Writing an Essay
An essay is a formal written expression of your ideas. An essay
can help you persuade your audience, inform your audience, or
express your feelings to your audience. The method you use to
express your ideas depends on your overall purpose in writing the
Expressing your ideas is nothing new, but you might be more
comfortable expressing your ideas in informal conversation rather
than in formal, academic essays. In conversation, you might try to
persuade your friends to join you on a weekend trip to the
mountains; you might try to convince your son to break away from
the friends who are constantly in trouble. You might even wrestle
with yourself as you try to talk yourself into losing those three
extra kilogrmas that you have gained in the past year. All of
these more informal tasks contain many of the elements that are
found in an essay.
First of all, you will have an overall point to make. All of us
have been exasperated by friends or acquaintances who ramble
forever without direction. Making a point is one of the elements
of good conversational technique, and it is an essential component
of good essay writing as well. In an essay, you will make your
point in a sentence called the thesis statement. The thesis
encapsulates in one sentence the overall point you are making in
your paper. It is not a statement of fact; it is a statement of
opinion that you will prove with facts, evidence, and examples.
The thesis statement answers the reader's question "What
central idea does the writer want to communicate to me in this
In good conversation, the person who is speaking also provides
a structure and context for the information he or she is
delivering. Each conversation will have a beginning, middle, and
end, however informal those elements may be. In an essay, those
elements are evident in the introduction of the essay, the body of
the essay, and the conclusion of the essay. The length of your
essays will vary depending on the nature of your assignment and
your subject matter, but the basic structure of your essay will
not vary, even if you are writing a research paper.
Writing the Introduction
Writing the Body
Writing the Conclusion
Writing an Expressive Essay
Writing an Informative Essay
Writing a Persuasive Essay
Writing the Introduction
A friend might ask you in conversation, "Do you remember
last year when Dr. Lichtenstein tutored us on Sunday nights?"
Your friend has given you the when, what, and why--now you are
ready for the information your friend wants to communicate.
Listeners are not mind readers, and neither are readers. The
writer should orient readers by writing introductions that provide
important contextual information. The introduction orients the
reader to content, perspective, and tone.
- Content What topic does the essay cover?
- Perspective What is the writer's stance on the
- Tone What is the writer's attitude toward the
subject? (Humorous? Reflective? Scholarly?)
The introduction also contains the thesis statement, which
usually appears near the end of the introductory paragraph or
paragraphs. Thesis statements can be implied, and many
professional essays do not have an identifiable one-sentence
thesis. In beginning composition classes, however, most teachers
will ask you to include a clear and concise thesis statement in
The introduction is your best chance of grabbing your reader's
interest. As you peruse the morning newspaper, how do you decide
what articles to read? First of all, you are probably taken by a
title, either because it covers a topic you are interested in or
because it is interesting or intriguing and captures your eye.
Then, you skim the introduction to see if the article is worth
reading. If the introduction is good, you read on. If the
introduction is weak, you continue scanning the text for another
article. The time you spend on your introduction and your title is
time well spent, for it might mean the difference between someone
reading your ideas or moving on to a more interesting paper.
Writing the Body
After the readers are oriented to the subject and know what to
expect, the writer can then deliver the information in the body of
the paper. The body of the paper contains the information the
readers need to validate the thesis. The type of information you
must include in the body will depend on the type of essay that you
are writing, but most writers use one or more possible strategies
to prove their thesis. Some of the most common strategies are as
||Explanation of the Strategy
||facts and statistics, expert testimony
||condensed source material, documented and in your own
||specific applications of the thesis; examples must be
real, not hypothetical
||a story that exemplifies or develops the thesis
||a physical or psychological detailing of the essay's
place and time
||examining the similarities and/or differences between
two things; the items being compared should be similar in
||a figurative comparison of two dissimilar things
||placement of things into categories and classes to
differentiate between them
||examination of the cause of an event and/or the repercussions of it
||explanation of how something is done or why something
Whatever methods you use to develop your ideas, be as specific
as possible and include as many details as necessary to convince
your readers of the validity of your thesis. The most important
thing to remember is that the burden of proof is on you, the
writer, not the reader. You cannot expect your readers to
"fill in the blanks" that you don't want to take the
time to explain. This is the part of your paper that you will need
to scrutinize over and over again to ensure that you have included
the information you need to communicate your point to your
readers. It is often tedious work, for it is fairly easy to think
of opinions you might have on a particular subject; it is an
entirely more difficult task to back up every opinion with
evidence and detail. In addition, if you use source materials, you
will need to integrate your sources carefully and smoothly into
your paper, and you must document your sources appropriately. For
more information on documentation, see Documenting
Writing the Conclusion
The conclusion wraps up the paper by reminding readers of the
main point and by leaving the readers with a clear view of the
information they have been given. An old adage in speech writing
advises speakers to "tell them what you are going to tell
them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them." The
same adage is true in essay structure. The conclusion does not
offer the reader any new information on the subject; rather, the
conclusion is an opportunity for the writer to reflect on the
ideas in the essay and remind the reader of the main point of the
essay. Whatever your strategy in the conclusion, be sure to bring
the reader full circle to a satisfying end in the essay.
WRITING AN EXPRESSIVE ESSAY
At times you will be asked to write an essay that expresses a
thought, feeling, or reflection. Many times this kind of essay
asks you to reflect on your life and relate a story about
something that had a profound influence on you. According to
Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus and Terra
Infirma, "In Jewish tradition, stories are a way of
changing people. If you tell the right story to the right person
at the right moment it can transform them. The great rebbes are
traditionally great storytellers. They look at you and determine
which story they need to tell you to change your life."
Expressive essays, then, strive to inspire transformation in
ourselves and in our readers.
Tips for Writing Expressive Essays
The point of an essay like this is not to fit your feelings
into a formula thesis and then prove your feelings in the body of
your paper. Instead, you want to communicate a dominant impression
of something personal.
You will, however, want to have some type of organizational
structure so that your readers understand why they are reading
In addition, you should lead them through your thoughts and
impressions without losing them.
You will probably use examples, narration, and description in
an essay like this, although you may use other development
strategies as well.
Many photographers photograph the same outdoor scene at
different times of the day to capture the mood that the natural
light creates. The words you choose and the way you construct your
sentences and paragraphs are the tools you use to paint mood and
feeling into your essay.
Carefully chosen details, then, are important components of the
Your main purpose is to leave an impression.
WRITING AN INFORMATIVE/DESCRIPTIVE ESSAY
In academic writing, you might be asked to present information
about a particular topic without taking a specific position on
that particular topic. Newspaper articles, although they might
have a particular political slant, are written to present
information as accurately and as objectively as possible.
Tips for Writing Informative/Descriptive Essays
Your thesis should be clear and objective.
You will probably use examples, facts, process analysis, and
expert testimony to support your thesis in an essay like this,
although you may use other development strategies as well.
A good prewriting strategy to use as you prepare to write an
informative essay is to answer the five questions Who? Where?
What? Why? When?
For an example of an informative essay, see Why
is the Sky Dark at Night? by P. Lutus.
WRITING A PERSUASIVE ESSAY
Much of the writing you will do for your courses and in the
workplace will be designed to persuade your readers to accept your
point of view. This kind of essay is called a persuasive or
argumentative essay. Persuasive essays take a position on
an issue, and the body of such an essay proves the validity of the
thesis statement or at least persuades the reader that the stance
taken in the essay is a reasonable one.
There are three ways to appeal to your reader: pathos (appeal
to emotion), ethos (appeal to ethics), and logos (appeal to
Pathos is the appeal to emotion. Used well, pathos allows the
writer to get the reader to react from the heart on an issue to
agree with the thesis of the essay. Used fallaciously, pathos
preys on the emotions of readers to distract them from the real
Any essay should incorporate ethos, which is an appeal to
ethics. If your readers do not believe that you are a reasonable,
credible person, it doesn't matter how solid your argument is. The
reader won't buy it. In fact, a writer may concede a minor point
to the opposition to prove that he or she understands the opposing
view, implying open-mindedness.
Although all of these three appeals are essential elements of a
strong argumentative essay, using reasonable logos, or logic,
is by far the most important appeal in a persuasive essay. You
must prove every point or assertion you make--every opinion you
express-- with evidence. Evidence consists of facts and/or expert
testimony. You can appeal to ethos and pathos, but if you do not
think through your points carefully and prove them with hard
evidence, your essay will not hold up to scrutiny.
For a list of common errors in logic to avoid in your writing,
read the Logical
For examples of a persuasive essay, see the editorial pages of
Essay Writing Tips
- Include a strong introduction that captures your reader's
interest and states your main point.
- Make sure that you have supported every assertion with hard
- Identify the rhetorical strategy (or strategies) used in
your paper and determine whether that strategy is effective.
- Do not place the burden of proof on your reader. Include the
facts and details necessary to develop your main idea.
- If you use outside sources, cite your sources and attribute
them in your text.
- Present yourself as a reasonable, credible person.
- Include a strong conclusion that wraps up your essay and
recapitulates your main points.
Essay Writing Checklist
- I have included an identifiable thesis -- one sentence that
identifies my topic and my position on it, if applicable.
- I have an introduction that orients my readers, captures
their interest, and states my position.
- The body of my essay proves my thesis with evidence.
- I have reviewed my essay for logical fallacies and have
corrected any faulty logic.
- I have presented myself as a credible, reasonable person.
- I have avoided using emotion in place of logic.
- I have included a conclusion that restates my main point and
wraps up my essay.