Eight Tips for Creating Nonfiction We Want to See

By Mara Cobb

  1. Start by reading. All writers were first readers. In order to create good nonfiction, it’s important that you first read some nonfiction essays that inspire you. Consider what the writers do well, and then feel free to use some of those techniques in your own story.
  2. Know your audience. What do you need to tell your readers that we don’t already know? Keep your background information limited to what you think is important that readers must know before the story begins.
  3. Consider your angle. Every storyline you can think of has already been told. And that’s okay. There are still ways to make your story stand out. Think about what makes your story different from others, and then play with those points to set your piece apart.
  4. Create a hook. When writing fiction, it’s important to draw your readers in using the first few sentences. Nonfiction writing should be no different. Even though nonfiction essays are true, real-life events, the essay should be written so that the reader can’t stop reading after the first sentence.
  5. Establish a tone. Does your essay tell a happy tale of redemption, or is your essay likely to make your readers share your grief? Once you know the direction of your essay, find out the main points and then establish a tone. Keep your tone consistent with the main point of the piece. And never use a condescending tone, as that can be off-putting for readers.
  6. Don’t write more than you need to. We often think that if a little is good, a lot is great. When writing a nonfiction piece, though, often less can be more. There’s no need for an essay to drag on and on. Conciseness can work to the writer’s advantage. Leave your readers wanting more, not wishing the story ended six pages ago.
  7. Check your spelling and punctuation. Misspelling a word or misplacing a comma happens to everyone. But an essay that is as free from mistakes as possible makes your writing seem neater and more professional.
  8. Be passionate about your story. If you have a story that you feel needs to be told, write it! If a topic is important to you, odds are it will also be interesting to others. The more passionate you are about getting a story into the world, the more time you will put into making it informative and fascinating.


Mara Cobb is the nonfiction editor and social media coordinator for Tributaries. She is a junior at IU East majoring in English, Technical, and Professional Writing. She is also a member of Sigma Tau Delta. Her work has appeared in Encounter, Pockets, Devozine, and the IUE newspaper, The Howler. She also has a job working as a blog writer for a dog walking company. In her free time, Mara enjoys reading, writing fiction novels and poetry, and baking. She lives on a farm with her numerous dogs, cats, chickens, horses, and goats.

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