browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.

The Essay

How to develop, research, structure, and write research essay and reports

Death to the Reading Class
By Marshall Poe
Fortnightly Review, September 2011

The hard truth, however, is that most people don’t want to read and, therefore, don’t read.

Mechanical Icon

As noted in the Wikipedia article on the essay, Aldous Huxley, in his Collected Essays, discusses three types of essays:

Personal and the autobiographical essays: these use “fragments of reflective autobiography” to “look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description”.

Objective and factual: in these essays, the authors “do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme”.

Abstract-universal: these essays “make the best … of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist”. This type is also known as Giraffe Style Writing.

The first and third types are, to my mind, more difficult to write. For your majors and your likely jobs, you’re going to get more use out of the second, the objective and factual type of thinking and writing.

For purposes of this course, the term “essay” refers to this objective and factual type of thinking and writing.

Your assertion

Your assertion

Basic unit of discourse

rhetorical part: assertion, support, explanation

analogy: pull out your gun, load, aim and shoot

Your evidence

Your evidence

An assertion is like a gun. Anyone can pull one out and start waving it around. By itself, an assertion is an opinion, all talk, lots of fervent belief, but nothing else. To make it more persuasive, all you can do it raise your voice, wag the gun more wildly.

The support is the bullets. It’s what you load your gun with. A loaded gun is a lot more threatening. It can, potentially, do a lot more damage than the gun by itself.

However, to effectively communicate, you need to pull the trigger. No matter how good your gun and your bullets, you’re never going to hit your target unless you pull the trigger. Your target is your reader, and that’s a singular “reader”, on purpose. You cannot shoot everyone with a gun. It’s pretty much one at a time.

Same with an essay. Don’t try to write to “everyone”. Write to one specific person, one reader. You need to explain what you want your reader to get out of the evidence. Then it’s not just your opinion against someone else’s. It’s your substantiated, explained opinion, which is more persuasive and carries more weight than the opinions of those wagging their guns at each other.

The body section or paragraph is like a mini-essay in itself. Where the whole essay has a thesis statement, the individual sections or paragraphs have topic statements. Then at the end of the course, after you have written a lot of paragraphs, you will add a level of complexity by combining some of them into an essay. It will have many paragraphs, many topic sentences, and lots of examples, and you will pull the trigger over and over again by continually explaining what those examples show.

“The paragraph development model we’re using for this course is going to cramp my style.”

Yes, it will, if you have only one style. Then, like a singer who can sing only one song in only one key, you can’t contribute much to other songs in other keys. So I wouldn’t say the basic unit of discourse will cramp your style as much as it will add another style to the one you already have. This one will fit your thinking into a structure that will be familiar to your readers.

“Even the birds are chained to the skyways.”

I can’t find the pop song that’s from, but I was reminded of it watching the downhill skiers at the Olympics on TV one evening last winter.

When I stand at the top of a slope, I have to work with the terrain and the vegetation and other skiers, but I basically make my own way downhill. That’s how many people want to write essays, sort of meandering along, enjoying the trip and not so concerned about the destination.

Unfortunately, you won’t get paid for that at work. Writing for work is more like the task facing the competitive Olympians at the top of a downhill course. There are gates they must go through. They are often red, so there’s no mistaking them.

If you’re a fan, you know that those gates don’t restrict the skier’s style, they free it. In the same way, the structural model, the problem-solving model, that I am showing you for this course can free you to write well, not hamper you.