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UMGC Effective Writing Center Writing to Inform

When it comes to writing an informative essay, it’s time to put on your reporter’s hat and scientist’s lab coat. Why? When writing to inform, your job is to convey information accurately and objectively. Your writing should be a window of clear glass, through which your reader can see the facts as plain as day, without personal opinion or bias.

Filter, Focus, Organize

However, don’t confuse the avoidance of personal opinion with the filtering, organizing and focusing required when writing to inform. Today, an attempt to inform about even a simple topic can immerse you in a sea of digital data from the Internet. That’s why the ability to write informatively is one of the most important skills you can develop. Our world runs on information today, and the person who can demonstrate some control over it is a valuable employee indeed.

The 1-3-1 Pattern

The need to simplify and focus large volumes of data is the main reason an informative essay’s structure is simple and straightforward. This organizational pattern is sometimes called the 1-3-1 essay.

The numbers refer to a one paragraph introduction, three subtopics in the body, then a one paragraph conclusion. You’ll find informative writing with fewer or more than three subtopics. But the point is that this type of writing requires a strong organization with clear introduction, body and conclusion sections.

Thesis Requirements

The thesis must be tightly focused and sufficiently narrow in this type of writing. Let’s consider an example topic such as flightless birds. A possible writing-to-inform thesis for this topic might be: "Like everything in nature, these birds are flightless for a reason—to maximize their survival." To evaluate the thesis, use three tests.

Test #1

Is the thesis adequately focused? Yes, all of our data will be unified around one central idea: how lack of flight contributes to survival. A less focused thesis might be something like “Flightless birds are a curious species.” Curious? In what ways? And what significance might their curiosity have for the reader?

Test #2

Is the thesis significant? Yes, a discussion of how species survive in nature is of strong significance, especially in today's era of habitat loss and the concern over loss of species diversity. Compare the strong significance of our thesis to the lack of significance evident in this thesis: “Flightless birds are an interesting species found around the world.” Oh, really?

Test #3

Is the thesis doable within the assignment's length requirement? Yes, information on flightless birds is readily available and the purpose of the writing—to present survival mechanisms of this specific subgroup—is manageable in the short essay format most often used in academic writing.

Body Structure

The body of the informative essay should contain the subtopics that help you achieve the writing's purpose. In this example, the purpose is to inform readers about the survival mechanisms of flightless birds. Again, for convenience sake, we will list only three subtopics below, although the actual number can and should vary according to your topic.

  • Thesis: Like everything in nature, these birds are flightless for a reason—to maximize their survival.
  • Subtopic 1—The power of flight loses its advantage when your predators can also fly.
  • Subtopic 2—As a result, flightless birds developed alternatives to flying.
  • Subtopic 3—However, the greatest threat to flightless birds today is loss of habitat, not loss of flight.

The key question for the body section is this one: Do the subpoints present relevant data or information in a logical sequence for the reader?

In the example above, the sequence of our main points makes sense because a cause-effect relationship connects the main points. Being preyed upon by larger birds caused the development of alternate means of escape. However, today there is no escape from habitat loss, which again threatens the survival of these birds.

So the answer is, yes, there is a clear logic to the order of our points, a logic which is further demonstrated by the use of connective words and phrases such as "however" and "as a result."

The Importance of Planning

As you can see, some of the most important work in writing to inform is getting ready to write:

(1) craft a focused and significant thesis that can be treated within the word limit of your assignment

(2) assure that you have adequate information to develop that thesis

(3) provide a logical series of main points.

In effect, pre-planning is the key when writing to inform so that your focus remains sharp and your content is relevant and detailed.

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