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Book: Creativity and Discovery in the University Writing Class

Chapter: 9. The Wide World of Nonfiction: Breaking Barriers of Form to Empower and Improve Student Writing

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.27774


To teach nonfiction writing, we have broken this wide field down into component parts and various subgenres: business writing, narrative writing, persuasive writing, and many others. This is not a bad approach, and it is often a necessary one. Mastery of genre distinctions is a literary approach that is often assumed to be one of the main tasks for student writers; but distinguishing a genre by its “rules” and separating modes of writing often has the effect, in my experience, of freezing students’ natural discovery processes
and creativity and even restricting their ability to use their own experience as a resource for research. My aim here is to explore the unintended consequences of this categorization specifically as it relates to students’ understanding of the choices available in writing nonfiction and to suggest specific remedies to allow for flexibility in voice and mode of discourse. In particular, I will offer an overview of a “family tree” of nonfiction forms, with question asking as the “trunk” that unites these various forms.

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