How to Read Nonfiction Like a Professor is a nonfiction guide to a wide range of nonfiction genres. Foster begins with the premise that a small but significant amount of written information is false and misleading, and that because of an increasingly polarized and siloed American culture, misinformation is allowed to run rampant. At the same time, in part due to the rise of the Internet and online culture, there is more information available on a wider range of topics than ever before. Being able to discern what nonfiction is reliable, and what isn't, is crucial because we so often rely on nonfiction to provide us with information and shape our knowledge and perception of a given topic. Foster argues that if readers can engage with nonfiction in more critical and reflective ways, they will be able to separate the valid from the false, reaping the benefits of nonfiction without falling prey to its perils.
In the first part of the book, Foster provides contextual information about nonfiction so that readers will feel more knowledgeable and confident about engaging with it in an informed way. He discusses how to identify structure within a piece of nonfiction writing, and then moves to a discussion of journalism, providing both information about different types of journalism, and making an impassioned argument for the importance of journalism within a healthy democracy. Then Foster provides some brief information about how to understand the structure and parts of an argument. From there, Foster turns to provide a sort of field guide to the different parts of a nonfiction book, followed by a discussion of how to detect a writer's biases. He then discusses possible sources and types of information that nonfiction writers may draw from, and circles back to a discussion of structure, this time commenting on how structure can be used to create meaning within nonfiction writing.
In the second part of the book, Foster identifies and discusses some common types of nonfiction, including traditional journalism, participatory journalism, creative nonfiction, personal essays, autobiography, memoir, history, biography, political writing, and science writing. Foster winds up this section with a series of checklists that can help a reader to assess a piece of writing and determine its validity.
Foster then moves to a discussion of online sources and social media, providing strong caution and doubt about relying on information from these sources. He follows this up with a more targeted discussion of writing that is deliberately designed to be deceptive and malicious. Foster concludes the book with a final suggestion for how readers can successfully and critically navigate the world of nonfiction: they can read in more creative and imaginative ways, and take a more active role in engaging with the information presented to them.