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Elements of Nonfiction

April 2, 2012

A dear writer-friend of mine compares writing a book to solving Rubik’s Cube. With both, there are always myriad choices to make. You twist and turn the parts, and just when you think you’ve got one element solved, you discover another is out of line. Writing a book can be a frustrating and overwhelming task.

If you’ve written a self-help, how-to, or other informational book, here’s a reference you can use to keep all the important elements of nonfiction  in mind as you reconsider your draft and head towards revision.

Clarity: Is the writing clear?

Concision: Do all elements move the work forward? Is the scope too broad or too narrow? Have you slashed out digressions, superfluous words, needless repetition, qualifying words or statements, excess modifiers, and idle, non-working words?

Coherence & Unity: Are all elements at the paragraph, section, and chapter level centered on its primary topic? Is the work well organized and tightly connected? Are the various elements presented in a logical order? Are all references unambiguous? Are the relationships between sentences, paragraphs, sections, chapters, and ideas clear? Are all transitions smooth and patterns clear?

Emphasis: Is the relative importance of thoughts, ideas, and issues conveyed? Consider this by looking at proportion, position, effective repetition, word choice, pauses, typography, images, and layout.

Style: Does the work have an authentic, appropriate, and consistent voice and tone? Is it free of surface errors? Is the writing smooth and engaging? Does it flow? Look closely at your grammar and punctuation, of course,  but also at your word choice and sentence styling. Do you use active, precise verbs, strong nouns,  and concrete and figurative language? Do you employ variable sentence lengths and forms?

Significance: Does the work address the needs of the reader? Does it make a point? Does it provide useful information or break new ground? Is it persuasive, enlightening, or surprising?

What aspect of writing a nonfiction book have you found most challenging?


Mary Ann de StefanoMary Ann de Stefano is a writer, editor, and writing coach with 30 years of experience in publishing and writing consulting. She does business at MAD about Words, named as a play on her initials and love for writing. Her posts appear on this blog the first Monday of every month.

One Comment
  1. April 2, 2012 8:07 pm

    I recently had a reader comment on my blog and they were less than flattering about what I conveyed in my entry. It’s the first time I really reflected on my voice and style. Usually when I comment back with a reply, it’s about thanking the reader for their visit or their agreement with my post.

    Only when someone actually tested me and called me out did I notice a similar tone and voice in my response which matched the voice and tone of my original post. I conclude if you feel strongly about what you write, your voice and tone will come out equally compelling when you write again with the same intention, reaching your audience.

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