The art of writing an essay

There are many rules in writing, and an essay is a specific type of nonfiction. As I prepare to write a piece to enter in the “Able in This Diverse Universe” Essay Competition in support of Four Paws for Noah, I needed to refresh my memory about the basic rules of writing an essay.

Four Paws for Noah

(Image copied from November 5, 2015, http://honeyquill.com.)

Since my modus operandi of late is writing fiction, I turned to the internet for a quick reminder of the rules for writing an essay. In today’s post, I will share some of what I found.

In a nutshell, the first paragraph contains a one- or two-sentence thesis statement, why that thesis is important, and how you plan to defend your position. The body of the essay is made up of paragraphs that lay out your thoughts on the topic. Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence. The closing paragraph is your conclusion. It summarizes the essay’s arguments.

That’s all well and good, but I need a little more detail.

The University of Canberra website, http://learnonline.canberra.edu.au, is detailed even to the point of recommending that the academic essayist “do the math.” The introductory and conclusion paragraphs should constitute 20% of the essay’s word count. Take the contest’s word limit and subtract 20%. The remaining number of words are available for the body of the essay. Divide that number by 150, which is the average length of an academic paragraph. These instructions take the fun out of writing. Since math has never been my forte, the thought of having to plug percentages into my writing makes me cringe.

Hoping to find less rigid guidelines, I continued my internet search. This is what I concluded:

  1.  Research topic;
  2. Summarize primary sources;
  3. Determine your stand on topic (and why the topic matters to you), and formulate thesis statement;
  4. Thesis statement should prompt reader to know that you are going to try to convince him or her of something and make them curious to see how you go about that;
  5. Keep in mind that presenting your thoughts and analysis of material at hand is more important than how well you demonstrate your ability to summarize the thoughts of others;
  6. Organize your notes and thoughts into categories, including counterarguments;
  7. Taking your experience and research into consideration, make a case for your original ideas on the subject;
  8. If you don’t have an original thought on the topic, if your stance has no opposition, or if your stance has overwhelming counterargument — don’t write the essay;
  9. Hone your thesis as you write drafts of your essay;
  10. Map out your essay;
  11. In the body of the essay, persuade the readers — usually using deductive or inductive reasoning — and by anticipating the reader’s questions;
  12. After presenting counterarguments, be sure to reaffirm your position; and
  13. Give close attention to your conclusion, for it is important.

No matter how I approached this, I felt burdened by rules. Writing an essay for Four Paws for Noah should prove to be good exercise for my writing muscles because this is going to be much different from writing fiction. For the sake of Four Paws for Noah, I hope I can get my act together and pull it off.

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