I'd like to name someone who writes texts that are grounded in reality, i.e. not fiction, as well as the activity of doing so. They're often referred to as a non-fiction writer/writing. Is there any equivalent of "non-fiction writer/writing" that doesn't rely on a negative?

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    Essayist, journalist, writer, science writer, historian, natural historian, thinker -- depends on the subject matter.
    – TimR
    Commented May 28 at 20:49
  • @TimR thanks, is there any generalist term encompassing all that? Commented May 28 at 20:54
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    The only one is "writer". It doesn't exclude fiction but in context it could certainly be used to refer to writers who aren't novelists, poets, or dramatists.
    – TimR
    Commented May 28 at 21:03
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    Non-fiction – factual. Commented May 28 at 21:47
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    @WeatherVane Opinion pieces (editorials etc) are non-fiction, but not factual.
    – James K
    Commented May 29 at 2:37

5 Answers 5


The term is "non-fiction" You can use this in a positive sense. "He writes non-fiction" This is a positive sentence, and doesn't mean "He doesn't write fiction".

Perhaps you think that the "non" makes the sentence negative. But that's not really how the grammar works. Nouns and adjectives that feature "negating" morphemes like "non" or "un" can and do express positive facts. If I say "He is unhappy" it states a positive fact about his emotions, and is different in meaning from "He isn't happy".

So the frame challenging answer to your question is: use the term "non-fiction".

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    It probably shouldn't be so, but when I hear "non-fiction" I still go through the process "not not true == true" in my head. By this time in my life I should have internalized it, but somehow I didn't.
    – Barmar
    Commented May 29 at 14:22
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    @Barmar: Non-fiction isn't necessarily limited to just true information. In practice, libraries often use it to mean "anything whose DDC number is not of the form 8x3 or 89x," and that includes poetry, rhetoric, and all sorts of other stuff that isn't necessarily "factual" per se. Apparently, some libraries even shelve graphic novels as non-fiction.
    – Kevin
    Commented May 31 at 2:36
  • @Kevin Except for not including graphic novels, I guess they're treating "fiction" as meaning something like "stories". I'm not sure that's a common use of the term.
    – Barmar
    Commented May 31 at 15:07

You are trying to talk about a concept that is defined in a purely negative sense (anything that isn't fiction), so it makes sense that the best available word reflects that. It's like asking for a word to describe a "non-ginger cat". It's not like there is a generic non-ginger cat one might want a word for - there are lots of types that look different. And there are lots of different types of writing that aren't fiction. So just as you would describe what colour a cat is, rather than just giving one colour it isn't, describe what sort of thing the person actually writes.

  • Agreed. "Non fiction" just means everything that's not fiction... it's a category defined entirely by what isn't in it. Commented May 31 at 1:34

Perhaps not in common usage, but could someone from publishing please comment? Factual reading is one of my favourite types.

As an eight year old, I used to read and re-read an old encyclopedia. At the time, I had no idea that the world population had long since grown from 3 Billion or that Salisbury was no longer the capital city of Rhodesia, but I did notice that The Begian Congo had thrown out the Belgians and got a bad man in charge who called the place Zaire and got duff rockets made for him by escaped Nazi rocket scientists. It was interesting to read about the diamond and platinum mines and some failed attempts to get a railway built, and to plot how I should learn at school all things necessary to be an Engineer like Telford or Brunel. And to avoid getting told to make rockets for bad men; to be a helpful engineer only. Some libby argumentative types don't get along with people like me who just want facts.

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    There are types of non-fiction which are also not factual, though - a manuscript of a disproven scientific theory, or an essay on philosophy are certainly non-fiction, but I also wouldn't call them factual. Commented May 29 at 14:12
  • Welcome to ELL Stack Exchange, @willowbrook14! That's a very thought-provoking statement, and it makes me believe you'll be a very positive contributor. Commented May 30 at 2:15
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    …What? What does this have to do with the question? Commented May 30 at 21:44

Another word you could use is "historical". While it doesn't quite have the same meaning, it generally is what was intended. From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, historical is defined as:

a: of, relating to, or having the character of history

b: based on history

For example:

  • He writes historical works
  • Not all non-fiction works discuss historical events; it would sound rather odd to characterize, say, How to Make Friends and Influence People, as "historic".
    – poncho
    Commented May 30 at 19:46
  • @poncho: Further, there are genres of "historical fiction" [fiction which uses reader's general knowledge of historical events, periods, and people to create a familiar environment without having to describe everything. Indeed, such genres are probably more popular than history books.
    – supercat
    Commented May 30 at 22:07

There are so many different categories of non-fiction works, that describing someone as a "non-fiction author" would be analogous to describing someone as a "non-electronic musician". While there are some "jack of all trades" musicians who could play a wide variety of string, woodwind, brass, percussion, and keyboard instruments, most people who play non-electronic instruments would rather be described as e.g. cellists, drummers, mallet percussionists, etc. Likewise with people who write travel guides, biographies, computer programming manuals, books about how to paint, books about how to appreciate paintings, etc. While someone might agree to be called a "non-fiction editor" if they work at a publishing house that prints all of the above kinds of works and many more besides, most authors would much rather be described according to the more specific types of work they produce.

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