Fractures are important for shale-gas reservoirs with low matrix porosity because they increase the effective reservoir space and migration pathways for shale gas, thus favouring an increased volume of free gas and the adsorption of gases in shale reservoirs, and they increase the specific surface area of gas-bearing shales which improves the adsorption capacity. We discuss the characteristics and dominant factors of fracture development in a continental organic matter-rich shale reservoir bed in the Yanchang Formation based on observations and descriptions of fracture systems in outcrops, drilling cores, cast-thin sections and polished sections of black shale from the Upper Triassic Yanchang Formation in the SE Ordos Basin; detailed characteristics and parameters of fractures; analyses and tests of corresponding fracture segment samples; and the identification of fracture segments with normal logging. The results indicate that the mineral composition of the continental organic-matter-rich shale in the Yanchang Formation is clearly characterized by a low brittle mineral content and high clay mineral content relative to marine shale in the United States and China and Mesozoic continental shale in other basins. The total content of brittle minerals, such as quartz and feldspar, is c. 41%, with quartz and feldspar accounting for 22% and 19% respectively, and mainly occurring as plagioclase with small amounts of carbonate rocks. The total content of clay minerals is high at up to 52%, and mainly occurs as a mixed layer of illite-smectite (I/S) which accounts for more than 58% of the total clay mineral content. The Upper Triassic Yanchang Formation developed two groups of fracture (joint) systems: a NW–SE-trending system and near-E–W-trending system. Multiple types of fractures are observed, and they are mainly horizontal bedding seams and low-dip-angle structural fractures. Micro-fractures are primarily observed in or along organic matter bands. Shale fractures were mainly formed during Late Jurassic – late Early Cretaceous time under superimposed stress caused by regional WNW–ESE-trending horizontal compressive stress and deep burial effects. The extent of fracture development was mainly influenced by multiple factors (tectonic factors and non-tectonic factors) such as the lithology, rock mechanical properties, organic matter abundance and brittle mineral composition and content. Specifically, higher sand content has been observed to correspond to more rapid lithological changes and more extensive fracture development. In addition, higher organic matter content has been observed to correspond to greater fracture development, and higher quartz, feldspar and mixed-layer I/S contents have been observed to correspond to more extensive micro-fracture development. These results are consistent with the measured mechanical properties of the shale and silty shale, the observations of fractures in cores and thin-sections from more than 20 shale-gas drilling wells, and the registered anomalies from gas logging.