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Writing top tips: Non-fiction

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By Huw Thomasheadteacher and writer

Share Huw Thomas’ top tips for writing non-fiction texts with your class and engage them with writing

Girl writing

Take a look at Huw’s selection of new non-fiction books. Plus, visit our ‘Giveaways’ section for a chance to win some of the featured books!

1. Grab your readers

Find a subject that will grab your readers. Ask yourself: What would I read? Let’s face it, if football or ballet are not for you, then maybe you should write about something else. I know sometimes we all have to write things we don’t really want to do, but your best factual writing will come from the stuff that inspires you. Start now — make a list of ten subjects you would write a page about because they interest you.

2. What are you doing?

Factual writing starts with a sense of purpose. Ask yourself: What do you want it to do?

When writing a news piece, for example, you could just provide the facts of the story. However, if you want to influence your readers’ opionions, they try adding in some persuasive language. Your writing will be different depending on what you want your readers to do once they have read it. That’s your first question — what do I want this writing to do?

3. Find your facts and feelings

Good factual writing relies on gathering some facts about your subject. You don’t need every detail there is on your topic — in fact, good factual writing involves slimming down from loads of information to the best bits. Get hold of a note pad and scatter loads of facts over the page, before homing in on the ones that really matter.

‘What can be better than a double page spread showing a huge picture of a creepy crawly? It’s a writer’s treat!’

4. Comparisons

Our brains learn new things by connecting them with old things. If you are going to tell someone about a trip to the Moon, and say it’s 385,000km away, you really need a comparison to bring that distance home — such as pointing out a flight to New York is 5500km, and then working out how many flights across the Atlantic make a Moon landing. Or how many times the distance across the playground? Try to connect your big facts with your readers.

5. Use good quality illustrations

What can be better than a double-page spread showing a huge picture of a creepy crawly? It’s a writer’s treat! Find yourself some exciting images and then think hard about how you’re going to arrange the text around them. And be selective — half the fun of writing good factual stuff is getting the chance to search through loads of pictures till you find the one that makes you look, and look, and keep looking.

6. Break text up

Don’t think of your writing as one long page of stuff. When you plan your factual writing you should get some idea of different areas of information you will be covering. Some texts may then present them as paragraphs, others may make lots of little boxes on a page of information.

6. Scrapbook

These can be some of the best texts you keep, and there are currently a number of factual books about subjects as diverse as wizards and Moon landings that use such a format. A page of sugar paper can be used to fix leaflets, tickets, badges and postcards in place which then form the basis for some writing, explaining what we’ve got on the page. It can be a great class project at the start of the year to keep a book of the coming year, where every leaflet, trip slip and bus ticket is collected along with bits of information to tell us what it’s all about.

7. Give your reader something to do

These days readers of factual texts like to be given something to do. As you write about a subject like ‘Trees’ you can come up with some ideas you discover, giving your reader some thoughts about things they could do in response to your writing.

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