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The only idea of writing an essay makes you feel discouraged and embarrassed? You can hardly imagine how to get down to this work? You are convinced that this activity is only waste of time and energy? If you are encumbered with such ideas, it means that anyway you ARE to write an essay and you ARE NOT GOING to take a delight in doing it. And wrong you are, for writing an essay may become an easy and even entertaining activity - on conditions that you are much aware of the peculiarities of this genre, its structure and sequence of steps to follow. So, let's begin with a simple question: what is actually an essay?
"Literary essay" versus "academic essay"
Traditionally an essay is considered to be a short piece of writing which is often written from an author's personal point of view. That means, in an essay the author is supposed to present his ideas concerning some definite topic in a quite unrestricted form. A nice idea of an essay is presented by the famous essayist Aldous Huxley:
"Like the novel, the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything, usually on a certain topic. By tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece, and it is therefore impossible to give all things full play within the limits of a single essay"  .
This is what we call "literary essay" aimed usually at presenting and often at criticizing some social phenomena or political events. What you are going to write is an "academic essay" which comes from the literary one but is characterized by some strict requirements:
Logically organized way of presenting ideas.
Introductory Paragraph Body Paragraphs Concluding Paragraph.
Attention to formal details (like number of paragraphs, length of the paragraphs, appropriate transitions etc.).
Avoidance of personal pronoun "I" (though the author's personal point of view is presented!).
Formal vocabulary (demonstrate instead of show, inform instead of tell, obtain instead of get etc.).
Formal stylistic (appropriate place of adverbs, negations in the sentences).
Algorithm of writing an essay
So, you are going to write an academic essay, which means that you are to structure your ideas on a given subject in a logical order and present them with the help of formal language. To make this task easier you can divide it into several steps so that you can control each stage and improve them according to the demands. In general, the algorithm of writing an essay looks like that:
Evaluating the topic.
Deciding on the type of writing.
Making an outline.
. Developing an introductory paragraph.
. Developing body paragraphs.
. Making a conclusion.
Evaluating the topic
Evaluating the topic means thinking it over in order to mark out a number of various aspects which are covered by this topic and decide upon the angle from which you are going to lighten it up. Actually, when getting down to the topic you should keep in mind that essay is quite a SHORT paper which presents a limited number of aspects from ONE (that is author's) point of view.
Most topics are too general for an essay. For example, the topic which sounds like "Ecological problems" is obviously a general one; your task is to split it up on several narrower topics and choose the accents you are going to put in your essay. One of the possible aspects may concern acid rains, so that your improved topic will be: "Forest degradation is the gravest consequence of acid rains" or "Air pollution results inevitably in acid rains".
The main idea which you are going to emphasize in your essay influences the way of presenting information and structuring it. To make an example let's return to the above mentioned acid rains. When you decide to develop the first topic, you are likely to enumerate the possible types of damage, classify them according to the levels of "harmfulness" and prove that forest degradation is the most harmful one. The second topic may be developed by showing the effects of air pollution and the process of its transformation into acid rains. It goes without saying that these two topics need different ways of writing to present the idea.
Deciding on the type of writing
There are six most popular types of writing. Depending on the angle you chose, one of them may be used to present your point of view in the most effective way:
Describing characteristic features
Attention to appearance, color, form, taste etc;
Metaphors and periphrasis.
Telling a story
Organizing a plot;
Using flashbacks and flash-forwards;
Leading to the climax.
Pointing out similarities and differences
Two objects for comparison;
Considering basis and points of comparison;
Arranging the comparison (decide on similarities or differences)
Cause and effect
Making cause-to-effect chains
Arranging logical relations;
Attention to transitions
Making subject groups
Choosing principles for classification;
Dividing objects into groups;
Explanation of the meaning
Presenting the term;
Choosing type of definition (vocabulary, descriptive, stipulative etc.)
Attention! You should keep in mind that mentioned ways of writing may be helpful in presenting information inside the essay but not in structuring it! That means, your essay may contain definition of some phenomenon, demonstration of its effects and their classification and your friend's essay can be based on the description of two activities and their comparison, but the structure of both essays should be nearly the same.
Making an outline
An outline is a skeleton of your future essay which consists of the most general statements and needs to be filled with more detailed information, supporting material. To make an outline you should remember the structure of an average five-paragraph academic essay. It consists of three parts: Introductory Paragraph, Body Paragraphs (usually three) and Concluding Paragraph.
Introductory Paragraph is the first paragraph of the essay which introduces the topic you deal with and the angle from which you are going to develop it. This paragraph consists of two parts respectively:
general statements which are to supply the reader with the general information concerning this very topic and catch reader's attention. To do this you should remember about so-called "attention getters": rhetorical questions, anecdotes, quotations, unusual statements or some shocking statistics. For example, your introductory paragraph may begin with a question:
Have you ever thought about the variety of harmful consequences, caused by acid rains?
Here shocking statistics may also come to the point:
Can you imagine 8.9 million tones of water? This is the quantity of acid rains fell in 2007 on the surface of our planet!
thesis statement which presents the main idea of the essay. It is characterized by several points:
It states the main topic of the essay.
It may list the subtopics of the main topic.
It may also mention the method of organization.
For instance, your thesis statement may sound like this:
Forest degradation is the gravest consequence of acid rains because of three reasons: reduction of oxygen production, destruction of animal habitat, ecosystem violation.
In the first part of this sentence you state the topic: Forest degradation is the gravest consequence of acid rainsâ€¦and in the second enumerate the subtopics you are going to develop in your body paragraphs. Be attentive, the number of subtopics should correspond with the number of body paragraphs; more precisely, each subtopic is to be developed in one body paragraph. As far as an essay structure demands three body paragraphs, the number of subtopics should also be three.
Body paragraphs also consist of two parts each:
topic sentence which should correlate with the thesis statement (actually, it's one of its subtopics). When developing the previous example with acid rains and forest degradation, topic sentence of each body paragraph should be based on one of the three reasons, enumerated in the thesis statement. It may look like this:
First of all, forest degradation means elimination of a great number of trees which absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen instead.
Secondly, clearance of forests causes housing problem for all the species of animals, birds, and insects which inhabit the area.
Finally, it's not to forget that all the elements in nature come in interrelations; therefore, violation of one causes damage for all the system.
supporting sentences which provide the reader with more detailed information. Here you can add some further description, include your personal experience or explain unknown terms and notions. Also don't forget to use factual material: statistics, tables, graphs as well as statements by authorities which make your essay sound more persuasively. One more important thing is to establish credibility; that means, make the reader feel that you are well aware of the topic you deal with. To do this you should demonstrate knowledge about the topic, establish common ground with readers and demonstrate fairness to opposing points of view.
For example, when developing the topic which serves as an example, we can explain unknown terms, add some examples of forests cleared because of acid rains, statistics concerning forest degradation in different years (and deduce the tendency), or cite one of the ecologists who deal with this very problem.
Concluding Paragraph is a trailing paragraph of the essay which accomplishes three tasks:
signals the end of the essay due to the conclusion transition signal (in conclusion, in summary, to summarize);
summarizes the main points, enumerated in the thesis statement (actually, you should rewrite you thesis statement in different words);
leaves the reader with the author's point of view upon the subject.
To conclude the essay about acid rains and forest degradation, we can write the following:
To summarize, reduction of oxygen production, exile of thousands of species, and violation of balance between ecosystems make forest degradation the gravest consequence of acid rains.
As far as argumentative essays are rather popular among the teachers, they are worth some extra information. To begin with you should keep in mind that argumentative essays are aimed at convincing the reader in something or persuading him/her to do something. That means you are to:
focus on a problem with no obvious solution,
present your point of view (the way you think it may be solved the most effectively),
prove that your way-out is really the most effective,
persuade the readers to accept your point of view and to act according to it.
To cope with this task, you should:
formulate an argumentative thesis (here you state the real fact and what should/shouldn't be done about it: Students should have the right to evaluate teachers),
establish credibility (that means, show the reader that you do know what you are talking about),
provide your thesis statement with supporting material (when dealing with this type of essay you should be especially attentive to cause-and-effect chains, citations and numbers; personal experience may also come to the point),
work with the counterarguments to your thesis (this part is especially important for it shows that you are guided not by the naked faith, but by sensible arguments which you got after having taken into consideration different points of view). In this type of essay you should present not less than two counterarguments, then answer them (demonstrate their weak points or non-applicability in this very situation), and finally stress upon relevance of your arguments one more time.
Be attentive to the language you use: reasons like "It's a stupid idea" or "It's silly because I don't like it" are intolerable!
The simplest argumentative essay has the follow structure:
Introductory paragraph (+ argumentative thesis)
The first body paragraph, containing counterargument (of course, it may seem that, people say thatâ€¦ etc.);
Two more body paragraphs, where you disarm the mentioned above counterargument and prove the relevance of your thesis (but it's also obvious that, on the other hand, moreover, therefore, anywayâ€¦ etc.)
Conclusion (here you should summarize the argument, point out the benefits which may be obtained by following your way, and make an appeal to the reader).
Actually, it's the last idea you should keep in mind to succeed in writing any academic paper - essay, research paper, conference speech. As far as all these genres make part of the academic writing, they have to be done with a glance of the demands to this very style.
let's make a list of language patterns to avoid in academic writing:
Contractions (don't do not, won't will not, can't can not);
Informal negative forms (notâ€¦ much little, notâ€¦ many few);
Phrasal verbs ;
"Run-on" expressions (etc., and so on, and so forth );
Weak words (really, you know, well, you see, veryâ€¦);
Direct questions (they should be transformed into indirect: What is the main problem about acid rains? In this paper the main problem about acid rains should be discovered.);
Personal pronouns (I, we);
Adverbs at the beginning and at the end of the sentence (Obviously it can be done by the research center. It can be obviously done by the research center.)
Abbreviations (TV television);
Conversational vocabulary (slang, jargon).
you should keep in mind at least several formal words and phrases which are to be used instead of common ones in academic writing:
On and off
When following these steps, you can make a nice, well-structured, and well-balanced academic essay. Try to pay proper attention to each step for it influences the general impression produced by your essay: good structure and poor language is no better than vice versa, it should be done in a proper way from all aspects. Grammar revision is always welcomed too. Good luck and creative ideas!