Bill Nichols Documentary Modes

I have mentioned the modes theory in my previous post in which I made an evaluation of my documentary module. In this post I will be discussing how I applied these to my research and practical work.

Nichols proposed that documentary films could fit into six different categories depending on various factors such as the style that they were shot, the subjects that they contain in their context and structure.

These six modes are as follows…

The Expository Mode. In this mode that narrator comments upon footage and discusses it in a formal manner. The most common form of documentary, presenting facts and information.

The Poetic Mode – In this mode the documentary is presented in rhythmical fashion, some what akin to poetry in the literal form.

The Observational Mode – In this mode, the audience simply sees what is in front of the camera, with no interruption on the part of the crew.

The Participatory Mode – In this mode the crew or leader of the documentary will interact with world that the film is capturing, this will often involve giving interviews.

The Reflexive Mode – In this mode the audience is made aware of the documentaries state. It will challenge the audiences perception of the events within the film. These often involve subjects that are uncommon.

The Performative Mode – In this mode, the leader or narrator of the documentary will place a high emphasis on emotional engaging the audience. (This may also include the use of re-enactments).

I used these modes as a gauge of the documentaries that influenced me in creating my own, as well as to place where mine would fit so it could be analysed afterward.

1. ANDERSON-MOORE, O. Nichols’ 6 Modes of Documentary Might Expand Your Storytelling Strategies (Anderson-Moore, 2015) Anderson-Moore, O. (2015). Nichols’ 6 Modes of Documentary Might Expand Your Storytelling Strategies. [online] No Film School. Available at: [Accessed 1 May 2017].


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