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What Are the Main Features of Nonfiction?

Herodotus's histories acknowledge their potentially inaccurate sources.
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  • Written By: Mark Wollacott
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2014
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The main features of nonfiction are facts, reality and analysis. A piece of nonfiction attempts to portray the truth instead of fiction, putting reality ahead of imagination. Most commonly associated with the written word, nonfiction is also associated with photographic, cinematic and spoken creations.

Another of the features of nonfiction involves the wide range of styles. At its minimum, it is a diagram or a list of dry facts, but can also take on literary or fictional elements in order to create narrative nonfiction. One element nonfiction rarely featured is dialogue; this is because any dialogue has to be actually captured, on tape or on video, in order to be a true representation of events.

In theory, a piece of nonfiction does not contain untruths or imagined elements. This makes facts the most important of the features of nonfiction. Facts, however, are prone to bias, distortion and misuse by nonfiction creators intent on making a specific point regardless of the truth. Some, like Herodotus, acknowledge that their sources might be inaccurate, while others are willfully subjective.

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Biographies and autobiographies feature narratives concerning one person’s life or a slice of his or her life. The exact focus and the angle depends on the writer. These typically mix primary sources such as letters, diary entries, speeches and footage with secondary sources and eyewitness reports. One of the main features of nonfiction in biography is that it is very difficult to build a complete and accurate picture of a person, perhaps even more so in an autobiography.

Travel nonfiction features a mixture of descriptions and experiences. The experiences tend to be biographical, while the descriptions can either use narrative nonfiction features or veer towards the more academic. A more academic side of travel writing looks into a specific area of travel, whether it is a culture and language or a region’s unique topography.

Science and social sciences also range from the academic to the narrative. Academically-focused research papers tend to be dry pieces containing research, raw and processed data, and analysis. They tend to have narrowly-focused objectives. Narrative nonfiction in these areas looks to tie such research papers into a narrative spanning a process, element of nature or historical period. It covers areas such as biology, physics, history and archaeology.

Technical nonfiction is purely dry and aimed at explaining certain objects or processes. Typical features of nonfiction of this kind include how-to manuals, blueprints, diagrams and schematics. They are used for building design, electronic circuits, machines such as cars and for explaining chemical reactions.

Journalism is another form of nonfiction. Features of nonfiction with regards to journalism include reporting events within a short period of them happening, drawing together facts and opinions, and presenting them in an objective manner. Above all other nonfiction forms, journalism is the most averse, in theory, to outright lying. Journalism covers magazines, newspapers, some books and some documentary films.

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