Alternative Nonfiction Communication Mediums

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Written forms such as books and essays are generally thought of as the primary medium for nonfiction, but non-written forms such as visualizations, documentaries, and podcasts, can be just as effective and are easier to make than ever.

Nonfiction Communication

Do you have an argument you want to make about an important political issue like immigration? Do you want to explore a historical event like World War II in a new way? Do you want to do a deep investigation into how our food system works?

Traditionally, the best way to communicate your ideas for any of these projects would be in traditional written nonfiction forms like books, essays, and news reports. Nonfiction refers to any type of writing that deals with real-world events, as opposed to fictional stories. This includes persuasive writing, informative writing, and research writing.

But in the modern world, nonfiction isn't limited to just writing anymore. Non-written forms such as visualizations, documentary films and videos, and podcasts can accomplish the same goals as nonfiction writing. And they can do it a way that is often more compelling to your intended audience.

Traditionally, the tools for creating these types of non-written forms were expensive and hard to access. But current technology makes it possible for anyone with access to a laptop or smartphone to make their own visualization, shoot a documentary, or record a podcast.


Visualization is a broad term that refers to any use of a primarily visual text to communicate an idea or an argument. This can range from a simple bar graph to a complex investigation of an idea or question.

A bar graph is a simple version of a data visualization.

Visualizations are especially useful for communicating numerical data. Reading a bunch of numbers about, say, the change in economic factors in the US over the last decade or the soldiers killed in World War II, can be rough going for an audience member. But putting the numbers in a striking visualization can communicate the same information in a much more concise and dramatic way.

When using data visualizations, make sure to always credit where your information comes from, whether you collected it yourself or are citing data from another source. It is common to include a citation, and link if possible, to the original data at the bottom of your visual.

Documentary Film or Video

A documentary is essentially just a nonfiction text in film or video form instead of in written form. Documentaries can be used for a whole variety of purposes, including presenting an argument, exploring a question, or explaining a topic.

When making a documentary, you will have to decide what kind of materials you want to use. Many documentaries use primarily archival materials such as pre-existing film and photographs. If doing this, you have to get permission from the owner of the materials and give proper credit. Documentaries can also include material shot by the filmmaker, such as interviews.

Documentaries are especially useful for exploring questions or issues that have multiple points of view, as the filmmaker can present those views through interviews and other means.

Digital video cameras are now widely available, and many of the video cameras on smartphones now shoot such high quality video that they can be used to shoot films.

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