Every student would have to write several essays through middle school and high school to college or university. Most essays are a part of the curriculums. Some are imperative requisites at the time of enrollment, such as the college application essay. Dissertation is also a type of essay, usually much longer and certainly more comprehensive than ordinary essays.
Very few students have a natural penchant for essay writing. Students dislike or fail to specialize in writing essays for a myriad of reasons. Some students find the sheer uncertainty at the outset to be rather daunting. Some students find it difficult to convert their thoughts into words. Many students do not have the affinity for research, which is a quintessential prerequisite of writing an essay. These are the realities that students, teachers and parents must deal with. Our guide to writing essays for dummies is a good place to start to overcome the overwhelming challenges.
Introduction to Writing Essays for Dummies
An essay is a short piece of writing on a subject or topic. You may also call it an article, a composition, a paper or study, dissertation or thesis, an assignment or disquisition. Before we delve into the different types of essay and how you should go about planning to write one, it is necessary to understand the entire premise.
Students are asked to write essays so their understanding and hence grasp of a particular subject or topic can be assessed. An essay is supposed to reflect the personal opinion of the writer but not without due allegiance to facts. Every essay has a specific purpose. The scope of the essay is defined by that purpose. An essay should convey a message. It can convey more than one message. The best essays showcase contrasting perspectives and establish the truth through such contradictions. An essay can be limited to any one aspect of a topic or subject. It can be comprehensive. An essay is rarely all-encompassing.
Explore the Plethora of Forms & Styles of Essays
A vast majority of students do not have a lucid understanding of how to plan an essay. This is the biggest initial hurdle. Most students have the ability to express their thoughts or what they know about a given topic and can also carry out substantial research if they are provided the necessary guidance. Beginning to write an essay is not very different from a writer staring at a blank piece of paper or a painter setting up the blank canvas. The best writers and painters can create wonders out of that nothingness. Students can do so too with their essays.
Four Basic Types of Essays
There are more than a dozen types of essays. You can subcategorize them further if you want more specificity. Broadly, there are four major types of essays. These are narrative, descriptive, expository and persuasive. An essay may be an account documenting personal experiences, it can describe an object, person, situation or idea, it can explain something or it can try to convince the readers to accept a particular perspective. The purpose of the essay and the message you need to convey will determine the type you need to choose. Unless a specific assignment at school or college demands a certain form and style, students usually have the choice among these different types.
A narrative essay is like telling a story. You are the writer and the narrator. As a narrator, you have to be vivid with everything you show and tell. The story is narrated in first person so it gives you an opportunity to establish an immediate connect with the audience or reader but it also limits your ability to cast light on anything within the essay that is beyond the reach of the narrator. Narrative essays are best when the message or purpose is some kind of personal statement.
A descriptive essay is like drawing a picture. This can be a narrative essay as well. You can narrate the essay in first person while being descriptive. Descriptive essays are mostly about places, people, objects, memories or experiences. The description in the essay needs to have a purpose. There has to be a coherent message or some deeper meaning. The objective of a descriptive essay is to establish an emotional connection or to evoke a reaction, not just to paint a picture that no one cares about or relates to.
An expository essay is about facts. It is more informative than narrative and descriptive essays. There is little room for personal opinions. Whatever personal perspective that may be presented in an expository essay must be substantiated. There should be verifiable evidence or facts. An expository essay illustrates a topic by employing statistics, facts, real and theoretical examples, comparisons, causes and effects. This is not a first person narrative or even a descriptive account to evoke a premeditated reaction.
A persuasive essay is basically an academic version of a sales pitch. The writing should be able to convince the audience or reader to accept the presented opinion, reasoning, perspective or facts. Persuasive essays could be narrative, descriptive or expository. Since the reader needs to be convinced, there has to be more than just personal opinion or perspective. The logic or reasoning presented should be irrefutable. It is necessary for such an essay to discuss or debate all perspectives relevant to a topic. The writer may have a preconceived notion or may choose a standpoint even before writing the essay but this cannot come across as obvious in the written piece. A persuasive essay should not read as a biased account of facts.
Other Types of Essays
As you may have realized by now, the form and style of essay will depend on the type. You cannot use flowery vocabulary when you are writing an expository essay as facts are more important. You can be as poetic or ornate you want in a narrative or descriptive essay but you should still be able to establish the purpose and convey the message. The essence should not be lost in the writing.
There are other forms and styles beyond the four major types of essays such as compare and contrast, cause and effect, process, argumentative, critical, classification & division, dialectic, exemplification, familiar, economic and reflective. All these forms or styles can actually be categorized in one or more of the four major types of essays.
The Definitive Guide to Writing Essays for Dummies
An essay has three parts: introduction, body and conclusion. A short essay of around four hundred to six hundred words should have one introductory paragraph, a few body paragraphs and one concluding paragraph. A longer essay of around a thousand words or several thousand can have multiple introductory paragraphs, a few demarcated sections as the body wherein each has one or more paragraphs and a concluding section with one or multiple paragraphs.
Writing essays for dummies has six stages. These are preparation, study or research, writing the first draft, improving the language and the chosen style, reviewing the structure and content, finishing the piece with elan.
Stage One: Preparation
The preparatory phase has far-reaching implications. Everything you choose at this stage will have a bearing on every subsequent phase. If you have been given a topic or subject and you have been instructed to write a certain type of essay, then you don’t have the liberty to choose. If you can choose your topic or the style, then you must play to your strengths. Some people are naturally good at describing or narrating. Some people are naturally drawn towards facts and analytical assessments. Choose the style or form depending on your deftness.
Stage Two: Research
An essay has to be heavy on substance. It cannot be rhetoric. Even if you are writing a narrative or descriptive essay wherein you are exploring an idea, concept or thought and there is no correlation with real incidents, you would still need to use substantial information to your advantage. An essay is not a dramatic soliloquy.
Expository and persuasive essays will require sufficient research. You can confine your research to the books you have access to as a part of your curriculum. You can expand the scope of your research. The library at your school or college and the virtual world will offer you instant access to any information you need. The challenge is not the access to the information you need but the studying and assessing of everything you learn.
You will come across a lot of information. There would be complimenting and contradicting findings. Depending on the topic, it may be impossible for you to include all sources and hence you would need to choose some information over others. The presentation should still be comprehensive enough. You cannot choose one type of factual findings and discard another. An essay must have some semblance of nonpartisanship even if you have a preconceived purpose.
Stage Three: First Draft
You would have a word count in mind. Break it down into the three segments of introduction, body and conclusion. You can start with the body. The information you obtain through your research would be the foundation of the body of your essay. Since you would have plenty of details, starting the first draft with such information would be simpler than trying to find the best words to begin your essay. Often, writing the body would influence a writer to choose the right wording for the introduction. However, this is not a universal rule. Many writers would want to begin with the introduction, set the tone of the essay and then work on the first draft of the body.
You should not be too conscious while writing the first draft. Just pen down whatever you have learned and what you have understood. You don’t have to be too adherent to the purpose and you don’t need to excel in the use of language. The objective of the first draft is to put your thoughts into words and to have a basic version that you can rework to perfection. The first draft can be much longer than the chosen word count. Try to write down everything you think is important in the given context.
Stage Four: Review/Revise or Edit/Rewrite
You should review the first draft and crosscheck the factual information with your references. Make sure there is no factual inaccuracy. Ensure there is no plagiarism. Consult your notes from the research phase to know for sure that you have been true to the sources. Revise or rewrite any portions that you think are inaccurate or would do with some better writing. Check everything from spelling to grammar, use better words wherever appropriate and try to develop a unique voice in your essay. Most people have a natural writing style. This is not necessarily good or bad. You should find, identify and amplify your voice. Your essay does not have to emulate the styles of others.
Stage Five: Optimize Structure and Content
At the end of the fourth stage of writing essays for dummies, you should have a readable piece that sheds more light on the topic and conveys a message. The primary purpose of writing the essay must have been accomplished by now. However, the structure and content may not be the best they can be. You should try to optimize both.
Review the word count of each paragraph, assess how you have argued in favor or against a particular notion, whether or not your writing is actually conveying what you wish to emphasize, if the reader will get to imagine or visualize the picture you are trying to draw and if there is an impact of the entire content, which could be an emotional connection, a certain type of reaction or just being convinced with the facts of the case.
Stage Six: Finishing Touches
The finishing touches will vary from writer to writer. You can look for a quote, one that is the most appropriate for your essay. You can come up with an anecdote to make your essay more memorable. Often, it is not just the words in an essay that makes it unique but how it is presented.
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