Work Types Proposal

Some people have noted how the current selection of work types leave a lot to be desired. Being one of those people, I have been working on a proposal of a series of work types to use on BB.

Some preliminary notes:

  • I’m not using any other list as a base, but trying to propose a series of basic and common work types that can be expanded in the future as needed.
  • The point above also means this mostly focused on modern and Western literature. This is because that is the kind of works we mostly have already and the one about which there is more information. And exception the haiku, since is very well known to English speakers despite being.
  • I tried to include all works types we already have in this logical list.
  • I’m proposing that work types should be seen as categories and subcategories. This should allow the editor to choose an appropriate work type, even if the specific type doesn’t exist yet. For example, prefaces are being added as “introduction”, “article” or just being left blank, but if we had a more general category (introductory text), the editor could choose this category and request that a more specific subcategory be added.
  • All work types should have clear definitions.
  • More notes below.

Work types

  • Fiction — Literary work portraying individuals or events that are imaginary, though it may be based on a true story or situation.
    • short-form fiction — Prose narrative of limited complexity and length, too short to be considered a novel.
      • Short story(*) — Prose narrative that is shorter than a novel or novella and that usually deals with only a few characters.
      • Novella(*) — Prose narrative whose length is shorter and less complex than most novels, but longer and more complex than most short stories.
    • Novel(*) — Prose narrative of considerable length and a certain complexity.
    • Play(*) — Work consisting mostly of dialogue and intended to be performed by actors.
      • Stage play — Work in prose or verse consisting mostly of dialogue and intended to be performed by actors on a stage.
      • Screenplay — Text that provides the basis for a film production. Besides the dialogue spoken by the characters, screenplays usually also include a shot-by-shot outline of the film’s action.
    • Comics alias manga, sequential art — Sequence of panels of images, usually including textual devices such as speech balloons, captions, and onomatopoeia to indicate dialogue, narration, and sound effects.
      • Comic strip — A series of comics panels designed in a narrative or chronological order.
        • Yonkoma alias 4-koma — Comic strip consisting of four panels of the same size arranged vertically.
      • Comics story — Multiple-page work consisting of comics panels, usually in chronological order, that tells a story. Comics stories are typically published in comic books, which can contain multiple stories.
      • Graphic novel — Long-form, generally book-length, comics story.
    • Picture book story — A story, generally for young children, with many pictures and a simple narrative. Books consisting of such stories are called picture books.
  • Nonfiction(*) — Prose work that is not fiction.
    • Introductory text — Text that precedes the main work and offers some sort of introduction to it.
      • Introduction (*) — Preliminary explanation preceding the main work.
      • Foreword — Preliminary text, generally written someone other than the author, introducing the work or the author.
      • Preface — Introductory text, generally written by the author of the main work.
    • Conclusion — Text placed after the main work and offering a conclusion to the book.
      • Afterword — Text placed after the main work providing enriching comment, such as how the book came into being or the work’s historical or cultural context .
      • Postface — Brief article or explanatory information placed at the end of a book.
    • Letter — Written message addressed to a person or organization. This work type should be used for real (not fictional) letters only, epistolary novels are novels and should not be split into individual letters.
      • Epistle — Letter, generally didactic and elegant in style, often addressed to a group of people.
    • Essay — Piece of writing in which the author develops their own argument on some subject.
    • Speech — Address delivered to an audience (the written work being the text meant to read or the transcript of such as address).
      • Sermon — A religious discourse delivered by a preacher, generally based on a text of scripture and as part of a worship service.
    • Scientific literature — Scholarly work containing firsthand reports of research, often reviewed by experts (primary literature), or synthesizing and condensing what is known on specific topics (secondary literature).
      • Scientific paper(*) alias research paper, research article — Original full-length manuscript the results of scholarly research in scientific discipline.
    • Periodical article(?) — Article typically published in periodical publications, such as newspapers and magazines.
      • Opinion piece alias op-ed — Article expressing the author’s opinion about a subject.
        • Editorial — Article, often unsigned, expressing the opinion of the editors or publishers.
      • News article — Article relating current or recent news.
      • Review — Critical evaluation of an artistic work, performance, or product.
      • Interview — The reproduction of a series of questions posed by a member of the press and the answers given by the person being interviewed.
    • Biographical literature — Work describing a real person’s life.
      • Biography — Work describing a real person’s life in detail.
        • Autobiography — Biography written by the subject themselves.
      • Memoir — Autobiographical work distinguished from autobiography by its narrow focus, generally retelling only a specific part of a person’s life.
      • Diary — A record of events in one’s life, consisting of daily autobiographical entries. Although there are exceptions, diaries are generally written as personal records with no intention of publication, but notable diaries are sometimes published.
    • Reference work — Informative work intended for consultation rather than consecutive reading.
      • Dictionary — Lists lexemes and their meanings in the same or in a different language. A dictionary may also provide additional information about the lexemes, such as their pronunciation, grammatical forms and functions, etymologies, and variant spellings.
      • Encyclopedia alias encyclopædia, encyclopaedia — Work providing extensive information on all branches of knowledge arranged into articles or entries.
      • Thesaurus — Work that arranges works according to their meaning, or simply lists their synonyms.
    • Legal instrument — A formal written legal document
    • Recipe — A set of instructions for making a dish of prepared food. Recipes are generally preceded by the list of necessary ingredients
  • Poem(*) — A work of poetry; a non-prosaic composition that uses stylistic and rhythmic qualities of language to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, ostensible meaning. Poetry is very variable and particularly difficult to define; generally any work described as poetry should be considered of the poem work type.
    • Epic(*) — Long narrative poem in which a heroic protagonist engages in an action of great mythic or historical significance.
    • Sonnet — A 14-line poem with a variable rhyme scheme originating in Italy, and originally consisting of two quatrains and two tercets. Traditionally, a volta occurs between the eighth and ninth lines (or before the final couplet in the Shakespearean sonnet).
      • Petrarchan sonnet alias Italian sonnet — Original form of the sonnet with two quatrains and two tercets, which can be joined in an octave and a sextet.
      • Shakespearean Sonnet alias English sonnet — English variant, with three quatrains followed by a final couple. The three quatrains can be joined into a stanza.
    • Ballad — Short narrative poem in rhythmic verse suitable for singing, often in quatrains and rhyming the second and fourth lines.
    • Blank verse — Poetic composition that does not rhyme but follows a regular meter. In English this is almost always iambic pentameter.
    • Limerick — Poetic composition consisting of five lines of chiefly anapestic verse, the third and fourth lines of two metrical feet and in the others of three feet, rhyming aabba. Limericks are often humorous, nonsensical, and sometimes lewd.
    • Haiku — Originally, a traditional short Japanese poetic form with a 5-7-5 phoetic units pattern, now adapted in different ways in other languages.
      • Japanese haiku — Traditional Japanese poetic form consisting of three phrases composed of seventeen on (phonetic units) in a 5-7-5 pattern which include a kireji (“cutting word”), and a kigo (seasonal reference).
      • Non-Japanese haiku — Adaptation of the haiku form into other languages, sometimes the 5-7-5 on pattern is interpreted as three lines of five, seven and five syllables, although this is not required. Short, concise and impressionistic wording is generally seen as an essential feature, and other haiku characteristics may be ignored or adapted in different ways.
    • Villanelle — Poetic composition consisting of nineteen lines: five tercets followed by a quatrain, with the first and third lines of the first stanza repeating alternately in the following stanzas, forming refrains, and as the final two lines of the final quatrain.


  • (*) Work type already exists in BB.
  • (?) Doubts exist about this work type, explained in the notes below.


  • Work types should be seen as categories and subcategories, a specific work type shouldn’t be added without first adding a more general one to which it belongs (e.g. there should be no “novel” work type without “fiction,” no “sonnet” without “poem”).
  • An editor should be as precise in his/her choice as he can, but not guess. If you add a sonnet but don’t know if it is a Petrarchan or Shakespearean sonnet, it’s perfectly appropriate to simply select “sonnet”. If you add a classic poem but aren’t sure which poetic form it belongs to, it’s perfectly fine to add it simply as a poem. More precise classifications are useful, but not a requirement.
  • Work types should be clearly defined and refer to specific forms of writing (e.g. editors shouldn’t have to wonder whether “article” refers to a news article, a scientific article, or any general essay).
  • The work type defines the work, not the edition: an anthology of newspaper opinion pieces published in book form still contains opinion pieces, not essays; a novel serialized in a newspaper is still a novel, not a newspaper article.
  • Folk tale is a suggestion based on this discussion.
  • There is an “article” work type, but it’s unclear what it refers to. It seems to be used for any kind of short nonfiction, such as prefaces or essays. The proposal here is to have a work type for articles of the kind published in periodicals.
  • Introductory/concluding texts should only be added if they’re not part of the main work. E.g. an introduction about a novel written by an expert is not the same work as the novel itself, but a prologue written in the voice of the narrator would be part of the work.
  • There are different kinds of introductory and concluding texts, which are sometimes defined identically, and sometimes defined differently, often in conflicting ways. I tried to follow the most common and general definitions, but generally these kinds of works should be identified by their title, if it says “preface”, it’s a preface, if it says “conclusion” it’s a conclusion.
  • I cannot find any justification for “anthology” and “serial” as work types. An anthology is a book (or edition) with a selection of works (poems, short stories, etc.); a serial is a mode of publication, not a type of work (a novel published serially is still a novel).
  • Congratulation on getting this far.

I’ll admit that I first scrolled through your post to read the final comments before having a closer look at the proposed work types :innocent:

Looks pretty solid to me, but I’m sure we’ll find more work types worth being added, even without leaving modern Western literature.
While you have covered many textual work types, visual work types are missing so far, for example. What comes to my mind first are graphic novels and comics. (For other “works” like standalone illustrations and photos, I’m not sure whether we should list them as separate work entities, while it definitely makes sense to allow photobooks as editions.)


Wow. Excellent work, @blackteadarkmatter! If I could add more than one :heart:, I would. :slight_smile:

Maybe also on screen?

In many cases, I don’t see a difference between this and short story, other than grappling with its authorship. I do note that many fables tend to be quite short. In your opinion, would they fall under this category?

I encounter songs, written in literature. I currently call them out as poems. It would be worth considering adding a subcategory.

I don’t deal with a lot of the following, so I naturally wonder how useful subcategories would be for them:

  • introductory text
  • letter
  • speech
  • scientific literature
  • periodical article

There are other work type I thought of while writing this proposal and then decided not include, because my idea here is to have a solid, logical base that can be expanded with less common types later. But… you are very right about “visual work types”, they should be there. And it’s not the first time you point this out, it seems you found a blind spot of mine.

I’ll see how best to include this kind of works, but I’ll have to ask you to look it over after.

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“Play” generally refers to theatre plays. Are you suggesting we should also include screenplays (scripts)? I suppose some have been published in books.

Play — Work consisting mostly of dialogue and intended to be performed by actors.

  • Stage play — Work in prose or verse consisting mostly of dialogue and intended to be performed by actors on a stage
  • Screenplay — Work consisting of the text that provides the basis for a film production. Besides the dialogue spoken by the characters, screenplays usually also include a shot-by-shot outline of the film’s action.

Would this be better, having specific types for stage and screen? I would prefer not to confuse them as they look very different on the page, theatre plays are (traditionally) almost just dialogue, screenplays include detailed descriptions of the action.

My idea is to use the “folk tale” type for the unwritten, orally transmitted story and “short story” for the written version. So Grimms’ Rapunzel can be a short story, but it is based on Rapunzel, a folk tale that should have [traditional] as its author. Works of this type should have only [traditional] as their author, not specific writers. This type can be used for any tale, i.e., story that was passed down orally. I know we didn’t really reach a conclusion before, so let me know if you think this makes no sense.

I would need examples of to have an opinion about this. There are poems that are called songs by the author, but aren’t part of a specific poetic form. We should only have poetic forms as work types if we can define them clearly.

Many of those are based on works I’ve personally added but didn’t have an appropriate work type for. Let me explain why I included those types:

This is meant as a catch-all for works of this type, a general category. Currently, we have an issue with these, we have “introduction” but no “preface” which leads people to add prefaces with different types (introduction, article). If we had a general introductory text option, people could just pick this. (“Author X wrote an introductory text for work Y” is better than picking some other type). I think I’m including most common types in this proposal, but certainly there will be a few that didn’t even come to mind.

Many authors have their letters published. Recently I was looking over Jack Kerouac’s and Neal Cassady’s, having only recently read On the Road. There’s at least one letter I added on BB, one that published as preface, but was an actual letter to the author. Maybe this isn’t the most common type, but it will definitely be needed.

Many public speakers have had their speeches published, from the Ancient Romans to Martin Luther King Jr., not forgetting Winston C. Personally I was also thinking of speeches as the category to which sermons belong, as I have added all least one of Father António Vieira’s sermons — often considered the greatest works of Portuguese baroque literature, and published countless times.

These two were “grandfathered in”. I’ve mentioned before we shouldn’t focus on scientific or periodicals, but BB already has “Article” and “Scientific paper” work types and journal/magazine/newspaper edition group types, and it was my goal to keep the types we already have. I still think we shouldn’t focus on those, but I’m just trying to organize them in a rational work type selection.


IMO, yes.

Given we have [traditional] author, I’m still wondering if this needs to be called out as a separate work type. If I look at the content, without considering its authorship, I would see no difference between a folk tale and another story.

The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling off the top of my head.

I’m good with the top-level works you describe. What I’m less sure about is whether each of them needs subcategories.

an excellent list, my guy~ a couple comments on it though…

I don’t know about having the introductory text and conclusion types as subtypes of nonfiction, as I’d imagine there’s quite a bit of fiction that has some sort of introduction or conclusion, including the book I’m currently listening to, where the introduction, prologue, epilogue, and afterword are all fiction.

also, I’d like to second the inclusion of comics and give a few possible subtypes:

  • Comic strip: short, often multi-panel comics, often featured in newspapers or magazines. I don’t know if we want to seperate out single-panel and multi-panel strips. some examples:
    • K-ON! a four-panel manga
    • Calvin and Hobbes, an American comic strip
    • xkcd, a webcomic
    • Moonstuck (no Wikipedia link this time, lol), a reader-driven webcomic, most parts are contained in a single image
  • Comic books: multi-page comics, often seperate from other publications. some examples:
    • Bionicle, a comic book based off a Lego “theme” of the same name
    • Marvel Mystery Comics, a comic book series from the Golden Age of Comic Books
  • Graphic novel: a long-form work of sequential art. some examples:

some other miscellaneous examples I’m not sure how to categorize:

  • The Adventures of Tintin, I’m not too familiar with the source material, it’s possible this is mostly graphic novels
  • Axe Cop, this one might fall into multiple categories? because the early stuff is just a few panels or a single page, but the later stuff (Bad Guy Earth specifically) feels more like a cohesive comic book, even though I believe it was originally published a page at a time

if we are going to include screenplays, we probably want to determine how they are to be related (or not related) to a MusicBrainz soundtrack entity. since that work type is just the music, technically it wouldn’t be the same work as the screenplay, but I also think it would be kinda silly to keep them fully seperate…


Also, maybe a subtype under nonfiction for legal documents? I would imagine it would include:

  • acts
  • agreements
  • bills
  • briefs
  • certificates
  • codes (legal, penal)
  • constitutions
  • contracts
  • declarations
  • decisions
  • deeds
  • filings
  • patents
  • permits
  • pleadings
  • proclamations
  • rulings
  • subpoenas
  • treaties
  • warrants
  • writs

Added note: I am not suggesting these be subcategories in the taxonomy; merely suggesting that “legal” work type would be where these types of works would go.

This is my proposal so far:

  • Comics alias Manga — Sequence of panels of images, usually including textual devices such as speech balloons, captions, and onomatopoeia to indicate dialogue, narration, and sound effects.
    • Comic strip — A series of comics panels, generally arranged horizontally, designed in a narrative or chronological order.
    • Comics story — Collection of comic strips, usually in chronological order, that tells a story.
    • Graphic novel — Long-form, generally book-length, comics story.


  • Comics story because comic book can include multiple stories, but each one is its own work.
  • Manga as the same work as comics because, as far as I can see, the main differences between manga and comics are country of origin, tone and style.
  • Graphic novel is also used to imply that “the work is more serious, mature, or literary than traditional comics”, but that would be a genre distinction which is not relevant.
  • Comic books aren’t works, the comics stories they contain are the works.
  • Great Neil Gaiman quote in connection to the point above here: Neil Gaiman, in response to a claim that he does not write comic books but graphic novels, said: “I felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.”
  • I’m hesitant about adding cartoons, as those are single images, but it’s something to consider.

Besides my usual sources, I read:

Comments welcome.


I think probably those could just be called “comics”, the higher-order category. I’m not sure how you would even entitle some of those, if they are just illustrations without any accompanying text.

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My point is that a folk tale has no specific written form, but all written versions would be connected to it by a “based on” relationship. I.e., you could find all written versions of Rapunzel on the Rapunzel-as-folk-tale work. But if there is no support for this idea, I’ll remove it, hence the (?).

I checked the poems, but they don’t seem to be any specific poetic form. I imagine Kipling is implying those are songs from the fictional world of the Jungle Book. I don’t think we should be afraid of classifying poems simply as “poem”. Subcategories should be for specific and well-defined poetic forms — of which there are more, I wasn’t trying to be exhaustive.

I see. Maybe it’s better if you say why you think they are unnecessary? Some of the subcategories are already work types in BB, others I added thinking of works we already have.

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I was just thinking that, it would be a pain in the derrière to find a title convention for all of those single-panel cartoons — I’d say it’s not a priority at the moment.


As I mentioned above (I know, easy to miss in all of that),

Introductory/concluding texts should only be added if they’re not part of the main work. E.g. an introduction about a novel written by an expert is not the same work as the novel itself, but a prologue written in the voice of the narrator would be part of the work.

Prologues and epilogues are usually written in the voice of the narrator, so they are part of the novel itself, not a separate work. If the introduction/conclusion are fiction, the same rule applies.


This makes sense in terms of etymology, but I’m sure most users browsing or editing in this area would appreciate being able to separate/group these. They are all stories told via sequential pictures, yet worlds apart (more so than some of the other sub-types listed tbh).


I think rewording this to “generally arranged horizontally or vertically” would work better, as horizontal comics seem to be a western standard, see my K-ON example below, which is Japanese and vertical. I even remember seeing vertical formatted comics in our local newspaper (Blondie, I think)

I also think having “Yonkoma” as a subtype of Comic strip might be in order? according to Wikipedia, there seems to be a named specific structure to this type of strip.

I don’t know if I agree with the wording here, as a comic book or story doesn’t have to be in the form of multiple comic strips, in fact I rarely have seen such examples. more often they’re a sequence of images and/or frames meant to be read in order. the current wording makes me think of books which are a collection of comic strips, like this one for Calvin and Hobbes.

some visual examples for clarity

the form of these two types of work are quite distinct in my opinion, so I think a better wording would be something like:

Comic story — A short form of sequential art, longer than a comic strip. Traditionally sold as comic books, but comes in many forms.

note: “Sequential art” is a term I’ve seen as an alternative to “Comics”, as not all comics are comedic. I only heard of it after a bit of research (reading Wikipedia), so I don’t know how common the term is in the real world. I do think the term “Comic Book” should be somewhere in the definition for Comic Story, as that’s a much more common term for the concept.

another addition, under Reference work, Cookbook. however, there might be an argument to be made for having individual recipes as works? I’ve got no real opinion on that one way or another…

  • Comics alias manga, sequential art — Sequence of panels of images, usually including textual devices such as speech balloons, captions, and onomatopoeia to indicate dialogue, narration, and sound effects.
    • Comic strip — A series of comics panels designed in a narrative or chronological order.
    • Comics story — Multiple-page work consisting of comics panels, usually in chronological order, that tells a story. Comics stories are typically published in comic books, which can contain multiple stories.
    • Graphic novel — Long-form, generally book-length, comics story.

Thanks for the pointers and examples, @UltimateRiff. Let me know what you think of my revised proposal.

“Sequential art” is a term proposed by Will Eisner, but it doesn’t seem to be much used outside of comics studies, so I don’t suggest using it instead of “comics.” Still worth mentioning, though.

I don’t disagree with what you said, but the work types we are trying to define are work forms, not styles, genres, countries of origin, etc. Manga just means comics, it’s the word Japanese people use for Western comics as well as Japanese ones, without distinction, and I can’t think of a definition that wouldn’t in effect be “same, but Japanese”. Maybe this is a distinction for a future Folksonomy tag system?


Yes, I think the works here would be the recipes. Recipes are independent, and the same can be published in different cookbooks.

Yes, I think that many of those could be added as work types — but that list dump requires some proper organization.

That seems reasonable to me.

But… I would like to ask, regarding all these proposed work types, are you planning to add editions with these work types? There are many other types I can think of, but I’m not trying to add all possible types, only the ones we already have or are likely to have soon. My idea is that this should be a bit like instruments on MB, there may always be more to add, but they should be added as they are needed — or this initial list will never be complete.

If you are actually planning on adding this kind of works, that’s good enough for me, I’ll start thinking about how to include these in the list above.

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Or, we just have “legal” as one type for now. We can always try to add subtypes as we see enough works to warrant its own distinct subtype?


If this work list was Japan-centric, then yes, but the terms are not interchangeable elsewhere. I could not use the term ‘manga’ to describe a Superman comic.

But, since I’m not really editing BB at the moment, I wont bog you down - more can always be added later!


I just realized I just made a ton of work for anyone adding a cookbook to BookBrainz… eventually we’d get hundreds of works for chocolate cake, all which are different but perhaps very difficult to disambiguate…

I don’t know how soon, but I do have books with most of the works I’ve proposed (save for graphic novels and cookbooks) which I’ll be adding eventually. haven’t gotten too deep into adding my book collection to BookBrainz yet tho…