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What Is an Informal Essay?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 23, 2024
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An informal essay can refer to a number of different things, depending on the level of education a student has reached, and the type of course he or she is in, as well as the overall purpose of the assignment. In general, this type of essay is written as a reflection or a response to something, or is written as a type of informational piece about a personal experience. This type of essay may also be written as fiction. These are just a few of the many options for informal writing; an instructor will provide specific directions as to the focus and length of the essay.

A common misconception when students are assigned an informal essay is that important rules of spelling and grammar go out the window. It is still important to use proper, formal language when writing informally in an educational setting, unless the piece is fiction and the language is deliberate. The length of this type of essay can vary, but generally it is fairly short as compared to more in-depth pieces, such as research papers. It is still important to have a clear focus in any essay, and a cohesive idea of what the essay is about.

A reflective essay is one of the most common types of informal essays. These are often written in response to a certain experience, such as watching a film, reading a book, or taking a class. Students who participate in community events or volunteer days are often asked to write an informal essay about the experience as well. In addition, if a student attends an event for extra credit -- such as a lecture or a play, for example -- the instructor might require an informal essay in order to get the extra credit to ensure the student actually went to the event.

Many students will also assign compositions to students simply to test writing skills and to determine how much the students have learned. This is especially common in the younger grades when students are still learning basic writing skills. A teacher will often provide a simple prompt and encourage students to write an informal essay about it. Students might be prompted to write a fictional story, or they might be asked to tell a story about an experience they have had. Asking students to summarize what they have learned that day in school is another common essay writing prompt.

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Discussion Comments
By Mammmood — On Jan 08, 2012

@hamje32 - There are plagiarism check tools you can find online to verify that student submitted content is unique. Furthermore, the instructor should have prior examples of the student’s writing on hand, I would think. He can use that to compare against the submitted essay to ensure that the writing style is the same (assuming the originals weren’t plagiarized too).

By hamje32 — On Jan 07, 2012

@everetra - What do you think about instructors who use the informal essay as a means of checking up on whether a student has visited a play or event?

I think that with the advent of Internet essay mills offering up free essays online, it might be a way to game the system. What do you think? Students are pretty creative these days, after all.

By everetra — On Jan 07, 2012

@MrMoody - I’ve got another “dreaded” writing prompt for you – it’s the reflective essay based on reading a book, otherwise known as a “book report.”

Formal book reports may be a little different in this regard but not much in my opinion. The problem with most of these types of essays from what I’ve seen is that they are too subjective.

Students focus too much on how much they “like” or “feel” or “enjoy” the book, rather than on describing in enough detail what the book was about. Certainly you want some personal reflection, but every insight should be tied to specific details from the story. That’s my take anyway.

By MrMoody — On Jan 06, 2012

I used to teach English composition at the elementary school level. One of the most dreaded writing prompts I delivered to my students at the start of every school year was, “Write about what you did for the summer.” When I say dreaded, I mean I could hear the kids groan when I gave out the assignment.

I have no idea why I always used that prompt; part of it was laziness I think. However part of the reason was that it gave me an easy way to assess my students’ writing skills, as well as gain insights into their personalities which could help me tailor my lessons to the students needs.

The writing prompt was certainly nothing complicated. It needed to be a page or two in length, and have a clear beginning, middle and end.

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