While informational texts and nonfiction narratives are both types of nonfiction writing, they use different strategies to teach audiences about a topic. A nonfiction narrative, such as a personal essay or biography, uses storytelling devices such as character, plot and description to tell about a person's life or a significant event. Informational text, often seen in textbooks, brochures and websites, instructs the audience about a topic using clear, accessible language. Although both types of writing present factual information, they do so using different structures, purposes, voices and uses of research.
Structure and Style
Nonfiction narratives use detail to create setting, character and theme. Although they are telling true stories, narratives aim to bring the events to life for readers, making it three-dimensional as opposed to simply stating the facts. By contrast, informational texts focus solely on teaching the audience the most essential facts about a topic. For example, informational text about Theodore Roosevelt would give key facts about his presidency, major decisions and milestones. However, a biography would give readers a clear picture of Roosevelt's personality, interests and world views, things that wouldn't be relevant in a short, instructional document.
Because of their story-oriented structures, the purpose of nonfiction narratives is to entertain audiences. For instance, Truman Capote's book "In Cold Blood" tells of a family's murder in Kansas and the capture of their killers using the same suspense that a novel might. As a result, readers are able to learn about the crime while simultaneously being drawn into the story. An informational article's purpose is to give readers a quick, fact-based introduction to a topic. For example, a brochure about animal cruelty might teach about the issue's consequences and how readers can help.
Authenticity and Research
Even though all genres of nonfiction aim to give the most accurate information, narrative nonfiction focuses on getting at the emotional or moral truth of a story as opposed to verifying every detail with research. This is most commonly seen in the genre of memoirs, which tell of significant events in authors' lives. Often, authors collapse parts of the actual events by combining characters and events to keep the story moving. By contrast, informational texts make meticulous use of research, often quoting specific sources and providing a list of references for readers who want to learn more.
The voice of a nonfiction piece varies according to its purpose. In nonfiction narratives, the storytelling element produces a unique voice that gives readers a sense of the author's style and personality. Even though he didn't invent the events of "In Cold Blood," Capote's voice as a fiction writer is very much present. Informational text, though, incorporates a common voice that is inviting, accessible to all audiences and unbiased. Since the audience could be anyone interested in the topic, the text needs to be understandable to a variety of people.