- By Jason Bacot
- Published 09/29/2010
Anyone who has taken French I has probably run across the verb “essayer,” meaning “to try.” That is where the word essay comes from. Though the word essay started out meaning a trial, or attempt at covering a subject, it has since evolved into a specific form of writing. The essay is usually a short piece, of 500 words or so, and is usually written from the author’s point of view. It may include such elements as arguments, reflections, and observations. In the United States, essays are an important part of most people’s education from secondary school through university and graduate work. They are also written for various publications. Sometimes the instructions for writing an essay are clear. A professor may ask of a 500-word essay on a particular topic, making use of specific references, and addressing a specific aspect of the topic. Other times, the instructions are more open to interpretation. If you have to write an essay and the instructions are specific, then they should be used as the basis for what you write. If you have not been given rigorous instructions for a particular essay, then you must first consider the audience. Will it be read by people on their own time, in an informal environment, or will it be addressed toward a learned audience with high expectations for watertight arguments and perfect execution? Write with the reading audience in mind.
Your first step should be writing an effective title. It should be brief, yet specific, givi
ng the reader an idea of just what he or she will learn about. Suppose you have been observing the behavior of crayfish in a local stream, and you want to discuss what they need for a healthy ecosystem. Rather than giving your essay a vague title, such as “Crayfish Habitats,” consider a more informative title, like “What Crayfish Need for a Healthy and Productive Habitat.” Next, you should make a short list of three to five points that you want to cover in your essay. You don’t have to make one of the formal outlines you may have been taught in composition class (unless you’ve been assigned to do so). Simply list the points so that you understand them and won’t forget. Next, begin on the essay itself. Write a brief introduction of about 100 words that begins by broadly introducing the topic and concludes with a sentence telling your reader what specific points you plan to cover. Then give each point on your outline list one paragraph of around 100 words. If you find that two paragraphs are very short, you might see if there is a way to combine them and combine the points that they make into one.. After you have written a paragraph for each of the points you want to address, you will write a concluding paragraph. This will be similar to the introduction, but you’ll start your concluding paragraph with a recap of the points you have covered, and then work to a broad concluding sentence that will be similar to the opening sentence of the introductory paragraph.
Your final step is to re-read (wait until the next day if possible), correct mistakes, and clear up any ambiguous wording.