Illustration Essay

An illustration essay is a variant of the basic essay format. In other words, it follows the format:

  • Introduction (including the ‘thesis statement’)
  • Main body (divided into separate but connected paragraphs)
  • Conclusion (summarising your argument).

The difference is that in an illustration essay, the evidence is largely provided by the inclusion of examples, or ‘illustrations’, to support your argument; in many ways it is similar to a narrative essay. Basically, in an illustration essay you are literally inviting your reader to picture, via your ‘illustrations’, the argument’s effectiveness.

How should I begin to write an illustration essay?

The best way to begin an illustration essay is to study the topic you have been given to address as this will help you to develop a strong thesis statement in response. If you are asked to select your own topic for an illustration essay, try to choose one about which you already know a great deal or will be stimulated to research because of your interest in it. This is important because as the focus of an illustration essay is the employment of examples of various sorts, it helps a great deal if the topic naturally generates illustrations in your mind. The essay topic should be sufficiently engaging to attract and hold the reader’s interest, much in the manner of a magazine or newspaper article. Think of yourself as competing, in the same way as professional writers do, for the attention of your reader and this will help you to come up with the kind of topic that is most suitable for your illustration essay.

How should an illustration essay develop?

Following the basic essay structure (as above) you then move into the main body of the illustration essay. If, for example, we take the simplest essay structure of the five paragraph essay, then you have one paragraph for the introduction, three for the main body and one for the conclusion; each paragraph of the main body of the essay should address a different aspect of the central theme. Before beginning to write, as always, you should have made an essay plan and within this included where your illustrations are going to be used.

There are three main types of illustration:

  • Specific illustrations
  • Typical illustrations
  • Hypothetical illustrations.

Each of these will be chosen in relation to its applicability to the aspect of the paragraph topic under discussion.

What does each of these illustrations mean?

Briefly, the three types of illustrations give above refer to different definitions of illustrations which might be used as evidence in an illustration essay:

  • The specific illustration is an example from personal experience; for example, if you were to write about accidents, you might give an example of an accident that occurred to you to illustrate how such and accident might occur and be dealt with.
  • The typical illustration is a generic example, applicable to many on a given topic; again, using the example of the accident as a topic, a typical illustration would be the fact that most accidents happen at home.
  • The hypothetical illustration is, as its name suggests, an invented illustration; if the topic were accidents, as stated earlier, then a hypothetical example might be to introduce the idea of circumstances under which an accident might take place.

Clearly, these are very simplistic examples which would need to be modified according to what topic, or aspect of a topic, is under discussion.

How should I decide which illustrations to use?

When deciding on the illustrations you are going to use, bear in mind the fact that each has relative merits and drawbacks:

  • The specific illustration has the merit of having been experienced thus bearing authenticity; however, the drawback is that it carries with this the limitations of subjectivity.
  • The typical illustration has the strength of being easily related to by the reader but the weakness of being too easily flawed by its generality; in other words, it is impossible to say how well a typical illustration can be fitted to every case.
  • The hypothetical illustration is the weakest of the three because it has no grounding in fact and although this does give it extensive flexibility, it should only be used when no other illustrations seem to be applicable or as an addition to one or other or a combination of the other two.

It is always best to decide on precisely which examples and/or types of examples will be used where and how in your illustration essay before you begin to write, as this will help you to create a strong, well illustrated argument throughout. The quality and relevance of the illustrations is the foundation of an illustration essay, therefore the illustrations should be used frequently and appropriately right through your essay much as you would use evidentiary support in a standard academic essay. It is a good idea to vary the length and depth of your illustrations to add interest and variety to your argument depending upon relative complexity at different points in your essay.

How should I conclude my illustration essay?

The conclusion of an illustration essay follows much the same construction as the conclusion of any academic essay. In other words, you need to draw together the main points you have made and produce a synthesis of the thesis. You should also try to suggest further discussion of the topic which might be needed in the future so that you do not imply to the reader that you are inferring that you have covered every aspect of the topic or its illustrations in your work. Try to pre-empt possible objections to the arguments and/or illustrations that you have employed by suggesting an ‘open-ended’ debate simply drawing to a temporary impasse. Remember that the principal framework of an illustration essay is its examples and you are trying literally to build a picture of the topic under discussion by making it as interesting, informative and well-evidenced as possible.

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