What is an Essay?
We can loosely define an essay as a relatively short piece of writing on any given topic or subject. Key to any student’s academic journey, essay writing is an invaluable skill and a determining factor in getting a high grade and progressing in the field.
A useful handbook for any academic author, The Purdue Owl, aptly defines essay writing in the following quote:
The purpose of an essay is to encourage students to develop ideas and concepts in their writing with the direction of little more than their own thoughts (it may be helpful to view the essay as the converse of a research paper). Therefore, essays are (by nature) concise and require clarity in purpose and direction. This means that there is no room for the student’s thoughts to wander or stray from his or her purpose; the writing must be deliberate and interesting.
Whether to inform, persuade, or tell a story, almost all essays fall into one of eight categories, or “rhetoric modes,” most commonly employed in academic writing. Of these, the major four comprise the Persuasive, Descriptive, Narrative, and Expository writing styles, as detailed in the following sub-sections. A key strategy to employ to construct a convincing argument, academic writing styles equip researchers with a wider range of tools to employ when constructing solid arguments, vivid descriptions, clear accounts, and logical analysis.
Arguably the most common essay type, persuasive writing presents a clear argument through investigatory research, evaluating evidence, and writing strong conclusions. Through sound logic and strong supporting evidence, the aim is to persuade the reader of your viewpoint or argument.
Clarity is key to argumentative writing. The author must thus provide a clear research statement, along with fluid, logical introduction and conclusion sections. A common method employed in persuasive writing is the “Five Paragraphs” approach, which consists of: (a) an introductory paragraph; (b) three body paragraphs to present research findings and study data, conduct literature reviews and analyzes, and discuss research outcomes and opposing views; and (c) a conclusion.
In descriptive essays, authors provide a written account of a particular experience. Clarity of writing is achieved through vivid descriptions of things⎯situations, emotions, people, places, and objects. Given that descriptive writing is a sensory process, with the primary goal being to visualize experiences, this essay type is more flexible and allows greater creative freedom in the writing process.
As the name suggests, narrative essays tell stories. Like the five-paragraph approach, the narrative essay shares the same format; however, unlike a story, all character(s), dialogs, and scenes are all intrinsic to the essay’s point of discussion⎯the main theme/central idea.
This essay type encompasses the investigation of an idea/theory, evaluating relevant evidence and/or data, and further developing the primary research goal by proposing arguments. Similar in nature to persuasive/argumentative essays, the expository writing style is usually shorter in length and less analytical than the persuasive style.
Other Essay Types
- Compare and Contrast
Authors often incorporate other writing styles, or rhetorical modes, into their essays to increase the range of analytical tools available. Compare and Contrast focuses on the similarities and differences between two or more related items or datasets.
- Cause and Effect
Employed to explain why something matters and how a result is consequential to its cause. The Cause and Effect mode of analysis often follows a primary research statement and research question.
- Critical Analysis
A critical analysis interprets and evaluates specific objects, themes, and ideas. Critical analysis are generally used to provide scholarly critiques of literary material; hence, the author’s personal opinion is the focal point of the analysis, with the strengths and weaknesses discusses in-depth.
Being well-versed in each of these writing styles will allow for greater flexibility in your approach to academic writing. The core writing styles mentioned in this article highlight the range of academic writing styles that can be employed strategically, with different modes used for different studies and subjects.
If you’re a student gaining valuable writing experience, I recommend seeking out relevant journals and databases in your field to broad range of examples of academic literature. There’s also a wealth of resources out there on the internet, such as essay writing guides and templates highlighting the most appropriate structures and strategies to employ for specific papers. To polish up your writing, considering hiring a copy editor to examine your draft essay before submission to spot any holes in your research, ensure scholarly language, and sharpen up the structure and format to adhere to specific styles and submission guidelines.