How to write an essay: part 2

Many students continue to struggle with essay-writing:  unnecessarily so!

Essays are such a structured method of conveying information, they are easily reduced into a ‘formula’ which can simply be filled in with the required information.  In other words, essays follow a very specific, internally repeating pattern.  As such, they are easily mastered – but only if one understands the ‘formula’!

In part 1, I attempted to explain how to organize one’s thoughts in order to clarify the ideas/information which an essay will convey. Lacking a better term, I called this the ‘why’ of the essay:  as in, ‘why’ is the essay being written (what ideas it is meant to convey).

Here, in part 2, I will provide some practical tools for the ‘how’:  the mechanics of the writing of an essay.  More specifically, I will describe the ‘original form’ of the method which I have tried and used and successfully taught to others.  (There is another ‘form’ of this method, which I have developed with the help of my older son who is an Aspie, and which works well for him….and when I write it up, I will link it here.)

Of course, some essays can be very complex:  here, I am attempting to establish the basics.  Therefore, I will present ‘the essay’ in the ‘barest’, ‘most basic’ form (or, at the level most high-school teachers expect an essay to be written).

OK, let’s begin!

When writing an essay, it is essential that the whole work maintains a central focus. (A formalized statement of this ‘main idea’ will function as the title of the essay.)  That is why it is useful to write the ‘main idea’ or ‘focus’ of the essay in a single expression:  in order to retain the focus throughout the essay, it will be referred to over and over.

In its barest form, an essay can be broken down into 2 parts:

  1. Stating the ‘main idea’/’point of view’ of the essay
    • this will form as the basis of the ‘opening paragraph’ (where it will be ‘introduced’) as well as the ‘closing paragraph’ (where it will be ‘summed up’).
  2. Providing evidence to support this ‘main idea’/’point of view’.  Most essays (at the beginner level) require 3 major ‘supporting’ ideas.
    • these will form the ‘body’ of the essay
    • each of these 3 points will become a separate paragraph
    • the eventual ‘focus’ of each of these paragraphs will be ‘how’ this particular ‘piece of evidence’ relates to the ‘main idea’ and supports the ‘point of view’.

Many students find it useful to put their ideas into a chart – either as ‘single words’ or ‘expressions’ or ‘point forms’.  Turns out, I can’t figure out how to insert a chart into this blog…but, if I could, it would look (with different formatting) something like this:

  • ‘main idea’
    • the focus of the essay:
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
    • re-stating the focus in formal way becomes the title of the essay:
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
  • ‘main idea’ + ‘point of view’ (step 1 from above)
    • this will form the core of the ‘opening paragraph’ as well as the ‘closing paragraph
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
  • ‘supporting evidence’ (usually, 3 pieces are expected)
    • simple list of 3 ‘ideas’ or ‘pieces of evidence’ which support the ‘main idea + point of view’ of this essay
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….
      • ………………………………………………………………………………………….

It is a useful exercise to fill this ‘chart’ out before beginning the actual ‘act of writing’ of an essay:  it aids in maintaining focus and disciplines one to keep the arguments clear and concise.  For some students, this will be more than a simple exercise in discipline and focus:  it is the skeleton of the essay which they will go on to ‘flesh out’.

In part 3, I will address the specifics of how the individual paragraphs are to be structured (and the way in which the structure of each paragraph reflects the pattern of the essay).

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