A thoughtful letter to an old friend, a reflection on your education or ethnic heritage, a childhood reminiscence—these could all be informal essays.In writing, informality depends less on subject or structure than on the writing context. Informal essays assume a personal stance. They suggest close connections among writer, reader, and subject.

It's a kind of writing that helps us learn who we are as people, helps us define our values and clarify our vision.

Whatever the subject, and it could be almost anything, the writer is part of it, perhaps the central figure exploring a personal ritual or an arctic island, maybe a background figure attending a Grateful Dead concert or watching an elephant die. In any case, we enter the writer's mind. We experience the writer's emotions. It's a kind of writing that helps us learn who we are as people, helps us define our values and clarify our vision.

Like fiction and poetry, informal essays are imaginative excursions, and so, are sometimes called "creative nonfiction." Henry David Thoreau, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, James Baldwin, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Barry Lopez are some writers of informal essays whose work you might know already or enjoy discovering.