Essays are an important part of formal education in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America. They are useful tools for educational institutes to assess student understanding of a topic or idea.
What is an essay?
An essay is a logical and well organized piece of writing that presents and argues a point of view (opinion) on a topic or question. It uses evidence to support any claims made in an attempt to remain factual and objective.
“An essay is a written ARGUMENT that contains evidence and logic to support its reasoning and conclusions.”
Although an essay is used to present an author’s point of view toward a topic or specific question, it does not become an effective essay until it turns this point of view (opinion) into an argument.
Opinion vs. Argument: The difference.
Simply, an argument is an improved opinion. The Oxford Dictionary (2010) defines them as:
- Opinion: “A view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge”
- Argument: “A reason or set of reasons given in support of an idea, action or theory”As an example consider this question (College Board, 2012; p575):
“Do changes that make our lives easier not necessarily make them better?”
“No, not all changes that have made our lives more convenient have made them better.” Simply answers the question
“No, not all changes that have made our lives more convenient have made them better. Some have made us unhealthy.”
Answers the question and provides some reasoning.
“No, not all changes that have made our lives more convenient have made them better. Some have made us unhealthy. Take for example fast food.”
Answers the question, and provides some supported reasoning.
NOTE: To form a 4-5 star argument, analysis of the support (the evidence) for the reasoning is needed.
Essay: Standard structure.
The minimum number of paragraphs an essay can have is 3 (Introduction, body, conclusion), however in most cases this is not an acceptable format for an essay. The most commonly accepted standard essay format is 5 paragraphs with 3 body paragraphs. Each body paragraph should progressively make the argument more convincing (shown in the illustration below), therefore the more body paragraphs present, the more the more support the thesis receives and the more convincing the argument will become.
Thesis statement (“OK interesting idea, but what support do you have?”) “Hmm , well It could be true, but I’m still not convinced”
“Alright it Seems that it might be true” “Ok, its probably true”
Essay: Components of each paragraph.
The introduction, conclusion and body paragraphs all have different purposes within an essay. As does each component of a paragraph. For instance the reason statement of a body paragraph is not designed to achieve a different goal to that of the evidence.
A1. Hook statement
A2. More information
A3. Thesis statement
B1. Topic (reason) sentence B2. More information
B5. Closing link
C1. Restate Thesis
C2. Reasoning outline
C3. Future statement
To attract the attention of the reader.
To introduce and give some details about the topic area.
To provide a direct answer to the question.
To show how the essay will support its thesis.
B. Body paragraphs.
To clearly show the topic (reason) of the paragraph, which should support the thesis. To develop the paragraph topic and add more important details.
To provide evidence to strengthen the paragraph topic (reason).
To show how the evidence is directly connected to and supports the topic (reason). To clearly link the entire paragraph to the essay thesis.
To remind the reader of the argument being made.
To remind the reader of the reasoning that was used to support the thesis.
To make the reader think in a deeper way about the presented argument.
Below is an example (with 1 of the 3 body paragraphs) of each component in response to the following question: “Do changes that make our lives easier not necessarily make them better?” (College Board, 2012; p575).
A1: Hook| What is the meaning of life? A2: Information| Over the last few decades, technological improvements have made many previously difficult tasks easy and given people more time to pursue personal goals, however have also caused some problems that did not exist before. A3: Thesis| Consequently, not all changes that have made our lives more convenient, have also made them better. A4: Signpost| Evidence taken from fast-food, mobile phones and cars will reinforce the thesis.
B1: Topic| The introduction of fast-food has made life more convenient, but with its negative impact of health, has not made life better. B2: Information| After a full day of work, people are now unwilling to cook for themselves, but instead prefer to rely on fast-food to save time. This trend is becoming more common and seriously damages the health of the people. B3: Evidence| For example due to the massive increase in fast-food outlets and consumption, China is currently suffering an obesity crisis. B4: Analysis| China was a country once famed for its delicious food and healthy diets. But with the increasing pressure from society, Chinese citizens have turned to unhealthy western fast food chains in order to save time, but as a result are damaging their health and suffering from obesity of a serious scale. B5: Link| Therefore, although fast food has undouble made our life more convenient, due to the health related consequences it has not made life better.
C1: Restate| In conclusion, not all changes that have made life convenient have also made life better. C2: Reasoning| More convenient does not mean necessarily better, as in the case of fast-food, mobile phones
and cars. C3: Future| If everyone valued only convenience, all other aspects of life would fall apart and so too would human ability.
Oxford Dictionary (2010) Oxford dictionary of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
College Board (2012). The official SAT study guide with DVD. New York: College Board.