Writing Readable Nonfiction

Writing nonfiction is an art form unto itself, as I mentioned in a previous post on the subject, However, while that post was concerned primarily with the fundamentals of writing nonfiction, this one is concerned with another important aspect: making sure that the nonfiction you write is actually readable.

What do I mean by readable? Well, in this case, I consider readability the capacity of the reader to make it through your work from beginning to end without making his eyes glaze over in the process (as I’ve had happen to me a few times when reading certain textbooks). After all, what’s the point in putting all that time into researching and gathering information in one place, only to have nobody look at it because it’s so bloody boring?

There are three main ways to make nonfiction more palatable to the average reader. The first is by making the subject relatable, the second is through careful word choice, and the third is through the inclusion of visual aids. Any one of these things on its own will help, but doing all three will almost guarantee that your subject–whatever it be–will reach a wider audience.

First comes relatability. It may seem obvious, but in order to capture and hold your readers’ attention, you have to make whatever they’re reading interesting to them. Tell them how the subject at hand affects their lives and why they should care. This is especially true of persuasive essays, but it holds true for simple informative and explanatory writings as well. If readers can’t see the relevance to their lives and interests, they’re not very likely to give you top marks when they’re done…if in fact they do finish reading your work.

Another important consideration is word choice. in this case, I mean the use of words that are not totally beyond the comprehension of your audience. If you’re aiming at a niche market of highly educated scientists for your book on the functions of a purple coneflower, by all means, use all the technical language you want. However, if you’d like to garner a much wider market for your book, then it will help immensely if you avoid throwing too many fancy Greco-Latin terms at the reader at once. And when you do introduce such words, take a little time to explain them. In this way, you won’t lose the reader’s interest simply because he couldn’t understand what you were talking about. Again, it seems obvious, but this must not be overlooked.

Finally, think about what kind of graphics or illustrations you are going to include to help the reader visualize what you are talking about. A lengthy, detailed description of a process or terrain can be helpful, but nothing beats having a good graphic to illustrate your point in a clear, concise manner. Whether it is a map, drawing, graph, chart, or some other visual aid, make sure you include as many as necessary to get your point across (and obviously don’t forget to caption them either).

And that’s about it. If you follow these guidelines, then along with a well-written, error-free text, you should have a winning formula for producing a high quality nonfiction book or paper that will appeal to a much broader audience, and hence result in more widespread distribution of the information and ideas you wish to convey.

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and Knights of Aralia, as well as the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children. Several of his shorter works have also appeared in various print and online periodicals over the years. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favorite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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