One thing that you, as a college student, might as well accept is that you’re going to write countless papers from the time you first begin college until you graduate. One kind of paper you will most assuredly write is an informative paper. However, by keeping certain guidelines in mind, you can learn how to write an informative paper in college and even become quite proficient it. What’s more, you can also earn excellent grades on those papers, and isn’t that your main goal–to earn good grades during your time in college?
What Should Informative or Expository Writing Be?
An informative paper is an exposition, meaning that it explains, clarifies, and describes something or someone to the reader, by providing examples, details, facts, statistics, and/or definitions so that readers learn from what you’ve written. However, as Jean Wyrick, author of Steps To Writing Well (2002), points out, a good informative paper is “more than a collection of facts, figures, and details," and it shouldn’t merely inform readers but also convince them that you have explained the subject matter in the clearest, most truthful way" (p. 189).
Choose The Right Topic
Although you will occasionally have to write about assigned topics, more often than not you will be free to select your own topics for informative papers. When it comes to selecting a topic, though, keep this advice in mind: “Choose a topic that interests you." After all, if you choose a topic that interests you, chances are you already know something about it, which will limit the amount of research you will have to conduct, and, more important, you will be far more likely to enjoy writing the paper because you find the topic interesting. On the other hand, some possible topics that you might consider are the following:
- A sport in which you are involved or interested
- A fascinating place you visited or would like to visit
- A phobia, for example, fear of spiders or fear of flying
- How to purchase a computer, cell-phone, or other technological gadget
- Why a certain computer, cell-phone, etc. is the best buy
- How to create a plan for physical fitness, weight loss, or weight gain
- Evidence for the Big Bang Theory
- How to design a Web page
- Global Warming
And the list could go on and on, but as you can see, when selecting a topic for an informative paper, you are limited only by your imagination. However, remember this advice: Do not make the topic too broad; for example, if you decide to write about global warming, don’t try to discuss each and every aspect of global warming, which would turn your paper into a book, but, instead, choose a focus this manageable and, therefore, can be discussed adequately in a student paper.
There are quite a few ways that you can organize a paper. The most common methods of organization, though, are the following:
- Comparison and contrast (compares and contrasts two subjects by first discussing one completely followed by the other or by discussing both subjects point-by-point throughout the paper, for example, the similarities and differences between science fiction and western films)
- Cause and effect or causal analysis (discusses one or more causes followed by an explanation of the effects or presents a primary effect followed by an explanation of its causes, for example, the fear of flying and what causes it)
- Definition (provides a detailed definition of a word, process, or event, for example, the Big Bang Theory or the Mayflower Compact)
- Process analysis (Explains a process chronologically or step by step, for example, how to design a Web page or how to field-dress a deer)
- Example (provides examples to explain or support a conclusion, for example, seat belt laws save lives)
- Classification (Identifies the main components of something then examines each component, for example, the different genres of literature or the various species of butterflies where you live)
Of course, in reality, although each paper you write will be based upon one primary strategy, most papers are developed not by using a single strategy but by blending two or more strategies. For example, when you write a classification essay, you will most likely provide definitions and examples, but your primary strategy will still be classification.
Top Tips for Paper Writing
When it time for you to begin your paper, try to keep these guidelines in mind:
- Develop a thesis statement (the main point you intend to make).
- Conduct any necessary research, making certain to record complete bibliographical data, for example, author, title, date of publication, etc, since you will need this information when creating in-text citations and the reference page)
- Organize information, details, examples, facts, etc, and decide how they can be most effectively presented throughout the paper.
- Write the rough draft, remembering that all papers should contain an introduction, body, and conclusion, plus a reference page if you conducted any research.
- Read over the rough draft and ask yourself, “How can I make this better? Is there information in the beginning that would work best someplace else; then again, should it be eliminated entirely? Do I need to explain anything in greater detail? Have I provided sufficient examples? Are my sentences clear in meaning? Is the paper well organized? Are the paragraphs unified? Does the paper contain grammatical or spelling errors?
- Write the second draft, keeping in mind your answers to the preceding questions.
- Read over the second draft, repeating the same questions that you asked in step five.
- Write the final draft, paying special attention to any formatting requirements. For example, does your instructor require APA formatting or MLA formatting? If you don’t know for sure, then ask.
Wyrick, Jean (2002) Steps To Writing Well with Additional Readings: Fifth Edition. Boston: Thomas Wadsworth