The Role of Subject, Title, and Subtitles in Nonfiction Writing
For example, if I want to write an article on higher education, then I must decide how I will approach the subject, what facet of the process of higher education I will address, and to what extent I will explore or expose that facet. If I decide I want to explore the value of non-classroom experiences for instance, then I will need to assert certain ideas in the creation of my thesis or initial assertions. I will then create my structure, including my title and subtitles, based on the initial assertions defined in the thesis.
Here is how my subject, title, and subtitles may help define my structure in my example; :
Subject: The Value of Non-classroom Experiences in the Process of Higher Education
Thesis: Professional educators estimate that approximately 95% of the value
of higher education lies in the student's experiences outside of the
classroom in the process of obtaining of a four year degree. We will
explore these experiences and how they may be assessed as having a
significant value in the student's education process.
Inside Subtitles: Brick in the Wall; Thank You, Pink!
[a.k.a. "chapters"] Who Needs a Wall?
Why am I Interested?
Wine, Women, and Song.
Working on the Railroad and Other Experiences.
Funnels, Fun, and Funny.
The "Morning After" Club.
Things to Never Tell Momma.
"He Still Owes Me Money!" and Other Financial Lessons.
Tear Down the Wall? Why it all Matters.
Things to Remember about Your Titles and Subtitles
- They are best chosen before you begin to write.
- They will help you to create your outline and book or article structure once you gather them and begin to articulate a vision for the management of your subject.
- They should get, and help to keep, the attention of the target audience.
- They should bait and lead the reader; and they should never explain your content to the reader.
- The most creative use of these titles and subtitles is to imply certain things to the reader from that reader's social perspective, and then you should exploit the implication.
Know Your Subject; or at Least Become an Excellent Researcher
Before you begin writing your work, you must know your subject very well or you must master the art of research. In general, nonfiction writers become experts in researching their subject matter because if you are going to write for payment, you will invariably write on topics outside of your knowledge base or comfort zone. So, get ready to learn how to research and prepare to spend time practicing before you ever take on an assignment from an editor.
It is well known that any citizen of the United States is no more than six levels from the President within his or her circle of influence. This means that there are no more than six people between anyone in the U.S. and their President. So, if you wanted to talk to the President, you would need to find out WHO in your world knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows the President. This may take you a few days or weeks or months, but the statisticians argue that it is possible.
You may find yourself off on what I call pig trails, related topics of interest. If you are not on assignment or if your editor gives you the luxury of choosing the details of your subject material, then you will find yourself pursuing some of the related topics of interest. If you do not have this latitude, then drop the pig trails and move on to material which directly supports your assignment.
Libraries and Their Systems
A quick way to discern the natural writer is to watch his reaction to thesmell of the stacks in his local or university library. A natural writer will snuggle up with the books. She or he will sit comfortably in the aisles of the stacks and make themselves at home while reading through whatever they come across. He or she may even bring a pillow or a bottle of water for comfort.
During my years at the University of Florida, I would hide in the stacks with an excitement in my soul of what I may stumble across in my research while sitting up there away from everyone in my world. At that time, the University of Florida had 12 libraries on campus that held over 22 million books. How exciting!
Remember, librarians are your friends. They are the experts on finding content in their library. If you come across a librarian that finds you or your requests for help burdensome, then change libraries.
It is important for the novice writer to know which libraries you can access. If you live in the United States and pay taxes, then you can technically and legally access any public library including libraries on state university campuses. Most of the general public does not know that you can access all 22 million books at the University of Florida if you live in and pay taxes in Florida. This is true in every state and in every state supported university. It is also true of local community colleges since they also receive state tax dollars and you are a tax paying member of the community. It is not true of private colleges and universities. They can deny you access and most often do.
If you go into your local state university library and ask to borrow books, they will likely balk at you when you disclose that you are not a card carrying member of the student body. Try not to make a scene, but don't settle for a no either. If you are talking to a student worker at the desk, then you may need to politely ask for the library director to make your request for a non-student library card. Every state university library and local community college issues them, even if the student clerk does not know it. Try not to make the student feel stupid when making your request. After all, unless you have a university degree there is a good likelihood that this section is your first encounter with this information.
The reason I point you to your local state university library system is because it is most likely your best source for reference and research information. The larger the volume of the state university library contents, the better the library. In large states, such as Texas, or in densely populated states, such as Florida, the state university system is quite large and all of the locations are networked together through an Internet network between the universities. In Texas and in Florida, the system is known as LUIS (Library User Information Service). Other states may use different systems and they may or may not be as well connected.
For researching your subject, these are awesome resources because you can query or make a borrowing request from another university if the one you are standing in does not have a copy of the book or material. Remember, as a borrowing member of the tax paying public rather than a member of the student body, you may have limits set on your privileges that include shorter borrowing times than if you were a student; prepare to adjust accordingly.
When you first begin writing nonfiction, you will need to take a few weeks in your library of choice to acquaint yourself with their many systems and processes. If you have not done so in a while, brush up on your library's card system, their online card system, their microfiche machines, in-house copiers, Wi-Fi hot spots for your lap top, their DVD collection, and e-books on CD. Be sure to find their reading rooms, even if they look like little closets with small desks and glass doors.
The more complex your subject, the more likely you are to conduct the research offline. Normally, online research is for basics or surface information. It is not for detailed or complex subject matter. The Internet is great for fact checking, but you should not confuse or deceive yourself into thinking that you will find something unique by querying Google on your subject matter. The reason for this fact is simply that you and I do not have the patience to page through to the 2 millionth reference listed to find something no one has read in fifty years.
We are still creatures of touch and we function best in our research efforts when we can reach up and touch a set of books or use our eyes to glance through rows of stacks rather than wasting time waiting on the clunky Internet connection to page through. After all, your eyes can see 200 book titles in a matter of a couple of minutes or you can spend hours flipping through the sites. As you become a polished writer, your research efforts will become streamlined and you will know where and how to cut your time.
- How to Structure and Organize Your Nonfiction Manuscript
- Completing Your Nonfiction Writing - How to Identify and Overcome the Obstacles that Prevent You from Finishing Your Work
- Procedures of Fact Checking and Proper Notation in Nonfiction Writing
- Knowing Your Competition as a Nonfiction Writer
- Understanding Spelling, Grammar, and Proper Punctuation in Nonfiction Writing
- Publishing Success for Writers: Studying the Markets
- Your Creative Writing Toolkit
- Ideas for Redrafting Your Mystery Writing Work
- Writing a Memoir: What Is It About?
- The Future of Technical Writing
- Creative Writing for the Online World
- Writing Improvement: Proportion Your Writing Details for Impact
- I Want to Write a Memoir: What Should I Write and How Do I Write It?
- Creative Writing in Poetry
- The Role of Brainstorming in Persuasive Writing