Informative writing is a common form of essay writing. Some informative writing is also academic writing; some is not. Informative writing informs readers about something; it describes or explains something to them. It is intended to convey information objectively, unlike argumentative writing, for example, which is persuasive. However, the line between these two forms is sometimes crossed: writers sometimes take a position on what they're writing about when writing informatively.
EXAMPLEIf a student decides to write an informative essay on treatment options for breast cancer, and her mother is currently undergoing this type of treatment, she may state the advantages and disadvantages of each treatment option in addition to listing them. By doing so, she would take a position. In addition to being informative, therefore, her essay would also be argumentative (and one that makes use of her personal context).
However, informative writing usually refers to writing that's not meant to convince readers of anything. Instead, it is intended to provide them with information about a subject.
EXAMPLESuppose a professor writes a short article for the campus website that describes careers for graduates of the program in which he teaches. It's likely that one of his goals is to persuade students to enroll in his classes, but his main purpose is to share information. This latter purpose is one of the primary signs of informative writing.
Because the goal of informative writing is to inform readers about something, it's important for writers to be as objective as possible when writing in this way. They should do their best to set aside personal feelings and opinions and simply report information as clearly and as honestly as they can.
Striving for objectivity is a worthwhile task for informative writers. The best way to perform it is to use the rhetorical situation. Making a meta analysis of personal biases and assumptions, and addressing them accordingly, brings writers closer to an objective perspective, no matter the subject.
Informative writing isn't limited to the academic context. It is one of the most common forms of written communication.
You'll find informative writing everywhere. Much of the writing done in the field of journalism, including newspaper and magazine articles on a variety of topics, is informative writing. Journalists are trained — and expected — to maintain objectivity when writing.
EXAMPLEWhen you read an article about the new law your state's Governor just signed, you won't learn what the reporter thinks about it. The article provides facts about the new law, and perhaps some quotes (e.g., from experts, the governor, other officials, etc.), but does not include the writer's view of it. The article was intended to inform readers about the enactment of the law, not to persuade them to believe or respond in a certain way.
Other common forms of informative writing include instructions (e.g., recipes and "how-to" guides), and technical writing. Textbooks and encyclopedic entries are also examples of informative writing — everything from your 6th-grade math book to the Wikipedia page on Alaskan king crab. The purpose of all of these written works is to inform readers.
Scientific writing is another form of writing that is meant to convey information objectively.
EXAMPLEA report written by a researcher who is investigating the effects of eating nothing but broccoli for a month will state exactly what the research did (and did not) reveal, and list accurate findings. It may also include a section (titled "Interpretations" or something similar) on possible applications of the research findings (e.g., to encourage people to eat broccoli). This kind of section would only present recommendations and conclusions based on the research results. As in the other examples, the primary purpose of a scientific report is to inform readers, and to present information objectively.
Source: Adapted from Sophia Instructor Gavin McCall