English Composition 2
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Developing an Essay
by Erin Jenkins
A well-written essay takes into account various features which include idea formation and articulation as well as structure and style. Think of these elements like a pyramid. A solid base is necessary while culminating in a single, precise direction. Carefully examined ideas will provide a good foundation. Strong structural forms will gather focus towards the central point put forth by the essay. Good structure and style will help to provide a clear view for the reader of what a writer intends to express while aiding in keeping the reader’s interest. Upon careful consideration of all these components, the writer should achieve success.
Development of ideas is a crucial first step involving inspiration and cultivation. To attain this, the writer should allow time to read the source material at least two times. Impressions from a first reading are not always accurate interpretations. After giving some time for the material to digest, rereading can illuminate parts of the source material that were not grasped fully on the first reading. I prefer to wait three or four days before revisiting the source material. A second reading also provides an opportunity to note if there is enough evidence to support ideas in an essay. When thinking over the various themes presented in the source material, the main question I think about is what the author is trying to communicate about humanity. What are the universal truths being explored? Next, participation in class discussions is a useful tool to discover and contemplate all points of view. Each person relies on their specific life experience to form opinions, and being a good listener can introduce a person to new, unique concepts outside their realm. Class discussions also help the writer to assess the validity of his or her own ideas. Be open to having your ideas challenged. Additionally, submitting as finished a product as possible for peer critiques will enable the reviewer to focus on the strength of the writer’s ideas, addressing the content and logic of the essay instead of being caught up in proofreading mistakes. I benefited from this greatly in the first paper assigned this semester. The other student who critiqued my essay pointed out one of my claims was illogical. I went back to the source material, reread the story, and eventually rewrote that section of my essay. Proofreading and structure are items the essay writer should be able to easily fix themselves; make the most of peer critiques by allowing the reviewer a clear look at the true substance of the essay.
Structure can be a galvanizing tool in the essay writing process, allowing a clear presentation of thoughts, and the best way to approach structure is as a rule of threes. The thesis should be supported by a minimum of three ideas which are in turn supported by a minimum of three supporting ideas, each accompanied by a piece of evidence from the source material. I have always followed an outline to keep my ideas organized and on point. I start with points A, B, and C. If I cannot substantially support any of those points with a minimum of three supporting ideas, I rethink my points. Imagine a science experiment. The hypothesis must be proven beyond doubt for success. The same principle applies in writing. The writer carries the burden of proof for their thesis. The writer can always expand from three ideas, but three is a minimal starting point. To maintain balance, the writer should include an equal amount of support for each main idea which automatically creates similar lengths for the body paragraphs. Structure is important as well at the sentence level. Having an outline to begin with allows me the freedom to focus on my sentences when I begin to actually write. This helps me to create a variety of sentence length and structure, preventing monotony for the reader. Where science was a useful comparison earlier, music is a wonderful comparison when thinking about sentences. Some sentences should be short. Longer sentences may include a menagerie of descriptive phrases, clauses, and adjectives. Doing this creates a cadence, a lyrical beat, which will help to keep the reader enticed. Think of a monotonous drumbeat in comparison to a full orchestra. The writer benefits from diversely constructed sentences because doing so keeps the reader interested in the essay’s message.
After content and structure have been established, the writer can shift focus to fine tuning the other elements of the essay. In addition to varying length as mentioned, another point to consider when writing sentences is how to phrase words to place emphasis where desired. Consider these two sentences. The girl is exhausted from playing outside. Playing outside exhausted the girl. While both sentences convey the effects of playing outside on the girl, one emphasizes the girl, and one emphasizes playing outside. Which choice is right depends on which better supports the writer’s intentions. Focus is meant to be kept on supporting the thesis. I try to always remain conscious of that objective in deciding the subject of my sentences. Also, repetition should be avoided in use of transitional phrases and adjectives. Repetition should be reserved for special occasion, when desiring to give particular attention to a specific point. The writer should try to challenge him or herself not to use the same adjective or transition twice in a paper. Think of as many ways as possible to restate ideas. A multitude of arrangements will appeal to the essay’s audience. Also, the voice and language the writer uses influences the impression on the reader. Keep in mind, the writer must prove their thesis, state their case. Use a strong convicted tone. A passive voice which fails to omit words like perhaps, maybe, or probably will not have as solid an argument as the writer who uses concise, pointed language. Lastly, one more way to add finesse to an essay is an extensive vocabulary. While using a thesaurus is an option, by far the best way to enhance vocabulary is by reading works of literature. A thesaurus cannot demonstrate proper context the way an author does in a novel. Frequent readers tend to make better writers.
By consistently following this process, I find the task of writing an essay is easily accomplished. A firm base is lad through thoughtful consideration of the concepts and ideas explored in the source material. Those ideas are fashioned into a structured, cohesive form, and the sentences are layered onto them. The pyramid narrows as the focus of the essay is sharpened to point toward the thesis. Lastly, the specific sentence forms and individual word choices are refined, smoothing out the final effects. Thus, a strong essay is built.