What is an essay?Monday, March 22nd, 2010
An essay is so important to academic work and they are the best way to communicate strong ideas. In an essay, one has to argue a point of view or expand upon a main idea. In doing so, the writer must focus on presenting new information or introducing old information in a new way to make a topic interesting and make the writer’s point of view persuasive. It is essential not to simply copy or restate the work of others, but instead use your own voice to discuss the topic. Essays should be strong and coherent (i.e., follow a topic), therefore they should follow proper style and format guidelines, which I will discuss below. Think of them as the best aspect of your thoughts and opinions- the kind others will be reading and using to gauge your abilities. If you can show that you know your topic or field and convey your thoughts clearly using the right style and formatting guidelines, then your work will influence other people.
Essays are a scholarly medium and must have format and style. No matter what style you use (MLA, APA, Chicago Manual, etc.) you have to follow it to the letter. Using the proper style ensures that other writers understand where you get your information and what a certain symbol means in your writing (e.g., *). For example, in Thailand linguists will often use a * to show incorrect grammar; whereas in the United States many people will use the same symbol to illustrate a sentence with correct grammar. It is important to know which style you are dealing with to make your meaning clear in your essay. You should consult with a professor or with your university’s website to find out what style you need to use. Typically, English majors will use MLA style, Psychology majors will use APA style, and Anthropology majors will use Chicago style. These are just some examples, but I’m sure you can find what you need through your university’s resources.
The next key issue with writing an essay is formatting. Formatting is a big part of what makes an essay an essay, so it is important to know the basics. Nowadays many essays are on the internet or in databases for permanent public access, so writers use conventions or rules to help each other understand their writings and quickly find information they need. If you read an essay that does not follow the basic formatting rules, then you will probably find yourself confused, bored, and unconvinced by the writer’s point of view. If you have to wait until the last paragraph to understand the “surprise” or “twist” of the essay, then you are going to pull their hair out. So, stick to the following formatting rules when writing an essay and you will be more successful.
The simple format for writing every essay is introduction, body, and conclusion:
1. The introduction contains the topic sentence, which states the main idea of the essay and a few sentences to explain where the essay is going (e.g., This essay will discuss x,y,z and include a,b,c types of information).
2. The body of essays must include details that support the topic sentence or main idea from the introduction, which can include the writer’s opinions and original ideas. You should always convey the details only in the body of the essay! It is important that the information flow from one point to the other both within and between paragraphs. Sudden shifts in thought make essays very difficult to read! You should also avoid tangents or unnecessary information. As I tell my students when they write essays, “If you’re writing an essay about your dog, you don’t need to discuss your cat.”Just make it flow nicely together.
3. Finally, include a conclusion to give the essay closure and coherence. The conclusion should restate the topic sentence (from the introduction) by using different words or phrasing. For example, if the main idea is “I like my dog,” then the conclusion could be, “My dog is great!”).
Remember that essays are important academic and communicative works that give a point of view and argue that point of view with supporting details. To do something this complex you must thoroughly prepare your essays and argue a point of view by following the style and formatting rules of writing essays and by sticking to your guns. People will be judging your work, so please respect the process and have fun with it. Writing is an opportunity for you to show you understand the field. Jump into the arena of debate and share your thoughts and you might influence others with your work.