The primary purpose of an informal essay is to entertain. It is probably the first encounter you have with writing essays (maybe called ‘compositions’ in the early years of school). Do you recall being asked to write about what you did on your recent holiday? That was an informal essay!
However, the professional essayists, whilst often having other purposes in mind as well as entertainment, such as informing or persuading, will nevertheless conform to the basic premise that the reader has to be interested in order to continue reading. This is true of essays by scholars and academics, like T.S. Eliot and Oscar Wilde, and newspaper columnists, like Clive James and Keith Waterhouse. The newspaper columns are really short essays, usually humorous.
The informal essay can be much less restricted by structural conformities and much more personal in both approach and expression. Allow your personal opinions and mode of expression to show through in an informal essay, rather than trying to sound ‘academic’. Your own ‘voice’ should be clearly audible in the informal essay and you should not be afraid to use humour where appropriate. Despite this, the informal essay should still maintain direction and clarity.
You will find examples of the work of famous essayists in collections and anthologies but it is, perhaps, more useful to look back over your own compositions; you will see clearly that the style is quite different from formal academic essays.
It is also worth glancing through features pages in newspapers as they display the style with great ease. Without exception, journalists with a ‘by line’ will adopt their personal style, whatever they are writing about, because they want their work to be recognizable and memorable. The structure will usually adapt the style of a formal essay so that the reader’s attention is grabbed by short, punchy, entertaining paragraphs. This is especially true of the opening, as it will follow on from a punning, alliterative and/or amusing headline which will persuade the reader who is skimming through the paper that it is worth pausing to read their piece over others.
The key points to remember when writing informal essays are to write personally and coherently whilst maintaining the aim to entertain, persuade and inform your reader.
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