An essay is a short piece of writing on a particular topic. Essay writing assignments start in grade school and continue through grad school. Some classes require students to bang out several essays in quick succession - far too often for those students who suffer from writer's block. If you have ever stared at a blank paper or screen while a deadline loomed, this Entry may prove useful.
The main types of essays are: persuasive; compare and contrast; good points and bad points; descriptive; and the story. The description of each essay type is provided with an example.
The Persuasive Essay
The persuasive essay, also known as the 'why essay', attempts to convince someone to think or act a certain way. Examples of such essays abound near election time as political writers try to convince voters to support or oppose a particular candidate or position. Sometimes thinly disguised persuasive essays appear as print advertisements or appeals for charity donations.
The opening paragraph clearly states the writer's position.
Every summer, tens of thousands of people, tourists and residents alike, enjoy our beautiful local beaches. By the end of the summer, however, our beaches aren't beautiful - they're covered in litter. That's why our beaches need your help this Saturday starting at noon for Beach Cleanup Day.
The second paragraph contains the strongest supporting points, with examples, facts and details.
Beaches need to be cleaned up because litter is dangerous to wildlife. Birds and mammals can become entangled in common items like fishing line and six-pack rings. Birds can mistake plastic bottle caps for food, eat their fill, then starve to death. To turtles, plastic shopping bags look like tasty jellyfish.
The third paragraph contains the writer's second most cogent arguments.
Litter is also hazardous and costly for humans. Last summer, a day at the beach ended in a visit to casualty for 48 people due to glass and metal cuts. Marine litter also affects our local fishing industry. In a recent survey, 56% of commercial fishermen reported equipment damage due to litter, mostly plastic entangling propellers or blocking cooling intakes, with the average repair costing £3,025.
The fourth paragraph details the writer's third most compelling reasons, that is, the weakest argument among the three.
While litter causes serious problems, Beach Cleanup Day is a great deal of fun. Local eateries provide free refreshments to everyone who helps. Volunteers earn a free t-shirt for filling one bag of trash. Each full trash bag after the first earns the volunteer a raffle ticket. Beach Cleanup Day ends with a draw for prizes donated by local businesses.
The closing paragraph restates the writer's position, often as the only reasonable conclusion to the foregoing arguments.
You can protect marine wildlife, human beach-goers, and our local fishing industry from dangerous litter. Earn a free t-shirt and the chance of valuable prizes as you help make our beaches beautiful once more. Volunteer for Beach Cleanup Day this Saturday noon at the boardwalk.
The Compare and Contrast Essay
A compare and contrast essay points out similarities and differences between any two things. This essay format is often used to analyse two things of the same class, such as time periods (then and now), places (city and country), or computers (Mac and PC). Don't feel constrained to obvious topics; some comic writers have made careers of drawing comparisons between wildly different things.
The opening paragraph states what is being compared.
Just last night, I realised how much my dog was like my saxophone.
The second paragraph lists the features both items have in common.
I got my sax around the same time I got my dog, about three years ago. Both my sax and the dog cost me a bundle; the sax when I bought it, and the dog on the instalment plan, one giant sack of food at a time. Both make a lot of noise, the sax when I pay attention to it, and my dog when I ignore him.
The third paragraph talks about the special features of one item.
The sax is a beautiful golden colour, has lovely warm low tones and a bright, clear high register, and basically doesn't do anything when I'm not playing it.
The fourth paragraph talks about the special features of the other item.
My dog is a homely muddy-brown colour. He has harsh low tones and a deafening high register, especially when he hears a siren. About the only time he isn't within inches of me is when I'm playing the sax; then he's under the bed, presumably with his paws over his ears. Everything else I do, he absolutely adores. He loves it when I come through the door, when I read, or when I'm gardening. He's nuts about rides in the car, taking a walk, a game of catch. I named him Jesse, although I can't remember why.
The final paragraph is a closing or summary statement.
Without my sax, I couldn't earn enough to afford this apartment. Without my dog, it wouldn't be home.
The Good Points - Bad Points Essay
Similar to the compare and contrast essay is the good points - bad points essay. You can use this format to analyse two or more choices. The choices can be the candidates for a particular office, the vacation spots available next summer, or the types of laptop computers to buy.
The opening paragraph introduces the choices.
The voters will have an opportunity next month to choose between two candidates for town mayor, Adam Ashton and Betty Bromley.
The second paragraph lists the good points of the first choice.
Adam Ashton has been serving the public in one capacity or another for the last 47 years. Since his retirement as deputy sheriff, he has been on the School Board, the Utilities Board, and the County Board of Supervisors.
The third paragraph lists the bad points of the first choice.
While his dedication to public service remains as strong as ever, even his most loyal supporters must admit Ashton's failing health has become an issue. He missed five of the last twelve Board of Supervisor meetings, and fell asleep during four of those he was able to attend.
The fourth paragraph lists the good points of the second choice.
Betty Bromley has been a member of our community all her life. After a career as a dentist, she has volunteered with several local organisations including Friends of the Library, Meals On Wheels, and the Literacy League.
The fifth paragraph lists the bad points of the second choice.
This is the first time Bromley has run for any public office. While she certainly ran an efficient dental practice, the mayoral office may be a bit more problematic.
The sixth paragraph concludes the good points - bad points essay.
But if the mayoral office might prove tough for Bromley, it would be impossible for Ashton. Therefore we thank Adam Ashton for his many years of service and wish him a complete recovery, and we endorse Betty Bromley for town mayor.
The Descriptive Essay
Your topic can be a person, place, thing, or experience. Regardless of your subject matter, it is important to consider your audience. For example, an essay on tomatoes intended for chefs should be different from one intended for gardeners or the general public.
Jot down each aspect of the topic you want to discuss; each of these items will become the subject of a paragraph. Arrange the items in some sort of sensible order, such as top to bottom, first to last, or most important to least important.
The opening paragraph should introduce the subject matter and include something of interest to the intended audience.
We opened a bottle of 5-year-old barley-wine last night.
Each of the following paragraphs should clearly describe one of the items you previously jotted down.
The deep brown liquid was so rich, it even poured more slowly than ordinary beer.
Relate the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, as appropriate.
I inhaled the malty, toffee bouquet, with a hint of oak and currants.
Use specific language to help the reader form a firm image.
Each sip was caramel rolling over my tongue; each swallow, silky cream.
The closing paragraph should leave your reader with a clear impression.
The slightly citrus finish lingered on my tongue like a sigh, giving me reason to wait another five years.
If the topic is a person's life, the descriptive essay becomes a biography. Although a person's life begins at birth and ends in death, your essay doesn't have to, and probably shouldn't. The exciting parts of life are usually somewhere between cradle and grave, so begin your essay with an attention-grabbing accomplishment or event.
Descriptive essays can be used to instruct the reader how to perform a particular task, such as preparing a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. When describing how to do something, make sure to include a list of needed tools and supplies and mention any possible hazards.
The Story Essay
The story essay is a favourite among columnists and feature writers. Some students experience more difficulty with the story essay, because it is more loosely structured than any of the preceding essay types. Other students enjoy the relative freedom.
The first paragraph introduces the setting and the main characters.
Candace felt the steering wheel shudder in her hands as her ancient Chevy Malibu overheated. She guided the car to the side of the dusty highway and applied the brakes for what would be the last time. As she walked to the freeway call box, she wondered whether she'd make it home for Christmas dinner. 'Mom's going to hate sitting at home alone at Christmas', she yelled at a passing pickup.
Most of the following paragraphs, that is, all paragraphs but the last two, introduce plot elements, other characters, and develop the plot. For example, this essay could support several paragraphs describing the December weather, the roadside environs, Candace's thoughts and experiences, and the arrival of the tow truck driver.
'There's no mechanic open today, but I can take a look.' The tow truck driver opened the hood, pulled out the dip stick, and rendered his professional assessment. 'You see how the oil looks almost like a milk shake? You got a cracked head. This car's had it. Now,' he said as he shut the hood, 'where do you want me to tow you?'
The penultimate paragraph introduces the climax.
'I can't afford a tow all the way in to Lerdo. I just want to see my mom. And I want some Christmas dinner!' Candace quickly looked down at her shoes, embarrassed to hear her own voice sound so young and whiney.
The closing paragraph introduces the resolution.
After a long pause, he said, 'Christmas dinner sounds like a fair trade for a tow. Is your mom a good cook?'
Apply a Little Polish
Regardless of which type of essay you write, make sure you edit. Editing permits you to weed out errors before your teacher sees them.
To properly edit your essay, it helps if you look at it with a fresh set of eyes. If you have written your essay well ahead of time, you can let it and yourself rest overnight, and read it in the morning. If, on the other hand, you are up against the deadline, let your ears catch the errors your tired eyes may skip over by reading your essay out loud.
Finally, format your paper as required.
The Short and Long of It
Younger students can get by with writing simple, five-paragraph essays; however, older students are expected to complete longer writing assignments. These essay formats can be expanded to support longer, more complex projects. Each of the paragraphs described above can head up a section or chapter, supporting enough writing to get a student through nearly any assignment.