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Writing Effective Informative Essays

Writing Effective Informative Essays

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson defines analytical and definition essays and provides insight into how to write them.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? We're going to learn about writing informative essays, including taking a focused look at analytical essays and how they work, as well as definition access.

First though, let's talk about informative essays in the broadest sense. These are essays written to inform, to describe, or to explain. The conveyance of information is the primary goal. And even though they will often require the writer to interpret data, and sometimes to take a stance on a particular issue or debatable conclusion, the priority is always the clear, honest, objective depiction of information.

A useful approach to writing informative essays is to ask yourself, what do I want my reader to know after reading my essay? This question, and the answer to it, should be relevant to any writer seeking to inform his or her readers.

We'll focus the rest of this lesson on two of the most common forms of informative essays. Analysis and definition. Even though analysis is a word we've used before, let's define it, just so we're all on the same page.

An analysis is the intellectual process of breaking something down into smaller parts for the purpose of understanding it better. In composition, we're generally talking about a text, or set of data, or situation. But almost anything could be analyzed, really.

And so, this means that an analytical essay is a type of informative essay that analyzes part of an item, and explains their meaning, purpose, or result in relation to the whole. It's the writing that comes about when an analysis is performed.

And it doesn't really matter what's being analyzed either. You can perform an analysis on, and write an analytical essay about, the results of a survey, or the findings of a laboratory experiment, or the characters involved in a novel or movie, just to give a few examples.

No matter what it's directed at, the purpose of any analysis is to look at some or all of the component parts in order to draw conclusions about the whole. And the analytical essays purpose is to describe what the author found, as a result of this process.

It's also important to note that analytical essays use the elements of the item being analyzed as a primary evidence for whatever conclusions it draws. Not, for example, the conclusions of an external source, like a research paper would use.

And while the findings and interpretations of an analysis may be debatable, they should be true and factual, as far as a writer can tell. As in, the information can be interpreted differently, but so far as the author can see, his or her interpretation is accurate.

Analytical essays should almost always contain descriptions and summaries of the item being analyzed. For example, a passage from the novel in which a character is introduced. But they have to do more than just summarize and describe.

The purpose of analysis and the conclusion of the analytical essay, must incorporate some kind of meaning-making. Uncovering the purpose or the value of the item, or the item's part.

As an example of a topic that would most likely to require an analytical essay, a report on the characters of the literary text, such as Toni Morrison's Beloved. It would, almost, certainly involve some kind of analysis.

A breakdown of the main characters, and how Beloved's character is, or is not, a foil for Setha. Or perhaps, a look at the settings. The way Sweet Home, when contrasted with Setha's later houses, presents a way of understanding communities.

Hopefully, you get the idea. Breaking the novel into its component parts, so both the inner workings and the whole can be better understood.

Another example would be a business class's analysis of a marketing strategy. It's in the magazine ads that a new brand of energy drink has come out with. This would almost, certainly, involve breaking down the ad's use of color.

Or the way the image of the cool, ethnically ambiguous woman they all use, is really a way to attract both men and women. Perhaps, sexually, or with a more culture approach. Again, looking at the specific parts of the item being analyzed.

You could even perform an analysis of data. Looking, for example, at the statistics for the incoming freshman class at your school. Posing questions and making assumptions about how the slight change in the number of out-of-state students might indicate a broader shift at the school.

Or how the drop in enrollment isn't necessarily a bad thing. That it indicates that student life might improve with less congestion and fewer problems getting into required courses.

Again, you should be able to see that no matter what the item being analyzed, the analytical essay written about it should do more than just inform the reader as to the information it presents. The data is sorted, focused, interpreted, but always with a careful attention being paid to truth and objectivity, or the closest the writer can get.

In contrast, analytical essays, a definition essay is trying to look, not the parts of a whole, but to cover, encapsulate, and redefine the entirety of its subject. This is a type of informative essay that explains the meaning of a complicated word or concept, or that alters by complicating, adding to, or otherwise, changing the standard definition of a word or concept.

For example, you could write an essay redefining as abstract a concept as love, or freedom. Or you could write an essay redefining the concept like social, to include the online world. Things like social media and commenting on videos, et cetera.

It's important to note that when doing this, whatever definition or redefinition you promote must be backed up with evidence, data, logic. It can't be just a matter of opinion. That being said, when defining a concept you should own it.

Don't worry about having to discuss every other possibility out there, as long as you don't feel dishonest in leaving it out, that is. Sometimes a commonly accepted definition must be challenge directly in order for whatever new one you're promoting to take its place in the reader's mind.

It's usually a good idea informative essays, in general, and definition essays in particular, to set parameters about what you will and will not tackle in an essay, and to make those parameters clear to the reader.

If, for example, you're writing to redefine bravery. Not so much as courage in the face of danger, but rather a willingness to sacrifice something, comfort, leisure, et cetera, for others.

Then it might be a good idea to state, fairly early in the essay, that you're not trying to dismiss or belittle the sacrifices of soldiers, for example. But merely trying to help your reader see that their current definition of bravery leaves out many of its most important instances.

Of course, this isn't the only kind of definition essay. An essay written to define the word home that doesn't explicitly set out the challenge the readers preconceived notions of the word, would still count as a definition essay.

Even though it's not redefining anything, the same work is still being done using evidence and logical reasoning to explain the meaning of a complicated word and a complicated concept.

Or a professional academic writing an essay that argues for the need of a new definition of illiteracy. And later the various kinds of social, online, and technologically based communication that didn't exist when the concept of literacy was conceived. That would also count as an asset definition. Entire books have been written about less, believe me.

And this essay, in particular, would have to contend with all kinds of aspects of the subject. The difference, for example, between a young person being literate when it comes to social media and literate in a more classically academic sense. And what that means for the future of education, or people in general is, potentially, a huge topic. And all, seemingly, from trying to redefine one word.

What did we learn today? We learned about writing informative essays. Taking a closer look at two of the most common types, the analytical essay and the definition essay.

I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know

Analysis is the intellectual process of breaking something (a text, data set, situation, etc.) down into smaller parts for the purpose of understanding it better.

Analytical Essay

An analytical essay is a type of informative essay that analyzes parts of an item (text, data set, situation, etc.) and explains their meaning, purpose, or result in relation to the whole.

Definition Essay

A definition essay is a type of informative essay that explains the meaning of a complicated word or concept or alters—by complicating, adding to, or otherwise changing—the standard definition of a word or concept.