First off, I do not pretend to have written most of the following.  I have read it and approved it.  The following is just a sampling of the possible things one can find on the web to help with their compositions. 

 

Table of Contents:

What is an Essay?

Some Good Guidelines to Follow

Why Your Essay Should Contain a Thesis Statement

Intro/Body/Conclusion

Five Paragraph Essay

Admission Essay

Argumentative Essay

Cause and Effect Essay

Classification Essay

Comparison Essay

Critical Analysis Essay

Deductive Essay

Definition Essay

Exploration Essay

Expository Essay

Informal Essay

Literature Essay

Novel Essay

Drama Essay

Poetry Essay

 Narrative Essay

Personal Essay

Persuasive Essay

 Research Essay

Response Essay

Scholarship Essay

Some Good Essay Advice

 What is an essay?  Well, it sort of varies according to purpose.

Wrting the Precis

Writing the Abstract

Advice on dealing with Sexist Language

 

Essay, a short work that treats of a topic from an author's personal point of view, often taking into account subjective experiences and personal reflections.

 

A short literary composition dealing with a single subject usually written from the personal point of view of its author who may not attempt completeness. Essays are often published in collected works. upon them.

 

A prose composition with a focused subject of discussion. The term was coined by Michel de Montaigne to describe his 1580 collection of brief, informal reflections on himself and on various topics relating to human nature. An essay can also be a long, systematic discourse. An example of a longer essay is John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

 

A method of examination, or homework, by which a student presents his/her knowledge of the subject by writing a composition.

 

A persuasive piece written to formally present information, defend a position, or accomplish various other specific tasks. Essays are generally written to demonstrate knowledge and expertise in a subject area. Most essays follow the "standard introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion" format. The topic sentence is clearly stated in the introduction and the main idea is revisited in the conclusion.

 

The style of any formal writing can be broken down into set components. Each essay should begin with an introductory paragraph explaining its purpose, and end with a summing up of the main points. In between should be the evidence. Similarly, each paragraph, containing a single idea, is written along the same lines. Each sentence deals with a single point, there must be only one subject, syntax (word order) must be correct, and the verbs must not change tense. As for each word, it must be spelled correctly. Formal reports and essays need to include all relevant notes and sources.

 

Here are some good guidelines to follow as well as a lot of advice about writing Essays:

Outline

A traditional outline begins by listing all the main ideas of an essay, and then follows by listing all the sub-topics of those ideas and facts, which support the idea or sub-topic. An example follows:

I. Geographic feature #1: Himalayan Mountains

1) Description:

a) forms an protective arch around India's northern border.

b) the tallest mountains in the world.

c) very difficult to cross

2) Effects on civilization or nation

a) acted as a barrier to invasions

b) isolates India from cold northern winds

II. Geographic feature #2: Sahara Desert

1) Description:

a) world's largest desert

b) stretches from Atlantic Ocean to Ethiopian Highlands

2) Effects on civilization or nation

a) isolated northern Africa from rest of continent

b) lack of arable land make food production difficult

III. Geographic feature #3: Yangtze River

1) Description:

a) China's longest river

b) runs from East China Sea to mountains of Tibet

2) Effects on civilization or nation

a) supplies good soil and water for limited arable land

b) supplies food

c) provides means of transportation and communication

Why Should Your Essay Contain A Thesis Statement?

In general, your thesis statement will accomplish these goals if you think of the thesis as the answer to the question your paper explores.

A strong thesis takes some sort of stand.

Remember that your thesis needs to show your conclusions about a subject. For example, if you are writing a paper for a class on fitness, you might be asked to choose a popular weight-loss product to evaluate. Here are two thesis statements:

There are some negative and positive aspects to the Banana Herb Tea Supplement.

This is a weak thesis. First, it fails to take a stand. Second, the phrase "negative and positive" aspects" are vague.

Because Banana Herb Tea Supplement promotes rapid weight loss that results in the loss of muscle and lean body mass, it poses a potential danger to customers.

This is a strong thesis because it takes a stand.

2. A strong thesis justifies discussion.

Your thesis should indicate the point of the discussion. If your assignment is to write a paper on kinship systems, using your own family as an example, you might come up with either of these two thesis statements:

My family is an extended family.

This is a weak thesis because it states an observation. Your reader won't be able to tell the point of the statement, and will probably stop reading.

While most American families would view consanguineal marriage as a threat to the nuclear family structure, many Iranian families, like my own, believe that these marriages help reinforce kinship ties in an extended family.

This is a strong thesis because it shows how your experience contradicts a widely accepted view. A good strategy for creating a strong thesis is to show that the topic is controversial. Readers will be interested in reading the rest of the essay to see how you support your point.

3. A strong thesis expresses one main idea.

Readers need to be able to see that your paper has one main point. If your thesis expresses more than one idea, then you might confuse your readers about the subject of your paper. For example:

Companies need to exploit the marketing potential of the Internet, and web pages can provide both advertising and customer support.

This is a weak thesis statement because the reader can't decide whether the paper is about marketing on the Internet or web pages. To revise the thesis, the relationship between the two ideas needs to become clearer. One way to revise the thesis would be to write:

Because the Internet is filled with tremendous marketing potential, companies should exploit this potential by using web pages that offer both advertising and customer support.

This is a strong thesis because it shows that the two ideas are related. Hint: a great many clear and engaging thesis statements contain words like "because," "since," "so," "although," "unless," and "however."

4. A strong thesis statement is specific.

A thesis statement should show exactly what your paper will be about, and will help you keep your paper to a manageable topic. For example, if you write a paper on hunger, you might say:

World hunger has many causes and effects.

This is a weak thesis statement for two major reasons. First, "world hunger" can't be discussed thoroughly in five or ten pages. Second, "many causes and effects" is vague. You should be able to identify specific causes and effects. A revised thesis might look like this:

Hunger persists in Appalachia because jobs are scarce and farming in the infertile soil is rarely profitable.

This is a strong thesis because it narrows the subject to a more specific and manageable topic and it also identifies the specific causes for the existence of hunger.

Introduction

The introduction should start with a general discussion of your subject and lead to a very specific statement of your main point, or thesis. Sometimes an essay begins with a "grabber," such as a challenging claim, or surprising story to catch a reader's attention. The thesis should tell in one (or at most two) sentence(s), what your overall point or argument is, and briefly, what your main body paragraphs will be about.

For example, in an essay about the importance of airbags in cars, the introduction might start with some information about car accidents and survival rates. It might also have a grabber about someone who survived a terrible accident because of an airbag. The thesis would briefly state the main reasons for recommending airbags, and each reason would be discussed in the main body of the essay.

The introduction should be designed to attract the reader's attention and give him/her an idea of the essay's focus.

1.      Begin with an attention grabber. The attention grabber you use is up to you, but here are some ideas:

o        Startling information
This information must be true and verifiable, and it doesn't need to be totally new to your readers. It could simply be a pertinent fact that explicitly illustrates the point you wish to make.
If you use a piece of startling information, follow it with a sentence or two of elaboration.

o        Anecdote
An anecdote is a story that illustrates a point. Be sure your anecdote is short, to the point, and relevant to your topic. This can be a very effective opener for your essay, but use it carefully.

o        Dialogue
An appropriate dialogue does not have to identify the speakers, but the reader must understand the point you are trying to convey. Use only two or three exchanges between speakers to make your point.
Follow dialogue with a sentence or two of elaboration.

o        Summary Information
A few sentences explaining your topic in general terms can lead the reader gently to your thesis. Each sentence should become gradually more specific, until you reach your thesis.

2.      If the attention grabber was only a sentence or two, add one or two more sentences that will lead the reader from your opening to your thesis statement.

3.      Finish the paragraph with your thesis statement.

Body

The body paragraphs will explain your essay's topic. Each of the main ideas that you listed in your outline will become a paragraph in your essay. If your outline contained three main ideas, you will have three body paragraphs. Start by writing down one of your main ideas, in sentence form.

If your essay topic is a new university in your hometown, one of your main ideas may be "population growth of town" you might say this:

The new university will cause a boom in the population of Fort Myers.

Build on your paragraph by including each of the supporting ideas from your outline In the body of the essay, all the preparation up to this point comes to fruition. The topic you have chosen must now be explained, described, or argued.

Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure.

1.      Start by writing down one of your main ideas, in sentence form. If your main idea is "reduces freeway congestion," you might say this: Public transportation reduces freeway congestion.

2.      Next, write down each of your supporting points for that main idea, but leave four or five lines in between each point.

3.      In the space under each point, write down some elaboration for that point. Elaboration can be further description or explanation or discussion.
Supporting Point
Commuters appreciate the cost savings of taking public transportation rather than driving.
Elaboration
Less driving time means less maintenance expense, such as oil changes.
Of course, less driving time means savings on gasoline as well. In many cases, these savings amount to more than the cost of riding public transportation.

4.      If you wish, include a summary sentence for each paragraph. This is not generally needed, however, and such sentences have a tendency to sound stilted, so be cautious about using them.

Each main body paragraph will focus on a single idea, reason, or example that supports your thesis. Each paragraph will have a clear topic sentence (a mini thesis that states the main idea of the paragraph). You should try to use details and specific examples to make your ideas clear and convincing.

Conclusion

The conclusion serves to give the reader closure, summing up the essay's points or providing a final viewpoint about the topic.

The conclusion should consist of three or four convincing sentences. Clearly review the main points, being careful not to restate them exactly, or briefly describe your opinion about the topic.

Even an anecdote can end your essay in a useful way.


 

5-paragraph Essay

Introductory paragraph

The introductory paragraph should also include the thesis statement, a kind of mini-outline for the essay. This is where the writer grabs the reader's attention. It tells the reader what the paper is about. The last sentence of this paragraph must also include a transitional "hook" which moves the reader to the first paragraph of the body of the essay.

Body - First paragraph

The first paragraph of the body should include the strongest argument, most significant example, cleverest illustration, or an obvious beginning point. The first sentence should contain the "reverse hook" which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the introductory paragraph. The subject for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This subject should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional hook to tie into the second paragraph of the body.

Body - Second paragraph

The second paragraph of the body should include the second strongest argument, second most significant example, second cleverest illustration, or an obvious follow up the first paragraph in the body. The first sentence of this paragraph should contain the reverse hook, which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the first paragraph of the body. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional hook to tie into the third paragraph of the body.

Body - Third paragraph

The third paragraph of the body should include the weakest argument, weakest example, weakest illustration, or an obvious follow up to the second paragraph in the body. The first sentence of this paragraph should contain the reverse hook, which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the second paragraph. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional concluding hook that signals the reader that this is the final major point being made in this essay. This hook also leads into the concluding paragraph.

Concluding paragraph

The fifth paragraph is the summary paragraph. It is important to restate the thesis and three supporting ideas in an original and powerful way as this is the last chance the writer has to convince the reader of the validity of the information presented.

This paragraph should include the following:

1.      an allusion to the pattern used in the introductory paragraph,

2.      a restatement of the thesis statement, using some of the original language or language that "echoes" the original language. (The restatement, however, must not be a duplicate thesis statement.)

3.      a summary of the three main points from the body of the essay.

4.      a final statement that gives the reader signals that the discussion has come to an end. (This final statement may be a "call to action" in a persuasive essay.)

Example

1Stephen King, creator of such stories as Carrie and Pet Sematary, stated that the Edgar Allan Poe stories he read as a child gave him the inspiration and instruction he needed to become the writer that he is. 2Poe, as does Stephen King, fills the reader's imagination with the images that he wishes the reader to see, hear, and feel. 3His use of vivid, concrete visual imagery to present both static and dynamic settings and to describe people is part of his technique. 4Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a story about a young man who kills an old man who cares for him, dismembers the corpse, then goes mad when he thinks he hears the old man's heart beating beneath the floor boards under his feet as he sits and discusses the old man's absence with the police. 5In "The Tell-Tale Heart," a careful reader can observe Poe's skillful manipulation of the senses.

The introductory paragraph includes a paraphrase of something said by a famous person in order to get the reader's attention. The second sentence leads up to the thesis statement which is the third sentence. The thesis statement (sentence 3) presents topic of the paper to the reader and provides a mini- outline. The topic is Poe's use of visual imagery. The mini- outline tells the reader that this paper will present Poe's use of imagery in three places in his writing: (1) description of static setting; (2) description of dynamic setting; and (3) description of a person. The last sentence of the paragraph uses the words "manipulation" and "senses" as transitional hooks.

1The sense of sight, the primary sense, is particularly susceptible to manipulation. 2In "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe uses the following image to describe a static scene: "His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness . . ." Poe used the words "black," "pitch," and "thick darkness" not only to show the reader the condition of the old man's room, but also to make the reader feel the darkness." 3"Thick" is a word that is not usually associated with color (darkness), yet in using it, Poe stimulates the reader's sense of feeling as well as his sense of sight.

In the first sentence of the second paragraph (first paragraph of the body) the words "sense" and "manipulation" are used to hook into the end of the introductory paragraph. The first part of the second sentence provides the topic for this paragraph--imagery in a static scene. Then a quotation from "The Tell-Tale Heart" is presented and briefly discussed. The last sentence of this paragraph uses the expressions "sense of feeling" and "sense of sight" as hooks for leading into the third paragraph

1Further on in the story, Poe uses a couple of words that cross not only the sense of sight but also the sense of feeling to describe a dynamic scene. 2The youth in the story has been standing in the open doorway of the old man's room for a long time, waiting for just the right moment to reveal himself to the old man in order to frighten him. 3Poe writes: "So I opened it [the lantern opening]--you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily--until, at length, a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye." 4By using the metaphor of the thread of the spider (which we all know is a creepy creature) and the word "shot," Poe almost makes the reader gasp, as surely did the old man whose one blind eye the young man describes as "the vulture eye."

The first sentence of the third paragraph (second paragraph of the body) uses the words "sense of sight" and "sense of feeling" to hook back into the previous paragraph. Note that in the second paragraph "feeling" came first, and in this paragraph "sight" comes first. The first sentence also includes the topic for this paragraph--imagery in a dynamic scene. Again, a quotation is taken from the story, and it is briefly discussed. The last sentence uses the words "one blind eye" which was in the quotation. This expression provides the transitional hook for the last paragraph in the body of the paper.

1The reader does not know much about what the old man in this story looks like except that he has one blind eye. 2In the second paragraph of "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe establishes the young man's obsession with that blind eye when he writes: "He had the eye of the vulture--a pale blue eye, with a film over it." 3This "vulture eye" is evoked over and over again in the story until the reader becomes as obsessed with it as does the young man. 4His use of the vivid, concrete word "vulture" establishes a specific image in the mind of the reader that is inescapable.

In the first sentence of the fourth paragraph (third paragraph in the body), "one blind eye" is used that hooks into the previous paragraph. This first sentence also lets the reader know that this paragraph will deal with descriptions of people: ". . . what the old man looks like . . .." Once again Poe is quoted and discussed. The last sentence uses the word "image" which hooks into the last paragraph. (It is less important that this paragraph has a hook since the last paragraph is going to include a summary of the body of the paper.)

1"Thick darkness," "thread of the spider," and "vulture eye" are three images that Poe used in "The Tell-Tale Heart" to stimulate a reader's senses. 2Poe wanted the reader to see and feel real life. 3He used concrete imagery rather than vague abstract words to describe settings and people. If Edgar Allan Poe was one of Stephen King's teachers, then readers of King owe a debt of gratitude to that nineteenth-century creator of horror stories.

The first sentence of the concluding paragraph uses the principal words from the quotations from each paragraph of the body of the paper. This summarizes those three paragraphs. The second and third sentences provide observations which can also be considered a summary, not only of the content of the paper, but also offers personal opinion which was logically drawn as the result of this study. The last sentence returns to the Edgar Allan Poe-Stephen King relationship that began this paper. This sentence also provides a "wrap-up" and gives the paper a sense of finality.

 

Admission Essay

Essays are used to learn more about your reasons for applying to the course, university or company and your ability to benefit from and contribute to it. Your answers will let you state your case more fully than other sections of the application, and provide the evaluator with better insight about you and how you differ from the other applicants. In marginal cases, the essays are used to decide whether an applicant will be selected. The purpose of the admissions essay is to convey a sense of your unique character to the admissions committee. The essay also demonstrates your writing skills as well as your ability to organize your thoughts coherently.

Sample essay topics

There are hundreds of possible topics that you can be asked to write an essay on. Given below are some of the more common ones.

1.      What events, activities or achievements have contributed to your own self-development?

2.      Describe a situation in which you had significant responsibility and what you learned from it.

3.      Describe your strengths and weaknesses in two areas: setting and achieving goals, and working with other people.

4.      Your career aspirations and factors leading you to apply to this course at this time. Describe a challenge to which you have successfully responded. What did you learn about yourself as you responded to this challenge? Describe a challenge you anticipate facing in any aspect of college life. On the basis of what you learned from your earlier response, how do you expect to deal with this challenge?

5.      Describe and evaluate one experience that significantly influenced your academic interests. The experience might be a high school course, a job, a relationship, or an extracurricular activity. Be sure to explain how this experience led to your setting the goals you now have for yourself, and why you think the academic program for which you are applying will help you to reach those goals.

6.      Describe your educational, personal or career goals.

7.      Role Model - If you could meet/be/have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be and why?

8.      Past Experience - Describe an event that has had a great impact on you and why?

9.      What was your most important activity/course in high school and why?

10.  Forecast important issues in the next decade, century - nationally, globally.

11.  Why do you want to study at this university?

12.  Tell us something about yourself, your most important activities?

13.  How would your room, computer or car describe you?

List all your activities for the past four years. Include school activities; awards, honors, and offices held; community services; jobs; and travel. Record major travel experiences. Note your strongest impressions and how they affected you. If you loved the Grand Canyon, for example, write down three specific reasons why, aside from the grandeur and beauty that everyone loves. Describe an accomplishment that you had to struggle to achieve. Include what it was, how you tackled it, and how it changed you.

Think of one or two sayings that you've heard again and again around your house since childhood. How have they shaped your life? What personality traits do you value most in yourself? Choose a few and jot down examples of how each has helped you. Think of things that other people often say about you. Write about whether or not you agree with their assessments and how they make you feel.

Brainstorm "top ten" lists in a few selected categories: favorite books, plays, movies, sports, eras in history, famous people, etc. Review your list to see which items stand out and describe what they've added to your life. Describe "regular people" who have motivated you in different ways throughout your life. It could be someone you only met once, a third-grade teacher, or a family member or friend.

Starting your essay

The most common topic--particularly if only one essay is required--is the first, "tell us about yourself." Since this kind of essay has no specific focus, applicants sometimes have trouble deciding which part of their lives to write about. Beware of the chronological list of events that produces dull reading. Remember, also, to accent the positive rather than the negative side of an experience. If you write about the effect of a death, divorce, or illness on your life, tell about but don't dwell on your bad luck and disappointments.

Instead, emphasize what you have learned from the experience, and how coping with adversity has strengthened you as an individual.

1.      Tie yourself to the college: Why are you interested in attending, and what can the institution do for you? Be specific. Go beyond "XYZ College will best allow me to realize my academic potential.

2.      Read the directions carefully and follow them to the letter. In other words, if the essay is supposed to be 500 words or less, don't submit 1000 words.

3.      Consider the unique features of the institution, e.g., a liberal arts college will be impressed with the variety of academic and personal interests you might have, while an art institute would be most interested in your creative abilities.

4.      Be positive, upbeat and avoid the negatives, e.g. I am applying to your school because I won't be required to take physical education or a foreign language.

5.      Emphasize what you have learned, e.g. provide more than a narration when recounting an experience.

6.      Write about something you know, something only you could write.

7.      Make certain you understand the question or the topic. Your essay should answer the question or speak directly to the given topic.

8.      List all ideas. Be creative. Brainstorm without censoring.

9.      Sort through ideas and prioritize. You cannot tell them everything, Be selective.

10.  Choose information and ideas which are not reflected in other parts of your application. This is your chance to supplement your application with information you want them to know.

11.  Be persuasive in showing the reader you are deserving of admission. Remember your audience.

Argumentative Essay

The function of an argumentative essay is to show that your assertion (opinion, theory, hypothesis) about some phenomenon or phenomena is correct or more truthful than others'. The art of argumentation is not an easy skill to acquire. Many people might think that if one simply has an opinion, one can argue it successfully, and these folks are always surprised when others don't agree with them because their logic seems so correct. Argumentative writing is the act of forming reasons, making inductions, drawing conclusions, and applying them to the case in discussion; the operation of inferring propositions, not known or admitted as true, from facts or principles known, admitted, or proved to be true. It clearly explains the process of your reasoning from the known or assumed to the unknown. Without doing this you do not have an argument, you have only an assertion, an essay that is just your unsubstantiated opinion.

Notice that you do not have to completely prove your point; you only have to convince reasonable readers that your argument or position has merit; i.e., that it is somehow more accurate and complete than competing arguments.

Argumentative essays are often organized in the following manner:

1.      They begin with a statement of your assertion, its timeliness, significance, and relevance in relation to some phenomenon.

2.      They review critically the literature about that phenomenon.

3.      They illustrate how your assertion is "better" (simpler or more explanatory) than others, including improved (i.e., more reliable or valid) methods that you used to accumulate the data (case) to be explained.

Finally revise and edit, and be sure to apply the critical process to your argument to be certain you have not committed any errors in reasoning or integrated any fallacies for which you would criticize some other writer.

Additionally, you will want to find out how your readers will object to your argument. Will they say that you have used imprecise concepts? Have you erred in collecting data? Your argument is only as strong as the objections to it. If you cannot refute or discount an objection, then you need to rethink and revise your position.

Cause and Effect Essay

What is a cause and effect essay?

Cause and effect essays are concerned with why things happen (causes) and what happens as a result (effects). Cause and effect is a common method of organizing and discussing ideas.

Follow these steps when writing a cause and effect essay

1.      Distinguish between cause and effect. To determine causes, ask, "Why did this happen?" To identify effects, ask, "What happened because of this?" The following is an example of one cause producing one effect:

Cause

You are out of gas.

Effect

Your car won't start.

Sometimes, many causes contribute to a single effect or many effects may result from a single cause. (Your instructor will specify which cause/effect method to use.) The following are examples:

Causes

liked business in high school

salaries in the field are high

have an aunt who is an accountant

am good with numbers

Effect

choose to major in accounting

Cause

reduce work hours

Effects

less income

employer is irritated

more time to study

more time for family and friends

However, most situations are more complicated. The following is an example of a chain reaction:

Thinking about friend.forgot to buy gas.car wouldn't start.missed math exam.failed math course.

2.      Develop your thesis statement. State clearly whether you are discussing causes, effects, or both. Introduce your main idea, using the terms "cause" and/or "effect."

3.      Find and organize supporting details. Back up your thesis with relevant and sufficient details that are organized. You can organize details in the following ways:

o        Chronological. Details are arranged in the order in which the events occurred.

o        Order of importance. Details are arranged from least to most important or vice versa.

o        Categorical. Details are arranged by dividing the topic into parts or categories.

4.      Use appropriate transitions. To blend details smoothly in cause and effect essays, use the transitional words and phrases listed below.

For causes

because, due to, on cause is, another is, since, for, first, second

For Effects

consequently, as a result, thus, resulted in, one result is, another is, therefore

When writing your essay, keep the following suggestions in mind:

o        Remember your purpose. Decide if your are writing to inform or persuade.

o        Focus on immediate and direct causes (or effects.) Limit yourself to causes that are close in time and related, as opposed to remote and indirect causes, which occur later and are related indirectly.

o        Strengthen your essay by using supporting evidence. Define terms, offer facts and statistics, or provide examples, anecdotes, or personal observations that support your ideas.

o        Qualify or limit your statements about cause and effect. Unless there is clear evidence that one event is related to another, qualify your statements with phrases such as "It appears that the cause was" or "It seems likely" or "The evidence may indicate" or "Available evidence suggests."

To evaluate the effectiveness of a cause and effect essay, ask the following questions:

What are the causes? What are the effects? Which should be emphasized? Are there single or multiple causes? Single or multiple effects? Is a chain reaction involved?

Classification Essay

What is a Classification Essay?

In a classification essay, a writer organizes, or sorts, things into categories.

Three Steps to Effective Classification:

1.      Sort things into useful categories.

2.      Make sure all the categories follow a single organizing principle.

3.      Give examples that fit into each category.

Finding Categories

This is a key step in writing a classification essay. To classify, or sort, things in a logical way, find the categories to put them into. For example, say you need to sort the stack of papers on your desk. Before you would put them in random piles, you would decide what useful categories might be: papers that can be thrown away; papers that need immediate action; papers to read; papers to pass on to other coworkers; or papers to file.

Thesis Statement of a Classification Essay

The thesis statement usually includes the topic and how it is classified. Sometimes the categories are named.

(topic)...(how classified)...(category) (category) (category)

Ex: Tourists in Hawaii can enjoy three water sports: snorkeling, surfing, and sailing.

How to Write an Effective Classification Essay

1.      Determine the categories. Be thorough; don't leave out a critical category. For example, if you say water sports of Hawaii include snorkeling and sailing, but leave out surfing, your essay would be incomplete because surfing is Hawaii's most famous water sport. On the other hand, don't include too many categories, which will blur your classification. For example, if your topic is sports shoes, and your organizing principle is activity, you wouldn't include high heels with running and bowling shoes.

2.      Classify by a single principle. Once you have categories, make sure that they fit into the same organizing principle. The organizing principle is how you sort the groups. Do not allow a different principle to pop up unexpectedly. For example, if your unifying principle is "tourist-oriented" water sports, don't use another unifying principle, such as "native water sports," which would have different categories: pearl diving, outrigger, or canoe racing.

3.      Support equally each category with examples. In general, you should write the same quantity, i.e., give the same number of examples, for each category. The most important category, usually reserved for last, might require more elaboration.

Common Classification Transitions

Remember: In a classification essay, the writer organizes, or sorts, things into categories. There are three steps to remember when writing an effective classification essay: organize things into useful categories, use a single organizing principle, and give examples of things that fit into each category.

Comparison Essay

To write a comparison or contrast essay that is easy to follow, first decide what the similarities or differences are by writing lists on scrap paper. Which are more significant, the similarities or the differences? Plan to discuss the less significant first, followed by the more significant. It is much easier to discuss ONLY the similarities or ONLY the differences, but you can also do both.

Then for organizing your essay, choose one of the plans described below whichever best fits your list. Finally, and this is important, what main point (thesis) might you make in the essay about the two people/things being compared? Do not begin writing until you have a point that the similarities or differences you want to use help to prove. Your point should help shape the rest of what you say: For example, if you see that one of your similarities or differences is unrelated to the point, throw it out and think of one that is related. Or revise your point. Be sure this main point is clearly and prominently expressed somewhere in the essay.

Plan A: Use Plan A if you have many small similarities and/or differences. After your introduction, say everything you want to say about the first work or character, and then go on in the second half of the essay to say everything about the second work or character, comparing or contrasting each item in the second with the same item in the first. In this format, all the comparing or contrasting, except for the statement of your main point, which you may want to put in the beginning, goes on in the SECOND HALF of the piece.

Plan B: Use Plan B if you have only a few, larger similarities or differences. After your introduction, in the next paragraph discuss one similarity or difference in BOTH works or characters, and then move on in the next paragraph to the second similarity or difference in both, then the third, and so forth, until you're done. If you are doing both similarities and differences, juggle them on scrap paper so that in each part you put the less important first ("X and Y are both alike in their social positions . . ."), followed by the more important ("but X is much more aware of the dangers of his position than is Y"). In this format, the comparing or contrasting goes on in EACH of the middle parts.

The following outline may be helpful; however, do not be limited by it.

        I.            Intro. with thesis

     II.            1st similarity

                              A.            1st work

                              B.            2nd work

   III.            2nd similarity

                              A.            1st work

                              B.            2nd work

    IV.            1st difference

                              A.            1st work

                              B.            2nd work

      V.            2nd difference

                              A.            1st work

                              B.            2nd work

Critical Essay

The word "critical" has positive as well as negative meanings. You can write a critical essay that agrees entirely with the reading. The word "critical" describes your attitude when you read the article. This attitude is best described as "detached evaluation," meaning that you weigh the coherence of the reading, the completeness of its data, and so on, before you accept or reject it.

A critical essay or review begins with an analysis or exposition of the reading, article-by-article, book by book. Each analysis should include the following points:

1. A summary of the author's point of view, including

a brief statement of the author's main idea (i.e., thesis or theme)

an outline of the important "facts" and lines of reasoning the author used to support the main idea

a summary of the author's explicit or implied values

a presentation of the author's conclusion or suggestions for action

2. An evaluation of the author's work, including

an assessment of the "facts" presented on the basis of correctness, relevance, and whether or not pertinent facts were omitted

an evaluation or judgment of the logical consistency of the author's argument

an appraisal of the author's values in terms of how you feel or by an accepted standard

Once the analysis is completed, check your work! Ask yourself, "Have I read all the relevant (or assigned) material?" "Do I have complete citations?" If not, complete the work! The following steps are how this is done.

Now you can start to write the first draft of your expository essay/literature review. Outline the conflicting arguments, if any; this will be part of the body of your expository essay/literature review.

Ask yourself, "Are there other possible positions on this matter?" If so, briefly outline them. Decide on your own position (it may agree with one of the competing arguments) and state explicitly the reason(s) why you hold that position by outlining the consistent facts and showing the relative insignificance of contrary facts. Coherently state your position by integrating your evaluations of the works you read. This becomes your conclusions section.

Briefly state your position, state why the problem you are working on is important, and indicate the important questions that need to be answered; this is your "Introduction." Push quickly through this draft--don't worry about spelling, don't search for exactly the right word, don't hassle yourself with grammar, don't worry overmuch about sequence--that's why this is called a "rough draft." Deal with these during your revisions. The point of a rough draft is to get your ideas on paper. Once they are there, you can deal with the superficial (though very important) problems.

Consider this while writing:

Deductive Essay

Deductive essays are an important factor in evaluating the knowledge level of students in many courses.

Deductive reasoning is based on the concept that given as set of circumstances or clues (premises), one can draw a reasonable assumption as to the state of the situation. More simply, a person can solve a puzzle or identify a person if given enough information.

Specifically, deductive reasoning takes individual factors, weighs them against the current knowledge about such things, and adds them up to come to a conclusion. There are three parts to deductive reasoning. The first is the PREMISE. A premise is a basic fact or belief that is used as the basis for drawing conclusions. There may be several PREMISES in an argument. The second part is called EVIDENCE. The evidence is the information you have before you, whether it is a story you are analyzing or something you have observed. The last part is the CONCLUSION. The conclusion is your final analysis of the situation, based on balancing PREMISES with EVIDENCE. A simplified example might be as follows:

This is not a complex deductive exercise, but it is accurate.

We use deductive reasoning quite commonly in day-to-day life. For example, say you look out your window some morning and see the street is wet. There are several ways you could interpret this information. You might assume a large water truck has just driven by, inundating the area with spray. Possibly, you may decide that water has soaked up from the ground. Most likely, however, you will likely decide that it has rained. Why? Based on your life experience and likely factors, the most logical deduction is that a wet street is the result of rainfall. There are other possibilities, but the most logical deduction is rain. If, however, you were SURE that there had been no rain, or you were aware of a street cleaning program, your deduction would change appropriately. Deductive reasoning takes the MOST REASONABLE, LIKELY path, but is not necessarily fool-proof. Deductive reasoning is commonly used in police work, investigative reporting, the sciences (including medicine), law, and, oddly enough, literary analysis.

A good deductive essay is clear and focused. Each paragraph focuses on a particular aspect or a particular point, using detail and examples to lead to a specific conclusion. The support for one's conclusion is the most important factor. In other words, without supporting one's point, the conclusion is weak.

Definition Essay

What is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay is writing that explains what a term means. Some terms have definite, concrete meanings, such as glass, book, or tree. Terms such as honesty, honor, or love are abstract and depend more on a person's point of view.

Three Steps to Effective Definition

1.      Tell readers what term is being defined.

2.      Present clear and basic information.

3.      Use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand.

Choosing a Definition

Choosing a definition is a key step in writing a definition essay. You need to understand the term before you can define it for others. Read the dictionary, but don't just copy the definition. Explain the term briefly in your own words. Also, it's important to limit your term before you start defining it. For example, you could write forever on the term "love." To limit it, you would write about either "romantic love," "platonic love," or "first love."

Thesis Statement of a Definition Essay

The thesis statement usually identifies the term being defined and provides a brief, basic definition.

(term) (basic definition)

Ex: Assertiveness is standing up for your rights.

How To Write an Effective Definition

1.      Create a definition. There are several ways to define a term. Here are a few options.

o        Define by function. Explain what something does or how something works.

o        Define by structure. Tell how something is organized or put together.

o        Define by analysis. Compare the term to other members of its class and then illustrate the differences. These differences are special characteristics that make the term stand out. For example, compare a Siberian husky to other dogs, such as lap dogs, mutts, or sporting dogs.

(term) (precise definition)

Ex: A Siberian husky is a dog reputed for its ability to tolerate cold, its distinctive features, and its keen strength and stamina.

o        Define by what the term does not mean. This distinction can sometimes clarify a definition and help a reader to better understand it.

2.      Use understandable facts, examples, or anecdotes. Select facts, examples, or anecdotes to fully explain your definition. Ask yourself, "Which examples will best help readers understand the term? What examples would most appeal to my readers? Will a brief story reveal the term's meaning?" Do not use any examples that will not support the definition.

Remember: A definition essay is writing that explains what a term means. When writing a definition essay, remember to tell readers what term is being defined, to present a clear and basic definition, and to use facts, examples, or anecdotes that readers will understand

Exploratory Essay

The concept of an exploratory essay is that you start without an end in mind. You don't necessarily know how you feel about a subject or what you want to say about the subject, you allow the research and your own direction to determine the outcome. This is writing to learn rather than writing to prove what you know.

Purpose: The exploratory essay builds on the inquiry essay by having you look at and contribute to a range of arguments rather than just one at a time. Whereas the inquiry essay introduced you to a debate by looking at one argument a time, the exploratory essay asks you to widen your vision to the whole conversation.

1.      The focus of an exploratory essay is a question, rather than a thesis.

2.      The two main ways to compose an exploratory essay yield different effects: The "in-process" strategy produces immediacy, while a "retrospective" strategy produces more artistically designed essays.

3.      Exploratory essays chronicle your research actions and the thinking that results from those actions; they address both content-oriented questions and rhetorical questions about possible responses to the problem under consideration.

4.      Exploratory essays regularly consider the strengths and weaknesses of various different solutions to a perplexing problem.

5.      Exploratory essays are often dialectical in either the Platonic or Hegelian sense of that term because they recreate the engagement of antithetical positions, sometimes resulting in a productive synthesis of contraries.

Expository Essay

The purpose of an expository essay is to present, completely and fairly, other people's views or to report about an event or a situation. Expository writing, or exposition, presents a subject in detail, apart from criticism, argument, or development; i.e., the writer elucidates a subject by analyzing it. Such writing is discourse designed to convey information or explain what is difficult to understand. Exposition usually proceeds by the orderly analysis of parts and the use of familiar illustrations or analogies.

Such an analysis requires

1.      reading with understanding the ideas developed in an article by clearly stating another's thesis, outlining the facts used by the author to support that thesis, and the "values" underlying the ideas

2.      putting what is read into a larger context by relating another's article or book to other work in the field

3.      clearly and effectively communicating this information to a defined audience. In other words, you must write clearly and fully enough for your readers to know how you have arrived at your analyses and conclusions. They should never have to guess what you mean; give your readers everything they need to know to follow your reasoning

This practice is not "just for students." Accurate analysis is a fundamental professional activity in almost all careers. Like any other fundamental skill, it must be constantly practiced in order to maintain and improve it. Other goals, such as learning "time management" and note-taking, are also developed by this activity.

Do not be afraid to revise your essay! In fact, you will probably want to change it at least once; this is called "thinking through a 'problem'" or "learning."

The revisions will consist of the following:

1.      finding the precise words to express your thoughts

2.      correcting typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors

3.      making sure that your paragraphs are "tight" and sequenced properly

4.      making sure that the transition ("segue") from one major topic to another makes sense

Expository essays also have a distinct format.

The thesis statement must be defined and narrow enough to be supported within the essay.

Informal Essay

The informal essay is written mainly for enjoyment. This is not to say that it cannot be informative or persuasive; however, it is less a formal statement than a relaxed expression of opinion, observation, humor or pleasure. A good informal essay has a relaxed style but retains a strong structure, though that structure may be less rigid than in a formal paper.

The informal essay tends to be more personal than the formal, even though both may express subjective opinions. In a formal essay the writer is a silent presence behind the words, while in an informal essay the writer is speaking directly to the reader in a conversational style. If you are writing informally, try to maintain a sense of your own personality. Do not worry about sounding academic, but avoid sloppiness.

The essay, which follows is an opinion piece that was written for The Globe and Mail. The style is therefore journalistic but aimed at a fairly sophisticated readership. Paragraphs are short, as is normal in a newspaper with its narrow columns, and the tone is more conversational than would be appropriate for a formal essay. Notice the clear statement of the thesis, the concrete illustrations in the body of the essay, and the way the conclusion leads to a more general statement of what is perhaps to come in the future. It is included here both because it is a good example of the essay form and because it explores the kind of problem you will come up against as you try to punctuate your essays correctly.

Literature Essay

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Remember to introduce the quote with a colon and use quotation marks. It is important to lay out quotes correctly because it shows you are professional about what you are doing. Keep them short - no more than three or four lines each.

Checklist after writing your essay

Have you:

1.      Put the full title of the question and the date at the top?

2.      Written in cleat paragraphs?

3.      Produced evidence to prove all your points?

4.      Used at least five quotes?

5.      Answered the question?

Novel essay

Theme, plot, setting, characters, style; fair divisions for any essay. Order and emphasis will depend on bias of question.

If the question is about theme, talk about it in the introduction, then discuss, one per paragraph, how the other aspects contribute to it, and conclude by talking about the success or otherwise of the author in communicating his/her theme.

Drama essay

Theme, plot, setting, characters, technique.

If the question is about technique, talk about how it affects the others-one per paragraph.

Poetry essay

Theme, style, technique (include such aspects as alliteration, assonance, versification, rhyme, rhythm, where appropriate).

THE TITLES OF PLAYS, NOVELS, MAGAZINES, NEWSPAPERS, JOURNALS (things that can stand by themselves) are underlined or italicized. Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye don't seem to have much in common at first. If you're using a word processor or you have a fancy typewriter, use italics, but do not use both underlines and italics. (Some instructors have adopted rules about using italics that go back to a time when italics on a word processor could be hard to read, so you should ask your instructor if you can use italics. Underlines are always correct.) The titles of poems, short stories, and articles (things that do not generally stand by themselves) require quotation marks.

Tools of the Trade: Subjects and Verbs

Whenever possible, use strong subjects and active constructions, rather than weak verbal nouns or abstractions and weak passive or linking verbs: instead of "Petruchio's denial of Kate of her basic necessities would seem cruel and harsh...," try "By denying Kate the basic necessities of life, Petruchio appears cruel and harsh--but he says that he is just putting on an act." Don't forget that words and even phrases can serve as strong sentence subjects: "Petruchio's 'I'll buckler thee against a million' injects an unexpectedly chivalric note, especially since it follows hard on the heels of his seemingly un-gentlemanly behavior." And remember--use regular quotation marks unless you're quoting material that contains a quotation itself.

In General, Avoid the Swamp of Published Criticism

Do not try to sift through the many hundreds of pounds of critical inquiry about the scene or the play. I am most interested in what you bring to the plays, not the ways in which you try to spew back your versions of what "experts" have written to get tenure or score points with other tweed-jacketed types. Honest confusion and honest mistaking are part of the learning process, so don't try to seek out some other "authority" for your proof.

Narrative Essay

As a mode of expository writing, the narrative approach, more than any other, offers writers a chance to think and write about themselves. We all have experiences lodged in our memories, which are worthy of sharing with readers. Yet sometimes they are so fused with other memories that a lot of the time spent in writing narrative is in the prewriting stage.

When you write a narrative essay, you are telling a story. Narrative essays are told from a defined point of view, often the author's, so there is feeling as well as specific and often sensory details provided to get the reader involved in the elements and sequence of the story. The verbs are vivid and precise. The narrative essay makes a point and that point is often defined in the opening sentence, but can also be found as the last sentence in the opening paragraph.

Since a narrative relies on personal experiences, it often is in the form of a story. When the writer uses this technique, he or she must be sure to include all the conventions of storytelling: plot, character, setting, climax, and ending. It is usually filled with details that are carefully selected to explain, support, or embellish the story. All of the details relate to the main point the writer is attempting to make.

To summarize, the narrative essay

The purpose of a narrative report is to describe something. Many students write narrative reports thinking that these are college essays or papers. While the information in these reports is basic to other forms of writing, narrative reports lack the "higher order thinking" that essays require. Thus narrative reports do not, as a rule, yield high grades for many college courses. A basic example of a narrative report is a "book report" that outlines a book; it includes the characters, their actions, possibly the plot, and, perhaps, some scenes. That is, it is a description of "what happens in the book." But this leaves out an awful lot.

What is left out is what the book or article is about -- the underlying concepts, assumptions, arguments, or point of view that the book or article expresses. A narrative report leaves aside a discussion that puts the events of the text into the context of what the text is about. Is the text about love? Life in the fast lane? Society? Wealth and power? Poverty? In other words, narrative reports often overlook the authors purpose or point of view expressed through the book or article.

Once an incident is chosen, the writer should keep three principles in mind.

1.      Remember to involve readers in the story. It is much more interesting to actually recreate an incident for readers than to simply tell about it.

2.      Find a generalization, which the story supports. This is the only way the writer's personal experience will take on meaning for readers. This generalization does not have to encompass humanity as a whole; it can concern the writer, men, women, or children of various ages and backgrounds.

3.      Remember that although the main component of a narrative is the story, details must be carefully selected to support, explain, and enhance the story.

Conventions of Narrative Essays

In writing your narrative essay, keep the following conventions in mind.

 

Personal Essay

The overall application package will represent who "you" are to people whom you will most likely not know personally. The written expression of your qualities as an applicant will often be a very important way for committee members to get to know why you are an acceptable candidate for their program. Thus, it is essential to take great care in preparing this part of your application. Because graduate schools make important selection decisions that are partly based on what you say in this essay, the writing of it can be an intimidating prospect.

To begin your essay, brainstorm using the following questions:

Write the first draft from this, then try to find an angle or a hook which can sink into the admissions committee; a good place to start is with an original and provoking opening paragraph. One of the worst things you can do with your personal statement is to bore the admissions committee, yet that is exactly what most applicants do. Admissions committees see thousands of "I have always wanted to be a..." opening paragraphs, so a good way to make the essay more interesting is to write about an anecdote or memorable incident that led you to choose the particular profession. This can help add drama, vitality, and originality to the statement. It is important, however, that the anecdote is related to the questions asked and not just a retelling of a catchy life drama.

After you have written the first, second, or third draft, there are another set of evaluative questions that you can work through to help you revise your essay.

For your final draft, be sure to avoid sloppiness, poor English, spelling errors, whining, manufacturing a personality, avoiding the questions that are asked on the application, high school experiences, personal biases about religion, ethnicity, politics, sexist language, revealing of character weaknesses, and arrogance.

The personal statement is extremely important in gaining admittance to graduate and professional schools. Although it can be frustrating to write an original and well-devised statement, through time and drafts it will be written. The ones that are good take time. The ones that are bad can sabotage your chances for success. It is also important that you show your drafts to a Writing Center tutor, your academic advisor, Career Planning advisor, and friends; they will help you write an essay that reveals the right balance of personal and academic characteristics and specifics.

Once you have developed a sense of the faculty's interests and the department's special features, you can make it clear in your application exactly why you want to attend that particular school. What is it about the department's curriculum structure or general approach to the field that makes you interested in being a student there? Don't waste your valuable essay space, or your reader's valuable time, telling the reader how wonderful or prestigious their institution is; people on the admissions committee already know this. They want to know about you.

Nonetheless, if there are special programs or institutes at the school that seem appealing to you, briefly mention that you are interested in becoming part of them. For example, state that you "want to be a member of the XYZ Group for Blank and Blank Studies because ...", but don't tell them how great, well respected, and world-renowned this part of the school is.

If, during your research on the department's faculty, a faculty member strikes you as someone whom you might be interested in working with, indicate this in your essay; be concise and specific about why you want to work with this person in particular. A word of caution here: Do not try to use this as a way to "butter up" the admissions committee, because if there is any reason to believe that you are not sincere, your application may be adversely affected. Again, mention the person and how their work relates to your interest, but don't load this statement with what might be interpreted as false or superfluous praise.

Personal Information

Some applications may ask you to give a personal history, telling about experiences that you have undergone which have led you to decide to pursue graduate education in a certain field of study. (If personal information of this sort is not required, then you are under no obligation to provide it.)

The information that could be included in a personal-type statement is limited only by your own imagination and life history, but you should be highly selective about what you include. There are two things to watch out for: (1) saying too much and/or (2) not saying enough.

Some applicants may ramble on about themselves in a manner that may appear self-indulgent and not very appealing to the committee. Remember, this is an application essay, not an autobiography. Conversely, some applicants tend to say too little, perhaps hesitating to promote themselves too explicitly or not knowing what about themselves would be interesting to people whom they don't know. In such cases, perhaps focusing more on what you want to do than on what you have already done (let your record speak for itself) may help in getting beyond self-inhibition.

Generally, keep in mind that the points about your life that you highlight should be somehow relevant to both your own interest in the field of study, as well as to the concerns of the admissions committee. In judging what information to include or exclude from your essay, try to balance academic, work-related, and personal information in a manner appropriate to your situation, goals, and the application requirements.

Additional Considerations

If you have additional, relevant information about yourself that does not easily fit into the essay, or into any other section of the university's application, you may want to include a condensed resume or curriculum vitae with your application package. This is especially applicable to those who have worked professionally since having graduated from school. Relevant items here might include work experience, publications, and presentations, as well as language and computer skills.

Also, if you have experienced times of great hardship or extenuating circumstances that have negatively affected your academic performance at any time, provide a short explanatory statement. This is another one of those places where caution should be exercised: you want to explain the cause of your poor grades, etc. without alienating the reader by overdoing it. Once again, be specific and concise.

Tips for Writing a Personal Essay for Your College Application

Do start early. Leave plenty of time to revise, record, and rewrite. You can improve on your presentation.

Do read the directions carefully. You will want to answer the question as directly as possible, and you'll want to follow word limits exactly. Express yourself as briefly and as clearly as you can.

Do tell the truth about yourself. The admission committee is anonymous to you; you are completely unknown to it. Even if you run into a committee member in the future, he will have no way of connecting your essay (out of the thousands he has read) to you.

Do focus on an aspect of yourself that will show your best side. You might have overcome some adversity, worked through a difficult project, or profited from a specific incident. A narrow focus is more interesting than broad-based generalizations.

Do feel comfortable in expressing anxieties. Everybody has them, and it's good to know that an applicant can see them and face them.

Do tie yourself to the college. Be specific about what this particular school can do for you. Your essay can have different slants for different colleges.

Do speak positively. Negatives tend to turn people off.

Do write about your greatest assets and achievements. You should be proud of them!

But...

Don't repeat information given elsewhere on your application. The committee has already seen it-and it looks as though you have nothing better to say.

Don't write on general, impersonal topics-like the nuclear arms race or the importance of good management in business. The college wants to know about you.

Don't use the personal statement to excuse your shortcomings. It would give them additional attention.

Don't use cliches.

Don't go to extremes: too witty, too opinionated, or too "intellectual."

Persuasive Essay

What is a persuasive/argument essay?

Persuasive writing, also known as the argument essay, utilizes logic and reason to show that one idea is more legitimate than another idea. It attempts to persuade a reader to adopt a certain point of view or to take a particular action. The argument must always use sound reasoning and solid evidence by stating facts, giving logical reasons, using examples, and quoting experts.

When planning a persuasive essay, follow these steps

1.      Choose your position. Which side of the issue or problem are you going to write about, and what solution will you offer? Know the purpose of your essay.

2.      Analyze your audience. Decide if your audience agrees with you, is neutral, or disagrees with your position.

3.      Research your topic. A persuasive essay must provide specific and convincing evidence. Often it is necessary to go beyond your own knowledge and experience. You might need to go to the library or interview people who are experts on your topic.

4.      Structure your essay. Figure out what evidence you will include and in what order you will present the evidence. Remember to consider your purpose, your audience, and you topic.

The following criteria are essential to produce an effective argument

The following are different ways to support your argument:

Facts - A powerful means of convincing, facts can come from your reading, observation, or personal experience.

Note: Do not confuse facts with truths. A "truth" is an idea believed by many people, but it cannot be proven.

Statistics - These can provide excellent support. Be sure your statistics come from responsible sources. Always cite your sources.

Quotes - Direct quotes from leading experts that support your position are invaluable.

Examples - Examples enhance your meaning and make your ideas concrete. They are the proof.

Research Essay

Thesis

Take care in selecting your thesis. This is really a type of persuasive essay, but you don't want to be stuck either just repeating someone else's opinion, or citing all the same sources. Try to come up with an original thesis or take an aspect of someone's thesis and develop it. You can also take a thesis and "transplant" it into different circumstances. For example, use tools of modern economics to argue about the role of medieval guilds in the development of early European settlements. Or take a study done on children in France and try to show it is/isn't applicable to elderly Florida residents. An original thesis is the best start you can make to get a high grade in a research essay.

Your thesis is the most critical aspect of your research essay. It not only organizes the material you are presenting, it also focuses your research efforts.

Body

Again, it's a marshalling of facts to support your argument. Make sure you have found out in any academics have made similar arguments and acknowledge them in your essay, even if you did not draw directly from them. If they said things, which don't support your argument, say why these statements are either wrong or not applicable in the circumstances.

Conclusion

Typically you summarize your arguments. You can also end with an example or a quote, which sums up your arguments.

What are markers looking for?

As usual, a clearly-written, well organized essay. Top marks would go to an original thesis, which showed thorough research and good writing. If you have a tired old thesis, no matter how well you write the essay, your grades will be limited.

Response Essay

Thesis

A thesis might be about some trends in the use of images in the work or about parallels with the author's own life.

Body

The body of the response essay is a careful working through of the work in question, examining all relevant aspects of it. Usually there is too much to work with so you need to focus your work on a limited number of points.

Some of the ways you read through a work of literature include

Conclusion

All you have to do is state that the bulk of your evidence supports your thesis. If there are any major arguments against your thesis, you can take one more shot at them.

What is the maker looking for?

A new analysis of an old work might be a good start. Find subtle points, which support your argument, which you haven't seen, presented in other essays. A creative thesis is a good start, but beware of trying to make a work of art say something, which the author couldn't have possibly intended. (There's a whole bunch of critical theory around this,but unless you are working on a graduate level essay, just stick to things relevant to the author.)

Scholarship Essay

Scholarship essays vary dramatically in subject. However, most of them require a recounting of personal experience. These tips will be more helpful for writing personal essays, like for the National Merit Scholarship, than for writing academic essays.

The most important aspect of your scholarship essay is the subject matter. You should expect to devote about 1-2 weeks simply to brainstorming ideas. To begin brainstorming subject ideas consider the following points. From brainstorming, you may find a subject you had not considered at first.

 


 

Good Essay Advice

Topic Has Been Assigned

You may have no choice as to your topic. If this is the case, you still may not be ready to jump to the next step.

Think about the type of paper you are expected to produce. Should it be a general overview, or a specific analysis of the topic? If it should be an overview, then you are probably ready to move to the next step. If it should be a specific analysis, make sure your topic is fairly specific. If it is too general, you must choose a narrower subtopic to discuss.

For example, the topic "KENYA" is a general one. If your objective is to write an overview, this topic is suitable. If your objective is to write a specific analysis, this topic is too general. You must narrow it to something like "Politics in Kenya" or "Kenya's Culture."

Once you have determined that your topic will be suitable, you can move on.

Topic Has Not Been Assigned

If you have not been assigned a topic, then the whole world lies before you. Sometimes that seems to make the task of starting even more intimidating. Actually, this means that you are free to choose a topic of interest to you, which will often make your essay a stronger one.

Define Your Purpose

The first thing you must do is think about the purpose of the essay you must write. Is your purpose to persuade people to believe as you do, to explain to people how to complete a particular task, to educate people about some person, place, thing or idea, or something else entirely? Whatever topic you choose must fit that purpose.

Brainstorm Subjects of Interest

Once you have determined the purpose of your essay, write down some subjects that interest you. No matter what the purpose of your essay is, an endless number of topics will be suitable.

If you have trouble thinking of subjects, start by looking around you. Is there anything in your surroundings that interests you? Think about your life. What occupies most of your time? That might make for a good topic. Don't evaluate the subjects yet; just write down anything that springs to mind.

Evaluate Each Potential Topic

If you can think of at least a few topics that would be appropriate, you must simply consider each one individually. Think about how you feel about that topic. If you must educate, be sure it is a subject about which you are particularly well-informed. If you must persuade, be sure it is a subject about which you are at least moderately passionate. Of course, the most important factor in choosing a topic is the number of ideas you have about that topic.

Even if none of the subjects you thought of seem particularly appealing, try just choosing one to work with. It may turn out to be a better topic than you at first thought.

Before you are ready to move on in the essay-writing process, look one more time at the topic you have selected. Think about the type of paper you are expected to produce. Should it be a general overview, or a specific analysis of the topic? If it should be an overview, then you are probably ready to move to the next step. If it should be a specific analysis, make sure your topic is fairly specific. If it is too general, you must choose a narrower subtopic to discuss.

For example, the topic "KENYA" is a general one. If your objective is to write an overview, this topic is suitable. If your objective is to write a specific analysis, this topic is too general. You must narrow it to something like "Politics in Kenya" or "Kenya's Culture."

Once you have determined that your topic will be suitable, you can move on.

Organize Your Ideas

The purpose of an outline or diagram is to put your ideas about the topic on paper, in a moderately organized format. The structure you create here may still change before the essay is complete, so don't agonize over this.

Decide whether you prefer the cut-and-dried structure of an outline or a more flowing structure. If you start one or the other and decide it isn't working for you, you can always switch later.

Diagram

1.     Begin your diagram with a circle or a horizontal line or whatever shape you prefer in the middle of the page.

2.     Inside the shape or on the line, write your topic.

3.     From your center shape or line, draw three or four lines out into the page. Be sure to spread them out.

4.     At the end of each of these lines, draw another circle or horizontal line or whatever you drew in the center of the page.

5.     In each shape or on each line, write the main ideas that you have about your topic, or the main points that you want to make.

o        If you are trying to persuade, you want to write your best arguments.

o        If you are trying to explain a process, you want to write the steps that should be followed.
You will probably need to group these into categories.
If you have trouble grouping the steps into categories, try using Beginning, Middle, and End.

o        If you are trying to inform, you want to write the major categories into which your information can be divided.

6.     From each of your main ideas, draw three or four lines out into the page.

7.     At the end of each of these lines, draw another circle or horizontal line or whatever you drew in the center of the page.

8.     In each shape or on each line, write the facts or information that support that main idea.

When you have finished, you have the basic structure for your essay and are ready to continue.

Organize Your Ideas

The purpose of an outline or diagram is to put your ideas about the topic on paper, in a moderately organized format. The structure you create here may still change before the essay is complete, so don't agonize over this.

Decide whether you prefer the cut-and-dried structure of an outline or a more flowing structure. If you start one or the other and decide it isn't working for you, you can always switch later.

Diagram

1.     Begin your diagram with a circle or a horizontal line or whatever shape you prefer in the middle of the page.

2.     Inside the shape or on the line, write your topic.

3.     From your center shape or line, draw three or four lines out into the page. Be sure to spread them out.

4.     At the end of each of these lines, draw another circle or horizontal line or whatever you drew in the center of the page.

5.     In each shape or on each line, write the main ideas that you have about your topic, or the main points that you want to make.

o        If you are trying to persuade, you want to write your best arguments.

o        If you are trying to explain a process, you want to write the steps that should be followed.
You will probably need to group these into categories.
If you have trouble grouping the steps into categories, try using Beginning, Middle, and End.

o        If you are trying to inform, you want to write the major categories into which your information can be divided.

6.     From each of your main ideas, draw three or four lines out into the page.

7.     At the end of each of these lines, draw another circle or horizontal line or whatever you drew in the center of the page.

8.     In each shape or on each line, write the facts or information that support that main idea.

When you have finished, you have the basic structure for your essay and are ready to continue.

Outline

1.     Begin your outline by writing your topic at the top of the page.

2.     Next, write the Roman numerals I, II, and III, spread apart down the left side of the page.

3.     Next to each Roman numeral, write the main ideas that you have about your topic, or the main points that you want to make.

o        If you are trying to persuade, you want to write your best arguments.

o        If you are trying to explain a process, you want to write the steps that should be followed.
You will probably need to group these into categories.
If you have trouble grouping the steps into categories, try using Beginning, Middle, and End.

o        If you are trying to inform, you want to write the major categories into which your information can be divided.

4.     Under each Roman numeral, write A, B, and C down the left side of the page.

5.     Next to each letter, write the facts or information that support that main idea.

When you have finished, you have the basic structure for your essay and are ready to continue.

Compose a Thesis Statement


Now that you have decided, at least tentatively, what information you plan to present in your essay, you are ready to write your thesis statement.

The thesis statement tells the reader what the essay will be about, and what point you, the author, will be making. You know what the essay will be about. That was your topic. Now you must look at your outline or diagram and decide what point you will be making. What do the main ideas and supporting ideas that you listed say about your topic?

Your thesis statement will have two parts.

Once you have formulated a thesis statement that fits this pattern and with which you are comfortable, you are ready to continue.

Write the Body Paragraphs

In the body of the essay, all the preparation up to this point comes to fruition. The topic you have chosen must now be explained, described, or argued.

Each main idea that you wrote down in your diagram or outline will become one of the body paragraphs. If you had three or four main ideas, you will have three or four body paragraphs.

Each body paragraph will have the same basic structure.

1.     Start by writing down one of your main ideas, in sentence form.
If your main idea is "reduces freeway congestion," you might say this:
Public transportation reduces freeway congestion.

2.     Next, write down each of your supporting points for that main idea, but leave four or five lines in between each point.

3.     In the space under each point, write down some elaboration for that point.
Elaboration can be further description or explanation or discussion.

Supporting Point

Commuters appreciate the cost savings of taking public transportation rather than driving.

Elaboration

Less driving time means less maintenance expense, such as oil changes.

Of course, less driving time means savings on gasoline as well.

In many cases, these savings amount to more than the cost of riding public transportation.

4.     If you wish, include a summary sentence for each paragraph.
This is not generally needed, however, and such sentences have a tendency to sound stilted, so be cautious about using them.

Once you have fleshed out each of your body paragraphs, one for each main point, you are ready to continue.

Write the Introduction and Conclusion

Your essay lacks only two paragraphs now: the introduction and the conclusion. These paragraphs will give the reader a point of entry to and a point of exit from your essay.

Introduction

The introduction should be designed to attract the reader's attention and give her an idea of the essay's focus.

1.     Begin with an attention grabber.

The attention grabber you use is up to you, but here are some ideas:

o        Startling information
This information must be true and verifiable, and it doesn't need to be totally new to your readers. It could simply be a pertinent fact that explicitly illustrates the point you wish to make.
If you use a piece of startling information, follow it with a sentence or two of elaboration.

o        Anecdote
An anecdote is a story that illustrates a point.
Be sure your anecdote is short, to the point, and relevant to your topic. This can be a very effective opener for your essay, but use it carefully.

o        Dialogue
An appropriate dialogue does not have to identify the speakers, but the reader must understand the point you are trying to convey. Use only two or three exchanges between speakers to make your point.
Follow dialogue with a sentence or two of elaboration.

o        Summary Information
A few sentences explaining your topic in general terms can lead the reader gently to your thesis. Each sentence should become gradually more specific, until you reach your thesis.

2.     If the attention grabber was only a sentence or two, add one or two more sentences that will lead the reader from your opening to your thesis statement.

3.     Finish the paragraph with your thesis statement.

Conclusion

The conclusion brings closure to the reader, summing up your points or providing a final perspective on your topic.

All the conclusion needs is three or four strong sentences which do not need to follow any set formula. Simply review the main points (being careful not to restate them exactly) or briefly describe your feelings about the topic. Even an anecdote can end your essay in a useful way.

The introduction and conclusion complete the paragraphs of your essay.
Don't stop just yet! One more step remains before your essay is truly finished.

 

Add the Finishing Touches

You have now completed all of the paragraphs of your essay. Before you can consider this a finished product, however, you must give some thought to the formatting of your paper.

Check the order of your paragraphs.

Look at your paragraphs. Which one is the strongest? You might want to start with the strongest paragraph, end with the second strongest, and put the weakest in the middle. Whatever order you decide on, be sure it makes sense. If your paper is describing a process, you will probably need to stick to the order in which the steps must be completed.

Check the instructions for the assignment.

When you prepare a final draft, you must be sure to follow all of the instructions you have been given.

Check your writing.

Nothing can substitute for revision of your work. By reviewing what you have done, you can improve weak points that otherwise would be missed. Read and reread your paper.

 

 

1. What is an essay? (from a college English Professor)


In other words, the essay must be well structured (ie organized) and presented in a way that the reader finds easy to follow and clear: it must look tidy and not present any obstacles to the reader. It must have a clear readable interesting style. But, above all, it must consist of your ideas about literary texts. This is the center of it: this, and this only, gets the marks. Not quotes from critics, not generalizations at second hand about literary history, not filling and padding; your thoughts, that you have had while in the act of reading specific bits of literary texts, which can be adduced in the form of quotations to back up your arguments.

2. Why write in this way?

Learning how to write professionally

In English classes you learn how to respond to literary texts. This is an interesting and worthwhile thing to do, but unless you become a teacher of English remarkably few people in later life will be interested in your thoughts about Jane Austen. What they will be interested in (I'm talking about potential employers now, but not only them) is your ability to talk, to think, and to write.


3. Collecting the material

The first task is to get the material together. The material comes in two kinds: primary and secondary sources. Primary sources in this case are literary texts: the actual material that you work on. Secondary sources are works of criticism. Here is your Second Important Message:

(ii) It is always better to read an original text and refer to it than to read and refer to a critic.

The more literary texts you read and can refer to the better. You can't possibly read too many. Remember, the key to your essay is the number and quality of your ideas about literary texts. If you casually refer, from at least an apparent position of familiarity, to some obscure literary text, you will win the admiration of your marker. If you refer to a critic, particularly an obscure one, the chances are his or her eye will glaze over. There are exceptions to this rule, which I will mention later, but the basic principle is extremely important: original texts are better than critics, and you can't know too many. Whereas it is possible to get a first class degree and never to have read any critics at all.

3.1 What are critics for?

The short answer: to be disagreed with. A longer answer: reading critics can give you an idea of what the state of critical opinion is about a literary text, to save you re-inventing the wheel and coming up with some brilliant original perception that William Empson thought of ninety years ago. Reading critics means that you can start at the coal face rather than have to dig your own mine. Secondly, they can stimulate your ideas. But the thing to remember is: only your ideas obtain merit. Therefore, never, ever, quote a critic just to agree with him or her. Always, under all circumstances, quote a critic in the following form: Leavis says x, but I disagree as follows. Or: Leavis says x, and this is very true, but I would develop his thought as follows. Never, NEVER: as Leavis says, followed by a quote, followed by nothing. This is very common in undergraduate essays, and it is simply a waste of space.

3.2 Books and articles

A secondary point about critics. They publish in two forms, books and articles. You should be familiar with the library electronic catalogue and the ways of searching it, in order to find books: it's not difficult, and if you don't know how to do it by now go immediately and find out. If you have a problem, ask a librarian, they'd be happy to help. Just spend half an hour simply playing with the library computer, finding out what it can do. But: books are not usually much use. They're usually out, as you will surely have discovered by now. And you gain no special merit points for having read them, because so has everyone else.

Articles are a different matter. Articles in academic journals are (a) not normally read by undergraduates, and therefore (b) normally on the shelves. They are more work to track down, but success will be rewarded by the admiration of your examiner, because undergraduates aren't expected to know about such things. And they are full of interesting, original, and up-to-date ideas about literary texts, that, maybe, your examiner won't even have heard of (but don't count on this: stealing ideas is heavily penalised). Also of dross and garbage, of course. But this is good too, because you'll have plenty to disagree with.

The way to get hold of articles is to go to the library and play with the CD ROM workstation. There's one on every main floor. I can't tell you here how to work it: find out, it's not difficult, and, as before, a librarian will be glad to help you; also there are copious instructions. Spend some time playing with it: the database you want is called the MLA Index. You will come up with a lot of titles that aren't in the library, which is very frustrating, but from every search you will find at least a few relevant articles, and some of these will be valuable. This is almost guaranteed.

Note: this information is now out of date. There is a wonderful database called BIDS that lists articles published since 1981. It's on the Web; it's easy to search, very user-friendly, and it emails you the list of articles you are interested in. Remarkable. You need to go to the equally friendly Information Desk in the Main Library to get an Athens login and password first.

Another note: this information too is now (June 2001) out of date. Everything has become vastly, amazingly, easier. You can now get the full texts of articles on line: that is, you can access them from the computer you are using to read this. And you can search them easily: effortlessly, in fact. This is extremely important. These collections of essays are available at any time, day or night, and are never out on loan to someone else. You simply must avail yourselves of this fantastic opportunity. It is called Literature OnLine (aka LION). This is primarily a collection of literary texts, a vast collection in fact. This is an amazing resource in itself. But they also have full text articles. A detailed account of how to access and use this goldmine is here.

Another note: now (April 2003) there is another, truly remarkable resource. The online articles in Lion are nice, but there are not enough of them. Questia is an entirely different matter. It is the world's largest online library, with over 45,000 complete books, and 400,000 titles in all. It is a substantial humanities library, open at all times and with the books always available. It's not the easiest way to read a book, but otherwise the advantages are extraordinary. The disadvantage is that it costs money, but not much; and you can subscribe for say a month for about £10.00. I recommend it.

3.3 Using the World Wide Web

The Web is has now become a fantastic resource: easily available, full of material, and with an an answer to every question. However, there are problems, and you should use the Web carefully. You can find out how to do so here.

4. Reading, making notes, having ideas

When you have found the books and articles you are going to read, you will need to read them. Here are the golden rules:

(iii) Always carry a notebook
Always read interactively
File and rewrite the notes so you can find them again
Make a bibliography


I will explain. The key is: you are in the business of making a collection of your ideas (do I have to say it again?) about literary texts. These can come to you at any time. If you don't write them down, you will probably forget them. If you do write them down, you will probably think of some more ideas while you are writing. Write them down too. It doesn't matter if they don't seem very good: just write them down. Carry one of those spiral-bound shorthand notebooks at all times, and, if an idea comes to you, however intimate or urgent the accompanying moment, write it down. No-one need ever see this notebook, so you need feel no self-consciousness about what you write in it.

This is perhaps the most useful attribute of the shorthand notebook: it beats the censor. The censor is the cause of writer's block: the small voice inside your head that tells you that what you're writing is rubbish. In your notebook you can ignore that voice, and as a result you will accumulate ideas. Some will be good, some bad; when you re-read the notes you can sort out one from the other more rationally than while under the stress of creative writing. Thus the censor has been by-passed.

4.1 Making notes

The best time to have ideas is when you are reading, either a literary text or a work of criticism. This is where note-taking comes in. Don't make notes in the form of summaries, unless you need it to help you remember a plot (lecture notes are an exception to this): it's normally best to read the thing again (and get more ideas the second time round). But always, always, read with a pen and notebook to hand: read interactively. Think about what you're reading and write down your thoughts. Always. When a thought occurs under these circumstances it will be in reaction to a piece of the text at hand: a quotation. Copy out the quote, and a page reference so you can find it again to check it if necessary, and then put your idea underneath it. If you tie the idea in with the quote in this way, then your ideas will always be text-based and close to the concrete life of the text, as Leavis might possibly have said.

Always write one idea and one idea only per page of the shorthand notebook. Why? So that you can file them. Once a week go through all of the notes that you've accumulated during the week. Take them out of the shorthand notebook: tear them out, or remove the spiral. You put headings on each note, throwing away the dross (the obvious dross, that is: dross can turn to gold if left to itself for a bit). Rewrite if necessary; make more notes if more ideas occur. Then file them in a way that you can find them again. Make sure you know where all the quotes came from: editions, page numbers, and so on.

You will find more about note taking in my Guided Reading lecture, here.

4.2 Bibliography

For this you need a booklist, either computer-based, or in the form of a card index. A bibliography, some call it. Every book you read should have its details listed in your master book-list, your card index or computer file. Author/s, title, date, publisher, shelf mark, place of publication. I repeat: every single book and article you read should be in this list. In (only) two and a bit years' time when you are desperately trying to find something original to say about The Book of the Duchess for an exam that is going to happen in a few weeks' or days' time, you will need this booklist and these carefully filed notes, containing your ideas about literary texts. Believe me.

5. Planning and structuring

So: you've gathered the material, read it, made notes, had ideas, written them down on separate slips, headed and filed them. How do you write the essay?

Like this. You gather together all of the slips you have on the topic of the essay. You read through, writing new ones and rewriting old ones if more or different ideas come to you, and making sure each of them is headed. You put the headings together in a logical order (headings, sub-headings, sub-sub-headings) on a sheet of paper in the form of an outline of the essay. You arrange the slips in order of the outline. You assemble the pile of slips, the outline, and blank paper (or a blank word-processor screen) in front of you. You write the essay, going from heading to heading and slip to slip. The essay writes itself, painlessly, because you've done most of the thinking already. On the way, you observe the following rules and wise bits of advice.

5.1 The outline

The plan you construct should be in the form of an indented outline. This is a series of headings and subheadings, indented, like this:

 

Main heading

subheading 1

notes on subheading 1

subheading 2

notes on subheading 2


and so on...


Behind every essay there must be a plan of that sort. This essay on essays is built from such a plan, as you can see. If you remember any lectures that use outlines, you will (I hope) remember how useful it was to have that written out in front of you so that you knew where you were in it. Now think of an examiner, having to read up to a hundred student essays. A decent level of concentration is hard to maintain. They get lost, and lose the thread, just as you do in lectures. It is essential therefore that an outline like that must be obvious to him or her, clearly perceptible in the way the essay is written. In order to achieve this effect the easiest way is to have one, written out for your own benefit beforehand.

5.2 The paragraph

The second thing, in order to maintain and make obvious a clear structure, is to be aware of the nature of the paragraph as the basic structuring unit in the essay. Basically, every paragraph should represent and flesh out a heading or sub-heading in the outline. The paragraph is the building block of the essay. Therefore:

o        It should be at least a third to half a page in length, but not too long or the reader will get lost. No one-sentence paragraphs! They give the impression that you read the Sun a lot. It's not good to give that impression.

o        It should have what's known as a topic sentence, near the beginning, that announces the theme of the paragraph. The paragraph should not deviate from this theme or introduce any new themes.

o        The first sentence should somehow be linked to, or contrast with, the last sentence of the previous paragraph.

o        The first paragraph should announce clearly the theme of the essay. I prefer first paragraphs that quite baldly say "I am going to do this and that in this essay". (Some markers don't, however). In the first paragraph also you should define your version of the title and make it clear. If the marker knows from the beginning what you are going to do, s/he can bear it in mind and be aware that you are sticking to the point and developing it, because s/he will know what the point is.

o        The last paragraph is not so important. You can proudly announce that you have fulfilled the aims of the first paragraph, if you like, or you can just end: it's up to you.

But the main thing is to make each paragraph a solid unit that develops a clearly announced sub-theme of the essay. This way the indented outline that's behind it will be obvious (not too obvious: don't write subheadings before every paragraph) and the marker will not have that terrible lost feeling that immediately precedes giving the essay a low mark in disgust.

6. Presentation

Behind everything I've said so far there are two themes. One, just to repeat it yet one more time, in case you might have formed the idea that I don't think it's important, is: your ideas about literary texts are what matters. The other is this:

(iv) Always put the reader first.


Up to now, most of the writing you've done has been for people who are paid to read what you've written. They have no choice: they have to do it. After you leave here, most of the writing you will do (in the course of your working lives) will be writing you are paid to do for other people. They won't, on the whole, have to read it: if they don't follow it or feel offended by its scruffy presentation or even are having an off-day and are not instantly seduced by its beauty and clarity, they will just throw it away and do something else instead.

University teachers are somewhat in between these two classes. On the one hand, they are in fact paid to read your essays. On the other, if you can imagine the sheer labour of having to read a large number of long assessed essays on the same topic, you can imagine that no-one really likes doing it. It's extremely hard work, and they would normally rather be doing something else. Therefore, if they're not immediately seduced by the clarity and beauty of the thing they're reading, they may get irritated. If this happens they won't be able to throw it away and do something else, so they will get even more irritated. The end product of this will be: a lousy mark. Or at least, a worse mark than you would otherwise get, even if the ideas are good. This is a good thing, in fact, because because you can use it to train you to

ALWAYS PUT THE READER FIRST.

Therefore, make your essay as beautiful, compelling, and as professionally presented as possible, is my advice. Here are some guidelines.

6.1. The list of works consulted

Every essay without exception should end with a list of books and articles used. Often a marker will look at this first, to see what kind of work you've done: where, as it were, you're coming from. On the whole and within reason, the longer this is, the better. As long, that is, as you can reasonably show that you have indeed used the works on the list.

6.2. Styling references

This list should be set out in a particular and consistent way. The way I use is like this:

Horace Hart, Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford , (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983) Main Library General Reference 1 Z 253

A.S. Maney and R.L. Smallwood, MHRA Style Book, Notes for Authors, Editors and Writers of Dissertations , (London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 1981) Main Library General Reference 1 Z 253 Main Library Lang. & Lit. Ref. 1 Z 253

MLA Handbook for writers of research papers, theses, and dissertations , (New York: MLA, 1977) Gen. Ref. Z 253

and, appropriately enough, these are the books that tell you how to do it properly. There are various ways of styling (as printers call it) references (ie book and article titles) and it doesn't matter which you adopt, but you should learn one and adopt it. Hart's Rules is a beautiful little book, the printer's bible and ultimate authority, and it's very nice to own a copy; the MLA Handbook is more use for students (it has a chapter on how to do indented outlines, for instance--see section 8 for more on this.) I have both, right by my desk, all the time. These books will tell you how to style your references and how also to lay out quotations in an essay, how to refer to a book or an article in the body of an essay, how to punctuate, and so on. I very rarely look at mine now: I more or less know what they say. So should you: it's the essence of professionalism in writing.

Note (2002). The English Department has now published its own ideas about how to do styling. They are here. My advice is, start using this document NOW!

6.3. Type it if at all possible

No, you don't have to type it. But if you do then it will be far easier for the reader. And rule (iv) is? Right: put the reader first. In any case, studies have shown that particular kinds of handwriting influence (without their knowing it) readers of literary essays such that they get lower marks. I would guess that typed essays tend to get higher marks, but this is just a guess. But it is my honest and truthful opinion that if you hand in an assessed essay (that is, an essay written for marks that will count towards your final degree) and it's not typed, you would be making a foolish mistake.

Addition, 2002: computers have come on a little since I wrote that. It's now compulsory to produced typed essays for any assessed work. And very highly desirable to type all essays that you hand in.

If you are using a word processor, take some time to get the layout right. Double space, with an extra space between paragraphs. The first line of a paragraph should be indented. Number the pages, and put in a header with the short title of the essay and your name in it. A4 paper. If you want to beautify it with illustrations, drop capitals, a beautiful title page, hand illuminated or gold leaf embellishments, that's fine, though it's not expected. (I should perhaps stress that the gold leaf is a joke.) And: make sure you use the spelling checker, before you print it.

A note on safe computing. While you are actually working on a document, it is held in RAM. All that you need to know about this is that RAM is volatile. This means that if a passing friend trips over the power cable, pulling it out of the wall, the computer will go down, and everything in RAM will vanish utterly for ever. What you will lose is everything you created since you last saved to disk. Moral: save to disk frequently. At least every ten minutes. Secondly, you should develop the feeling that whenever you switch the computer off, you are doing a dangerous thing. Dangerous to your data, that is. When you switch it on again, there is no guarantee whatsoever that it will come up and present you with your work. It might crash. It probably won't, it's quite unlikely that anything bad will happen, but nonetheless this is the time of maximum danger for your essay. I have been working with computers equipped with hard disks since 1987, and in that time so far I have had three hard disk crashes. Wipeout. Obliteration. Everything gone for ever. I have also had computers stolen twice, from burglary: end result: once more, all the data on the hard disk gone for ever.

As a result, I never switch off the computer without making sure that all the data on it that I don't mind losing is backed up. Never. Ever. This means that whatever I've worked on since the last time I switched the machine off gets copied on to floppy disks or zip disks or cds or the internet. If it's creative writing, like your essay, I usually make two or even three copies. If I feel really nervous about losing it, I print the file out on to paper, as a final security. I really advise you to do the same.

One final point: the last time I had a computer burgled, I was immaculately backed up, and I still lost some data. Why? I left one of the backup disks inside the machine...

6.4. One side of the paper only

When I tell students to write on one side of the paper only, they give me the same look that I frequently get from my cat: "Is this man totally out of his mind?" it says. Look: it makes it easier for the reader. A lot easier. Rule (iv) is? If that doesn't convince you, try sending any piece of writing whatsoever to any form of publication whatsoever, written on both sides of the paper, and see how long it takes for them to send it back. Unread. (They'll also send it back unread if you don't type it, incidentally.)

6.5. Spelling and punctuation

There is a simple but unpleasant rule about this.

(v) If you produce work that is mis-spelt and/or badly punctuated and/or ungrammatical, however good the ideas are, people will tend to think that you are stupid.

They will be wrong; it will just mean that you can't spell, or can't punctuate, or don't know some of the grammar rules. Nonetheless, that's what they will think. Since it will almost always be in your best interests to show that you are intelligent, rather than stupid, if you have a problem in any of these areas you should do something about it. If you have a word processor, get a spelling checker. Persuade someone you know who can spell, punctuate, etc. to read over your work first and check it: learn the sort of mistakes you make, and don't make them again.

There are very good suggestions on how to manage punctuation in the Oxford Guide to Writing. If you have a problem with punctuation, I strongly suggest you get hold of this book.

Another much cheaper and also excellent book is Plain English, by Diané Collinson et al. (book details and current price) (Library reference).

A wonderful web site for all sorts of writing problems, including punctuation, is here.

There is one particular error that is very common, students quite often are in the habit of running two or more sentences together and joining them with commas, it is really a very bad idea to do this, a marker when he or she sees it will become very irritated, I hope you are by now with the strange breathless quality of this sentence. Don't do it. A sentence is a sentence. It should end in a full stop. Putting two sentences together with commas between them is becoming acceptable in creative writing, but it's still a bad idea to do it in an essay. Never confuse an essay with creative writing is a useful rule.

6.6 Handing it in.

Controversy rages over the best way to bind the thing. My own view is this. It should be simple, cheap, and easy for the examiner. The pages should not be stapled or clipped, or in any way tightly fastened together. They should not be bound! Some people like to bind them in a presentation folder, often designed by the same person who invented the rat trap, featuring spiked and sharpened strips of brass. Sometimes the essays come back with the examiner's blood on them. This doesn't necessarily guarantee a lower mark, but there's always that possibility. I accept that the motivation behind this kind of presentation is good, and appreciate it as such, but it's really not a good idea.

So: go for loose sheets, each page numbered, your name at the top of each page, of course written on one side only, and held together in a simple plastic sleeve: the kind with punched holes down one side and an opening in the top only. This keeps the essay clean and coherent, is unlikely to lacerate the examiner, and takes up no extra room, so the essays can be stacked without them falling all over the place. Before you put it in its sleeve punch one hole all the way through at the top left corner, and insert a treasury tag. You know, one of those green bootlace things. Like this:

 

That will keep the pages in the right order when the examiner is reading them. Do make sure that each page is numbered, and that each has your student registration number and a short title of the essay on it, just in case the pages do get disassociated from one another.

7. How to write

Style is not something I can prescribe in a set of notes like this. Write well: if you have any problems in this direction, it is for your tutor to tell you about them. But here are a few random points instead.

Register

This is what linguists call a style appropriate to the occasion. Be aware: a certain scholarly gravity is called for. Not too heavy so that it's uninteresting. But avoid colloquial abbreviations: should not, not shouldn't. Jokes are hazardous: if they don't [do not follow my practice as regards don't] work, they can cost you a lot. Avoid them, on the whole: or at least don't be jokey. Don't for goodness sake imitate the way I'm writing here, either the rather flippant colloquial style or the somewhat overbearing tone, or the numbered subheadings. This is an essay on how to write a literary essay, not a literary essay.

Quotations

Firstly, quote sufficiently but not too copiously. Not more than a third of any page at the very outside, and usually just a few lines at a time. It's your thought, not the quotation, that is the point. On the other hand, never forget that your ideas should be tied firmly into the text, and that you should demonstrate this by quotation. Secondly, always give page numbers for your quotations: you will need to know where to find them again.

Short paragraphs

No short paragraphs.

Length

The department has clear rules about length of assessed and non-assessed essays. A first year non-assessed essay should be 1500-2000 words long.

Copy it

Always keep a copy of any essay you hand in. Academics are very unreliable, and not uncommonly lose essays.

8. Getting it back

Here is a summary of things to keep in your mind about writing some essays.

o        Use of critics (ie don't slavishly agree with them)

o        Range of reference to literary texts, including obscure ones

o        Clear and perceptible structure

o        Interesting ideas tied in to quotations

o        The paragraph:

1. Length
2. Topic sentence
3.
First sentence, last sentence
4.
First paragraph (sets out themes)

o        List of works consulted (properly styled)

o        Quotations properly laid out, and references styled properly

o        One side of the paper only

o        Spelling and punctuation


The Precis

As serious academic writers, you will have to read and remember large amounts of prose (and poetry) along with scientific and social-studies articles as well. In many of your college courses, you are probably able to memorize facts and key statements with relative ease, but in English courses and others which also require close, critical reading, you are asked to go a step further, i.e., to present the informing argument of, let's say, an article and to reproduce the logical development of the argument in as cogent a form as possible in your own words. In order to demonstrate that you have assimilated the central argument and proof of another scholar's critical interpretation, you must be able to summarize and even compose a precis of an argument.

A summary or a precis is NOT a personal interpretation of a work or an expression of your opinion of the idea; it is, rather, an exact replica in miniature of the work, often reduced to one-quarter to one-fifth of its size, in which you express the complete argument!

What actually happens when you write a precis? First, you must understand the complete work so that you can abstract the central argument and express it cogently and completely. Next, you must develop the argument exactly as the writer has presented it AND reduce the work by 755-80% of its size. Of course, this is possible when you consider exactly how you "learn" to read the work.

The key word here is assimilation. When you read the material, it is probable that you will understand only those parts which have associations within your own experience (intellectual, emotional, physical, etc..

How you actually go about writing a precis depends largely on your ability to restate the writer's central ideas after you have assimilated them in your own mind.

Here are the rules of the game:

1. Read the article many times most carefully.

2. Write a precis of the article in which you state the entire argument
and present the logical progression (the development) of the argument.

3. Reduce the article to one-fifth to one-quarter of its original length
and omit nothing from the essential argument. This is, in reality,
the key to the whole enterprise!

4. Type the precis and begin with your abstraction of the central, inform-
ing idea of the article. Having understood and written the central idea,
present the essential argument in as cogent manner as possible.

(Clue: Once you have assimilated the article through the illustrations
and examples the writer uses to make his/her abstract ideas concrete,
you do not have to include these in your precis!)

5. Here is a central rule:

Do not copy a single sentence from the article! You may use
key words and phrases only when you are expressing ideas which are
technically precise or when you feel comfortable using the writer's
own words, i.e., you understand exactly he or she means, and there
is really no better way to express the concept.

 Finally, in order to complete this assignment, you will have to read the work most carefully, ask questions about the work repeatedly, and reach into your own experiences so that you can shape most cogently the writer's concepts!

More than likely you will be learning that, when you write research papers and other critical papers, you ability to write the precis is central to the basics of analysis, synthesis, comparison, and other key, higher order thinking skills absolutely required for your success in college and in the profession or career you have chosen when you graduate.

Writing the Abstract

What is an abstract?An abstract is a condensed version of a longer piece of writing that highlights the major points covered, concisely describes the content and scope of the writing, and reviews the writing's contents in abbreviated form.           What types of abstracts are typically used?                            Two types of abstracts are typically used:

      1. Descriptive Abstracts

  1. Informative Abstracts

Why are abstracts so important?  The practice of using key words in an abstract is vital because of today's electronic information retrieval systems. Titles and abstracts are filed electronically, and key words are put in electronic storage. When people search for information, they enter key words related to the subject, and the computer prints out the titles of articles, papers, and reports containing those key words. Thus, an abstract must contain key words about what is essential in an article, paper, or report so that someone else can retrieve information from it.

Qualities of a Good Abstract  An effective abstract has the following qualities:

Steps for Writing Effective Abstracts To write an effective abstract, follow these steps:

A Sample Abstract

PASM: A partitionable SIMD/MIMD System for Image Processing and Pattern Recognition

PASM, a large-scale multimicroprocessor system being designed at Purdue University for image processing and pattern recognition, is described. This system can be dynamically reconfigured to operate as one or more independent SIMD and/or MIMD machines. PASM consists of a parallel computation unit, which contains N processor, N memories, and an interconnection network; Q microcontrollers, each of which controls N/Q parallel secondary storage devices; a distributed memory management system; and a system control unit, to coordinate the other system components. Possible values for N and Q are 1024 and 16, respectively. The control schemes and memory management on PASM are explored. Examples of how PASM can be used to perform image processing tasks are given.

Some advice for writing essays: sexist language

Sexism in language has become an especially sensitive topic in recent years. We would be foolish as well as obtuse to include depersonalizing terms like chick, tomato and broad in our serious essays; and "humorous" use of such words is rarely funny. Less obviously, we should realize that the word equivalent to man is woman, not lady, girl or gal. If William Shakespeare is Shakespeare in our prose, then Emily Dickinson should be Dickinson, not Miss Dickinson or Emily. And designations such as authoress and lady lawyer should be avoided for their objectionable hint that genuine, normal authors and lawyers are men. Even coed should be dropped on these grounds; it insinuates that the higher education of women is an afterthought to the real (male) thing.

Yet because the idea of sexism is relatively new, and because different groups have reached different stages of resentment against sex-weighted language, it is not easy to say how far you should go toward purging English of its longstanding favoritism to the male. The title Ms., which does not indicate marital status, is becoming well established as the female counterpart to Mr., and you cannot go wrong by changing stewardess to flight attendant and cleaning lady to housekeeper. Actress and waitress, on the other hand, have so far resisted all pressure to step aside for genderless words; if you used actor and waiter to indicate women, readers would be misled or taken aback. Are mankind, man-made and chairman offensive? More and more readers believe they are. You can substitute humanity for mankind and artificial for man-made, without attracting notice; but chairperson, though it is rapidly becoming common, will still bother some readers. Many people find person-suffixed words clumsy and self-conscious. Before using one, try finding a neutral alternative: not congressperson but representative, not policeperson but officer.

The sorest of all issues in contemporary usage is that of the so-called common gender. Which pronouns should be used when an indefinite person, a "one," is being discussed? Traditionally, that indefinite person has been "male": he, his, him, as in "A taxpayer must check his return carefully." For the centuries in which this practice went unchallenged, the masculine pronouns in such sentences were understood to designate, not actual men, but people of either sex. Today, however, many readers find those words an offensive reminder of second class citizenship for women. Remedies that have been proposed range from using he or she (or she or he) for the common gender, to treating singular common words as plural (A taxpayer must check their return) to combining masculine and feminine pronouns in forms like s/he, to using she in one sentence and he in the next.

Unfortunately, all of these solutions carry serious drawbacks. Continual repetition of he or she is cumbersome and monotonous; most readers would regard "A taxpayer must check their return" as a blunder, not a blow for liberation; pronunciation of s/he is uncertain; and the use of she and he in alternation, though increasingly common, risks confusing the reader by implying that two indefinite persons, a female and a male, are involved.

To avoid sexist language that may be offensive to some readers, consider following these guidelines:

·     Use she whenever you are sure the indefinite person would be a female (a student in a women's college for example).

·     Do not use she for roles that are "traditionally female" but actually mixed: filing clerks, grade-school teachers, laundry workers etc.

·     Use gender-neutral terms when speaking of other people. These include substituting the human race, humankind, work force or personnel, and average person for words such as man, mankind, manpower and man on the street.

·     Avoid gender-marked titles when good alternatives are available. Substitute speaker or representative for spokesman, police officer for policeman, etc.

·     Rewrite sentences to avoid using gender pronouns, by using the appropriate title instead. (Substitute "You should see your doctor first, and the doctor should call the emergency room directly" for "You should see your doctor first, and he should call the emergency room directly.")

·     Use an occasional he or she or she or he to indicate an indefinite person. But be sparing with this formula.

·     Avoid the singular whenever your meaning is not affected: "Taxpayers must check their returns."

·     Omit the pronoun altogether wherever you can do so without awkwardness. (Not "Everyone needs his or her vacation" but "Everyone needs a vacation.")

·     Address your reader directly in the second person if you can do so appropriately. (Substitute "Send in your application by the final deadline date" for "The student must send in his application by the final deadline date.")

·     Replace third-person singular possessives with articles. (Substitute "Every proctor should draft a preliminary schedule by Friday" for "Every proctor should draft his preliminary schedule by Friday.")

Information in this handout was adapted from The Random House Handbook by Frederick Crews and Writing and Learning by Anne Ruggles Gere.