What is an Essay?

If you have been assigned the task of writing an essay, you may be wondering what exactly that entails. How long should an essay be? What should it be about? Are there any special rules of formatting to follow? The following information will explain what an essay is and how to go about writing one.

  1. Function

    • As a general rule, an essay's primary function is to express the point of view of its author. For example, someone who is particularly passionate about a religious or political issue may write an essay to support his or her position, especially when the issue is a controversial one. Of course, not all essays are argumentative in nature. The function for each, however, is the same--to express a point of view.

    Types

    • In addition to the argumentative essays mentioned above, there are many other types of essays. Here are some of the most common. Narrative essays are written to tell about an event--often one in the author's life, but always from the author's point of view. Descriptive essays are used to describe something specific, such as a person or a place. Persuasive essays are written in an attempt to sway the reader's way of thinking. A compare-and-contrast essay is used to show the similarities and differences between two or more objects or ideas.

    Features

    • Traditionally, there are three necessary components to any essay. They are the introduction, the body and the conclusion. The introduction is a paragraph that gives an overview of the essay topic, often with background information. The introduction also includes a statement expressing the author's point of view. The body is the largest section of the essay. This is where the argument is proven, the narrative is told or the comparisons and contrasts are made. The conclusion simply wraps up the essay with a summary.

    Size

    • The most common size for an essay is five paragraphs. The introductory first paragraph should be just long enough to give the reader insight into the topic. The body is generally comprised of three paragraphs. Each paragraph should focus on a separate thought, and more paragraphs can be added as needed. Like the introduction, the conclusion is typically only one paragraph in length. While five paragraphs is the norm, the word count can vary greatly, depending upon the complexity of the topic.

    Expert Insight

    • These tips will make writing your essay easier:

      Begin by writing a clearly defined point of view (or thesis) statement.
      Gather your facts, information and sources before you begin writing the essay.
      Create an outline to help you organize your information into the five (or more) paragraphs.
      Remember that an essay does not have to be boring--instead, engage your reader with descriptive writing, an interesting topic and a unique point of view.
      Always proofread your essay when you are finished.

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  • Photo Credit Photo courtesy of SXC

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