How to Structure a Non-Fiction Book

Beginning in our primary years, we are taught how to write. We are taught about the parts of a book and types of writing, but one of the more important things we learn is the structure of the written work. Whether it’s an essay, short story, poem, or novel, we are taught how to piece our ideas together in order to create a readable, coherent, and enjoyable finished product.

Your writing is no different. Attempting to write without structure could be useful for some, but for the majority of us, creating a structure assists us in, not only organizing our thoughts and creating an entertaining piece of writing, but also, your ability to write faster while appealing to your audience.

When writing non-fiction, there are a few tried and true structures that have proven to be successful with readers, but before you can begin to look at structure, you should decide what type of non-fiction you will be writing. Is this a memoir, an interview, a biography, an informative piece, or a how-to book? Each of these genres will pose their own challenges when it comes to structure. What works for one may not work for the other.

Alphabetical: This type of structure works best when your content doesn’t flow well together or you’re aiming to educate your readers about specific parts of a whole, but the peripheral details are not needed.

Example: an informative piece on the Greek Pantheon might benefit from this type of structure; listing each god or goddess in alphabetical order.

Chronological: This is pretty self explanatory. Write your story as it happens. What happened first? How did this affect this, which then lead to that? A how-to book responds best to this type of structure, allowing the reader to following along, step-by-step, in order to reach the desired end result.

Example: a DIY book on how to create the perfect distressed wooden furniture should provide the steps in chronological order so that the reader knows how the end result was achieved while providing them with the steps to completion.

Location: When writing a book that features some type of journey, whether it be physical or metaphorical, you should follow a location based structure. Start at A; End with Z. Humans are programmed to easily understand this type of thinking, which is why this structure is one of the most popular.

Example: in describing the zones of the ocean, start at the top and work your way down. Your reader will be able to easily visualize what you’re describing despite not having seen it themselves.

Order of Importance: Think about what is most important to your main idea. Is this item needed to understand or perform all following information or tasks? Whatever your narrative, write an outline. Get out those post-it notes. Make sure you know and believe your structure before diving in.

Example: If you’re writing a book on moving to a foreign country, you should probably start with something like ‘how to obtain your visa,’ as your reader will be unable to do anything in their destination without one, followed by ‘how much money to save’ and ‘where to find affordable airfare.’

Once you have chosen your structure, stick with it. It is important for you to know what you’re going to focus on next, and for your reader to be able to identify your structure so that they may follow along, comprehend and remember what you wrote, and be able to reference the information later.

Which structure works best for your book?



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