First-Year Preceptorial

Informal Writing

Informal writing can be done in preparation for formal writing assignments, or as a completely independent learning activity.  It is freewriting, unpolished writing that is not intended for public communication.  Rather than assert and argue, writers reflect and question.  They speculate and “think on paper.”  Informal writing may not be read by the instructor and is usually not graded, though sometimes credit is given for completing it.  Its purpose is to help students become independent, active learners by creating for themselves the language essential to their personal understanding. 

Informal written language helps writers to think and learn. 

  • To develop abilities (to define, classify, summarize, question, infer, hypothesize, analyze, etc.)
  • To develop methods (of close reading, of reporting observed data, of organizing data into generalization, of formulating theories, etc.)
  • To develop knowledge (about central concepts; about one’s own problem-solving, thinking, learning; about the aims and methods of a discipline)
  • To develop attitudes (toward learning, toward the knowledge and opinions of others)

Types of Informal Writing

Focused freewriting:  Reflective, probing, speculative writing that explores a specific term, problem, issue or question in an open-ended manner.  First thoughts on a subject.  Can be used to begin or conclude a class discussion.  Or mid-class to focus a discussion:   What are we learning?  What questions do we have?

Attitudinal writing:  Focused freewriting expressing the attitudes that influence learning.  How do you feel about..?  What do you bring to this reading, issue, or subject?  What difficulties did you have with the last assignment?  Where are you stuck?  What is most difficult for you at this point?  What question do you have?  What more do you need to know or do? 

Metacognitive, process writing:  Writing that examines how and why you acted in a situation (done after reading an assignment, taking an exam, working on a problem, writing a paper, thinking about an issue).  Observing one’s own learning behaviors promotes independent learning.

Explaining errors:  On a test or homework, this “process” writing helps students and instructors recognize what went wrong, how and why.

Listing questions:  Allows writers to identify doubts, reservations, uncertainties, and confusions about a topic or process.

Creating problems:  Defining problems and issues.

Quotation, paraphrase, summary:  What was noticeable in a reading or class?

Defining:  Defining a concept in one’s own words, as a way of developing conceptual understanding

Microthemes, journals, learning logs, etc. 

                                                      Adapted from Institute for Writing and Thinking, Bard College