- POETIC MODE: A mode of documentary film developed in the 1920s which presented documentary footage heavily edited to create a tone or abstract feeling rather than a concrete story or meaning.
- EXPOSITORY MODE: A documentary mode developed in the 1930s and 40s that uses editing, voice-over narration, non-diegetic music, and direct interviews usually in order to persuade audiences.
- OBSERVATIONAL MODE: A mode of documentary film developed in the late 1950s and 1960s which shuns editing, narration, and other non-diegetic elements in an attempt to present its topic in an objective, "fly-on-the-wall" form.
- PARTICIPATORY MODE: A mode of documentary film developed in the 1960s and 70s in which the filmmaker is a participant in the film. The film usually includes (and is often about to a certain degree) the filmmaker's interaction with the world or people presented. Interviewees often answer directly into the camera.
CINEMA VERITAE: Literally, "filmed truth," the term refers to a sub-mode of participatory documentary in which hand-held cameras and unplanned photography are used to promote the idea that the film is not constructed.
- REFLEXIVE MODE: A mode of documentary film developed in the 1970s which takes participatory documentaries one step further. These films include footage of the filmmaking equipment and crew doing their jobs. Shotgun microphones, cameras, camera crews, electricians, and even editors are visible on screen doing their jobs to produce the film. In effect, a reflexive film is a document of its topic and also a document of its creation.
- PERFORMATIVE MODE: A mode of documentary film developed in the 1980s which simply documents a performance of some kind. The content is planned -- even scripted -- and rehearsed beforehand. There is no attempt at portraying any reality except the reality of the performance. The film is still produced in such a way as to look and feel like a documentary.
PSEUDO-DOCUMENTARY: A sub-mode of performative documentary, these films are scripted and acted to look and feel like a documentary for the purpose of providing generally serious social or political commentary.
MOCKUMENTARY: A sub-mode of performative documentary, these films are scripted and acted to look and feel like documentary films with the express purpose of providing humor or humorous social commentary.