A large proportion of nonfiction literature is published to solve a real-world problem for a carefully targeted audience.
As a result, whenever you’re creating a work of nonfiction you need to keep in mind that every sentence in your paragraphs must have a clear purpose, and that purpose must address both your readers’ problem and your book’s solution.
This article serves as an introduction to nonfiction paragraphs so that you can begin building your case on a solid foundation.
What is Nonfiction Literature?
Nonfiction is a type of literature that is purely based on facts. Every paragraph that you write in a nonfiction book must contain true and factual information. As a result, the accuracy of your content must play a central role in your writing.
Put another way, each paragraph that you write must carry clear meaning and build confidence in your readers about your approach.
If you go on tangents and stray from your main book thesis in a way that dilutes its meaning, your readers will get confused and lose interest in your book, with the resulting loss of your credibility.
Therefore, you need to make sure that you think through your paragraphs carefully before you write them down.
In the nonfiction genre, you never want to write just to fill space. On the contrary, you want to write in such a way that constantly reveals new information to the reader as you add building block after building block of content in support of your message.
The best way to think about it is to ask yourself the following question after you write each paragraph: is this text something that I would want to highlight if I was the reader?
In fact, you’ll notice that the best written nonfiction books happen to be the most highlighted ones as well.
With this in mind, let’s now look at how to compose strong nonfiction paragraphs.
Structure of a Nonfiction Paragraph
As a starting point, you need to be very clear about the stream of content that you’ll be covering in your chapter.
Since nonfiction literature is about facts, before you set out to write your paragraphs you need to know the sequence of concepts that you’ll be elaborating on. In other words, you need a road map of ideas where each one builds on the previous one.
Although the way to arrive at such a road map is outside the scope of this article, I highly recommend that you first read this article on how to outline your chapters to ensure that you’re building your book’s thesis in a clear and logical way.
Once armed with your road map of ideas, you can then begin structuring your nonfiction paragraphs to develop those ideas for your readers.
1) The Beginning: Main idea
Most nonfiction paragraphs begin by introducing the main idea in the first sentence, called the topic sentence.
Always focus on one main idea per paragraph. You don’t want to split your audience’s focus by introducing multiple ideas in a single paragraph.
Now, some seasoned nonfiction writers like to play with the positioning of the topic sentence and will sometimes place it at the end of the paragraph or even in the middle of it.
If you’re a first-time author, however, I don’t recommend this practice until you’ve mastered how to write nonfiction paragraphs using the more traditional format.
While it’s possible to alter the placement of the topic sentence, the order of ideas throughout your chapter cannot be altered as each must build on the previous one.
Any deviation from your idea flow will confuse your readers and could make them lose interest in your writing.
2) The Middle: Supporting Sentences
Once you’ve nailed down your topic sentence, it’s time to elaborate on your main idea. You’ll be doing so throughout the middle section of your paragraph by writing a number of supporting sentences.
This number will depend on the complexity of your main idea, but as a rule of thumb you’re a looking at no less than three and no more than five supporting sentences.
If you need more than five sentences to develop your main idea, then perhaps you need to it break down and devote a separate paragraph to each part.
Since the nonfiction genre is so fact-heavy, your goal is to break down your content into digestible paragraphs that allow your readers to pace the absorption of information in a way they don’t find overwhelming.
3) The End: Summary of Main Idea
Once you’ve expanded on your main idea through a number of supporting sentences, it’s time to bring your paragraph to a natural conclusion.
You’ll want to do so by summarizing the discussion of your main idea in a way that’s memorable for your readers. In other words, the goal of your concluding sentence is not merely to repeat your main idea at the end of your paragraph but to translate it into an “aha” moment for your reader.
While the first sentence of your paragraph might have elicited a response such as “This sounds interesting, I want to learn more about it,” the conclusion must elicit a response such as “Oh, now I get it, this is very cool!”
Final Notes on Nonfiction Paragraphs
When you’re writing a nonfiction paragraph, you have to make each word count – never write for the sake of writing.
If a paragraph doesn’t add to your book’s thesis – if it takes your readers on an unwanted or unnecessary tangent – then either move it somewhere else or get rid of it altogether, even if you’re proud of it!
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of writing a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, printing, distribution and marketing.