What is a good essay? This is a general, but important question. Essays are written by students of all grade levels, as well as written by professionals. This report will focus solely on the academic essay. It is important to note that the academic essay is written to be clear and precise. Since many academic essays are written by students, it is also a way of communicating understanding, knowledge, and critical thinking to the teacher or professor who is marking the essay.
“Form is content”. Although students have all learned to write the five-paragraph essay, a good essay is not restricted by its form. As Scott F. Crider states in The Office of Assertion: An Art of Rhetoric for the Academic Essay, “…because the Five-Paragraph Essay is often the only shape allowed, it can be treated as though it were the natural shape of all writing…it supplies one shape to all arguments regardless of their nature” (43-44).
Crider argues that “form is content” and a good essay does not simply force their argument within a strict form that may not present the argument at its best. Similarly, Professor C. A. Silber explains, “There are many ways in which any particular argument may be well presented, but an essay’s organization—how it begins, develops, and ends—should be designed to present your argument clearly and persuasively.”
In his videos, Mr. Baird teaches a new approach to form on the academic essay. Influenced by Crider’s The Office of Assertion, Mr. Baird presents the six-section essay: “Part I is the introduction; Part II, the statement of circumstance; Part III, the outline; Part IV, the proof; Part V, the refutation; and Part VI, the conclusion” (Crider, 48). Mr. Baird explains that the six-section essay is an outline, allowing more freedom than the five-paragraph essay. Not every section may be necessary for every argument, and they do not need to go in the order of the parts.
Organization is a key aspect of a strong and compelling essay. It is important to organize your essay in a way that will clearly tell the readers what you are talking about.
The introduction will appear at the beginning of the essay, as it introduces the point of the essay. Although it captures the attention of the audience, words are not wasted on general expressions, as said by Professor Bentley. In the University of St. Andrews undergraduate handbook for essay writing, it is stated, “The introduction should grasp the subject in its essentials, and make clear, explicitly or implicitly, what your essay is going to be about…”. The thesis is usually, but not always, found in the introduction; a good essay will have the thesis placed where it is most suitable.
The thesis is a vital part of any essay. A thesis is an argument that you are making, “a statement that you want to support with evidence and discussion” (Cowan, 1). Your thesis will show your own thinking on the work that you have been reading. Your thinking should lead to a thought-provoking argument that could be based on things like a certain character or scene, or even a theme that you think recurs throughout the text.
Your thesis really tests your core idea by putting it into only a couple of sentences. It helps the organization of your topic because it points the focus to what you will be talking about. The “atmosphere” of your analysis will really be right in the face of the reader, and they will know what they are in for. This makes it much easier for the writer to keep the focus in the right areas and the reader will also be more prepared to analyze your essay.
In order to make a strong thesis, you make sure that your thesis takes some sort of stand, prompts discussion, expresses the main idea, and is still specific (Thesis Writing, 1).
A weak thesis might sound like this: “Elliot talks a lot about death”. Certain aspects of the thesis make it very weak. First, it is very vague. It should be more specific and to the point. A more specific thesis might sound like “Elliot talks about how people face death in their old age”. This is now more specific, but still has problems. It should take a stand and be arguable (Mount, 1). This thesis at the moment is more just stating facts, and not an opinion. An arguable opinion might sound like “Elliot points toward the difficulty of approaching death in old age”.
Now, the thesis is arguable. You might say that he isn’t going in that direction, or maybe he is, but it takes a stand and is specific. It is also prompting discussion about how death is perceived as you grow older. Many characteristics that make a strong thesis can be found in this example, and it shows how effective a strong thesis statement can be compared to a weak one.
The Statement of Circumstance
The statement of circumstance informs the reader of any information needed to understand the rest of the essay. For example, if a different version of a novel is being used, in which there are five extra pages in the final chapter, the reader must know this information before delving into the rest of the essay. This section may not always be relevant, but a good essay will include necessary information for its audience.
When prepared for what is to come, readers will be able to find more enjoyment in the essay. Mr. Baird gives the analogy of a magic trick. The magician will tell his audience how he will present the trick, and when he performs the magic just as he said he would, the audience is amazed. If the magician did not explain how he would perform the trick and rushed into the magic, the audience would be unprepared and would not find the magic as amazing. A good essay will include some form of an outline, to prepare the audience for what is to come, without spoiling the arguments that will be made. As Crider says, with an outline, “…the reader experiences a harmony between expectation and fulfillment” (55).
The proof is the meat of the essay, where the arguments are made to support the thesis; where the essay will convince the reader that the thesis is true, and perhaps offer new insight. A good essay develops the points well, contributing to the clarity of the essay. There is no strict amount of main points in a good essay; there will be as little or as many points that prove the argument, all in accordance to presenting the argument made in the most coherent manner.
Organizing your arguments is very important. Professor Micros from University of Guelph states, “Each paragraph must be carefully organized and it must link to the paragraphs around it.” University of Waterloo states that each paragraph should have a topic sentence that introduces the argument being made. The arguments as well should persuade the reader towards your thesis. You should be talking about one clear topic throughout your essay that persuades the reader to believe your essay. In addition, clear evidence should be used with quotations and other references to make the arguments stronger (James Wood).
The citation has an important role in an essay. Citation is using other peoples’ ideas to support your idea, making the reader have more trust in your essay. Students are not people that are well known to others, and no one will want to trust random people without having proof of others. Therefore, you need to “provides evidence of your research”(Library.uvm.edu) other than just your own words. Although the ideas are not yours, they will help you to persuade readers because the materials are more reliable than your words.
The other part of its purpose is “to uphold intellectual honesty (or avoiding plagiarism), to attribute prior or unoriginal work and ideas to the correct sources, to allow the reader to determine independently whether the referenced material supports the author’s argument in the claimed way” (Wikipedia.org). You cannot simply use others’ ideas without telling the readers.
That is plagiarism and that is the other part of why you do the citation, to avoid it. If a person writes an essay with no citation and is caught in plagiarism, readers will not trust this person’s text. The citing also helps the reader to expand their knowledge, “help the reader gauge the strength and validity of the material the author has used” (wikipedia.org), which is actually what an essay does for the readers. Therefore, cite the resources if you want your essay to be helpful to others and not get into trouble.
A good essay includes a refutation, giving voice to the questions the readers may have against the argument of the essay. “It makes your argument more powerful when you give a voice to the reader’s best argument.” The refutation not only brings to light the questions, but it also answers them. The answer must be clear and support the thesis. If the refutation causes holes in the thesis, the thesis statement should be changed.
The conclusion of a good essay not only brings the readers to a close but also gives the essay further importance. Good essays do not restate point by point what was said before. Associate Professor. Tristanne Connolly says “[the conclusion] reiterates the main idea in different words, and looks back over how the thesis was proven…it gives you an opportunity to show how you have developed your idea, to indicate what the reader has learned by reading your essay.”
Professor Bentley says that the conclusion should give the essay a larger significance, whether it ends with a question to lead the audience to further thought, or provides a retrospective glance. But good essays are careful not to include new ideas or arguments in the conclusion. As Associate Professor Connolly states, “No new information should be offered in the conclusion; only the ideas already presented, seen in a new light.”
The title of the essay is the first thing that will be read by the audience. Depending on your title, it can make or break your essay. For one, the title has to hook the reader in and make the reader want to read your essay and have an interest in it. If your title does not spark interest, the reader will not have an interest in reading your essay.
Mr. Baird says the first part of the title has to hook the reader and then the second part will explain what your essay is about. The University of Manitoba explains it as “Titles are split into two parts, the main title, and a subtitle, separated by a colon. “ Mr. Baird gives the example of “Dances with Wolves: Innocence as a Saving Force in Theodore Roethkis, from My Papa’s Waltz.” Good essays have titles that draw the audience’s attention.
The style of language should be respected in many ways in essays. Language should be appropriate, precise, concise, and vivid. In which, grammatical structure and punctuation should be used appropriately to match its content. According to Professor Ishion Hutchinson from Cornell University, he “believe[s] what makes an essay exciting for [him] is the degree to which the writer cares about words and cares to set those words down so as to make them lively.”
The language used should be able to convey the writing style of the writer. Personalized language style makes an essay more intriguing and real. Nevertheless, language should be clear, varied and accurate, carefully chosen; with a high degree of accuracy in grammar, vocabulary, and sentence construction. The register and style are effective and appropriate to the essay. “Register” can refer to the writer’s use of elements such as vocabulary, tone, sentence structure, and terminology appropriate to the content.
Moreover, word choice should be relevant to the content. Avoid using “But” and “And” at the beginning of the sentence (Professor David Bentley). Conjunctions such as “In addition” and “Moreover” should be used instead, as they sound more formal. The conception of using big words should also be abandoned, such that it makes the essay sounds more awkward and incoherent.
Baird, Chris, narr. ENG2d/ENG4U The Essay – Organization Part 1. Writ. Chris Baird. Youtube, 2012. Web. 9 Oct. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJFFMpx3Mzw>.
—, narr. ENG2D/ENG4U Essay – Organization Part 2. Writ. Chris Baird. Youtube, 2012. Web. 9 Oct. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlWCa14b65Q>.
—, Chris, narr. The Essay – Style. Writ. Chris Baird. Youtube, 2012. Web. 9 Oct. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1bpUY-vigw>.
Bentley, D.M.R. University of Western Ontario. London. 8 Oct. 2013. Lecture.
Connolly, Tristanne. “Essay Structure.” University of Waterloo. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2013. <http://www.arts.uwaterloo.ca/~tjconnol/essaystructure.htm>.
Cowan, Bainard. “Re: what makes a GOOD essay?.” Message to By Koryn Yeung. 24 Feb. Web. 9 Oct. 2013. <http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/thesis_statement.shtml>.
Crider, Scott F. The Office of Assertion: An Art of Rhetoric for the Academic Essay. First ed. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2005. Print.
Legge,. Personal interview. 9 Oct. 2013.
Micros,. Message to By Chris Baird. 9 Oct. 2013. E-mail.
Silber, C. A. “Some General Advice on Academic Essay-Writing.” University of Toronto. N.p.,1987. Web. 9 Oct. 2013. <http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/general/general-advice>.
“Undergraduate Handbook: Essay writing.” University of St. Andrews. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2013. <https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/modlangs/currentstudents/undergraduatehandbook/essaywriting/>.
Wood, James. “RE: A Question on Essay Writing.” Message to the author. 30 Sept. 2013. Web.
Writing Tutorial Services. Writing Tutorial Services. Trustees of Indiana University, 30 Jan. 2008. Web. 9 Oct. 2013. <http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/thesis_statement.shtml>.
Thanks for the great tips!