3201 Essay Booklet Name: Formal and Informal Essays

Download 2.29 Mb.
Size2.29 Mb.
3201 Essay Booklet

Formal and Informal Essays

Essays can be divided into two general categories: formal and informal. In formal essays, writers tend to take a serious, evidence-based approach while in informal essays, writers tend to take a more relaxed, personal approach. Writers usually choose their style to suit their purpose and audience.


Most Formal Essays

Most Informal Essays


Are written for

  • academic audiences such as other students or teachers/professors

  • professionals such as historians, psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists

Are written for

  • the general public

  • people of certain age group, such as teens or seniors

  • people with specific interests, such as fishing or fashion


  • present facts and information gathered through research, experiments, or observation

  • aim to engage readers through logical reasoning, facts, and objective evidence

  • express the writer’s personal, thoughts, feelings, and opinions

  • aim to engage readers by appealing to their senses and emotions


  • focus on scholarly topics related to literature, history, and other shared knowledge and events

  • focus on everyday topics related to events and experiences in the writer’s life


  • explicitly state the thesis in one or two sentences

  • place the thesis statement in the first or second paragraph

  • do not follow hard-and-fast rules related to thesis statements; they may not have a thesis statement; if they do, it may appear anywhere in the essay

Point of View

  1. are written in third person (“he,” “she,” “one,” “they”)

  • are written in first person (“I,” “me,” “we,” “us”)


  1. have a detached, unemotional tone• feel impersonal, objective

  • have a relaxed, sometimes emotional tone

  • feel personal, subjective


  1. use formal language, professional terminology avoid slang, colloquialisms, and contractions

  • use relaxed, often conversational language

  • include slang, colloquialisms, and contractions

Essay Types and their Characteristics:



Author’s Purpose

Text Elements


Sample Topics


presents sensory details (sight, sound, smell, taste, feel) about a person, place, event, or thing

to create a strong impression and “paint” a picture with words in the reader’s mind

figurative language such as similes, metaphors, imagery, mood

tends to be non-academic

Sunlight sets the mood for my day
A day in the life of a smoker
Snowshoeing in the country


tells a story about an event or experience in the writer’s life

to reveal a life lesson or insight

conflict, action and plot, figurative language such as similes, metaphors, imagery, mood

tends to be non-academic

The week I went without sunlight• Why I became a smoker
The time I met my hero


objectively presents researched facts, statistics, expert opinions, details, and examples

to inform, explain, describe, or define the subject

thesis statement clear introduction, supporting body paragraphs, and conclusion

can be academic or non-academic, depending on context (e.g., university assignment or magazine feature)

The effects of sunlight on people’s moods
The effects of second-hand smoke



presents evidence, reasoning, and arguments to support an opinion or point of view

to convince readers of an opinion or move readers to perform an action

thesis statement• clear introduction, supporting body paragraphs, and conclusion

can be academic or non-academic, depending on context (e.g., university assignment or op-ed piece in newspaper)

All classrooms should have a source of natural sunlight
Non-smokers should sue tobacco companies

Methods of Development

  • A method of development is a way of thinking about and presenting your evidence on a topic.

  • Most essays use more than one method to develop their argument and make their case.

Method of development

What it does

Useful for…

Cause and Effect

analyzes and explains the causes of a specific event or situation, the effects of an event or situation, or both

• arguing/persuading
e.g., showing why graduates have fewer options because of debt
• informing/explaining
e.g., explaining how debt limits graduates’ choices

Compare and Contrast

analyzes the similarities and differences between two or more ideas, people, or things•

• arguing/persuading/analyzing
e.g., contrasting outcomes in countries with lower tuition against those in Canada
• informing/explaining
e.g., comparing tuition in Canada with tuition in other countries

Process Analysis

describes or explains step by step how something is done

• informing/explaining

e.g., explaining how the cycle of student debt works

Classification and Division

analyzes a topic by breaking it down into its component parts or by grouping objects, people, or ideas with shared qualities

• informing/explaining
e.g., breaking down the cost of a university degree


explains the writer’s understanding of a word or concept (i.e., what it means to him or her and why)

• informing/explaining
e.g., explaining what “higher education” means (or should mean) in terms of its aims

Examples and Illustration

proves a point by illustrating it with specific examples; may be in order of importance (least to most; most to least)

• arguing/persuading/analyzing
e.g., giving examples of famous thinkers throughout history who had higher education
• informing/explaining
e.g., providing examples of families, occupations, and incomes to show that tuition has become out of reach for many


tells a story in order to explain why and how something happened

• arguing/persuading
e.g., recounting story of a promising student who is missing out on university because of cost
• informing/explaining
e.g., recounting story of how a life was transformed by access to higher education


provides details about a person, place, object, event, etc., in order to explain what it is like

• arguing/persuading
e.g., describing the extreme disappointment of forgoing university because of cost
• informing/explaining
e.g., describing an old campus to set the scene

Thesis Statement
While every essay must have a thesis, not every essay will have a thesis statement. Formal essays require an explicit thesis, or one that is directly stated, but informal essays often have an implicit thesis, or one that is implied. In these essays, it is difficult to underline one or two specific sentences that state the thesis. Yet, by the time you finish reading you know the key idea because the writers were careful to include only relevant supporting ideas and to clearly reinforce their thesis throughout.
Characteristics of Effective Thesis Statements
A strong thesis statement takes a stand or makes a claim that could reasonably be disputed has one main idea expressed clearly and precisely clearly indicates the evidence the essay will provide to support it addresses the key words and answers the question posed in the essay prompt, in timed-writing situations. A strong thesis statement does not ask a question simply state a fact just describe your subject or your essay’s intention.

Different Types of Thesis Statements

Type of essay

Characteristics of thesis statement

descriptive and narrative

often implicitly stated- influenced by tone of essay (e.g., blunt, humorous)- “rules” about thesis statements apply the least


usually explicitly states the process or concept to be explained- usually gives an outline of the explanatory approach that the essay will take


explicitly stated - should clearly state the writer’s position and give some idea of the type of evidence that will be presented to support it

Descriptive Essay
A descriptive essay is characterized by a plethora of adjectives as well as a dominant overall impression of a person, place thing, situation or experience. It often uses adjectives that appeal to the senses.

  • See list of descriptive words handout

Essay # 1 (Description): “On the Road to Berlin” by Ernie Pyle Echoes p. 357


  • A writer's choice of words, phrases, sentence structures, and figurative language, which combine to help create meaning.

  • words and phrases are used to suggest a precise meaning.

  • writers deliberately choose words for a particular effect, so it's important to figure out what the writer wants the reader to understand, sense: see, feel, hear, etc.

How to approach the famous “the effectiveness of diction” question:

  1. Figure out the denotation and then the connotation if necessary.

  2. Look for figurative language.

  3. What images are created with the words and/or phrases?

  4. What do the words mean and what do they help you understand about the piece of literature? Imagery? Theme? Setting? Think! What is the real reason for the choice of words?


1. Explain how the writer’s use of diction is effective the line “[i]n this shore-line museum of carnage…”


2. Identify three (3) adjectives that are used effectively to develop mood. Explain the effect they have.


Essay # 2 (Description): “Top Man” by: James Ramsey Ullman

The gorge bent. The walls fell suddenly away, and we came out on the edge of a bleak, boulder-strewn valley. And there it was.

Osborn saw it first. He had been leading the column, threading his way slowly among the huge rock masses of the gorge's mouth. Then he came to the first flat, bare place and sopped. He neither pointed nor cried out, but every man behind him knew instantly what it was. The long file sprang taut, like a jerked rope. As swiftly as we could, but in complete silence, we came out into the open ground where Osborn stood, and raised our eyes with his. In the records of the Indian Topographical Survey it says:
Kalpurtha: a mountain in the Himalayas, altitude 28,000 ft. The highest peak in British India and fourth highest in the world. Also known as K3. Tertiary formation of sedimentary limestone . . .
There were men among us who had spent months of their lives - in some cases, years - reading, thinking, planning about what now lay before us, but at that moment, statistics and geology, knowledge, thought, and plans were as remote and forgotten as the faraway western cities from which we had come. We were men bereft of everything but eyes, everything but the single electric perception! There it was!
Before us the valley stretched away into miles of rocky desolation. To the right and left it was bounded by low ridges which, as the eye followed them, slowly mounted and drew closer together until the valley was no longer a valley at all, but a narrowing, rising corridor between the cliffs. What happened then can only be described as a single stupendous crash of music. At the end of the corridor and above it - so far above it that it shut out half the sky - hung the blinding white mass of K3.
It was like the many pictures I had seen, and at the same time utterly unlike them. The shape was there, and the familiar distinguishing feature - the sweeping skirt of glaciers; the monstrous vertical precipices of the face and the jagged ice line of the east ridge; finally, the symmetrical summit pyramid that transfixed the sky. But whereas in the pictures the mountain had always seemed unreal - a dream image of cloud, snow and crystal - it was now no longer an image at all. It was a mass, solid, imminent, appalling. We were still too far away to see the windy whipping of its snow plumes or to hear the cannonading of its avalanches, but in that sudden silent moment every man of us was for the first time aware of it, not as a picture in his mind, but as a thing, an antagonist. For its twenty-eight thousand feet of lofty grandeur, it seemed somehow, less to tower than to crouch - a white-hooded giant, secret and remote, but living.
1. What type of figurative language is used in the line, "The long file sprang taut, like a jerked rope"?
(a) hyperbole

(b) metaphor

(c) personification

(d) simile

2. What type of grammatical structure is found in the line, "reading, thinking, planning about what now lay before us"?
(a) parallel structure

(b) repetition

(c) rhetorical devices

(d) transitional phrase

3. What is the meaning of the word "bereft" in the phrase, "we were men bereft of everything but eyes, everything but the single, electric perception!"
(a) aware

(b) complete

(c) deficient

(d) fulfilled

4. What literary device is most dominant in this essay?
(a) atmosphere

(b) imagery

(c) irony

(d) unity

5. What do "symmetrical summit" and "windy whipping" exemplify?

(a) alliteration

(b) assonance

(c) cacophony

(d) onomatopoeia

6. What literary term describes the "antagonist" the phrase, "but in that sudden silent moment every man of us was for the first time aware of it, not as a picture in his mind, but as a thing, an antagonist"?
(a) hyperbole

(b) metaphor

(c) personification

(d) simile

7. What literary term describes "a white-hooded giant" in the sentence, "For its twenty-eight thousand feet of lofty grandeur, it seemed somehow, less to tower than to crouch - a white-hooded giant, secret and remote, but living"?
(a) hyperbole

(b) metaphor

(c) personification

(d) simile

8. What is the tone of the essay?
(a) awe

(b) inspiration

(c) remorse

(d) surprise

9. Identify two (2) examples of figurative language that is effectively used to create imagery.
10. Explain how coherency is achieved. Define coherence. Provide two (2) different Methods of Achieving Coherence from the essay and provide an example of each from the essay.

Expository Essay

Essay #3 (Expository): “Blood: the Stuff of Life” Beyond Five Paragraphs (p.77-78)

Expository essays are some of the most common types of academic essays. They are written to inform readers about a subject or explain how to do something. Writers often research their topics and include specific examples, statistics, graphs, and charts to illustrate and reinforce the information they present.