How to Write Essay in English

■ What is essay

“The word is late”, said that very great figure in the world of the essay, Francis Bacon, when he dedicated his essays to the Prince of Wales, “but the thing is ancient”. Obviously Bacon had Montaigue, the famous French writer in his mind when he wrote those words.

How does the essay come

Indeed, the word “essay” comes from French “essais” which Montaigue attached to his first publication. In that sense the French word means an attempt or a trial. The English word “essay” equally emphasizes its experimental nature. In its original sense, the essay is an informal prose writing very much allied to poetry. Like a poet, there is attempt to convey thoughts of the writer through the medium of essay.

Thus, essay is a very sensitive form of self expression. It is harmonious blending of thought and expression. According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the essay is a “literary composition on any subject”. The new Webster Dictionary defines essay as “an analytic or interpretative literary composition usually dealing with its subject from a limited or personal point of view”. Properly speaking, it is a written composition giving expression to one’s own personal ideas or opinions on some topic.

■ Characteristics of a good essay

A good essay may deal with the subject matter ranging from the light to the serious, from the factual to the fanciful, from the narrative or descriptive to the purely reflective, from the personal to the impersonal. It may cover subjects of diverse interests – arts, science, commerce, politics, ethics or public hygiene and many more. An essay should be clear, concise, correct in language, simple, lucid in style and should have the unity of structure and theme.

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■ Classification of essay

There are three types of essays according to their subject-matter — (i) Descriptive (ii) Narrative (iii) Reflective.

(i) Descriptive essay: 

A descriptive essay consists of a description of some place  thing, animals, plants, towns, countries, buildings or monuments, natural aspects or phenomena etc.

(ii) Narrative essay: 

A narrative essay consists of mainly in the narration of some event, series of events, accidents, incidents, historical happenings, biographical sketches, experiences etc.

(iii) Reflective essay: 

A reflective essay consists of reflections on any abstract subject such as truthfulness, patriotism, discipline, cleanliness, democracy, dictatorship etc.

But this division of essays under three heads is not a rigid one. They sometimes over-lap one another. Narrative essays may sometimes contain elements of description and descriptive essays may contain narrative or reflective elements. Some writers admit of another kind of essay, that is the argumentative essay.

■ How to write a good essay in English 

The following guidelines should prove useful in writing a good essay:

1. The essay should be a sequence of paragraphs, each paragraph containing a new thought or idea.

2. An essay must have a unity, developing one theme with a definite purpose. The subject must be clearly defined in the mind and kept in view throughout. Nothing that is not relevant to it should be admitted to the essay. At the same time, the subject may be treated in a variety of ways and different points of view.

3. The paragraphs should be linked together by the unity of thought. There should be a logical development of thoughts and  ideas leading to a definite conclusion. 

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4. Take a special care to make the beginning interesting. Remember the first paragraph introducing the essay is the most important. 

5. The conclusion should be equally interesting and natural. It should bring the essay to a natural but not abrupt halt. It must give a sense of completion. Remember the saying that “All’s well, that end well”. 

6. Write simple, sweet and correct English and avoid errors of grammar and spelling. Use simple words, and avoid big words and round about expressions. Do not use slang or colloquial terms. If the active voice can serve your purpose well, don’t go in for the passive voice.

7. The charm of an essay is the charm of its expression. Even an ordinary thing becomes interesting when it is finely expressed. For examination purpose, students would do well if they can combine both the personal and the impersonal touch, thereby maintaining a happy and flexible balance. 

8. School essays should not be long. The limit should be about three hundred words. Though, of course, there can be no strict rule as to length, which will depend a good deal on the nature of the subject. But the essay should be a brief exercise, concisely expressed. 

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