The Forms of Writing

The Twenty-five Forms of Writing

Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with feet, with ideas, with words and, need I add, that one must be able to dance with the pen.                                                                  —Friedrich Nietzche

The outline of this page is taken from Write for College: a Student Handbook written and compiled by Patrick Sebranek, Verne Meyer, and Dave Kemper (Write Source) Published by Great Source Education Group, Wilmington, MA. The copy I have, was published in 1977. There is now a new edition published in 2007.

The authors do not say anything about twenty-five forms of writing. I added that because I found it impressive. They simply refer to “The Forms of Writing.” I shall list them as they do, in their five categories. The numbering is mine. I will also try to describe each in my own words, perhaps with a brief example of my own.

Why were we compelled by our English Teachers to write so many essays? … Essays were required because the essay-writing activity itself gives the writer practice in applying clarity, logic, organization, and development to his or her thoughts, and best of all, it reveals how (as well as what) the writer thinks.  Jack Maguire p.104

1.”Personal Writing”

Sebranek, Meyer and Kemper begin with this beautiful introduction:

“Every time you put fingers to the keyboard (or pen to paper) you disclose something about yourself. It can’t be helped. Personal writing, of course, is the most telling type of writing because it is based on your own experiences. As writer John Mayer states ‘Our stories point like dreams to certain themes or concerns in our lives, containing either explicitly or implicitly some moral tag, which sums up where we’ve been.'” (146)

1. Writing Essays

A. ” Writing a Personal Reminiscence”

This is more of a story or anecdote, describing an experience.

I think most of our essays on what we did last summer fit in this category. My story of working with my son to help him research and write a paper would also fit here.

B.” Writing a Personal Essay” This may include a story but the goal is to explore your feelings or response to an experience, and hopefully will encourage the reader to reflect on their own experiences. This would be most similar to writing in a journal.

For Tony, it might have been when he began to reflect on the difference between himself and classmates who were not dyslexic. I will never forget when he anounced: ” I decided that if I had to choose between being as smart as I am and being dyslexic, or being just an ordinary student who can read and write without any problems, I would choose to be me.”

C. “Writing an Essay of Experience” This essay often begins with an event that changed the writer’s life. It continues with reflection about life before and after the experience.

My blog, My Breakthrough Learning Moment was certainly about an experience that changed my life, and experience that eventually led to writing this website.

These three forms of essays are quite similar.

It would be difficult to put some essays clearly in one category or another. If I could rename the third form, I would call it Essay on a Life-changing Experience.

2. Report Writing

A. “Writing a Summary Report” This involves reading a chapter or article and writing a summary.

This page comes closer to a Summary Report than the other pages in this website because it is all based on a single section of one book.

B. “Writing a Compiled Report”

This seems to be what, in my experience, has been called  “a survey of the literature.” Perhaps that term is more common in the sciences. Here, a student reads a number of books or articles on a topic and summarizes the material.

In my science classes, we generally began any research paper with at least a five to ten page survey of the literature. We could then move forward to describe new information or our own research in the area.

C. “Writing an Interview Report”

It is obvious what is meant here. You would find someone, famous or an ordinary person, and conduct an interview, preferable with prepared questions. Your report would summarize much of the information you learned but include a number of personal quotes and your impressions of the person. This is a form of writing commonly used in journalism but can also be used in collecting oral histories and similar information.

D. Writing an Observation Report”

While we often write about our observations, this really refers to a brief, intentional observation. You would select a location like the zoo, a city part, a sporting event, or a small local bar. You visit for a minimum of fifteen to thirty minutes but can stay much longer. You take detailed notes of what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. You are using all your senses. Then you organize your data and write a description of your experience.

Writers of fiction often do something similar. It is helpful to  practice descripions of real people, the expressions on their face, their gesture, their way of walking, and their conversation.

E. “Writing a Personal Research Report”

The writer is encouraged to do research a topic in which they have a personal interest. The report in the book describes a family where three members die from different forms of cancer.

If I had to do such a report, I might research the difference between dyslexic students ended up graduating from college compared to those who stop with high school or drop out even earlier. I think that early successes in some areas might give the students the courage and persistence to keep trying.

3. Analytical Writing

The authors include a great quote here.

Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own.
— William Zinsser in Writing to Learn

A. “Writing an Analysis of a Process”

In this form of writing, a clear explanation is given for how to do something. It could be changing a tire or baking a cake.

As I work to create a website, I tried to understand how to take a photograph or other visual and place it on a web page. Do not believe this is an easy process. I tried for at least three full days to replace the old header with one of my own choosing. And, when it happened, I couldn’t remember exactly what I had done differently. Getting the next picture up only took about two days. If I had to write an analysis of a process, I would  try to make this process easier to understand.

B. “Writing an Essay of Comparison”

Students are often asked to compare (or compare and contrast) two people, objects, ideas, events, etc.The authors present an essay comparing two literary characters. In another essay, they compare the sense of space in two different cultures.

Obviously, a compare and contrast chart would be good preparation for this sort of essay.


C. “Writing an Essay of Classification”

In this form of writing, the student studies a group of people and divides them into meaningful categories. The authors have done exactly this in listing the various forms of writing.

This is what Tony did when he wrote a paper on the four levels of reality in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.

You might do a humorous paper on the seven kinds of teachers.

A psychology student could describe the nine kinds of relationships between husband and wife. The possibilities are nearly endless.

D. “An Essay of Definition”

It may seem unusual to take an entire essay to write a definition. But there are many complex or abstract ideas that require more than a simple definition.

My page on a Breakthrough Learning Moment could be considered in this category. I defined it though an example and by using an image.

E. “Writing a Cause and Effect Essay “

The concept is simple. Writing the essay is not. You might try to explain the causes of the Civil War. You might try to explain what caused an automobile accident.  You might ask what causes some relationships or marriages to last and others to end quickly.

F. “Writing a Problem/Solution Essay.”

In this form of writing, the student studies the problem from many points of view before suggesting a possible solution.

There have been numerous articles and books discussing the problem of Globa lWarming.

G. “Writing an Essay of Evaluation”

This is the area of the food critic who visits restaurants and writes an evaluation of the food, service, and atmosphere.

It is the area of the movie critics who decide whether a movie is worth seeing, or the book reviewer who decides what books are worth reading.

You might also evaluate what kind of pet would be best for your family or which car would be a wise choice.

We cannot ever make lasting judgments. I have not, and never will read every book on how to write. Even if I could read those currently in print, other good books are out of print and new books are being written all the time. Our judgments are based on limited experience.

In the Ways of Thinking section of the web site, there is a page on Critique and Evaluate that might be helpful.

3. Persuasive Writing

Writing is thinking. It is more than living for it is being conscious of living.
— Anne Morrow Lindberg

A. “Writing an Editorial”

In an editorial, the writer selects a relevant topic, states an opinion and presents a strong argument for that opinion. The two sample editorials are on the Immigration issue and on Education.

B. “Writing a Personal Commentary”

A Commentary is described as being more reflective than an editorial, more open to different points of view. If you check your local newspapers, you will find some articles described as editorials and other called commentary. The commentary usually begins by stating the subject and the writer feels about it. It continues with stories, examples, and reflections on the topic.

C. “Writing an Essay of Argumentation”

Similar to editorials, Argumentation begins with a firm statement on an issue. Here, however it is argued in a calm, logical manner. Evidence in presented. Examples are given. The Argument is backed up with serious research. It is designed to help the reader make a decision. Editorials are more of an attempt to get the reader to believe what the writer believes.

D. “Writing a Position Paper.”

The is similar to argumentation but the purpose here is to present the evidence that will convince the reader. The emphasis is on “informing, explaining, and speculating.”

4. Writing About Literature

A. Writing a Personal Response:

This can be a simple as an entry in your journal reflecting on something you read. It might speak to you in some way, having a personal meaning. It might bring to mind memories of other experiences.

B. “Writing a Review”

Earlier we were introduced to Essays of Evaluation. This is very similar. It is an evaluation of literature. But the authors add another difference. Here, instead of telling the reader if the book or performance is good or bad, the writer points to the strong and weak points and leaves the evaluation to the reader.

C. “Writing a Limited Literary Analysis”

With very short pieces including poetry, the writing can be “analyzed line by line for more than one element… With books, the analysis should focus on one element: “plot, setting, theme, characterization, or style.” It is not based on research but on your own “critical reading of the text.”

This is similar, based mainly on “your own interpretation” but you should research other opinions and refers to these in addition to your own.


These authors were apparently English majors. I say this because of the emphasis on writing about literature. I am surprised to find no section on writing about science.  There were no examples of lab reports. I assume that other areas have been left out, but I still found the distinctions quite helpful.

What kind of writing are Blogs?

As I read and then wrote about each form of writing, I kept saying to myself. Here it is. This must be where blogs fit in. But, as you know if you read any blogs, they come in all flavors.

There are blogs that are purely informative. There are blogs that discuss everyday events and personal stories. There are editorial blogs whose purpose is to convince you to believe as they do. There are blogs that include personal interviews, personal commentary, positions, arguments, evaluation and more. I know of blogs that review books but have not heard of literary analysis in a blog.

In other words, there are as many kinds of blogs as there are ways of  writing: Maybe more.

It is important for the blog reader to be aware of this. Ask yourself if the blogger is presenting well-researched facts or if they are stating opinions disguised as facts. And if it is opinion, what is it based on?  An art expert’s opinion of the latest art exhibition is more important to me than the opinion of a person who know nothing about art but claims to know what he or she likes.

Understanding the Forms of Writing can help you be a more intelligent, informed reader as well as a more skilled writer..

The writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself…
— Alfred Kazin