This writing is intended for all students and learners wherever you are
Attending a university degree, either in bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree needs the ability of writing a good essay. This ability is considered as a must. Before you write an essay, of course, you need to understand what the essay actually is. In this writing, the points that will be explained are what an essay is, parts of an essay, how to write an essay, function of an essay, and characteristics of a good essay.
What an essay is
Before we begin writing an essay, we need to understand what an essay is. Essay is defined as a piece of writing, usually short, on any one subject (Hornby, 1995: 392). Meanwhile, Anderson explains that:
“An essay is made up of a number of paragraphs that develop and support a single idea, impression, or point. Although the term ‘essay’ may be used to refer in general to writing that explores a topic or presents factual information, in the context of most college writing, essay refers to a composition that is carefully structured and contains particular parts that work together to communicate the writer’s main idea” (2002: 23-4)
The above quotation means that an essay has specific idea, impression or point. It also has specific structure and part. Obviously, an essay must be coherent, in a good cohesion, and unity. Moreover, Peters in the Cambridge Guide to English Usage stated that:
“The classic essays of the past were written by philosophers and gentlemen of leisure—from Montaigne and Bacon to Russell and T.S Eliot—exploring ideas and views on a personally chosen subject. Today’s university and college students who write essays and papers are their heirs only in the sense that they use them as a vehicle for a discussion. Their essays/papers are usually written on prescribed topics, and few would risk “flying a kite” in an assessable exercise. Having duly mastered the art of essay writing, students graduate to positions in which they never use that form of communication, and letters, reports and memorandums are the order of the day. The only professional equivalent to the traditional essay is perhaps the signed editorial column produced by celebrated journalists, who do indeed enjoy the essayist’s license to explore ideas and speak their minds.” (2004: 189)
The keyword of the above quotation is that in the past, essays were related to “exploring ideas and views on a personally chosen subject”; meanwhile, essays have been recognized as in the journalists column in which the basis is “explore ideas and speak their minds”. Although these two things are distinctive, the core idea is the same. It is that essays have “exploring ideas” as its vision but the mission is different, where the former essays were written through the chosen subject while the latter essays are written in order to provide what someone think in his or her mind to be written into a thing called as an essay.
Parts of an essay
Essay has been recently considered as a piece of academic writing. However, essay has also been used in many communication media such as in magazine, newspaper, or even in internet. Is any short text considered as an essay? The answer is no. A text can be categorized as an essay when it has parts of an essay. Although Bailey stated “Almost all essays, reports and articles have the same basic pattern of organization” (Bailey, 2003: 6), it does not mean that the other kinds of writing can be easily considered as an essay. As Bailey points out, the same basic pattern of organization is introduction, body, and conclusion.
When someone wants to write an essay, s/he must have prepared an outline. It is a general representation of thesis statement in the introductory paragraphs, topic sentences in body paragraphs, and a concluding sentence for developing the concluding sentence.
Introductory paragraph has thesis statement. “For college writing, the thesis statement generally comes at the end of the introductory paragraph”(Blass, 1968: 34). It is written in order to tell your readers the points that you want to tell more in the remaining of your essay or it is also written when you want to clarify the subject that you want to discuss further.
In addition to the thesis statement, body paragraphs are also important part that the readers will read. It is also called as the development of the thesis statement. It has several items that are called as topic sentences. Everything that someone writes in the body paragraphs are in the form of development, either by giving illustration, facts, or examples. This will depend on what kind of essay that you want to write to the readers.
The last part of an essay is known as conclusion. In every writing, conclusion is the very best part that almost all readers want to read because it is mostly saving the time to read longer essay, especially the one that has more than six to seven paragraphs. However, conclusion does not mean that you repeat all of the topic sentences. It generally describes the whole point or idea that we have written in the introductory and body paragraphs.
How to write an essay
The six steps of the writing process of an essay, according to Zemach (2009: 3), are as follow:
- Choose a topic
- Gather ideas
3. Reviewing and Revising:
- Review structure and content
- Revise structure and content
- Make final corrections
What we need to do when we are in the stage of Pre-writing is that we have to choose a topic, gather ideas, and organizing them. Topic can be found in anywhere as long as we like reading and discussing current national or international issues. The way that we can do when we want to have a topic is by doing brainstorming. If we like reading, sometimes, you will be amazed when we do brainstorming. After that, we need to gather ideas. In this way, we have to select ideas that are relevant or irrelevant with what we write, especially with the thesis statement. If we find that there is a sentence or phrase that is not necessary, we should leave them out immediately. Otherwise, it will make us difficult in organizing them. After we gather all ideas, then, it is time for us to organize the ideas by selecting what we need or erasing what we do not need to support the thesis statement and topic sentence.
Next, the step is called as Drafting. In this stage, we only have to write every items that we have organized in the outline. We do not need to focus on the sentences style or grammar. The main important thing that we can do in this way is just to write all the details and develop the topic sentences into a coherent paragraph.
Now, we have finished our draft. It is time for us to do Reviewing and Revising. What we are doing here is reviewing structure and content of the draft. Structure means the way how your ideas are listed point by point and how you support the topic sentences in each paragraph by making the points connected one another. The process is done from introductory, body, and concluding paragraph. Content means that we have to read the ideas expressed in each sentences. Does they support the essay as a whole? If we still find irrelevant sentence, it means that we still have to leave out the sentences and put a new one that best support the paragraph and the whole part of an essay.
The last thing that we have to do is called as Rewriting. What we should do is divided into three. They are revising structure and content, proofreading, and making final corrections. In terms of structure, we have to look at the way we organize the ideas. We need to see whether the ideas have been unified or still in a chaos. Meanwhile, proofreading means we need others to check our essay in terms of grammar and spelling. Sometimes, when we write an essay and finish it, we always consider that ours is the best. In fact, when others read the essay, there have always been so many mistakes found. The last one is making the final corrections. When all stages have been completed, the essay is ready to be published and read by everyone.
Function of an essay
Blass mentions that:
“The function of an essay is to communicate to a reader an attitude or opinion about an issue and to provide information that supports or defends this information. In an essay, a writer can explain or describe something, state one side of an argument and prove it, show the relationship between two things or a combination of all of these. Whatever the purpose of an essay is, it must be clearly stated to the reader at the beginning of the essay and remain clear throughout the essay.”(1968: 12)
It is clear in the previous quotation that an essay is written in order to communicate with the readers regarding a particular issue. All that is matter in an essay is that it should be clear in all aspects, that are from introductory, body, and concluding sentence.
Characteristics of a good essay
An essay is considered as a good one if the essay has the following characteristics. They are in terms of content or ideas, organization, grammar or structure, word choice or word form, and mechanics (Boardman, 2003: 180)
1. Content/ideas — the score is 0-25
- Has excellent support
- Is interesting to read
- Has unity and completeness
- Adheres to assignment parameters
2. Organization — the score is 0-25
- Has introductory paragraph with clear thesis statement
- Has body paragraphs with good organization
- Has concluding paragraph
- Has coherence and cohesion
3. Grammar/structure — the score is 0-25
- Demonstrates control of basic grammar (eq. Tenses, verb form, noun form, preposition, articles)
- Shows sophistication of sentence structure with complex and compound sentences
4. Word choice/word form — the score is 15
- Demonstrates sophisticated choice of vocabulary items
- Has correct idiomatic use of vocabulary
- Has correct word form
5. Mechanics — the score is 10
- Has good paragraph format
- Demonstrates good control over use of capital letters, periods, commas, and semicolons
- Demonstrates control over spelling
- Doesn’t have fragments, comma splices, or run-on sentences
The score indicates the level of percentage that an essay should be assessed on that particular item. For instance, 0-25 for content. If the content is not clear, the score will be around 10 to 15. The same thing goes to the other items in the essay as well.
An essay has specific definition, parts, process, function, and characteristic. These aspects have made an essay completely different from other kinds and types of writing. A writing is not necessarily an essay but an essay must be a writing. Introduction, body and conclusion have always been the parts of an essay. Meanwhile, the function of an essay is the same with function of other writings. It is to communicate to the readers about a specific idea that is supported with illustration, facts, or examples.
- Anderson, Marilyn. Keys to Successful Writing: Unlocking the Writer Within. 2nd ed. New York; Longman, 2002.
- Bailey, Stephen. Academic Writing: A Practical Guide to Students. New York; RoutledgeFalmer, 2003.
- Blass, Laurie and Meredith Pike-Baky. Mosaic II: A Content-based Writing Book. New York; Random House, 1968
- Boardman, Cynthia A and Jia Frydenberg. Writing to Communicate: Paragraphs and Essays. 2nd ed. Syria; Longman Group, 2003
- Hornby, A S. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. Oxford; Oxford University Press, 1995
- Peters, Pam. The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. New York; Cambridge University Press, 2004
- Zemach, Dorothy E and Lisa A Rumisek. Academic Writing from Paragraph to Essay. Oxford; MacMillan Education, 2009