How to Write an Informative Essay

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How to write an informative essay? An informative essay is a form of writing that teaches the reader about a topic in an unbiased manner. Typically, this type of essay will include an introduction, a few body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The body of the essay generally will contain facts that are well-researched and come from reliable sources.

How to Write an Informative Essay:

How to Write an Informative EssayThere are many uses for an informative essay. For example, it may be used to inform readers about a product, a process, a person, or an event. Although it may be used to discuss a controversial issue, it may not be used to express the writer’s opinion about that issue. In those cases, the writer should present both sides of the issue in an unbiased manner — the reader should not be able to infer the writer’s opinion on the topic after reading an informative essay.

Informative Essay Structure

The basic structure of an informative essay is very simple. It needs to have a beginning, middle, and end.

  • The beginning (introduction) needs to present the topic and grab the attention of the audience. It needs to include the focus sentence for the entire essay.
  • The middle (body paragraphs) will be the main bulk of the essay and it will contain all the important facts that you are covering. This is where the audience will get their questions answered. Remember to answer these questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how.
  • The end is a conclusion where you will summarize the essay. It should spur the reader or listener to learn more about the topic.

The introduction section in this type of essay typically is the first paragraph of the paper and offers a brief overview of the paper’s topic. It may also present a surprising fact, geared to hook the reader and encourage him to read the rest of the essay. The last sentence of the opening paragraph will usually contain the point of the informative essay, also called the thesis statement. Generally, it is the most important sentence in the entire essay, as it sets forth the direction for the rest of the paper.

The body paragraphs of an informative essay will typically contain the facts that support the thesis statement, presenting the reader with information about the topic in an organized manner. The facts may answer questions that the reader might have about the topic, for instance. This can be done through examples, step-by-step analysis, or by presenting expert opinions. Generally, each fact should refer back to and support the opening thesis statement. The writer must make sure not to express his thoughts or opinions, even in a subtle fashion, since all facts and discussion of the facts must be done in an unbiased manner.

At the end of the informative essay, the writer will have a concluding paragraph. This paragraph typically summarizes the facts that were discussed throughout the body of the essay. It can also restate the thesis sentence. The writer should make sure that he does not introduce any new points or facts in this paragraph — if there are additional facts that the writer feels are important for the essay, they should be included in the body paragraphs.

Informative Essays Subjects

Informative essays, sometimes called expository essays, can be used for many purposes. They can compare viewpoints on a controversial subject as long as they don’t include the author’s opinions. They may analyze data, like in a cause and effect situation, or educate the audience on ways to do something, like solving a certain kind of problem.

For example:

  • An informative essay might explain the pros and cons of the death penalty, using statistics on crime rate reduction as a pro and statistics on innocent men being found guilty as a con.
  • An informative essay might analyze whether lack of education is a cause of homelessness by using statistics and information about the educational attainment of homeless men and women.
  • An informative essay might educate the audience on how to open a bank account.

Informative Essay Topics

To help you get a better idea of the different types of informative essays, here are some possible titles for this type of essay:

  • Understanding the Link between Cholesterol and Heart Disease
  • How to Buy a House
  • Understanding Your Credit Score
  • Defining Poverty in the City of Chicago
  • The Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
  • The Importance of Regular Daily Exercise
  • The Causes of Global Warming
  • Reducing Carbon Emissions with Alternative Fuels
  • Cost Savings of Hybrid Vehicles
  • Understanding Geothermal Heating and Cooling
  • Why Cleaning Your Ducts is Important
  • Qualifications of Contractors
  • How to Get your Commercial Driver’s License

An informative essay is the best way to explain something that is complicated…in an uncomplicated way.

See more Informative Essay Topics.

Informative Essay Format

After narrowing your topic somewhat and doing some brain-teaser lists, you can invent your own scratch outline for the material. But here are six common structuring and thinking devices people use to convey information:

  • The Process or “How-To”
  • The Essentials or “What-Is”
  • Causes or “Why”
  • Effects or “What’s Next?”
  • Comparison or Contrast
  • Classification

If you start with one of these approaches early in your prewriting, focusing and structuring your informative writing will be easier. This is not to say you should always rely on these devices—the most creative topics often break new ground. Let’s look at each in some detail.

The Process or “How-To”

One way of focusing and organizing information is to present it as a process. Imagine yourself telling the reader how to do something: “How to Skydive,” “How to Win at Poker,” “How to Teach Children Manners.” Process can also be used to focus on issues simply for understanding: “How Refugees Become Terrorists,” “The Stages of Juvenile Delinquency,” or “How the West was Persuaded to Invade Iraq.” Your scratch outline will consist of chronological steps. Try several scratch outlines until you’re satisfied. If, for instance, you find yourself with three stages that have very little information and one bloated with examples and ideas, you probably need to divide that step and combine the smaller ones. If I were writing on skydiving, for instance, I don’t think the following outline would work well:

  • Saying goodbye to family
  • Arriving at the airport
  • Preparing your equipment
  • The flight up
  • Diving
  • Cleaning up

The first, second, and last items don’t deserve full steps in the process. They can be brief transitions. Preparing equipment seems reasonable as a main heading, but the dive seems most important and ought to be divided into several stages itself: the (gulp!) leap, the free fall, opening the chute, and the landing. Organizing chronologically does not imply that you must give equal time to each element. Focus on the key moments. Slowing time down at a key moment can heighten the informative effect.

The Georgia Paramedics Against Drunk Driving, for instance, published a brochure that describes the process of an accident at 55 mph. This brochure describes the one second after a car smashes into a solid object. In the first tenth of the second, the bumper and grille collapse. In the second tenth, the hood crumples and hits the windshield. The car frame stops, but the rest of the car still travels at 55 mph. The driver braces his legs, but they snap at the knee. In the third tenth of the second, the steering wheel shatters. In the fourth, the front two feet of the car collapse while the rest still moves at 35 mph. The driver is still traveling 55. In the fifth tenth, the driver is impaled on the steering column and blood fills his lungs. In the sixth tenth, the impact can rip his feet out of tightly laced shoes, the brake pedal snaps off, and the driver’s head strikes the windshield. In the seventh tenth of the second, hinges pop and seats break free, hitting the driver—who is now dead.

The Essentials or “What-Is”

This approach informs a reader of essential characteristics of your topic. For example: “The Essentials of a Good Photograph,” “Problems Children Have When Parents Divorce,” “What’s Really Bad About Rats,” or “What Is Unique About Adrienne Rich’s Poetry.” Your scratch outline consists of each key element you will explain. For instance, for children involved in divorces, you might have:

  • Loss of a father/mother figure
  • Dealing with parental sorrow and grief
  • Feelings of guilt about causing the parents’ divorce
  • Loss of home if property is sold and divided
  • New “uncle-daddies”/“aunt-mommies” in the home
  • Loss of friends if the family moves

Under each of these you can list the examples, facts, questions, or bug items from your brain teasers. If you find some items have little information, omit them. If one item draws most of your attention, you might focus more exclusively on it. For instance, one common thread I notice in my list of ideas is loss. I might decide at this point to focus on “Things Children Lose During Divorce.”

The topic on good photographs and the one on divorce would also be possible as process essays, describing the stages of taking a good photo or the stages children go through during a divorce. The organization of the paper changes, but it might be equally effective. On the other hand, the topic on rats might not work so well as process— unless you wanted to tell the story of one incident (“Our Apartment Building’s Battle with Rats” or “Chicago’s History of Rat Control”). The real point here is having a plan that does not mix approaches. That might confuse a reader—and you.

Causes or “Why”

Organize your paper by informing the reader of the causes of a particular situation. Here are the same topics from cause perspectives:

  • What motivates (causes) a person to skydive?
  • What were some less obvious reasons that the United States and its allies invaded Iraq?
  • What causes a rat infestation?
  • Why do children feel guilty during a divorce?
  • How are juvenile delinquents created?

List as many causes (reasons or motivations) for the situation. Each may become an outline heading and eventually a paragraph in the paper.

Effects or “What’s Next?”

Instead of looking backward for the source of the situation, look forward to the effects or consequences of a situation. Explaining our topics from this perspective we have:

  • Long-term effects of skydiving on your body
  • How terrorism affects American foreign policy with other countries
  • The psychological effects of rat bites
  • When children of divorce marry
  • The effects juvenile delinquents have on their peers

Reasonable causes and effects: Suggesting causes and effects for events may be controversial or lead to logical errors. The informative writer must try to avoid arguing and instead suggest all reasonable causes and effects without bias. For instance, the following would be reasonable causes of the computer revolution:

  • To improve business efficiency and reduce human errors
  • To reduce information storage space
  • To speed up communications
  • To save money by eliminating jobs

But how about these:

  • To bend the minds of children away from religion
  • To help government gain secret control of people’s finances

The last two demand a lot of arguing to prove they’re true and are more appropriate for persuasive papers than informative ones. “But,” someone might say, “Look how children are turning away from religion just as computers became widespread! It’s a fact!” No, it’s an opinion without the widespread acceptance the first four causes would have.

Comparison and Contrast

Let’s try our topic list for comparative structure:

  • Skydiving is safer than hang gliding
  • Afghanistan and Iraq: Two ways of handling the media
  • Rats vs. cockroaches: If you had to choose
  • Is it worse for a parent to die or to divorce?
  • Teaching manners to kids in the United States and in Italy
  • Gangs today and five years ago

Next you would list your points of comparison as headings and support each point with details.

Classification

Here are some of the topics structured by classification:

  • Three types of terrorist strategies
  • Four kinds of excuses to give professors
  • Five skydiving styles
  • Three common reaction patterns for children of divorce
  • Types of female gang members

After deciding on your main points, fill in each category with details describing it. In your draft, each heading will become a paragraph.

Informative Essay Writing Tips

Most college graduates are surprised by how much writing is required in their careers. Nurses, social workers, police officers, technicians, and businesspeople discover writing fills far more job time than they ever anticipated. One engineer recently estimated that she spends 50 percent of her office time writing, not calculating or sketching plans. And of the writing you will do as a college graduate, more will be informative than any other kind: technical and business reports, memos, brochures, summaries of meetings, letters, speeches, and perhaps research projects or articles for professional journals newsletters in your field. The person who can convey instructions, facts, summaries, and analyses concisely, clearly, and vividly will have an edge in becoming a valued employee or leader.

Audience and Tone

Informative writing strives for objectivity. This means a reader must be moved by your information, not by your opinions. Using facts to support personal opinions on controversial topics or to make new proposals is persuasive writing—discussed in the next chapter. In informative writing your tone should be unbiased; you should not think of yourself as converting your audience but rather as educating it. On the most basic level, you can simply report—as in a research report, a summary of an article your professor asked you to read, or a report of what happened at the student senate meeting. But in college most informative essays you’ll be asked to write must analyze a situation—use your reasoning and interpretive skills to explain. This kind of informative writing is traditionally called expository writing—you expose what might not be obvious. At some point, of course, it can cross a murky line into persuasive writing. This happens all the time in published writing, and it’s only wrong if you try to hide propaganda behind a façade of objectivity.

For example, your informative report may explain how an abortion is done or contrast the pro-life and pro-choice positions without any personal opinions. An analytical informative paper could go further. It might explain the effects abortions have on women or the reasons men tend to lead anti-abortion activities, but you would cross into persuasion if you try to tell the reader to oppose or support abortion laws. In other words, you should restrain your personal opinions in informative writing. If in describing the process of an abortion, you write, “the baby is then ripped in agony from his mother’s womb,” you have loaded the dice with opinion. Likewise, if you write “the reproductive wastage is cleaned from the uterine wall,” you load the dice the other way.

While personal anecdotes and personal knowledge can provide great detail in informative writing as elsewhere, be sure to keep the focus on the topic and not yourself. It may be tempting to describe the abortion process by telling the story of a friend who had one, but you will risk falling into storytelling and becoming too opinionated if you rely only on your friend’s story.

Another aspect of objectivity is your obligation to present all major legitimate viewpoints where there is difference of opinion. Which are legitimate? They must be either widely accepted or verifiable through science or direct observation. In the abortion debate, many people believe that a newly conceived fetus has a human soul, so, even though we cannot prove it scientifically, you ought to include that viewpoint somewhere in an informative paper contrasting positions on abortion. However, you do not have to include the supermarket tabloid claim that aborted fetuses are being implanted with computers and grown to be robotic servants of the FBI. The source is untrustworthy and the claim has not been verified by reputable observers. Scientists do disagree, however, about whether a fetus feels pain during an abortion. They debate how developed the nervous system is at various stages, so both theories should be presented.

But don’t think of informative writing as dull or boring, a mere reciting of facts. The writer’s job—always—is to keep the reader awake, no matter what the topic. Unless your audience requires stiff formality—as in a lab or business report, for instance—occasional humor, vivid anecdotes, and lively words are usually welcome.

Writers do adjust their tone in informative writing for the audience. The amount and kind of information you might use writing about an archaeological dig will vary greatly depending on whether you write a paper for your anthropology professor, a letter to your mother, or a section of a job application. The professor will want technical and interpretive information; your mother may find the events of the trip more important; a potential employer may be most interested in the skills you learned and how well you meshed with the rest of the team.

Suppose you are writing an informative paper entitled “The Gift of Life”— donating your organs to sick people when you die. How would your tone and information differ for the following audiences?

  • A sociology professor
  • Transplant surgeons
  • The family of a dying person
  • The general public

To illustrate, here are some details about the procedure. Which of the preceding audiences especially would or would not want to know the following?

  • Organ donation allows part of the dying person to continue living.
  • The donor is usually brain dead (a flat EEG line), but the heart still beats and a ventilator keeps the person breathing during the removal of transplant organs (organs deteriorate quickly without blood and oxygen).
  • A neurologist is consulted to declare the person brain dead.
  • The transplant doctor does not decide when to take the organs.
  • The hospital does notify transplant doctors of likely cases so they can the receiving family and wait anxiously with equipment poised for permission to begin removing organs.
  • The Uniform Anatomical Gift Act allows your spouse, child over 18, parent, or adult sibling to donate your body even if you have not signed a donor card.
  • Doctors refer to these as “organ harvests.”
  • It is a rapid operation without anesthetics. The body is simply sliced open— “peeled back” as one doctor said in a professional journal—to save time. The desired organs are quickly removed. Then the breathing machine is turned off and the person dies.
  • The body cavity can be packed and stitched up for a funeral.

As you can see from the facts just listed, an informative writer must be sensitive to the intended audience.

Packing in Details

There’s no way to write well without details, and the informative essay should bristle with them. Stimulate your brain by asking reporters’ questions. You might start with this overall one: “What would I want to know about this topic if I could ask any expert?” Suppose your topic is the effects of a nuclear war.

Ask personal questions: What would happen to me if a nuclear bomb struck a half-mile away, a mile away, 5 miles, 50 miles? Ask for graphic details— what would happen to my skin, bones, hair, eyes, sexual function, and digestion? How would it affect me if I survived? How would I eat? Who would live with me? What would be the odds of finding friends or family? What aspects of society would remain? Suppose it was a terrorist’s nuclear “dirty bomb?”

Ask less personal questions: How would the living deal with all the dead and dying? Would society revert to a primitive cave culture as some people predict? Would the survivors be inspired to deeper comradery? Would there be just a few bombs or would the warring countries let loose dozens? Would the atmosphere be poisoned for all life on earth as in Nevil Shute’s On the Beach? How likely is the nuclear winter that Carl Sagan and other experts predicted—should the sun be blocked by billions of tons of dust thrown into the atmosphere? How would we respond if it was terrorism and not war? Can you add three or four questions to this list? Try it now for practice.

It’s easier to ask questions, of course, than to answer them, but in asking sometimes answers emerge. In asking you also mark which territory you will be able to handle best when you focus the topic more. So the first step is to ask the honest questions—the ones you really care about. Tough questions require tough, gutsy details. They’ll help point you toward a good paper.

Surprise Value

Good informative reports or essays should surprise the reader with new information. If you only tell us what we already know, you are not informing us of anything. For instance, most people know that nuclear bombs generate great heat and do awful things to human flesh. But when you read John Hersey’s book Hiroshima, you learn that some people caught within a quarter mile of the blast of the bomb dropped on August 6, 1945, were vaporized so suddenly that they didn’t even have time to scream or turn away. How do we know? Because they stood between concrete walls and the blast, and exact, perfect outlines of their bodies are preserved on the concrete—a painter raising his brush, a mother straightening the blanket on her baby. Their bodies shielded the wall from the intense heat just enough to imprint their silhouette.

That is information. Give your reader the same kind of essential, inside information. “General” information and “official” information usually tell readers only what they already know, unless you pick exotic topics—such as spelunking (cave exploring), cooking Indonesian food, or teaching sign language to the deaf.

Do you have to do original research to write informative essays? In a sense, yes. However, you don’t have to travel to Japan or work ten years in a lab. Your eyes, ears, fingers, and brain are researching the world every day. If you can imagine a world without electricity, family, schools, police, hospitals, or law enforcement, you may be able to create a plausible essay on the world after nuclear war. If you can use your human experience to imagine what it might be like to see a dying relative put on a respirator and can honestly picture a doctor asking you to sign over the person’s organs, you can write about some of the issues in the “gift of life” topic.

Informative Essay Ideas

  1. List five topics on which you think you can write a nonresearched, informative essay. Highlight the ones you think will offer the most surprise value for a general audience.
  2. Write a brain-teaser list of questions (with answers) and one other brainteaser list for two of the best topics from number 1.
  3. Narrow the best topic further and write three scratch outlines (just main headings). Use three different organizing patterns.
  4. Using the same topic, decide which organization plan conveys your message best and fill it in with details from your brain-teaser lists.
  5. Write the paper and revise it.
  6. Audience and Tone: Suppose you were writing an informative letter entitled “My First Semester at College.” How would your tone and information included differ depending on to whom you were writing?
  • The college president
  • Your boss (who reimburses your tuition)
  • Your best friend (who is not attending college)
  • Make a list of information for each letter.
  1. Rewrite these weak topics into sharper, more interesting ones still related to the originals; give two alternatives for each:
  • How to bowl
  • Today’s music
  • How to balance a checkbook
  • Police brutality
  • Smoking is bad for your health
  1. Ask five tough questions about each of the following topics, questions that will lead to surprise value information:
  • Teenage marriages
  • The future of gasoline consumption in the United States
  • Community colleges vs. four-year colleges
  • Television satellite dishes or cable television
  1. Write a process or how-to essay, packing as much information as you can into one or two pages. Concentrate on vivid details and smooth organization.

Topics:

  • How to drink with style
  • How to meet men or women at college
  • How to deal with a sexist (or a racist or homophobic) boss
  • How to give an “A” oral report
  1. Explain how a process works that you know well, but which most people don’t understand—a CD burner, sink trap, spark plug, antibody, therapy for autistic children. No more than 250 words.
  2. Class Exercise in Process Writing: Create a diagram or doodle of your own of about the same complexity as this one: Write a process description of it so someone else can draw it without seeing the doodle. Proportion is important, but actual size is not. You will have ten minutes. Members of the class will try to draw it only from the read-aloud instructions—no changes allowed from your written text.
  3. Write an Essentials essay on one of the following, packing as much information as possible into one or two pages:
  • A good love letter
  • A top action film
  • The most common clichés of television situation comedies
  • Handling being an older adult student in college
  1. Create a brochure for an organization or cause you believe in. Explain its essential features in no more than 250 words.
  2. Inform a person you’re attracted to of your essential personality features. This should not be a sell, but an honest appraisal. Offer at least three key aspects about yourself that a future spouse should be aware of. Pack in vivid, supporting detail.
  3. Write an informative essay on the essentials of a career you’re considering. Interview a person in the field, asking real questions you have. Here are some all-purpose starter questions:
  • What do you like best about your job?
  • What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to enter this career?
  • What qualities are most important to be a successful ______________?
  • What are you most proud of in your career?
  • What part of your job would you gladly give to someone?
  • What most frustrates or disappoints you about it?
  1. Write a cause essay on one of these topics. Your job is to consider less obvious reasons as well as ones most people are aware of:
  • Why people get body piercings
  • Why SUVs are so popular
  • Why the drug Ecstasy is popular among younger teens
  • Why divorce is more socially acceptable today
  • Why Physical Education is required in college
  1. Imagine altering one “law of nature” (such as eliminating winter or not having to kill to eat). Start by explaining why you might change it (the causes) and then forecast possible effects. Look for both positive and negative effects.
  2. Write a one- to two-page informative essay comparing or contrasting two of your current textbooks. Evaluate them based on the standards established in this chapter for conveying information: adaptation to audience, surprise value, and covering the tough questions readers have. Quote examples to support your views.
  3. Write a classification essay on one of the following, packing as much information as possible in one or two pages:
  • Male attitudes toward women
  • Female attitudes toward men
  • Levels of racism
  • Student clothing styles
  • Types of video game players
  1. The class will be divided into six groups. Each will apply a different one of the six informative organizing patterns to the same topic. Each group should write a focus sentence, an outline, and some details for each heading.

Also, check our Informative Essay Examples.

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