Informal and Formal Writing Assignments

Defining Informal and Formal Writing

Informal Writing/Writing to Learn: Writing for the main purpose of finding out if students understand material, have completed reading, or done assigned work.

Formal Writing/Learning to Write: Writing for the main purpose of having the student present content from the discipline in a style and form that practitioners could readily recognize and accept.

Informal Writing

  • By articulating their analyses and opinions on paper, students digest information more quickly and are able to reflect critically on course content.
  • Theoretically, students end up improving their writing by writing a lot, but the main goal is to improve their learning.
  • Using writing activities in your classroom creates an active classroom with engaged students.  

Characteristics of Informal Writing Activities

  • Collaborative, discussion-like, and/or loosely structured.
  • Other students and/or the teacher are the audience (or the assignment lacks an audience).
  • Activities may begin and end abruptly.
  • All informal writing can serve as prewriting for formal writing projects. 
  • Examples: journals, in-class responses, and WebTycho conferences. 

Formal Writing

  • Designed to help students communicate according to the professional standards of the discipline by acquiring certain discipline-based skills of communication.
  • Students learn that writing is diverse and that each career field has its own set of language conventions.
  • Formal writing assignments work to create a professionally-focused classroom.
  • Students end up learning both the content and the types of communication that convey that content in the field.

Characteristics of Formal Writing Assignments

  • Assignments conform to the conventions of the discipline in which you teach. 
  • Audiences are often beyond the classroom (simulated or real industry audiences, etc.)
  • Assignments require particular language use and style (passive voice in some scientific writing, expected literature review styles in psychology and sociology, etc).
  • Assignments are in the genres of your discipline: law reviews, lab reports, case studies, memos, briefs, etc.

Examples of Informal and Formal Writing Assignments




  • Journal
  • Book-Article Report
  • Glossary
  • Note-taking
  • Process Reflection
  • Summaries
  • Timed Short Response
  • Web Site Review
  • Annotation
  • Book/Article Review
  • Contextual Analysis/Solution
  • Definition Paper
  • Reflective Paper
  • Response/Reaction Paper
  • Lab Report
  • Essay Exam
  • Group Project Report
  • Letter to the Editor
  • Professional Article
  • Research Paper
  • Translation Paper