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An essay is usually a short piece of writing. It is often written from an author's personal point of view. Essays can be literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author.

The definition of an essay is vague, overlapping with those of an article and a short story. 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 provide counterexamples.

It is very difficult to define the genre into which essays fall. Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, gives guidance on the subject:

Like the novel, the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything, usually on a certain topic. By tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece, and it is therefore impossible to give all things full play within the limits of a single essay. But a collection of essays can cover almost as much ground, and cover it almost as thoroughly, as can a long novel. Montaigne's Third Book is the equivalent, very nearly, of a good slice of the Comédie Humaine. Essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference. There is the pole of the personal and the autobiographical; there is the pole of the objective, the factual, the concrete-particular; and there is the pole of the abstract-universal. Most essayists are at home and at their best in the neighborhood of only one of the essay's three poles, or at the most only in the neighborhood of two of them. There are the predominantly personal essayists, who write fragments of reflective autobiography and who look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description. There are the predominantly objective essayists who do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. … And how splendid, how truly oracular are the utterances of the great generalizers! … The most richly satisfying essays are those which 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.[1]

Contents

Etymology

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 characterise these as "attempts" to put his thoughts adequately into writing. Inspired in particular by the works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Oeuvres 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.

The essay as a pedagogical tool

In recent times, essays have become a major part of a formal education. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills, and essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants (see admissions essay). In both secondary and tertiary education, essays are used to judge the mastery and comprehension of material. Students are asked to explain, comment on, or assess a topic of study in the form of an essay.

Academic essays 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.

Academic essays

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 in which words and phrases from the title are tightly defined. Most academic institutions will require that all substantial facts, quotations, and other supporting material used in an essay be referenced in a bibliography or works cited page at the end of the text. This scholarly convention allows others (whether teachers or fellow scholars) to understand the basis of the facts and quotations used to support the essay's argument, and thereby help to 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 tests their intellectual capabilities. Some forms of essays are:

Descriptive

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 be considered 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.[2]

Narrative

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.[3]

Exemplification

An exemplification essay is characterized by a generalization and relevant, representative, and believable examples including anecdotes. Writers needs 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.[4]

Comparison and contrast

Compare and contrast is characterized by a basis for comparison, points of comparison, analogies, and either comparison by object (chunking) or by point (sequential). Comparison highlights the differences 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.[5]

Cause and effect

The defining features of a cause and effect essay are causal chains, 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.[6]

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.[7]

Definition

Definition essays explain a term's meaning. Some are written about concrete terms, such as trees, oceans, and dogs, while others talk about more abstract terms, such as liberty, happiness, and virtue.[8]

Dialectic

In this form of essay used commonly in Philosophy, one 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 being more open-minded while countering a possible flaw that some may present.[9]

Other logical structures

The logical progression and organisational 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.[10]

Non-literary essays

Visual Arts

In the visual arts, an essay is a preliminary drawing or sketch upon which a final painting or sculpture is based, made as a test of the work's composition (this meaning of the term, like several of those following, comes from the word essay's meaning of "attempt" or "trial").

Music

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.

Film

Film essays are cinematic forms of the essay, with the film consisting 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 genre is not well-defined but might include works of early Soviet documentarians like Dziga Vertov, or present-day filmmakers like Michael Moore or Errol Morris. Jean-Luc Godard describes his recent work as "film-essays".[11]

Photography

A photographic essay is an attempt to cover a topic with a linked series of photographs.

Employment

Employment essays detailing your experience in a certain occupational field are required when applying for some jobs, especially government jobs. Essays known as KSAs and ECQs are required when applying to many US federal government positions.

See also

References

  1. ^ Collected Essays, "Preface"
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Chapter 3 Narration 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.
  4. ^ Chapter 4: Exemplification 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Chapter 7: Cause and Effect 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.
  7. ^ Chapter 5: Classification and Division 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.
  8. ^ Chapter 9: Definition Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
  9. ^ PHIL 101: Dialectic Essay Assignment
  10. ^ 'Mission Possible' by Dr. Mario Petrucci
  11. ^ Discussion of film essays

Bibliography

  • Theodor W. Adorno, The Essay as Form in: Theodor W. Adorno, The Adorno Reader, Blackwell Publishers 2000
  • Beaujour, Michel. Miroirs d'encre: Rhétorique de l'autoportrait. Paris: Seuil, 1980. [Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait. Trans. Yara Milos. New York: NYU Press, 1991].
  • Bensmaïa, Reda. The Barthes Effect: The Essay as Reflective Text. Trans. Pat Fedkiew. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1987.

External links



Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Contents

English

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Wikipedia

Pronunciation

Etymology

From Middle French essai.

Noun

Singular
essay

Plural
essays

essay (plural essays)

  1. A written composition of moderate length exploring a particular issue or subject.
  2. (obsolete) A test, experiment; an assay.
  3. (archaic) An attempt.

Derived terms

Related terms

Translations

Verb

Infinitive
to essay

Third person singular
essays

Simple past
essayed

Past participle
essayed

Present participle
essaying

to essay (third-person singular simple present essays, present participle essaying, simple past and past participle essayed)

  1. (transitive) To try.
  2. (intransitive) To move forth, as into battle.

Translations

Anagrams

  • Anagrams of aessy
  • eyass

Simple English

An essay is a written text. It is usually about the personal point of view of the author who wrote it. The definition of an essay is vague. articles and a short stories can be quite similar. Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been called essays (e.g. Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man). People that write essays are called essayists.

Most essays are short. This does not have to be the case. John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population are long essays.


Citable sentences

Up to date as of December 26, 2010

Here are sentences from other pages on Essay, which are similar to those in the above article.








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