As a writer or editor, you can improve your ability to work with creative nonfiction by learning about stylistic tendencies within the genre.

The genre of creative nonfiction is described by author Lee Gutkind as “a movement, not a moment,” and he cites the tendency of magazines like the New York Times and Esquire to publish more pieces of creative nonfiction than fiction and poetry combined. Given the increasing popularity of creative nonfiction, writers and editors need to understand the characteristics of the genre so that they know what to look for when writing or editing.


Marianna Gracheva conducted a study entitled “Style of Creative Nonfiction: A Multidimensional Analysis of Literary Essays” to pinpoint some of the common styles found in creative nonfiction. Gracheva used a corpus of 301 nonfiction literary essays published in the last 30 years to analyze linguistic features of creative nonfiction writing. She analyzed linguistic features that previous researchers have grouped into stylistic “dimensions” (or areas of variation). She says, “The dimensions [of creative nonfiction] are discrete and make a unique contribution to our understanding of the linguistic variation in the domain” (Gracheva 2022, 76).

“The dimensions [of creative nonfiction] are discrete and make a unique contribution to our understanding of the linguistic variation in the domain.”

Gracheva (2022)

Although the study found many patterns in the style of the authors whose works appeared in the study, one interesting pattern is the presence of linguistic features related to the interactive vs. informational styles.

Interactive writing styles tend to resemble oral speech. Among others, these interactive linguistic features appeared in the corpus: first-person pronouns (e.g., “When we came here”), “that” deletion (e.g., “We thought we could know everything”), and “Wh” questions (e.g., “What was this place…”) (Gracheva 2022, 58).

On the other hand, informational writing styles tend to minimize dialogue and focus on presenting information in an efficient way. These informational linguistic features appeared in the corpus: prepositional phrases (e.g., “…in July by attending the premiere”), nominalization (e.g., “joint appearance”), and the “by” passive (e.g., “The last week of the festival was marked by…”) (Gracheva 2022, 59).


With a basic understanding of interactive and informational writing styles, writers and editors can feel more equipped to tackle creative nonfiction. Writers looking to break into the genre can use the stylistic dimensions outlined by Gracheva—like first person pronouns or “wh” questions—to implement interactive writing styles into their writing. Editors can help their writers achieve informational writing styles by suggesting the use of nominalizations or prepositions. 

By learning the basic stylistic patterns of creative nonfiction, writing and editing professionals can stay ahead of the game and add essential knowledge to their literary tool belts as this up-and-coming genre continues to gain traction in the literary world.

To familiarize yourself with more stylistic tendencies in creative nonfiction, read the full article:

Gracheva, Marianna. 2022. “Style of Creative Nonfiction: A Multidimensional Analysis of Literary Essays.” In Scientific Study of Literature 12 no. 1–2: 49–82.

—Emma Rostrom, Editing Research


Find more research

Take a look at Jennifer Fletcher’s Editing Research article for specific advice about editing for nonfiction: “Learning to Edit for Your Audience: Fiction vs. Nonfiction.”

Check out this additional Editing Research article to learn more about the helpful nature of corpora and corpus research: “How to Use Corpora to Edit Technical Articles Effectively and Accurately.”