Monday, November 26, 2018

Essay Writing: The Overall Organization of an Essay
Let's bring different cases to the forefront and see if any of them fit the predicament you're in.

Case 1: A teacher has told you to write an essay. 

Case 2: You are preparing to sit an exam that determines your level of English and which includes a section that instructs you to write an academic essay.

Case 3: You are a teacher who needs to explain how students should organize essays and aren't quite sure where to start from.

All three of these cases have a common denominator called "essay" which needs to be tackled.

What I've seen throughout the years is that students find the task of writing an essay daunting. The difficulties they tend to have are the following:

a) lack of ideas to include in the essay
b) lack of vocabulary which would enable them to express their arguments and opinion effectively
c) no knowledge how to organize their work
d) the erroneous view that essay writing is the exact opposite of more formulaic tasks such as mathematical problem-solving

Of all these obstacles, the final one is the perhaps the most difficult to overcome because teens tend to think of essays solely as exercises in creative writing, and while such pieces of writing undoubtedly are creative in nature because of the way ideas are woven, supported and expressed, essays have a methodical rigidity expected by academics that students often refuse to admit.

The series of blog posts that will deal with essay writing will primarily focus on giving tips to students who have to write an academic essay for an ESL examination (IELTS, all B2 or C2-level examinations such as the FCE, CPE, ECCE, ECPE, MSU-CELP, MSU-CELC, PTE, ESB, LRN, TOEFL). Typically B2-level tasks require approximately 200 words while at C2 level candidates should expand their arguments to reach about 300 words. The time limit is usually give or take 30 minutes. With all this in mind, my posts will contain step-by-step instructions how to tackle an essay so as to complete it in about half an hour, meaning that whatever I write should be seen as quick-fix solutions and suggestions for someone who needs to show their aptitude in a very limited period of time. Students, therefore, who have been asked to write an essay as homework or part of a university course should expand their thoughts as fully as possible seeing as they have the luxury to work longer on such an assignment.

So, that having been said, let's turn to the matter at hand. The first thing that needs to be discussed is the overall layout of an essay, which is the focus of this first post in the series. More detailed explanations about each separate section of an essay will follow.

How do I organize my essay?

Like any good book, movie, theatrical play, sports match, and indeed life itself, there is always a beginning, a middle and an end. To keep the spectator, reader, audience or what have you glued to their seats in eager anticipation of what is to follow, a good plan of attack is needed to ultimately convince them that whatever they read or watched was worth it.

The concepts of beginning-middle-end can be depicted in a diagram which should help students understand the overall plan of attack they ought to follow.

I can't remember who taught me this years ago, or if I had read it in a book, but I'd like to take this moment to thank that person for their ingenuity at simplifying schematically what, in my view, is one of the most fundamental skills required, enabling you to stand on your own two feet in this life (not in terms of writing an essay - I'm sure we can all get by perfectly well without having written a single essay in our lives - but in terms of persuading others or holding our ground in an argument).

The Inverted Triangle

The inverted triangle signifies the introduction. The reason for its being upside down is because when you start talking about a topic, you should ease your way into it. In other words, you must go from the very general to the very specific. This doesn't mean talking on end about this and that, beating about the bush with historical or other background information for 3-4 sentences before getting the the point. For a typical 250-word essay it means writing one general sentence, a second one specifying the essay's topic and a final one which will state the specific point or points you intend to cover in the paragraphs that ensue.

The Square

The bulk of your information necessarily follows your opening statements found in the introduction in what is known as the main body of an essay. The idea of imparting a bulk of information is represented by one or more squares, each of which will become a paragraph (in the diagram above, one square means there is only one paragraph in the main body, though all B2 academic essays and even formal letters should contain two while C2-level essays should have at least 3 paragraphs otherwise the essay will probably not be as well developed as it should be).

There are a number of undetermined sentences that a main body paragraph can contain which depend on the the scope of the very first sentence of that paragraph known as the topic sentence. The specifics about main body paragraphs will be dealt with in a separate blog post in this series of essay writing articles.

The Triangle

The triangle at the bottom of the diagram, which represents the concluding paragraph of an essay, is right side up. The reason for this, as you may well guess, is because at the end of our discussion, we do the exact opposite of what we did in the introductory paragraph, meaning we move from the very specific to the more general. For B2 essays, a conclusion should consist of two well-developed sentences, while at C2 level, three is the minimum.

The next article in the series will explain how to write an introductory paragraph based on the rubric (question) a student must work on.

Click on the following links for more posts concerning essay writing:

1) The Introductory Paragraph

2) The Main Body: Topic Sentence

3) The Main Body - Supporting Sentences

4) The Main Body - Concluding Sentence

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