paragraph begins with a topic sentence where you state your case or objective.

Each topic sentence supports your overall thesis statement. Finally, a concluding sentence offers a transition to the following paragraph in the essay. Don't cover new material related to your thesis, though. This is where you wrap it all up.

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What Is Expository Writing?

An expository article or report about a lake, for example, could discuss its ecosystem: the plants and animals that depend on it along with its climate. It could describe physical details about its size, depth, amount of rainfall each year, and the number of tourists it receives annually.


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Information on when it was formed, its best fishing spots, or its water quality could be included, depending on the audience for the piece. An expository piece could be in third person or second person.


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Second-person examples could include, for example, how to test lake water for pollutants or how to kill invasive species. Expository writing is useful and informative.

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In contrast, someone writing a creative nonfiction article about a lake might relate the place to a defining moment in his or her life, penning the piece in first person. It could be filled with emotion, opinion, sensory details, and even include dialogue and flashbacks. It's a much more evocative, personal type of writing than an expository piece, even though they're both nonfiction styles.

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