How to Write an
Informal Essay

An informal essay can be about a wide range of topics, from the deeply personal to the outwardly political. “Informal” doesn’t mean that it can’t also be informative or persuasive. It merely refers to the style in which the essay is written: in first-person and without necessarily having to adhere to the traditional five-paragraph structure.

Your writing style in your informal essay should also be “informal”. Using slang and colloquialisms is generally permitted in this type of essay (though make sure you use good judgement and refrain from offensive or explicit language). A conversational tone, as though you were explaining something to a friend, is about the right tone for an informal essay. In fact, in this type of essay, it’s generally best to steer clear of overly academic writing. You want to make the subject as accessible to the average person as possible.

If your teacher has assigned you to write an informal essay, they may not give you very many guidelines besides a word count. In case you’re lost on how to write this type of essay, here are some tips on how to choose a topic, how to structure your essay and other ways to write your informal essay successfully.

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  1. Step 1 – Read Some Informal Essays It can be really helpful to read some examples of informal essays before attempting to write your own. Reading someone else’s essay can help you see how they use language in a less formal way and how they present their topic on a more personal level. Contemporary writers such as Pico Ayer, Anne Lamott and Juno Diaz are masters of the informal essay. Often times popular magazines will contain informal essays on a variety of topics. Read and observe how other writers express themselves through this less formal style. Take notes on qualities or techniques you might like to include in your essay.

    For example, if someone used a lot of slang, but in a way that made the essay more personable and more alive, you might want to try it in your essay if it feels natural and appropriate.

  2. Step 2 – Choose Your Topic Generally speaking, the sky’s the limit with informal essays. That’s music to some students’ ears who know exactly what they want to write about and absolutely horrific for others who have no clue what topic to choose. If you happen to be in the latter category, here are some ways to help you choose.
    Make a list of 5-10 possible topics. Don’t self-edit. Just write down anything that comes to mind.

    Think about subjects that are important to you or that you generally have a lot to say about. Are you always getting into arguments about politics? Do you constantly chastise your younger sister for putting the toilet roll on “the wrong way”? Think about anything you have a relatively strong opinion about and make a list:

    1. Why There Is a RIGHT Way to Hang the Toilet Roll
    2. Why I’m a Vegan
    3. What Happened When I Started Going to Church
    4. How I Learned to Respect My Step-Mother
    5. Why I Love Soccer (or any other sport or activity)
    6. What I Learned From Traveling Abroad
    7. Why I Voted for X Candidate
    8. Lessons From My Grandmother
    9. Why I Abstain From Drinking
    10. Why I Believe in Reincarnation
    11. What I Learned From My First Job
    12. How I Plan to Save the Planet

    After you’ve made your list, put it aside for at least an hour. Then come back to it. If one of the topics jumps out at you, that’s the one you should write about.
    Otherwise, eliminate the ones you think won’t work well and then choose the topic you feel you could write best on from the ones that are left.

  3. Step 3 – Write an Outline Yes, it’s a good idea to make an outline even for an informal essay. Informal doesn’t mean sloppy or nonsensical, so make sure you get your thoughts organized by writing an outline on the ideas you plan to cover. Let’s say you chose the topic Why I’m a Vegan. Just because it’s an informal essay doesn’t mean that you can’t still do research. You might want to look up some statistics on vegan vs. carnivorous diets. Or get quotes from famous vegans like Moby.

    You should also make a list of reasons why you are vegan and think about certain things that you face as a vegan such as difficulty finding vegan options in restaurants or supermarkets, stigma from your family and/or friends, etc.

    Your outline could look something like this: Write an Outline

    • Introduction – Share some of the difficulties of being a vegan but that you still choose to be one.
    • First Supporting Paragraph – Strongest reason why you’re a vegan (health reasons) and some statistics or research on it.
    • Second Supporting Paragraph – Second strongest reasons why you’re a vegan (against animal cruelty)- and how that extends to things beyond just not eating animal products but also not using cosmetics tested on animals and not wearing clothing made from animal products
    • Third Supporting Paragraph – How being a vegan affects your lifestyle, your relationships with friends, family and significant others. What are the challenges you face?
    • Conclusion – Why you still choose to be vegan and how you see more and more people opting for a vegan lifestyle (quote some statistics) making it easier for vegans to choose veganism.

    This above is merely a suggested outline. Your informal essay might have more or less paragraphs, depending on how you choose to structure it.

  4. Step 4 – Write Your Essay Now is the time for you to fill in that outline. Note that as you start to write, if one of the subjects in your outline isn’t working, don’t hesitate to change it. For example, if your second paragraph about animals isn’t really a topic you care that much or know that much about, then don’t hesitate to switch it for something else. Maybe you might want to include something about how many natural resources raising cattle uses and how environmentally destructive it is and how eating no-meat foods produces less environmental harm. As you write, if one of your topics just doesn’t feel right to you, you’ll be able to tell if the writing doesn’t flow as well as in the other paragraphs.

    Writing an informal essay still requires the reader to follow the logic of your thoughts, so help them along by using transition words. Transition words are like sign posts that tell the reader what to expect next. Word like “similarly”, “additionally” and “furthermore” signal that you’re about to present more evidence to support an idea. Words like “on the other hand”, “unlike…” and “conversely” signal that you’re about to present evidence to the contrary. Words like “first”, “second” or “next” give order to your thoughts.

    Remember to use informal language. Don’t get too technical or too stuffy. If you find yourself going down that road as you write, pause and think about how you would express the same idea in a conversation with a friend. Then write that down.

  5. Step 5 – Time to Edit When editing an informal essay, you’re looking for a slightly different set of criteria than in persuasive or other types of formal essays.
    • Check for tone – The main thing you’re looking for is tone. If your tone is too formal, then you’ll need to go back and edit. Examples:

      Too formal
      The digestive peptides required to process meat can cause free radicals to reproduce in the human body, a phenomena that fails to occur when digesting vegetables.

      Just right
      When it comes down to it, digesting meat just puts too much strain on our bodies and can lead to health problems like the formation of free radicals, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These types of problems just don’t occur that often with vegans.

    • Peer edit – It would be great if you could show your essay to a friend and ask them how easy your essay was to understand, if it sounds conversational or if it’s too academic.
    • Be flexible – Think about if you need to add something or take something away. Remember that informal essays don’t need to follow the five-paragraph essay structure so if your essay would be made better by adding another paragraph or taking one away, then by all means, do it.

    Anyone can write a successful informal essay. Things like reading other informal essays, making lists for possible topics, choosing the best topic for you, making an outline, writing using informal language and the occasional transition word and editing for tone and structure can help earn you a top score on your informal essay. Good luck and Happy Writing!

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