Essays can be divided into two general categories: formal and informal. In formal essays, writers tend to take a serious, evidence-based approach while in informal essays, writers tend to take a more relaxed, personal approach. Writers usually choose their style to suit their purpose and audience.
Most Formal Essays
Most Informal Essays
Are written for
academic audiences such as other students or teachers/professors
professionals such as historians, psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists
Are written for
the general public
people of certain age group, such as teens or seniors
people with speciﬁc interests, such as ﬁshing or fashion
present facts and information gathered through research, experiments, or observation
aim to engage readers through logical reasoning, facts, and objective evidence
express the writer’s personal, thoughts, feelings, and opinions
aim to engage readers by appealing to their senses and emotions
focus on scholarly topics related to literature, history, and other shared knowledge and events
focus on everyday topics related to events and experiences in the writer’s life
explicitly state the thesis in one or two sentences
place the thesis statement in the ﬁrst or second paragraph
do not follow hard-and-fast rules related to thesis statements; they may not have a thesis statement; if they do, it may appear anywhere in the essay
Point of View
are written in third person (“he,” “she,” “one,” “they”)
are written in ﬁrst person (“I,” “me,” “we,” “us”)
have a detached, unemotional tone
feel impersonal, objective
have a relaxed, sometimes emotional tone
feel personal, subjective
use formal language, professional terminology avoid slang, colloquialisms, and contractions
use relaxed, often conversational language
include slang, colloquialisms, and contractions
Essay Types and their Characteristics:
presents sensory details (sight, sound, smell, taste, feel) about a person, place, event, or thing
to create a strong impression and “paint” a picture with words in the reader’s mind
figurative language such as similes, metaphors, imagery, mood
tends to be non-academic
Sunlight sets the mood for my day
A day in the life of a smoker
Snowshoeing in the country
tells a story about an event or experience in the writer’s life
to reveal a life lesson or insight
conﬂict, action and plot, ﬁgurative language such as similes, metaphors, imagery, mood
tends to be non-academic
The week I went without sunlight
Why I became a smoker
The time I met my hero
objectively presents researched facts, statistics, expert opinions, details, and examples
to inform, explain, describe, or deﬁne the subject
thesis statement clear introduction, supporting body paragraphs, and conclusion
can be academic or non-academic, depending on context (e.g., university assignment or magazine feature)
The eﬀects of sunlight on people’s moods
The eﬀects of second-hand smoke
presents evidence, reasoning, and arguments to support an opinion or point of view
to convince readers of an opinion or move readers to perform an action
thesis statement, clear introduction, supporting body paragraphs, and conclusion
can be academic or non-academic, depending on context (e.g., university assignment or op-ed piece in newspaper)
All classrooms should have a source of natural sunlight
Non-smokers should sue tobacco companies
Methods of Development
A method of development is a way of thinking about and presenting your evidence on a topic.
Most essays use more than one method to develop their argument and make their case.
Method of development
What it does
Cause and Eﬀect
analyzes and explains the causes of a speciﬁc event or situation, the eﬀects of an event or situation, or both
e.g., showing why graduates have fewer options because of debt
e.g., explaining how debt limits graduates’ choices
Compare and Contrast
analyzes the similarities and diﬀerences between two or more ideas, people, or things•
e.g., contrasting outcomes in countries with lower tuition against those in Canada
e.g., comparing tuition in Canada with tuition in other countries
describes or explains step by step how something is done
e.g., explaining how the cycle of student debt works
Classiﬁcation and Division
analyzes a topic by breaking it down into its component parts or by grouping objects, people, or ideas with shared qualities
e.g., breaking down the cost of a university degree
explains the writer’s understanding of a word or concept (i.e., what it means to him or her and why)
e.g., explaining what “higher education” means (or should mean) in terms of its aims
proves a point by illustrating it with speciﬁc examples; may be in order of importance (least to most; most to least)
e.g., giving examples of famous thinkers throughout history who had higher education
e.g., providing examples of families, occupations, and incomes to show that tuition has become out of reach for many
tells a story in order to explain why and how something happened
e.g., recounting story of a promising student who is missing out on university because of cost
e.g., recounting story of how a life was transformed by access to higher education
provides details about a person, place, object, event, etc., in order to explain what it is like
e.g., describing the extreme disappointment of forgoing university because of cost
e.g., describing an old campus to set the scene
Thesis Statement While every essay must have a thesis, not every essay will have a thesis statement. Formal essays require an explicit thesis, or one that is directly stated, but informal essays often have an implicit thesis, or one that is implied. In these essays, it is diﬃcult to underline one or two speciﬁc sentences that state the thesis. However, as a result of unity and coherence the key idea should be evident as the writer includes only relevant supporting ideas and to clearly reinforce their thesis.
Characteristics of Effective Thesis Statements A strong thesis statement takes a stand or makes a claim that could reasonably be disputed has one main idea expressed clearly and precisely clearly indicates the evidence the essay will provide to support it addresses the key words and answers the question posed in the essay prompt, in timed-writing situations. A strong thesis statement does not ask a question, simply state a fact, just describe your subject, or your essay’s intention.
Different Types of Thesis Statements
Type of essay
Characteristics of thesis statement
descriptive and narrative
often implicitly stated- inﬂuenced by tone of essay (e.g., blunt, humorous)- “rules” about thesis statements apply the least
usually explicitly states the process or concept to be explained- usually gives an outline of the explanatory approach that the essay will take
explicitly stated - should clearly state the writer’s position and give some idea of the type of evidence that will be presented to support it
Descriptive Essay A descriptive essay is characterized by a plethora of adjectives as well as a dominant overall impression of a person, place thing, situation or experience. It often uses adjectives that appeal to the senses.
See list of descriptive words handout
Essay # 1 (Description): “On the Road to Berlin” by Ernie Pyle Echoes p. 357
A writer's choice of words, phrases, sentence structures, and figurative language, which combine to help create meaning.
words and phrases are used to suggest a precise meaning.
writers deliberately choose words for a particular effect, so it's important to figure out what the writer wants the reader to understand, sense: see, feel, hear, etc.
How to approach the famous “the effectiveness of diction” question:
Figure out the denotation and then the connotation if necessary.
Look for figurative language.
Identify images that are created with the words and/or phrases?
What do the words mean and what do they help you understand about the piece of literature? Imagery? Theme? Setting? Think! What is the real reason for the choice of words?
1. Explain how the writer’s use of diction is effective the line “[i]n this shore-line museum of carnage…”
Essay # 2 (Description): “Top Man” by: James Ramsey Ullman
The gorge bent. The walls fell suddenly away, and we came out on the edge of a bleak, boulder-strewn valley. And there it was.
Osborn saw it first. He had been leading the column, threading his way slowly among the huge rock masses of the gorge's mouth. Then he came to the first flat, bare place and sopped. He neither pointed nor cried out, but every man behind him knew instantly what it was. The long file sprang taut, like a jerked rope. As swiftly as we could, but in complete silence, we came out into the open ground where Osborn stood, and raised our eyes with his. In the records of the Indian Topographical Survey it says:
Kalpurtha: a mountain in the Himalayas, altitude 28,000 ft. The highest peak in British India and fourth highest in the world. Also known as K3. Tertiary formation of sedimentary limestone . . .
There were men among us who had spent months of their lives - in some cases, years - reading, thinking, planning about what now lay before us, but at that moment, statistics and geology, knowledge, thought, and plans were as remote and forgotten as the faraway western cities from which we had come. We were men bereft of everything but eyes, everything but the single electric perception! There it was!
Before us the valley stretched away into miles of rocky desolation. To the right and left it was bounded by low ridges which, as the eye followed them, slowly mounted and drew closer together until the valley was no longer a valley at all, but a narrowing, rising corridor between the cliffs. What happened then can only be described as a single stupendous crash of music. At the end of the corridor and above it - so far above it that it shut out half the sky - hung the blinding white mass of K3.
It was like the many pictures I had seen, and at the same time utterly unlike them. The shape was there, and the familiar distinguishing feature - the sweeping skirt of glaciers; the monstrous vertical precipices of the face and the jagged ice line of the east ridge; finally, the symmetrical summit pyramid that transfixed the sky. But whereas in the pictures the mountain had always seemed unreal - a dream image of cloud, snow and crystal - it was now no longer an image at all. It was a mass, solid, imminent, appalling. We were still too far away to see the windy whipping of its snow plumes or to hear the cannonading of its avalanches, but in that sudden silent moment every man of us was for the first time aware of it, not as a picture in his mind, but as a thing, an antagonist. For its twenty-eight thousand feet of lofty grandeur, it seemed somehow, less to tower than to crouch - a white-hooded giant, secret and remote, but living.
Questions: 1. What type of figurative language is used in the line, "The long file sprang taut, like a jerked rope"?
2. What type of grammatical structure is found in the line, "reading, thinking, planning about what now lay before us"?
(a) parallel structure
(c) rhetorical devices
(d) transitional phrase
3. What is the meaning of the word "bereft" in the phrase, "we were men bereft of everything but eyes, everything but the single, electric perception!" (a) aware
4. What literary device is most dominant in this essay?
5. What do "symmetrical summit" and "windy whipping" exemplify?
6. What literary term describes the "antagonist" the phrase, "but in that sudden silent moment every man of us was for the first time aware of it, not as a picture in his mind, but as a thing, an antagonist"?
7. What literary term describes "a white-hooded giant" in the sentence, "For its twenty-eight thousand feet of lofty grandeur, it seemed somehow, less to tower than to crouch - a white-hooded giant, secret and remote, but living"?
8. What is the tone of the essay?
10. Explain how coherency is achieved. Define coherence. Provide two (2) differentMethods of Achieving Coherence from the essay and provide an example of each from the essay.
Essay #3 (Expository): “Blood: the Stuff of Life” Beyond Five Paragraphs (p.77-78)
Expository essays are some of the most common types of academic essays. They are written to inform readers about a subject or explain how to do something. Writers often research their topics and include speciﬁc examples, statistics, graphs, and charts to illustrate and reinforce the information they present.