What is Expressive Writing?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Expressive writing is personal writing. It expresses and explores the personal feelings of the writer. The piece may attempt to answer a question, state an opinion or recount the writer's personal experiences. Many times, expressive writing does all of these. Unlike most forms of writing, this type of written communication isn't focused on proper spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Whereas communicative writing should contain the proper mechanics of language as well as a more or less objective approach, expressive writing should not. This highly personal form of writing shouldn't be objective or impersonal. It also doesn't need to be informative or educational as long as it is expressive.

The main expectation of expressive writing is to express feelings and observations personally. The first person is used such as "I remember the day my grandma taught me to make apple pie. I was so excited, but then I cried when I couldn't roll out the crust." The writing must be directly about the writer. It's often reflective of life-shaping experiences. The topic can be anything as long as the writing expresses personal thoughts and feelings.


In expressive writing, it's very important for individuality to show through. It's also crucial that thought is given to the reader's understanding of the written piece. The reader should be able to understand what the writer is saying. Any needed details should be included so that the writer is clearly expressing himself or herself. Although imperfect writing mechanics in spelling and grammar are permitted, rambling or unclear sentences aren't acceptable. Nothing should be left to the reader's imagination — the writing must be specific rather than vague.

In expressive writing therapy, a person writes about traumatic experiences in order to face them and express his or her feelings and thoughts. Although writing about traumatic events may be difficult or even painful at first, studies show that in most cases the writing therapy helps increase psychological health and reduces stress. This type of writing can be healing in many circumstances, such as for cancer patients or those with disabilities.

Expressive writing disorder or dysgraphia is a learning disability. Those who have it may have difficulty writing logical sentences and it may be connected to reading or language disorders. In diagnosing the disorder, a person's age, intelligence and education level are considered. Professional help in writing therapy can help those with writing disorders learn to put their thoughts into words.


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Post 3

@everetra - Yes, there have been a lot studies about the health benefits of expressive writing. Some of these studies have focused on college students. In one expressive writing program the students were asked to write about their feelings about coming to college. It was found that these college students (the ones who participated in expressive writing) had better long-term memory and fewer visits to the doctor.

If you ask me, I think it has to do with the relationship between stress and overall health. People who “bottle it all in” get sicker more often, while people who open up feel better. I don’t think it’s more complicated than that, but expressive writing takes this very simple principle to the written page.

Post 2

@famnfriends - Yes, the most popular therapy is called Pennebaker expressive writing.

Pennebaker expressive writing is one of the most common tools used by psychologists who use writing in therapy. Pennebaker is the name of the person who invented this writing. People are told to write about traumatic events, things or tragedies that they have suppressed.

In one study a group of participants who wrote about their traumatic experiences felt a whole lot better than students who did not. In other words, this kind of writing is a little like “free writing” where you just keep writing and writing until your subconscious thoughts come out and you discover things about yourself that you didn’t know—or didn’t realize you were burying deep inside you.

However, Pennabaker expressive writing forces you to focus on the difficult experience in order feel release from stress. You’re basically just “letting it all out” on paper.

Post 1

I have heard about expressive writing therapy helping with stress. A life coach that I know tells her clients to journal. This has helped me to figure out what I am thinking and feeling about certain situations. It's also helped me to figure out decisions when I am not sure what to do.

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