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The Essay

The Essay

Author: Mackenzie W

Identify and understand the components of an effective academic essay.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi, everyone. I'm Mackenzie. And today we're learning about the essay. Have you ever noticed that essays come in all different shapes and forms? In this tutorial, we'll learn about the definition of an essay, we'll discuss the different components of an essay, we'll talk about the five-paragraph essay, we'll discuss using creativity in essay writing, and we'll talk about responding to essay prompts.

We'll begin by discussing the definition of an essay. An essay is a piece of nonfiction writing that focuses on one single point, topic, statement, or argument. An essay tends to be a shorter composition, shorter, certainly, than books. Essays are also a newer form of writing. Older forms of writing, such as poetry, drama, myths, and shorter fiction came before essays.

And essays started to gain popularity around the same time that novels did. Essays really gained popularity and started to become strongly developed during the Age of Enlightenment, which was the mid- to late-17th century and into the 18th century. And the reason why essays became so popular is because this time period really focused on the importance of intellect and sharing intellectual ideas with others. That is what an essay actually does.

Essays can take different forms depending on the context and the topic of the essay. And there are various approaches we can use to communicate information in an essay, such as interpretation, speculation, analysis, polemics, manifestos, descriptions, personal reflection, and persuasions. These all create different types of essays. We may have a very standard academic essay in which we're communicating information in an objective manner. Or a different type of essay could be a polemic essay. This is when we're using an aggressive, controversial argument.

While academic essays tend to be rather straightforward and don't cause a lot of emotion from the reader, polemic essays are the opposite. They tend to stir the pot. They cause fiery emotions because they are building on controversial topics in which people may have very strong opinions. This demonstrates to us that essays can take different forms and shapes.

We start out with an introduction paragraph. The introduction tells us the main point and the topic of the essay. The introduction will typically also include a thesis if it's an academic sort of essay. The thesis is one single, concise statement that tells us what the main argument or statement of the essay is. The following paragraphs are going to be body paragraphs. And they are going to support the ideas presented in the thesis. They are going to discuss the topic, the main idea, of the essay itself. The body paragraphs will typically include data, information, logic, reasoning, all to support the main idea or claim being made in the essay.

Then we'll have a conclusion at the end of the essay. Typically, this could be one paragraph, or it could be more. The conclusion will wrap up the main ideas presented in the body paragraphs. It will relate back to the thesis, if there was a thesis in sort of an academic context of an essay. It may include a call to action, which means that the author wants the reader to do something, or it may pose further ideas or questions related to the topic.

There are no specific rules about the exact length or number of paragraphs of an essay. And there aren't many rules about the structure that an essay has to follow. The main idea is that an essay is communicating some sort of idea in a specific way to the reader.

We will now discuss a specific type of essay called a five-paragraph essay. This type of essay is comprised of-- you guessed it-- five paragraphs, the first of which is an introduction paragraph followed by three body paragraphs that all relate back to the thesis of the essay. The last paragraph is a conclusion.

A five-paragraph essay can be useful because it's easy to figure out how to approach the essay. As long as you have three things to say, and they all relate to the thesis, you can put together a five-paragraph essay. It's especially helpful when you need a quick essay, such as a test that might require an essay answer. But the five-paragraph essay is sometimes seen as cliche or boring because it's very commonly taught to students, and that means it's commonly used.

The other problem with the five-paragraph essay is that it limits the depth a writer can use to explain a topic. You only have three paragraphs to get your point across, and sometimes that's not quite enough. Let's take a look at an example of what a five-paragraph essay would look like. This is the introduction paragraph. We see that the first sentence is a hook used to grab the reader's attention. We then see the thesis statement later in the paragraph, and the last sentence of the paragraph actually addresses the author's bias toward the topic.

Paragraph two is our first body paragraph. We have a topic sentence. The rest of the sentences in the paragraph are supporting sentences. Paragraph three, our second body paragraph, starts with a topic sentence. And we see that the following sentences, the supporting sentences, describe facts and statistics related to the topic. Next is paragraph four, which is body paragraph number three, our last body paragraph. Again, it begins with a topic sentence, and the supporting sentences relate to that idea. The last paragraph is the conclusion paragraph that helps to tie everything together, and it restates the thesis.

Keep in mind that a five-paragraph essay isn't always the best choice. There is no correct number of paragraphs for an essay. It really depends on the thesis and the topics being discussed in the essay itself. You have to decide what number of paragraphs is right for you. Your job is to get your point across so that the reader can thoroughly understand what you're discussing. Five paragraphs might not be enough. It's up to you to decide.

Even though essays are a form of nonfiction writing, we can still be creative in the ways in which we write them. Some of the ways that we add creativity to our writing include using literary devices such as figurative language, dialogue, description. You can experiment with tone, voice, persona. And you can think about your introduction and conclusion as a creative element as well. Your introduction and conclusion can be more than one paragraph. You can add interesting hooks, details, examples, anecdotes. It's up to you how you want to approach it. Your job is to use creativity so that the reader wants to read what you have written.

Sometimes when you need to write an essay, you'll be provided with an essay prompt, which is a statement or guide that helps you to figure out what the topic of the essay should be and how to write the essay. It may provide you with some parameters such as telling you what the length of the essay should be. In an academic context, you may come across essay prompts when you are taking a test, applying for a scholarship, completing an internship, or even as an assignment for a course. In a business setting, you may come across something similar to essay prompts when you are writing a cover letter, writing a business or a grant proposal.

The best way to approach an essay prompt is to think of it as a piece of engaged reading. You're trying to figure out the most information you can about the essay prompt using critical thinking. If you're not sure about what you need to do with the essay prompt, if you're not sure how it helps you to figure out how to write the essay, ask for clarification. It's OK to ask your teacher, your boss. Get as much information as you can.

If there are words in the essay prompts that you don't recognize, find out what they mean to help you, so that you make sure that you are completely and fully answering the essay prompt. Use the essay prompt to help you in your brainstorming and prewriting process. Then, when you come up with a working thesis, make sure it matches the prompt. You should even think about the prompt when you are drafting, revising, and editing your writing. You have to make sure that everything you've written matches the prompt. Go back and look at the prompt, look at what you've written, and make sure that they match.

Here are some examples of using essay prompts from different types of fields of study. For example, if you are in a history class, an essay prompt may ask you the following. A common expression tells us that history repeats itself. Give specific examples to describe why this is or is not true. Or perhaps an example from a communications studies class might ask you, nonverbal communication is essential in a conversation. Why is this?

Or maybe if you're in a chemistry class, an essay prompt might ask you, describe what is the most essential element for human life. These essay prompts help you to make an argument or make some sort of case. You're claiming something, and you're using information from that field of study to support your claim.

In this tutorial, we learned about the definition of an essay, we discussed the different components of an essay, we talked about the five-paragraph essay, we discussed using creativity in essay writing, and we talked about responding to essay prompts. Essays come in all shapes and forms. I'm Mackenzie. Thanks for listening.

Terms to Know

An essay is a piece of nonfiction writing, generally written in prose and focused on a single topic.


A polemic is an aggressive, controversial, or contentious argument; an essay that makes a polemical argument.