Academic writing is conducted in several sets of forms and genres, normally in an impersonal and dispassionate tone, targeted for a critical and informed audience, based on closely investigated knowledge, and intended to reinforce or challenge concepts or arguments. It usually circulates within the academic world ('the academy'), but the academic writer may also find an audience outside via journalism, speeches, pamphlets, etc. Typically, scholarly writing has an objective stance, clearly states the significance of the topic, and is organized with adequate detail so that other scholars may try to replicate the results. Strong papers are not overly general and correctly utilize formal academic rhetoric.
This article provides a short summary of the full spectrum of critical and academic writing and lists the genres of academic writing. It does cover the variety of critical approaches that can be applied when one writes about a subject. However, as Harwood and Hadley (2004) and Hyland (2004) have pointed out, the amount of variation that exists between different disciplines may mean that we cannot refer to a single academic literacy. While academic writing consists of a number of text types and genres, what they have in common, the conventions that academic writers traditionally follow, has been a subject of debate. Many writers have called for conventions to be challenged, for example Pennycook (1997) and Ivanic (1998), while others suggest that some conventions should be maintained, for example Clark (1997, p136).
A discourse community is essentially a group of people that shares mutual interests and beliefs. "It establishes limits and regularities...who may speak, what may be spoken, and how it is to be said; in addition [rules] prescribe what is true and false, what is reasonable and what foolish, and what is meant and what not." (Porter, 39). People are generally involved in a variety of discourse communities within their private, social, and professional lives. Some discourse communities are very formal with well established boundaries, while others may have a more loose construction with greater freedom. Additionally, discourse communities have approved channels of communication in which members write or speak through. These channels can be a web page, a journal, a blog, or any other medium people use to communicate through. Examples of discourse communities may include but certainly not limited to:
The concept of a discourse community is vital to academic writers across nearly all disciplines, for the academic writer's purpose is to influence a discourse community to think differently. At the same time the discourse community does not expect to see any writing that appears too foreign. For this reason the academic writer must follow the constraints (see article section below) set by the discourse community so his or her ideas earn approval and respect.
Constraints are the discourse community's written and unwritten conventions about what a writer can say and how he or she can say it. They define what is an acceptable argument. Each discourse community expects to see a writer construct his or her argument using their conventional style of language and vocabulary, and they expect a writer to use the established intertext within the discourse community as the building blocks for his or her argument.
In order for a writer to become familiar with some of the constraints of the discourse community they are writing for, a useful tool for the academic writer is to analyze prior work from the discourse community. The writer should look at the textual 'moves' in these papers, focusing on how they are constructed. Across most discourses communities, writers will:
- Identify the novelty of their position
- Make a claim, or thesis
- Acknowledge prior work and situate their claim in a disciplinary context
- Offer warrants for one's view based on community-specific arguments and procedures (Hyland)
Each of the 'moves' listed above are constructed differently depending on the discourse community the writer is in. For example, the way a claim is made in a high school paper would look very different from the way a claim is made in a college composition class.  It is important for the academic writer to familiarize himself or herself with the conventions of the discourse community by reading and analyzing other works, so that the writer is best able to communicate his or her ideas. (Porter) Contrary to some beliefs, this is by no means plagiarism.
Writers should also be aware of other ways in which the discourse community shapes their writing. Other functions of the discourse community include determining what makes a novel argument and what a 'fact' is. The following sections elaborate on these functions.
Misconceptions regarding facts and opinions in the discourse community
It is important for any writer to distinguish between what is accepted as 'fact' and what is accepted as 'opinion'. Wikipedia's article Fact misguides writers in their interpretation of what a fact actually is. The article states that "A fact (derived from the Latin factum, see below) is something that has really occurred or is actually the case". But this is not how writers think of facts. Writing professionals hold that, "In a rhetorical argument, a fact is a claim that an audience will accept as being true without requiring proof".:76 Facts can be thought of merely as claims. The audience can be thought of as a discourse community, and a fact can suddenly change to become an opinion if stated in a different discourse community. This is how writers within discourse communities manage to present new ideas to their communities. Any new opinion would need to be proven by making a rhetorical argument, in which the writer would weave together what his or her intended audience will accept as 'facts' in a way that supports his or her idea. Therefore, knowing the intended discourse community is a very important part of writing.
Across discourse communities, what is considered factual may fluctuate across each community. As Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs wrote in their book Writing about Writing,:67 in reference to Margaret Kantz's article "Helping students use textual sources persuasively":
A key concept in this change is learning to recognize that facts aren't so much inherently true statements as they are claims-that is, assertions that most of a given audience has agreed are true because for that audience sufficient proof has already been given. You, like most people, would probably classify the statement "the Earth is round" as a "fact." Its status as a fact, however, depends on our mutual agreement that "round" is an adequate description of the Earth's actual, imperfectly spherical shape. What Kantz wants us to see is that what makes the statement a fact is not how "true" the statement is but that most people have agreed that it's true and treat it as true. Statements about which we haven't reached this consensus remain claims, statements that people argue about. Kantz's work here demonstrates why it's so important to read texts-even "factual" works like textbooks and encyclopedias-as consisting of claims, not facts.
Misconceptions regarding making a novel argument
Within discourse communities, writers build on top of the ideas established by previous writers. One of the most common misconceptions about writing is the idea of the 'lonely writer'; that great writers' papers are filled almost entirely with original ideas and messages. But this is simply not the case. Discourse communities introduce new ideas and claims, and from these, writers expand on them. James Porter, a scholar of Rhetoric at Indiana University, uses The Declaration of Independence as an example to illustrate this point. Porter points out that Jefferson merely pulled the phrase "That all men are created equal" straight from his commonplace book he made as a boy. Porter also points out that, "'Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness'" was a cliche of the times, appearing in numerous political documents." In fact, according to Porter, almost nothing in the Declaration of Independence was written originally by Jefferson. Jefferson wrote this great work by weaving together the intertext of his discourse community. As Greene describes in his article, "Argument as Conversation", academic writing can be thought of metaphorically as a conversation between those in the discourse community. "The metaphor of conversation emphasizes the social nature of writing" (Greene). Just like in a conversation when you listen to the ideas of the others who are involved and formulate your own opinion on the topic, a writer may be reading a paper done by another writer in the discourse community and from this paper, the scholar may obtain inspiration to expand the claims expressed in the paper or address them from other angles. "Like the verbal conversations you have with others,' effective arguments never take place in a vacuum; they take into account previous conversations that have taken place about the subject under discussion" (Greene). Good academic writers know the importance of researching previous work from within the discourse community and using this work to build their own claims. By taking these ideas and expanding upon them or applying them in a new way, a writer is able to make their novel argument.
Intertextuality is the combining of past writings into original, new pieces of text. The term intertextuality was coined in 1966 by Julia Kristeva. All texts are necessarily related to prior texts through a network of links, writers (often unwittingly) make use of what has previously been written and thus some degree of borrowing is inevitable. This generally occurs within a specific discourse community.
Factoring in intertextuality, the goal of academic writing is not simply creating new ideas, but to offer a new perspective and link between already established ideas. This is why gathering background information and having past knowledge is so important in academic writing. A common metaphor used to describe academic writing is "entering the conversation", a conversation that began long before you got there and will continue long after you leave. A quote from Kenneth Burke encapsulates this metaphor:
"Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending on the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress."
Intertextuality plays into this because without it there would be no conversations, just hundreds of thousands of writings not connected or able to build on each other. The listening until you can join the conversation can be seen as doing research. All of the research you read, is built on research instead of self-knowledge. This can be connected to the part of the metaphor where no one in the parlor is qualified to bring you up to speed, just as the papers your researched were researched also.
Porter inspirationally explores the essence of intertextuality in one of his articles (Intertextuality and the Discourse Community):
"When we teach writing only as the act of "bringing out what is within," we risk undermining our own efforts. Intertextuality reminds us that "carrying out ritual activities" is also part of the writing process. Barthes reminds us that "the 'I' which approaches the text is already itself a plurality of other texts, of codes which are infinite".
This idea of 'I' being plurality of other texts is one of the reasons, why teachers in Spain often use the expression/metaphor: "Yo no existo cuando escribo un texto académico y tú no existes tampoco" which translates to: "I do not exist when I write academic text and you do not exist too". The power of this statement is the idea that one can turn intertextuality into ones own favor only once one "does not exist" when writing academic text and only once one realizes that there is no universal reader to which the text can be attributed to. The text lives its own life with its own purpose and the author is not the actual creator of the text. The author is simply translating meaning (assignment) into non-existent code, forming non-existent "I" which is intended for non-existent reader (it is rather series of different readers, often with various opinions on the text). So what is academic writing about? In essence, it's about nothing. It is an imperfect conventional form of code created by few people whom we do not know and it is surrounded by non-existent concepts. It is inherited from imperfect teachers and is bound to reveal only very small portion of all the possible infinite codes. However, this small portion can be unique. As long as it is, it provides us with new combination of codes and an opportunity to find our own existence in the nothingness which surrounds us, either through the eyes of the machine or through the eyes of our own. What is important, is our ability to recognize which former codes and which texts of the past can help us find our existence and which codes are irrelevant. As long as we are consciously aware of what we are translating from, we are not forced to shift the meaning involuntarily. Therefore, we create an opportunity for people to base their opinion on the actual meaning of the text and enable them to continue creating the non-existent, with a sense of understanding.
There are two distinct types of intertextuality as defined by Porter:
Iterability is the capability of a text to be reiterated and repeated in various contexts. Iterability is explicitly seen in texts, as opposed to presupposition, which refers to assumptions a text makes. One such example of this concept from Porter is the Declaration of Independence. Many texts and ideas of different centuries were integrated into the one document. Jefferson took the idea of John Locke's social contract theory, the Declaration of Rights for Virginia by George Mason, and the form of the English Bill of Rights in 1689 into the Declaration of Independence. Some claimed that this was blatant plagiarism but others say it was iterability. He used the form of a list of grievances as used in the English Bill of Rights and this example proves that not only direct quotes can be reiterated but also the form of a text. When Thomas Jefferson proposed the Declaration to congress, they made 86 changes to his actual original ideas because they were so farfetched from the current discourse community. This is an example of the constraint a discourse community can place on a text.
Presupposition is the process by which implications are made without being specifically stated or explained within text. These assumptions are usually extremely basic thoughts made by a vast majority of the audience; such thoughts may be considered "common sense" or otherwise obvious to anyone who reads the text. Example: "Rodrigo rode his bike to his friend's house."
- This simple statement implies several facts that the reader automatically assumes. Rodrigo owns a bike, he has a friend, his friend has a house, his house is within biking distance, and Rodrigo has the ability to ride a bike.
- Details can be added or removed by an author to give more or less creative license to the readers themselves; in this case, one reader could imagine the bike being colored red, while another may believe it to be blue. Because the assumptions made by different readers can be drastically different from one another, it is important that the framework the author provides is sufficient to keep the assumptions that are crucial to the story itself constant between readers.
Example: "It was a dark and stormy night."
- This statement is iterated as a cliché opening to a story. The statement provides an opening for a fictional narrative while simultaneously implying an ominous, foreboding setting. When opening a story with this line, the author is able to instantly set a mood and tone before the story truly begins, giving the reader a sense that the story is already in progress.
- Ulysses: Ulysses, a novel written by James Joyce in 1918, is an example of intertextuality because the themes largely shadow those of Homer's Odyssey (an ancient Greek epic poem). Ulysses uses the plot line from The Odyssey and retells it with a new character in a new setting, thus using past writings to create a new, original one.
- Aladdin: The classic Disney movie Aladdin has many distinct examples of intertextuality throughout. For example, one scene depicts the Genie that comes out of Aladdin's lamp being pinched by a crab – the same crab from another popular Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. In another scene, the two main characters are flying through the sky on a magic carpet and, for a moment, Zeus's temple from the movie Hercules can be seen in the background. These are examples of intertextuality because they pull from past Disney works and use them to create something new and original.
- West Side Story: West Side Story is an example of intertextuality in that it is the modern retelling of Shakespeare's tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Tony (Romeo) and Maria (Juliet) are both in love. However, their families and the rival groups with which their loyalty lies forbid their love. West Side Story uses themes from Romeo and Juliet (such as forbidden love and a tragic ending) to create a new, original story.
Academic document types
- Book, in many types and varieties
- Chapter in an edited volume
- Book report
- Conference paper
- Dissertation; usually between 6,000 and 20,000 words in length
- Essay; usually short, between 1,500 and 6,000 words in length
- Explication; usually a short factual note explaining some obscure part of a particular work; e.g. its terminology, dialect, allusions or coded references
- Research Article
- Research Paper; longer essay involving library research, 3000 to 6000 words in length
- Technical report
- Thesis; completed over a number of years, often in excess of 20,000 words in length
- Exam questions and Essay titles; the formulation of these
- Instructional pamphlet, or hand-out, or reading list; usually meant for students
- Presentations; usually short, often illustrated
Summaries of knowledge
Collating the work of others
- Anthology; collection, collation, ordering and editing of the work of others
- Catalogue raisonné; the definitive collection of the work of a single artist, in book form
- Collected works; often referred to as the 'critical edition'. The definitive collection of the work of a single writer or poet, in book form, carefully purged of publishers errors and later forgeries, etc.
- Monograph or exhibition catalog; usually containing exemplary works, and a scholarly essay. Sometime contains new work by a creative writer, responding to the work
- Transcribing, selecting and ordering oral testimony (e.g. oral history recordings)
Research and planning
Technical or administrative forms
These are acceptable to some academic disciplines, e.g. Cultural studies, Fine art, Feminist studies, Queer theory, Literary studies.
The most common disposition standard in the academic world is the IMRAD method, stating that an academic document should consist of sections in the following order:
- Introduction (Problem motivation, aim, objective, problem statement, own contributions, background materials, overview)
- Method (Assumptions, questionary, system model, simulation model, performance measures)
- Result (Empirical results, charts, plots)
- Discussion (Analysis, Conclusions)
Other common sections in academic documents are:
- Tony, Becher,; Paul, Trowler, (1 October 2001). Academic Tribes And Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines. McGraw-Hill Education (UK). ISBN 978-0-335-20627-8.
- Booth, Wayne C.; Colomb, Gregory G.; Williams, Joseph M. (15 May 2009). The Craft of Research, Third Edition. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-06264-8.
- Borg, Erik (2003). 'Discourse Community', English Language Teaching (ELT) Journal, Vol. 57, Issue 4, pp. 398–400
- Canagarajah, A. Suresh (2002). A Geopolitics of Academic Writing. University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 978-0-8229-7238-9.
- Coinam, David (2004). 'Concordancing Yourself: A Personal Exploration of Academic Writing', Language Awareness, Vol. 13, Issue 1, pp. 49–55
- Phyllis, Creme,; Mary, Lea, (1 May 2008). Writing At University: A Guide For Students. McGraw-Hill Education (UK). ISBN 978-0-335-22116-5.
- Goodall, H. Lloyd, Jr. (2000). Writing Qualitative Inquiry: Self, Stories, and Academic Life (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press)
- Hyland, Ken (22 July 2004). Disciplinary Discourses, Michigan Classics Ed.: Social Interactions in Academic Writing. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-03024-8.
- Johns, Ann M. (1997). Text, Role and Context: Developing Academic Literacies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
- King, Donald W., Carol Tenopir, Songphan Choemprayong, and Lei Wu (2009). 'Scholarly Journal Information Seeking and Reading Patterns of Faculty at Five U.S. Universities', Learned Publishing, Vol. 22, Issue 2, pp. 126–144
- Kouritzin, Sandra G., Nathalie A. C Piquemal, and Renee Norman, eds (2009). Qualitative Research: Challenging the Orthodoxies in Standard Academic Discourse(s) (New York: Routledge)
- Lincoln, Yvonna S, and Norman K Denzin (2003). Turning Points in Qualitative Research: Tying Knots in a Handkerchief (Walnut Creek, CA; Oxford: AltaMira Press)
- Luey, Beth (2010). Handbook for Academic Authors, 5th edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
- Murray, Rowena, and Sarah Moore (2006). The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach (Maidenhead: Open University Press)
- Nash, Robert J. (2004). Liberating Scholarly Writing: The Power of Personal Narrative (New York; London: Teachers College Press)
- Paltridge, Brian (2004). 'Academic Writing', Language Teaching, Vol. 37, Issue 2, pp. 87–105
- Pelias, Ronald J. (1999). Writing Performance: Poeticizing the Researcher's Body (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press)
- Prior, Paul A. (1998). Writing/Disciplinarity: A Sociohistoric Account of Literate Activity in the Academy (Mahwah, NJ; London: Lawrence Erlbaum)
- Rhodes, Carl and Andrew D. Brown (2005). 'Writing Responsibly: Narrative Fiction and Organization Studies', The Organization: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Organizations and Society, Vol. 12, Issue 4, pp. 467–491
- Richards, Janet C., and Sharon K. Miller (2005). Doing Academic Writing in Education: Connecting the Personal and the Professional (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum)
- Zamel, Vivian; Spack, Ruth (6 August 2012). Negotiating Academic Literacies: Teaching and Learning Across Languages and Cultures. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-60891-9. (
- Free open educational resources for research students www.readytoresearch.ac.uk and www.digitalscholarship.ac.uk Useful information on English for English for academic purposes, academic phrasebank, self-assessment, grammar guide etc.
Architecture, design and art
- Crysler, C. Greig (2002). Writing Spaces: Discourses of Architecture, Urbanism and the Built Environment (London: Routledge)
- Francis, Pat (2009). Inspiring Writing in Art and Design: Taking a Line for a Write (Bristol; Chicago: Intellect)
- Frayling, Christopher (1993). 'Research in Art and Design', Royal College of Art Research Papers, Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 1–5
- Piotrowski, Andrzej (2008). 'The Spectacle of Architectural Discourses', Architectural Theory Review, Vol. 13, Issue 2, pp. 130–144
- Roudavski, Stanislav (2010). 'Transparency or Drama? Extending the Range of Academic Writing in Architecture and Design', Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, 3, 2, pp. 111–133
- Baldo, Shannon. "Elves and Extremism: the use of Fantasy in the Radical Environmentalist Movement." Young Scholars in Writing: Undergraduate Research in Writing and Rhetoric 7 (Spring 2010): 108-15. Print.
- Greene, Stuart. "Argument as Conversation: The Role of Inquiry in Writing a Researched Argument." n. page. Print.
- Kantz, Margaret. "Helping Students Use Textual Sources Persuasively." College English 52.1 (1990): 74-91. Print.
- Porter, James. "Intertextuality and the Discourse Community."Rhetoric Review. 5.1 (1986): 34-47. Print.
For other uses, see Essay (disambiguation).
For a description of essays as used by Wikipedia editors, see Wikipedia:Essays.
"Essai" redirects here. For other uses, see Essai (disambiguation).
An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author's own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a paper, an article, a pamphlet, and a short story. Essays have traditionally been sub-classified as formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by "serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length," whereas the informal essay is characterized by "the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme," etc.
Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays (e.g., Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man). While brevity usually defines an essay, voluminous works like John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population are counterexamples. In some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada), essays have become a major part of formal education. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills; admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants, and in the humanities and social sciences essays are often used as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.
The concept of an "essay" has been extended to other mediums beyond writing. A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles and focuses more on the evolution of a theme or idea. A photographic essay covers a topic with a linked series of photographs that may have accompanying text or captions.
An essay has been defined in a variety of ways. One definition is a "prose composition with a focused subject of discussion" or a "long, systematic discourse". It is difficult to define the genre into which essays fall. Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, gives guidance on the subject. He notes that "the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything", and adds that "by tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece". Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference". These three poles (or worlds in which the essay may exist) are:
- The personal and the autobiographical: The essayists that feel most comfortable in this pole "write fragments of reflective autobiography and look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description".
- The objective, the factual, and the concrete particular: The essayists that write from this pole "do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists of setting forth, passing judgment upon, and drawing general conclusions from the relevant data".
- The abstract-universal: In this pole "we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions", who are never personal and who seldom mention the particular facts of experience.
Huxley adds that the most satisfying essays "...make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist."
The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt". In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning. The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as "attempts" to put his thoughts into writing, and his essays grew out of his commonplacing. Inspired in particular by the works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Œuvres Morales (Moral works) into French had just been published by Jacques Amyot, Montaigne began to compose his essays in 1572; the first edition, entitled Essais, was published in two volumes in 1580. For the rest of his life, he continued revising previously published essays and composing new ones. Francis Bacon's essays, published in book form in 1597, 1612, and 1625, were the first works in English that described themselves as essays. Ben Jonson first used the word essayist in English in 1609, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
English essayists included Robert Burton (1577–1641) and Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682). In France, Michel de Montaigne's three volume Essais in the mid 1500s contain over 100 examples widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern essay. In Italy, Baldassare Castiglione wrote about courtly manners in his essay Il Cortigiano. In the 17th century, the JesuitBaltasar Gracián wrote about the theme of wisdom. During the Age of Enlightenment, essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical literature, as seen in the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote essays for the general public. The early 19th century, in particular, saw a proliferation of great essayists in English – William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey all penned numerous essays on diverse subjects. In the 20th century, a number of essayists tried to explain the new movements in art and culture by using essays (e.g., T.S. Eliot). Whereas some essayists used essays for strident political themes, Robert Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather wrote lighter essays. Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, and Charles du Bos wrote literary criticism essays.
Main article: Zuihitsu
As with the novel, essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in Europe with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu — loosely connected essays and fragmented ideas. Zuihitsu have existed since almost the beginnings of Japanese literature. Many of the most noted early works of Japanese literature are in this genre. Notable examples include The Pillow Book (c. 1000), by court lady Sei Shōnagon, and Tsurezuregusa (1330), by particularly renowned Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenkō. Kenkō described his short writings similarly to Montaigne, referring to them as "nonsensical thoughts" written in "idle hours". Another noteworthy difference from Europe is that women have traditionally written in Japan, though the more formal, Chinese-influenced writings of male writers were more prized at the time.
Forms and styles
This section describes the different forms and styles of essay writing. These forms and styles are used by an array of authors, including university students and professional essayists.
Cause and effect
The defining features of a "cause and effect" essay are causal chains that connect from a cause to an effect, careful language, and chronological or emphatic order. A writer using this rhetorical method must consider the subject, determine the purpose, consider the audience, think critically about different causes or consequences, consider a thesis statement, arrange the parts, consider the language, and decide on a conclusion.
Classification and division
Classification is the categorization of objects into a larger whole while division is the breaking of a larger whole into smaller parts.
Compare and contrast
Compare and contrast essays are characterized by a basis for comparison, points of comparison, and analogies. It is grouped by the object (chunking) or by point (sequential). The comparison highlights the similarities between two or more similar objects while contrasting highlights the differences between two or more objects. When writing a compare/contrast essay, writers need to determine their purpose, consider their audience, consider the basis and points of comparison, consider their thesis statement, arrange and develop the comparison, and reach a conclusion. Compare and contrast is arranged emphatically.
Descriptive writing is characterized by sensory details, which appeal to the physical senses, and details that appeal to a reader's emotional, physical, or intellectual sensibilities. Determining the purpose, considering the audience, creating a dominant impression, using descriptive language, and organizing the description are the rhetorical choices to consider when using a description. A description is usually arranged spatially but can also be chronological or emphatic. The focus of a description is the scene. Description uses tools such as denotative language, connotative language, figurative language, metaphor, and simile to arrive at a dominant impression. One university essay guide states that "descriptive writing says what happened or what another author has discussed; it provides an account of the topic".Lyric essays are an important form of descriptive essays.
In the dialectic form of the essay, which is commonly used in philosophy, the writer makes a thesis and argument, then objects to their own argument (with a counterargument), but then counters the counterargument with a final and novel argument. This form benefits from presenting a broader perspective while countering a possible flaw that some may present. This type is sometimes called an ethics paper.
An exemplification essay is characterized by a generalization and relevant, representative, and believable examples including anecdotes. Writers need to consider their subject, determine their purpose, consider their audience, decide on specific examples, and arrange all the parts together when writing an exemplification essay.
An essayist writes a familiar essay if speaking to a single reader, writing about both themselves, and about particular subjects. Anne Fadiman notes that "the genre's heyday was the early nineteenth century," and that its greatest exponent was Charles Lamb. She also suggests that while critical essays have more brain than the heart, and personal essays have more heart than brain, familiar essays have equal measures of both.
A history essay sometimes referred to as a thesis essay describes an argument or claim about one or more historical events and supports that claim with evidence, arguments, and references. The text makes it clear to the reader why the argument or claim is as such.
A narrative uses tools such as flashbacks, flash-forwards, and transitions that often build to a climax. The focus of a narrative is the plot. When creating a narrative, authors must determine their purpose, consider their audience, establish their point of view, use dialogue, and organize the narrative. A narrative is usually arranged chronologically.
An argumentative essay is a critical piece of writing, aimed at presenting objective analysis of the subject matter, narrowed down to a single topic. The main idea of all the criticism is to provide an opinion either of positive or negative implication. As such, a critical essay requires research and analysis, strong internal logic and sharp structure. Its structure normally builds around introduction with a topic's relevance and a thesis statement, body paragraphs with arguments linking back to the main thesis, and conclusion. In addition, an argumentative essay may include a refutation section where conflicting ideas are acknowledged, described, and criticized. Each argument of argumentative essay should be supported with sufficient evidence, relevant to the point.
An economic essay can start with a thesis, or it can start with a theme. It can take a narrative course and a descriptive course. It can even become an argumentative essay if the author feels the need. After the introduction, the author has to do his/her best to expose the economic matter at hand, to analyze it, evaluate it, and draw a conclusion. If the essay takes more of a narrative form then the author has to expose each aspect of the economic puzzle in a way that makes it clear and understandable for the reader
A reflective essay is an analytical piece of writing in which the writer describes a real or imaginary scene, event, interaction, passing thought, memory, or form — adding a personal reflection on the meaning of the topic in the author's life. Thus, the focus is not merely descriptive. The writer doesn’t just describe the situation, but revisits the scene with more detail and emotion to examine what went well, or reveal a need for additional learning — and may relate what transpired to the rest of the author's life.
Other logical structures
The logical progression and organizational structure of an essay can take many forms. Understanding how the movement of thought is managed through an essay has a profound impact on its overall cogency and ability to impress. A number of alternative logical structures for essays have been visualized as diagrams, making them easy to implement or adapt in the construction of an argument.
Main article: Free response
In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, essays have become a major part of a formal education in the form of free response questions. Secondary students in these countries are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills, and essays are often used by universities in these countries in selecting applicants (seeadmissions essay). In both secondary and tertiary education, essays are used to judge the mastery and comprehension of the material. Students are asked to explain, comment on, or assess a topic of study in the form of an essay. In some courses, university students must complete one or more essays over several weeks or months. In addition, in fields such as the humanities and social sciences, mid-term and end of term examinations often require students to write a short essay in two or three hours.
In these countries, so-called academic essays also called papers, are usually more formal than literary ones. They may still allow the presentation of the writer's own views, but this is done in a logical and factual manner, with the use of the first person often discouraged. Longer academic essays (often with a word limit of between 2,000 and 5,000 words) are often more discursive. They sometimes begin with a short summary analysis of what has previously been written on a topic, which is often called a literature review.
Longer essays may also contain an introductory page that defines words and phrases of the essay's topic. Most academic institutions require that all substantial facts, quotations, and other supporting material in an essay be referenced in a bibliography or works cited page at the end of the text. This scholarly convention helps others (whether teachers or fellow scholars) to understand the basis of facts and quotations the author uses to support the essay's argument and helps readers evaluate to what extent the argument is supported by evidence, and to evaluate the quality of that evidence. The academic essay tests the student's ability to present their thoughts in an organized way and is designed to test their intellectual capabilities.
One of the challenges facing universities is that in some cases, students may submit essays purchased from an essay mill (or "paper mill") as their own work. An "essay mill" is a ghostwriting service that sells pre-written essays to university and college students. Since plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty or academic fraud, universities and colleges may investigate papers they suspect are from an essay mill by using plagiarism detection software, which compares essays against a database of known mill essays and by orally testing students on the contents of their papers.
Magazine or newspaper
Main article: Long-form journalism
Essays often appear in magazines, especially magazines with an intellectual bent, such as The Atlantic and Harpers. Magazine and newspaper essays use many of the essay types described in the section on forms and styles (e.g., descriptive essays, narrative essays, etc.). Some newspapers also print essays in the op-ed section.
Employment essays detailing experience in a certain occupational field are required when applying for some jobs, especially government jobs in the United States. Essays known as Knowledge Skills and Executive Core Qualifications are required when applying to certain US federal government positions.
A KSA, or "Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities," is a series of narrative statements that are required when applying to Federal government job openings in the United States. KSAs are used along with resumes to determine who the best applicants are when several candidates qualify for a job. The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for the successful performance of a position are contained on each job vacancy announcement. KSAs are brief and focused essays about one's career and educational background that presumably qualify one to perform the duties of the position being applied for.
An Executive Core Qualification, or ECQ, is a narrative statement that is required when applying to Senior Executive Service positions within the US Federal government. Like the KSAs, ECQs are used along with resumes to determine who the best applicants are when several candidates qualify for a job. The Office of Personnel Management has established five executive core qualifications that all applicants seeking to enter the Senior Executive Service must demonstrate.
A film essay (or "cinematic essay") consists of the evolution of a theme or an idea rather than a plot per se, or the film literally being a cinematic accompaniment to a narrator reading an essay. From another perspective, an essay film could be defined as a documentary film visual basis combined with a form of commentary that contains elements of self-portrait (rather than autobiography), where the signature (rather than the life story) of the filmmaker is apparent. The cinematic essay often blends documentary, fiction, and experimental film making using tones and editing styles.
The genre is not well-defined but might include propaganda works of early Soviet parliamentarians like Dziga Vertov, present-day filmmakers including Chris Marker,Michael Moore (Roger & Me (1989), Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)), Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line (1988)), Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me: A Film of Epic Portions) and Agnès Varda. Jean-Luc Godard describes his recent work as "film-essays". Two filmmakers whose work was the antecedent to the cinematic essay include Georges Méliès and Bertolt Brecht. Méliès made a short film (The Coronation of Edward VII (1902)) about the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII, which mixes actual footage with shots of a recreation of the event. Brecht was a playwright who experimented with film and incorporated film projections into some of his plays.Orson Welles made an essay film in his own pioneering style, released in 1974, called F for Fake, which dealt specifically with art forger Elmyr de Hory and with the themes of deception, "fakery," and authenticity in general. These are often published online on video hosting services.
David Winks Gray's article "The essay film in action" states that the "essay film became an identifiable form of filmmaking in the 1950s and '60s". He states that since that time, essay films have tended to be "on the margins" of the filmmaking the world. Essay films have a "peculiar searching, questioning tone ... between documentary and fiction" but without "fitting comfortably" into either genre. Gray notes that just like written essays, essay films "tend to marry the personal voice of a guiding narrator (often the director) with a wide swath of other voices". The University of Wisconsin Cinematheque website echoes some of Gray's comments; it calls a film essay an "intimate and allusive" genre that "catches filmmakers in a pensive mood, ruminating on the margins between fiction and documentary" in a manner that is "refreshingly inventive, playful, and idiosyncratic".
In the realm of music, composer Samuel Barber wrote a set of "Essays for Orchestra," relying on the form and content of the music to guide the listener's ear, rather than any extra-musical plot or story.
A photographic essay strives to cover a topic with a linked series of photographs. Photo essays range from purely photographic works to photographs with captions or small notes to full-text essays with a few or many accompanying photographs. Photo essays can be sequential in nature, intended to be viewed in a particular order — or they may consist of non-ordered photographs viewed all at once or in an order that the viewer chooses. All photo essays are collections of photographs, but not all collections of photographs are photo essays. Photo essays often address a certain issue or attempt to capture the character of places and events.
In the visual arts, an essay is a preliminary drawing or sketch that forms a basis for a final painting or sculpture, made as a test of the work's composition (this meaning of the term, like several of those following, comes from the word essayJA's meaning of "attempt" or "trial").
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- ^Chapter 6: Comparison and Contrast in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Chapter 2: Description in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
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- Lopate, Phillip. "In Search of the Centaur: The Essay-Film", in Beyond Document: Essays on Nonfiction Film. Edited by Charles Warren, Wesleyan University Press, 1998. pp. 243–270.
- Warburton, Nigel. The basics of essay writing. Routledge, 2006. ISBN 0-415-24000-X, ISBN 978-0-415-24000-0
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