Have you been asked to pen an informative essay? You will undoubtedly have a loose idea of what you are supposed to do — that is, to produce a coherent, well-organized, and deeply-researched and fact-checked text about a particular topic.
Although you are most certainly off to a good start if you keep those essentials in mind, you may not quite know what kinds of sections you should include, what aspects of the topic to cover, to what extent it is acceptable to bring personal opinions or experiences into your essay, or even how long the essay should be.
We’re here to help you gain the tools you need to start your informative essay with confidence and excitement — and to make it great.
Informative Essay Basics
The essay has, as a form of writing, existed for centuries — where it has typically been used in academic (specifically philosophical or scientific) circles to advance debates on a particular topic. In the modern world, essays have a place within all levels of education.
In elementary school, essays can be used as a vehicle to help students practice their budding writing skills, as well as to demonstrate that they have understood a particular topic as essays serve to produce a summary of the materials that were covered. At higher levels, in high school as well as at college, essays have a different purpose. They are a wonderful place to hone critical thinking skills and to begin disseminating entirely original ideas.
Even outside of education and academia, essays have a place in the media and even on corporate blogs. The word “essay” is derived from the French essayer, which means “to attempt” — and that does describe how many students feel while writing these papers, but it also shows the purpose of these texts. Essays center on a single topic, but many different types exist. The informative essay, also sometimes called the expository essay, is one of the most important of these.
What precisely are informative essays, you wonder, and what sets them apart from other types of essays? Informative essays:
- Are meant to convey objective and true information about a single topic — such as the history of ice cream cones in London, the reasons behind the fact that alligator lizards are endangered, the physical health benefits of yoga, or the cultural significance of George Orwell’s 1984 .
- This information is typically conveyed in a neutral tone; informative essays stick to the facts and are not narrative or argumentative in nature. These essays have more in common with encyclopedia entries than any other type of essay.
- Informative essays need to be well-researched — any information therein must be backed up with sources that support the information offered within the essay. This may not be true in elementary school, however; students are often expected to write about something they learned about in school recently, instead.
- Informative essays have the goal of educating readers about the topic in question, or at least to convince the grading educator that the author has thoroughly researched the topic and succeeded in writing a compelling essay.
All these factors set informative essays apart from other types of essays, which include:
- Argumentative essays, in which the author attempts to convince readers that the viewpoint they are arguing in favor of is correct. Unlike informative essays, argumentative essays make a particular claim, which is then debated.
- Narrative essays, in which the author shares an experience or story from someone else’s life. These essays can be used to help readers learn more about the author, they can be entertaining or emotional, and they are highly subjective in nature.
- Descriptive essays, which use vivid or precise words to describe the topic with the goal of immersing the reader.
All types of essays contain information — but other types of essays have primary goals besides simply sharing information. Informative essays are unique in that they are written in order to educate, and aim to be objective.
A Look at the Different Types of Informative Essays
While all informative essays are written in order to inform readers about a particular topic, this goal can be achieved by means of a variety of different formats and structures. Let’s take a look at the different strategies that can be employed in crafting an informative essay — which is particularly important for students who have been given a lot of free reign in deciding what they can write about, and how they can go about that.
Informative essays may be:
- Straight-up summaries of the information the student has gathered about the topic they are choosing to write on. This kind of essay is not typically offered a name, so we’ll call it the “today I learned” essay. These essays are often assigned in elementary school, but can also be employed at the high school level. In the first case, the topic may be as simple as “tigers” or “cotton”. In high school, topics become more complex, covering, for instance, the history of the local town hall that is now rumored to be haunted.
- Contrast and compare essays. A staple in high school, these informative essays cover two different things and examine the similarities and differences — such as, for instance, the views of Hobbes vs Locke.
- How-to essays. These essays describe how to achieve a particular goal, like caring for a wounded sparrow or setting up a Twitter account. These essays are also called process essays.
- Cause and effect essays explain how one phenomenon or event caused another; how and why did the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand lead to the first world war?
- Problem-solution essays are also often said to be informative essays. At first glance, they lay out a particular problem and explain how this problem could be solved. In practice, however, such essays often become argumentative in nature. Take, for instance, topics like “how affordable housing could create job opportunities”.
How to Write an Informative Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide
Are you ready to sink your teeth into the brainstorming process? Should you still be feeling lost, here’s a handy step-by-step that will help you get started. Read the entire guide before you begin researching, and definitely before you start writing, for the best results!
- Choose a Topic for Your Informative Essay
You may have been given a very narrow assignment, like “choose two enlightenment philosophers to compare and contrast”, or even “discuss the factors leading up to the formation of the United Nations”. You may also have a much looser topic, like “write any informative essay about any aspect of Victorian England of your choosing”.
If you have not been given a definitive topic, you will have the freedom to narrow your options down on your own. As you decide on a good topic for your informative essay, you have two basic choices:
- You can decide to explore an aspect of the subject matter that you are genuinely interested in and would love the opportunity to learn more about, through the process of researching and writing your informative essay.
- You can also choose to write on a topic that you are already fairly deeply familiar with, in order to build confidence that you can write a well-researched essay that is factually correct. This is often a solid choice for students who do not have much time to write their essays.
- Keep Your Audience in Mind
Not all informative essays are written by students — some may be created to be published on the internet, while others may even appear in newspapers. If you are a student, you already know who your audience is; the grading teacher or professor. You will want to keep their particular likes and dislikes into account as you write the essay, in terms of the format and structure you choose.
- Begin Researching for Your Essay
You can begin by brainstorming aspects of the topic you are already familiar with, and would like to include in your essay — make a mindmap, and jot down any source materials you already know you would like to include. Next, use the library or the internet to track down further sources you may wish to call on in your essay.
Collect all the information you have and find in a word-processing document (or on paper if you prefer), and make a note of any gaps you discover, so that you can continue your research. Highlight quotes you would like to include in your essay.
- Where Relevant, Decide on a Structure for Your Informative Essay
With some research under your belt, you will have a better idea about the structure you may like to follow. You may decide on a compare and contrast essay, for instance. In this case, you will know that you can choose from among a few different structural options, depending on the points you would like to emphasize:
- You may like to write an introduction, followed by a thesis statement, and then (continuing with the Hobbes vs Locke topic we mentioned earlier) highlight the unique views of each, followed by the reasons these philosophers are often said to hold wildly-opposing perspectives on human nature, and ultimately explaining how the two influential philosophers also share a lot of commonalities.
- You could also follow your introduction and thesis statement with commonalities before explaining why the two are ultimately very different — creating an informative essay with an entirely different view.
Similarly, in the case of a simple expository essay that only aims to offer more information about the chosen topic, you can explore different formatting options. To take “tigers”, for instance, you could lead with their physical features, evolutionary history, or different species of tigers. The structure you choose greatly impacts the tone of your final essay.
- Commit to an Outline and Begin Writing
Once you have played around with different options, settle on an outline by creating subheads for each section. You can now tackle each section as a “mini essay” of its own.
The introduction should generally be compelling, leading with an interesting fact. Follow this with a main idea, or thesis statement, and then continue to write the body of your essay by tackling each section — in order, or by beginning with the sections you already have sufficient information for. Finish the essay with a conclusion that either summarizes the information covered, or invites the reader to keep on learning more. The conclusion should leave the reader feeling like the essay is indeed finished; end on a strong note, but never introduce new information at this point.
If, as you write, you discover that you do not have all the answers, pause your writing process to keep researching. This will likely happen, and your essay will begin shaping itself as you write.
- Edit and Proofread Your Essay
These steps cannot be skipped, and form an integral part of the essay-writing process.
The editing stage should include:
- Reading your essay from start to finish, without pausing to correct typos or sentences you are not quite happy with, and assessing if you are satisfied with the structure of the essay. If you are not, make changes here before you do anything else.
- Assessing what is still missing, or what information you offer in your informative essay that does not truly belong there (and that should be removed).
- Read your essay to see whether you offer opinions — these should usually be removed from an informative essay.
- Next, assess whether the paragraphs are coherent and flow smoothly. Make changes where necessary, ensuring that all information presented in a single paragraph is related.
- If you are still happy, you can now take a closer look at the sentences within your essay, seeing where you can make them stronger or more compelling.
- Wherever you are not sure whether a statement you have made is correct, now is the time to fact-check it thoroughly.
The proofreading phase focuses on spelling and sentences. If you have been asked to follow a certain style guide, check that your essay complies with it — looking everything you are not sure about up.
Tips to Help You Write a Compelling Informative Essay
Are you still not quite sure whether you are on the right track? To make sure that you have the chance to write the best possible essay, try to make sure that you choose a topic you are genuinely passionate about, or would truly like to learn more about.
Unless you are already a subject-matter expert, doing research — that is, learning enough about the topic to write a compelling expository essay — will take up much more time than writing the essay. To ensure that you make the most of the research you do, organize it neatly so that you will easily be able to find everything you are planning to incorporate nicely.
If you have been asked to include footnotes and in-text citations, it will often help to place these into the correct format right away; this will save you time later.
The fact that you are writing an informative essay does not mean that the text has to be dry; you can still choose engaging and interesting words, and make use of literary techniques such as hooks to keep your readers focused. Unlike in an encyclopedia entry, those writing informative essays should also make use of creative transitions that will make the paragraphs flow more smoothly.
Where possible, avoid these common mistakes when you are writing your informative essay:
- Being too wordy — if you can make your point in a single sentence, there is no need to use three.
- Relying on tried and true tropes excessively — even if you are writing an informative essay for high school, set yourself the challenge of including information that your grading teacher has likely never been introduced to before. Informative essays aim to inform, and if you can achieve this goal, you’re a step ahead of the rest.
- Writing a boring essay. Information doesn’t have to be dry; you can still entertain in subtle ways.
- Being overly formal; always try to find your own authentic writing voice, even if you have been instructed to write an academic text.
- Waiting too long to start. If your essay is a long one, the deadline may seem to be far away. The sooner you get started on doing your research and writing your essay, the more likely it is to truly excel.
- If you have been given a word count, or a number of pages to write, do not strive to pad a modest amount of information out with additional words. Instead, add more information. It’s better to find yourself in a place where you feel the need to be more succinct, because you still have more to say, than one where you try your best to add verbal padding to meet the requirements.
Writing an informative essay offers a wonderful opportunity to teach others what you know, or indeed to learn more about any given topic yourself. While it may be daunting at first, the essay will start building itself once you have the right information and have settled on an appropriate structure. If you have a little extra time, do make use of it by editing your essay to perfection; you’ll be pleased with the results.