Types of Documentary Literature

Arts and Literature

Documentary literature is a genre that encompasses various forms of non-fiction writing that aim to present factual information or document real-life events. This type of literature plays a crucial role in educating and informing readers about different subjects. In this article, we will explore the different types of documentary literature in detail, highlighting their characteristics and significance.

1. Memoirs and Autobiographies

Memoirs and autobiographies are personal accounts written by individuals about their own lives. These works provide a unique perspective on historical events or personal experiences. Memoirs often focus on a specific period or event, while autobiographies provide a comprehensive overview of the author’s life.

These texts offer valuable insights into the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the author, providing readers with a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Notable examples include “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank and “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela.

2. Biographies

Biographies are written accounts of a person’s life, typically focusing on their achievements, character, and impact on society. Biographies provide a comprehensive and objective analysis of an individual’s life, shedding light on their personal and professional journeys.

These works serve as historical records, documenting the lives of influential figures from different fields such as politics, science, arts, and sports. Notable biographies include “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson and “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot.

The 6 types of documentaries

3. Historical Accounts

Historical accounts are non-fiction texts that provide a detailed analysis of historical events, eras, or periods. These works aim to present an objective and accurate portrayal of the past, often relying on primary sources, interviews, and extensive research.

Historical accounts contribute to our understanding of the past, offering insights into significant events, social changes, and the impact of historical figures. Examples of notable historical accounts include “The Guns of August” by Barbara Tuchman and “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank.

4. Journals and Diaries

Journals and diaries are personal records of daily experiences, thoughts, and reflections. These texts provide an intimate and authentic glimpse into the lives of individuals, often capturing their emotions, struggles, and personal growth.

Journals and diaries can serve as valuable historical documents, offering firsthand accounts of specific time periods or events. Examples include “The Diary of Samuel Pepys” and “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank.

5. Travel Writing

Travel writing encompasses narratives, memoirs, or accounts of authors’ journeys to different places. These texts provide readers with insights into various cultures, landscapes, and experiences.

Travel writing often combines elements of storytelling, personal observations, and historical context. It allows readers to explore different parts of the world through the eyes of the author. Notable travel writers include Bill Bryson, Paul Theroux, and Elizabeth Gilbert.

6. Investigative Journalism

Investigative journalism involves in-depth research and reporting to uncover hidden truths, expose corruption, or shed light on social, political, or environmental issues. This form of documentary literature plays a crucial role in holding those in power accountable.

Investigative journalists often utilize interviews, official documents, and extensive research to provide readers with a comprehensive understanding of complex issues. Notable examples of investigative journalism include “All the President’s Men” by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.

7. Oral Histories

Oral histories involve collecting and recording firsthand accounts of individuals who have lived through specific historical events or eras. This form of documentary literature aims to preserve personal narratives and experiences that might otherwise be lost.

Oral histories often rely on interviews and transcriptions, providing a diverse range of perspectives on historical events. Notable examples include “Voices from Chernobyl” by Svetlana Alexievich and “The Good War” by Studs Terkel.


Documentary literature encompasses various forms of non-fiction writing, each providing a unique perspective on real-life events, personal experiences, and historical accounts. Whether through memoirs, biographies, historical accounts, or investigative journalism, these texts play a crucial role in educating, informing, and preserving our collective knowledge. By exploring these different types of documentary literature, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the world around them and the experiences of others.

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