What is an Essay?

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What is an Essay?

  • The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt". In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning. The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as "attempts" to put his thoughts adequately into writing, and his essays grew out of his commonplace observations.

Essays of Michel de Montaigne (February 28, 1533 – September 13, 1592)

  • one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. He became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual speculation with casual anecdotes and autobiography — and his massive volume Essais (translated literally as "Attempts") contains, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written.

Speculative Essay explore ideas and feelings

  • - explore ideas and feelings;
  • To speculate means to contemplate, conjecture, or surmise. A speculative essay is concerned less with making a point overtly and decisively than with exploring an idea, perception, or feeling. The tone of a speculative essay is typically less authoritative and less insistent than the tone of expository or argumentative essays.

Speculative essays

  • Speculative essays frequently take their form from the way thought flows in the mind of the writer. Rather than employing a conventional pattern of organization such as comparison and contrast, a speculative essayist will find a looser, less immediately recognizable organization. Charles Lamb’s “A Dissertation upon Roast Pig” (1462) and John Donne’s Meditation XVII: “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1455), for example, are pri’marily associative in structure. As Donne’s title indicates, his essay is more a meditation than an argument.

Speculative essays

  • Writers of speculative (or medi’tative) essays seem less interested in advancing argument than in exploring them. They prefer thinking around ideas rather than thinking through them. Rather than take readers on a clearly marked journey from point A through point B to point C, they often invite readers to accompany them on an excursion into thought. This is not to suggest that a speculative essay makes no point. In fact, it may make multiple points. But it does not have a single-clear-cut thesis as narrative and expository essays often do.

Argumentative Essay make claims and present evidence to support them

  • Unlike speculative essays, which are loose in structure and informal in tone, argumentative essays make their claims directly and explicitly. Though argumentative essays assume various patterns of organization, they share a basic concern: to establish a point by providing evidence to support it. The support may take the form of examples, analogies, facts, statistics, anecdote, and evidence. In addition, argumentative essayists may present counterviews and counterarguments either to dismiss or demolish them. (This is open to debate)

Revision = Re View From a Different Perspective

  • Fixing grammar and spelling seems trivial in revision;
  • A counterargument could balance your previous thought;
  • A different voice could prevent a blind spot;

Argumentative Essay

  • Counter position in an essay may include the completing claims of a pro and con structure such as the one Francis Bacon employs in “Of Youth and Age” (1425) and “Of Love” (1454). Or it may take the form of debate as in E. M. Forster’s “Our Graves in Ga’llipoli” (1471). But whatever structure argumentative essayists employ and whatever methods they use to discredit opposing viewpoints, their intentions are clearly and consistently persuasive.


  • A narrow peninsula of northwest Turkey extending between the Darda’nelles and the Gulf of ‘Saros. It was the scene of heavy fighting (1915) between Allied and Turkish forces in World War I. The city of Gallipoli, at the eastern end of the peninsula, has a population of 16,715.

Narrative Essay To Tell a Story; To Chronicle Events

  • Midway between the formality of the argumentative essay and the informality of the speculative essay are narrative and expository essays. Narrative essays include stories, sometimes a single incident, as in George ‘Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” (1936), or sometimes multiple events, as in Loren Eiseley’s “The Judgment of the Birds” (1956). The stories in narrative essays are almost always autobiographical: they form a part of the writer’s experience.

George Orwell (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950)

  • Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense, revolutionary opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language and a belief in democratic socialism. He is best known for the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and the satirical novella Animal Farm (1945).

Loren Eiseley (September 3, 1907 – July 9, 1977)

  • an American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, who taught and published books from the 1950s through the 1970s. During this period he received more than 36 honorary degrees and was a fellow of many distinguished professional societies. At his death, he was Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Narrative Essay

  • But even in cases where the story in such an essay is fictional rather than factual, it is used to make a point—the idea is primary. This distinguishes a narrative essay from a short story in which an idea may be inherent in the work, but where the fictional story per se takes precedence over any idea we may derive from it. ‘Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” for example consists largely of the story of how Orwell (or a fictional character) shot an elephant. Although the incident possesses considerable interest as a story, its primary purpose is to advance an idea about imperialism, which is presented explicitly midway through the essay and is referred to again at the end—repetition for thematic emphasis.

Expository Essay explain ideas and attitudes

  • Expository essays also advance ideas but with less insistence than argumentative essays. Although expository writing may contain narrative elements (anecdote for instance), these elements are usually less developed and less central than in narrative writing. The purpose of most expository essays is explanation, to make something clear for readers. They attempt to lay out for consideration some idea or insight, some fact or experience so readers can better understand it. And although it is important to remember that nearly all essays contain some element of persuasion, their argumentative edge may be dull or sharp. In some expository prose, moreover, the persuasive dimension nearly disappears.

New Journalism

  • One such recent development has been the marriage of fact and fiction pioneered by writers dubbed “new journalists.” One of the most widely read of the new journalists is Tom Wolfe, who has experimented more fully perhaps than anyone else with the possibilities of the form. Wolfe himself singled out four techniques that have special importance for the new essay style. These include 1. scene-by-scene construction, with a consequent reduction of straight narrative and explanation; 2. a heavy reliance on dialogue, as for Wolfe has noted, “realistic dialogue involves the reader more, completely than any other single device”; 3. a manipulation of point of view to “give the reader the feeling of being inside a character’s mind and experiencing the emotional reality of the scene as he experiences it”; and 4. the use of symbolic details derived from everyday experience such as gestures, habits, manners, glances, poses, and styles of dress.”

Tom Wolfe (born March 2, 1931, although his Who's Who entry gives his date of birth as March 2, 1930)

  • a best-selling American author and journalist. He is one of the founders of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Reflective Essay

  • A reflective essay is a piece of writing that basically involves your views and feelings about a particular subject. The goal of a reflective essay is to not only discuss what you learned, but to convey the personal experiences and findings that resulted.


  • Writing a reflective essay is your chance to reveal and talk about your personal insight about a topic. Reflective essays are used as a self-assessment measure of sorts; they allow you to address your experiences and what you've gained. You may be asked to write a reflective essay after taking a course, completing a project or partaking in some type of experience. The reflective essay consists of your individual views on the matter and an explanation of your stance. The goal of this essay is to successfully relay your own beliefs, attitudes and observations. In some reflective essays, you'll be required to support your conclusions by citing materials such as books, journals , articles and other resources. A reflective essay should reflect your own thoughts on the subject matter, not those of others.


  • A reflective essay concentrates on your ideas and reflections about a topic; however you want to show your readers why the points you are making are valid. To do so, the information that led to your conclusions should be included in the paper. Having references adds to your credibility and will illustrate to your audience that your findings result from both facts and personal experience. A good reflective essay includes an insightful interpretation of the matter at hand. The feelings and experiences that you write about in the essay should be based on your own perception and showcase to the readers why your revelation is significant on a larger scale. The essay should communicate both the importance of the topic as well your consideration of it.


  • Reflective essays are assigned on a variety of topics and are frequently seen in college applications . You may be asked to write about a life changing experience or a person in your life who has had a big impact on you. With these essays it's important to include an introduction that explains why you've chosen the topic and why it is important to you. Although the essay may be of a personal nature, it should appeal to anyone who reads it. Before writing a reflective essay, it's a good idea to gather and make a list of all the relevant materials and sources that you plan to include in it. An outline will help to organize your thoughts and act as a blueprint for your paper.


  • Although reflective essays may not have a definite structural design, there are certain formats and guidelines that you should stick to. Your opening paragraph, sometimes referred to as the thesis, should inform the reader about your topic and also engage him. After he finishes reading the introduction of your essay, he should be eager to read the rest. The body of your reflective essay should reveal your ideas and experiences with the subject that you are writing about. If you are writing about an event, describe its progression. Include different aspects of the experience and how it shaped your findings. In the conclusion of your reflective essay, reflect upon your topic and discuss its impact on you as well as the probable impact that it may have for others.


  • When writing a reflective essay, as with other types of essays, be sure that it's properly formatted to meet the guidelines. Your assignment may be required to follow MLA or other styles. This is determined by the subject, topic or class that administers the project. If you need to adhere to one of the styles, it's important that you remain consistent throughout the essay; using the specific layout, spacing and citation rules.

Guidelines for Writing a Reflective Essay

  • Expressing your thoughts suc’cinctly in a reflective essay may allow you to open the doors of university of your choice. If you already have a degree, a well-written reflective essay is sure to attract the attention of a prospective employer. When writing a reflective essay, you should pay attention to basic principles, to allow your paper to grab a reader's attention.

Find Your Voice

  • The most important component of a reflective essay is the person who’s written it. A reflective essay showcases your ability to reflect upon and develop your ideas. Therefore, don't write your essay as if you're trying to be the next Shakespeare. Just be yourself, al’beit your intelligent self. Reflect upon ideas with your own unique brand of insight, humor or criticism, as long as you keep your remarks within reason.

Consider Your Audience

  • Shyness should be avoided at all costs by a writer of a reflective essay. Always remember that your essay is being designed to be read by others. Do not turn your essay into a sensitive diary entry or an insensitive diatribe. Rather, consider your audience with every line that you write. Even if you never address this audience directly in your paper, always consider how these readers may perceive your work. Thus, if you are writing an essay that will be read by a prospective employer, focus on explaining your accomplishments in detail as opposed to glossing over them, suggesting that they are inconsequential.

Develop a Thesis Statement

  • Writing with a purpose requires forethought and preparation. For this reason, you should devote a fair amount of time to developing a thesis or mission statement for your reflective essay. This statement can usually be found in the first paragraph of a well-written essay, and it encapsulates the essential point being made within the essay. Instead of making a simplistic and arguably untrue point in with your thesis, such as "I am a good student," strive to develop your point into one that can be substantiated, such as "I have proven my worth as a student by means of my grades, extracurricular accomplishments and work within the community."

Coherently Express Ideas

  • Despite the fact that a reflective essay offers a writer a chance to express his personal sentiments, he should strive to express himself suc’cinctly as opposed to rambling. Ideas should be assembled in a logical sequence, and paragraphs within the reflective essay should bear a relation to one another. Writing that is either overblown in style or that is hastily committed to paper tends to sound choppy. Give yourself time to formulate substantial thoughts when crafting a reflective essay.

Seek Preliminary Assessment

  • Reflective essays are subjective works that can often benefit from objective assessment. After spending hours or days writing a reflective essay, you may either feel as though your final result is a masterpiece or a piece of work that you'd simply like to wash your hands clean of. In either case, the constructive insights that a friend or family member can offer are worth listening to. Often, such preliminary assessment can help a writer to correct embarrassing mistakes or to repair faulty grammar.

Criteria for a Reflective Essay

  • Purpose
  • Purpose is clear or obvious
  • Main purpose achieved overall
  • Organization
  • Main points, coherent and integrated
  • Look is professional
  • Organization logical overall
  • Professional Content
  • Appropriate use of professional vocabulary
  • Evidence of growth as a professional
  • Persona/Voice
  • Strong clear voice that is appropriate for purpose and audience

Criteria for a Reflective Essay

  • Mechanics and Grammar
  • Uses correct mechanics
  • Uses correct grammar
  • Strong Evidence of Maturation and Growth as a Writer
  • Critical Thinking
  • Strong evidence of meaningful reflection


  • A reflective essay should follow the same format as most academic essays: introduction, thesis, examples and conclusion. Using this format as a guideline will ensure a better chance of understanding the issue being explored. However, since a reflective essay is more for personal purposes than for academic candor, tributaries from the main flow of ideas should not be discouraged as long as they are tied in to the overall thought process in a way that contributes to improvement of understanding.


  • Encourage the writer to brainstorm in any way desired. Any thought associated with the content being explored should be allowed in the brainstorming process. Give the writer space to write all these things down without fear of someone watching. The more honest a writer is in the process and the essay, the more likely the essay will be beneficial. It should also be clear that the first draft will be for the author's eyes only. This reinforces a feeling of security and the sense that the author can write anything down. The revision process will be integral to the reflection process as the writer picks the essay apart and decides what adds to the essay's main purpose (thesis) and what is extraneous material. When the fat is trimmed and the writer has composed a cohesive and sequential piece of writing, all of the text should lead to the conclusion and an insight or summary of what the author learned.


  • Whatever events, ideas or dreams that create a desire for exploration in writing will likely have emotional connotations for the writer. It is important in order for the essay to be beneficial that the emotion eventually is filtered during the editing process. Though emotions are important to the writer, they'll weaken the core of the message. It is important to evaluate any potential readers of the essay; this will be a helpful guide when determining how graphic or personal the writer wants to get. No matter what the subject of the essay, writing is a great way to organize ones' thoughts. In the end, the writer will have a tangible object to use as a tool when reflecting on life.


  • This brief overview of different types of essays is not meant to be an exhaustive catalogue of essay forms. Essayists don’t choose a form from a menu. Rather, they design their essays and discover their form, making use of whatever strategies of organization suit their various purposes, audiences, and occasions. Moreover, it is the sense the essay makes, the ideas it advances that matter in the end. For, whatever our experience of an essay, and whatever its purpose, ultimately an essay attempts to formulate a thought, explore it, work out its implications, and communicate them to readers.

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