Writing Type: Intuitive v. Sensing

As you may remember, I’ve been talking about the ways that personality type (specifically, the Myers-Briggs profile. If you’re not sure where you fall, take this easy online test.) affects writing, revising, and critiquing. Last time, I wrote about introversion/extroversion. This time, I want to focus on the second division–intuitive versus sensing (N and S in Myers-Briggs parlance).

This is one of my favorite divisions–one that I see played out almost every day in my marriage, as I’m more intuitive and my husband (a chemist) is much more on the sensing end of the spectrum.

Here are some common characteristics of intuitives:

  • Mentally live in the future (spend a lot of time thinking about possibilities)
  • Using imagination and creating or inventing possibilities is automatic, even instinctual
  • Remembers patterns, contexts, connections
  • Comfortable with ambiguous or fuzzy data and with guessing its meaning
  • Tends to base actions and plans on theoretical understanding

In short, intuitives tend to be “big-picture” kind of people, but the often miss the details. (They can’t see the trees for the forest).

Sensing types, on the other hand, are much more likely to exhibit these characteristics:

  • Mentally live in the now, focus on current opportunities
  • Using common sense and creating practical solutions is automatic response
  • Remembers details of facts and past events 
  • Likes clear and concrete information; dislikes guessing when facts are “fuzzy”
  • Tends to base action and plans on past experience

Sensing types are much more detail-oriented, but they may miss the big picture. (They can’t see the forest for the trees).

Not surprisingly, these personality preferences also play out in writing.


When drafting, Intuitive writers tend to:

  • Spend time in pre-writing developing a unique angle on their topic
  • Develop ideas from ideas (and tend to develop these ideas quickly, sometimes on the basis of not very much information)
  • Write first drafts that contain general outlines of ideas without much attention to mechanics or supporting details
  • Like to experiment with new ideas
  • Write with subtlety and flourish
  • Are interested in implications of things: what if . . . ?

What does this mean for revising?

  • Intuitive writers often need to ground their ideas in concrete, realistic details and facts.
  • They may also need to simplify their ideas (for the sake of readers) and prune out unnecessary ideas in favor of plot and development.

What does this mean for giving feedback to intuitive writers?

  • Intuitive writers value praise that highlights the imaginative, creative, or unique aspects of their work. Focus comments on ideas.
  • Ask exploratory questions like “Why?” or “what if?”
  • Respond well to general suggestions (don’t always need specific ideas of how to address a problem).
  • Encourage intuitive writers to include more specific, concrete details.
  • Help intuitive writers identify where their ideas are getting too complex–or where the realism of the plot or characters has been sacrificed in pursuit of an idea.


When drafting, Sensing writers tend to:

  • Collect a lot of data before writing (sometimes may be overwhelmed by the sheer mass of information)
  • Generate ideas based on personal observation and experience 
  • Write first drafts that record facts and specific details without clear connecting themes
  • May pay too much attention to mechanics while drafting
  • Are more comfortable with “tried and true” writing methods
  • Writing tends to be solid, careful, practical, realistic

What does this mean for revising?

  •  Sensing writers may need to concentrate on strengthening themes and connections (in academic writing, this means they need to focus on topic sentences, thesis statements, and summaries; in more literary writing, this may mean clarifying for themselves what the overarching idea is)
  • May need to streamline data or simplify some of the details so readers don’t get bogged down.
  • Sensing writers also tend to see revision as “correcting”–they may need to delay focusing on mechanics until the final revision.

 What does this mean for giving feedback to intuitive writers?

  • Sensing writers value praise that identifies the careful, researched angle of their writing and their attention to detail. Focus comments on specific details.
  • Give practical and specific solutions for addressing problems. Sensing types work best with step-by-step instructions. Consider modeling writing strategies where necessary.
  • Help writers recognize what details are unnecessary for the story.
  • Help writers recognize overarching ideas and themes.

What about you? Do you identify as an intuitive or sensing type? How has this affected your writing? Do you see yourself in the suggestions included here?

Bayne, Rowan.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  London: Chapman & Hall, 1995
Jensen, George H. and John K. DiTiberio. Personality and the Teaching of Composition.  Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1989
Thompson, Thomas C.  “Personality Preferences, Tutoring Styles, and Implications for Tutor Training,” Writing CenterJournal 14 (Spring 1994): 136-149

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