Is Essay A Genre

Almost all students will at some time be expected to write an essay, or some other kind of argument, e.g. a review or discussion section, in a longer piece of writing. In English, an essay is a piece of argumentative writing several paragraphs long written about one topic, usually based on your reading. The aim of the essay should be deduced strictly from the wording of the title or question (See Academic Writing: Understanding the Question), and needs to be defined at the beginning. The purpose of an essay is for you to say something for yourself using the ideas of the subject, for you to present ideas you have learned in your own way. The emphasis should be on working with other people's ideas, rather than reproducing their words, but your own voice should show clearly. The ideas and people that you refer to need to made explicit by a system of referencing.

According to Linda Flower (1990, p. v), "students are reading to create a text of their own, trying to integrate information from sources with ideas of their own, and attempting to do so under the guidance of a purpose."

2. Main text

English essays are linear:

- they start at the beginning and finish at the end, with every part contributing to the main line of argument, without digressions or repetition. Writers are responsible for making their line of argument clear and presenting it in an orderly fashion so that the reader can follow. Each paragraph discusses one major point and each paragraph should lead directly to the next. The paragraphs are tied together with an introduction and a conclusion.

The main text of the essay has three main parts:

  1. An introduction
  2. A main body
  3. A conclusion

    The introduction consists of two parts:

    1. It should include a few general statements about the subject to provide a background to your essay and to attract the reader's attention. It should try to explain why you are writing the essay. It may include a definition of terms in the context of the essay, etc.
    2. It should also include a statement of the specific subdivisions of the topic and/or indication of how the topic is going to be tackled in order to specifically address the question.

    It should introduce the central idea or the main purpose of the writing.

    The main body consists of one or more paragraphs of ideas and arguments. Each paragraph develops a subdivision of the topic. The paragraphs of the essay contain the main ideas and arguments of the essay together with illustrations or examples. The paragraphs are linked in order to connect the ideas. The purpose of the essay must be made clear and the reader must be able to follow its development.

    The conclusion includes the writer's final points.

    1. It should recall the issues raised in the introduction and draw together the points made in the main body
    2. and explain the overall significance of the conclusions. What general points can be drawn from the essay as a whole?

    It should clearly signal to the reader that the essay is finished and leave a clear impression that the purpose of the essay has been achieved.

Essays are organised differently according to their purpose. Essays can be divided into the following main types.

1. The descriptive essay

a. Description of object or place

b. Describing a sequence of events.

c. Describing a process

d. Describing and explaining

2. The argument essay

a. The balanced view

b. The persuasive essay

c. The to what extent essay.

3. Compare and contrast essays

a. The contrast essay

b. The compare essay

c. The compare and contrast essays

1. The descriptive essay

a. Description of object or place

Describe essays require you to state the appearance of something, or to state the major characteristics of it. Note the word state i.e. you are not asked to comment on the subject or to give your personal point of view on it. Questions are often introduced by:

Describe ....
Narrate...
Tell....

Plan:

Introduction

major aspects of the subject.

description of aspect A

description of aspect B

etc.

Conclusion

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Describing objects, locations & directions

b. Describing a sequence of events.

Describing a sequence of events is simply telling a story.

State clearly when events happened or how one event caused another. Questions may be introduced by:

Give an account of...
Trace...
Examine developments in...

Intoduction

First situation

then A happened

then B happened

etc.

Final situation

Conclusion

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Reporting & narrating

c. Describing a process

This is like telling a story but here the connections between the facts must be clearly shown and explained. Group the events into steps or stages.

Examples of such questions are :

Explain/What is the connection between...
Describe the procedures by which...

Definition of process

Main equipment/Main steps

Step One

leads to

Step Two

leads to

Step Three

Conclusion

Summary of process

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Describing processes & developments

d. Describing and explaining

Some of the words and phrases which introduce this type of description are:

Explain the causes/reasons....
Account for....
Analyse the causes....
Comment on (the reasons for)....
Show that....
Show why...
Examine the effect of....
Suggest reasons for....
Why did...?
What are the implications of...?
Discuss the causes of....
Discuss the reasons for....

When we are asked to describe or explain causes, factors, functions or results, the examiner wants us to group our facts. Similar causes are put together, for instance the economic causes of a situation. There are basically two main ways to organise this type of essay.

The question is "Describe the causes of A. Illustrate your answer by specific examples."

i.

Introduction to causes of A

Cause 1 + example

Effects 1

Cause 2 with example

Effects 2

Cause 3 with examples

Effects 3

Cause 4 with example

Effects 4

etc.

Conclusion

ii.

Introduction to causes of A

Causes + examples

Transition

Effects

Conclusion

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Expressing reasons and explanations / cause and effect

2. The argument essay

There are two main methods of presenting an argument, and in general the one you choose will depend on exactly how the essay title is worded.

a. The balanced view

If the essay title begins with something like:

Give the arguments for and against....
Assess the importance of....
Examine the arguments for and against....
What are the advantages and disadvantages of...?
Evaluate....
Critically examine the statement that....
To what extent is...true?

or even just the word

Discuss....

then it is clear that a balanced essay is required. That is to say you should present both sides of an argument, without necessarily committing yourself to any points of view, which should always be based on evidence, until the final paragraph.

At its simplest your essay plan will be as follows:

Introduce the argument to the reader.

e.g. why it is particularly relevant topic nowadays
or refer directly to some comments that have been voiced on it recently.

Reasons against the argument

Reasons in favour of the argument

After summarising the two sides,
state your own point of view,
and explain why you think as you do

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Arguing and discussing; - Expressing degrees of certainty; - Generalising; - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences; - Giving examples

b. The persuasive essay

This second type of argumentative essay involves stating your own point of view immediately, and trying to convince the reader by reasoned argument that you are right. Perhaps the essay title will begin with something like:

Give your views on....
What do you think about...?
Do you agree that...?
Consider whether....

Or perhaps the title itself will be so controversial that everyone will hold a definite opinion in one direction or another.

The form of the essay will be, in outline, as follows:

Introduce the topic briefly in general terms,

and then state your own opinion.

Explain what you plan to prove in the essay.

Reasons against the argument.

Dispose briefly of the main objections to your case.

Reasons for your argument

the arguments to support your own view,

with evidence and examples.

Conclusion - Do not repeat your point of view again.

End your essay with something memorable

e.g. a quotation or a direct question.

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Arguing and discussing; - Expressing degrees of certainty; - Generalising; - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences; - Giving examples

c. The to what extent essay

In this type of essay the examiner is giving you a statement. It is obviously true but truth is never 100%. You must decide how true it is? Are there some areas where you disagree with the statement. If so, describe how far you agree, and your points of agreement and disagreement. Words used in the question are:

To what extent ....
How true ....
How far do you agree....

A possible answer structure is:

Introduction to problem

Aspect 1 - true

Aspect 1 - false

Aspect 2 - true

Aspect 2 - false

Aspect 3 - true

Aspect 3 - false

etc

Conclusion

a ‘subtraction’ sum

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Arguing and discussing; - Expressing degrees of certainty; - Generalising; - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences; - Giving examples

3. Compare and contrast essays.

a The Contrast essay

Contrast or distinguish between questions usually present you with two or more terms, instruments, concepts or procedures that are closely connected, and sometimes confused. The purpose of the essay is to explain the differences between them. The question may be of the form:

Contrast ....
Distinguish between ...
What is the difference between....
What are the differences between....
How are ... and ... different?

A suitable answer structure would be:

Introduction to differences between A and B

Contrast A & B in terms of first difference

Contrast A & B in terms of second difference

Contrast A & B in terms of third difference

etc

Conclusion

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences; - Defining; - Generalising; - Giving examples

b. The Compare essay

Compare questions usually present you with two or more terms, instruments, concepts or procedures that are closely connected, and sometimes confused. The purpose of the essay is to explain the similarities between them. Words used are:

Compare ....
What features do ... and ... have in common?
What are the similarities between....
How are ... and ... similar?

A suitable answer structure would be:

Introduction to similarities between A and B

Compare A & B

in terms of first similarity

Compare A & B

in terms of second similarity

Compare A & B

in terms of third similarity

etc.

Conclusion

See: Academic Writing: Functions - Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences; - Defining; - Generalising; - Giving examples

c. The compare and contrast essay

Compare and contrast essays require you to indicate areas in which the things to be compared are similar and different.

Compare and contrast....

There are two main ways to answer such questions:

i.

Introduction to differences and similarities between A and B

Difference 1

Difference 2

Difference 3

etc.

Transition

Similarity 1

Similarity 2

Similarity 3

etc.

Conclusion

ii.

Introduction to differences and similarities between A and B

Aspect 1 - similarities

Aspect 1 - differences

Aspect 2 - similarities

Aspect 2 - differences

Aspect 3 - similarities

Aspect 3 - differences

etc

Conclusion

The genres of short prose writing can be very confusing. For example, some writers will call their personal essay a story, and others will call their essay a memoir. To make matters even more complicated, a number of literary magazines are beginning to accept what is commonly called mixed genre writing. It’s important to understand the difference between the types of short prose, whether you’re writing an essay, short story, memoir, commentary, or mixed genre piece.

What is a short story?
A short story is a work of fictional prose. Its characters may be loosely based on real-life people, and its plot may be inspired by a real-life event; but overall more of the story is “made-up” than real. Sometimes, the story can be completely made-up. Short stories may be literary, or they may conform to genre standards (i.e., a romance short story, a science-fiction short story, a horror story, etc.). A short story is a work that the writer holds to be fiction (i.e., historical fiction based on real events, or a story that is entirely fiction).

Short Story Example: A writer is inspired by a car explosion in his town. He writes a story based on the real explosion and set in a similar town, but showing the made-up experiences of his characters (who may be partly based on real-life).

Short Story Example two: A writer writes a story based on a made-up explosion, set in a made-up town, and showing the made-up experiences of his characters.

What is a personal or narrative essay? What is an academic essay? What’s the difference?
Though factual, the personal essay, sometimes called a narrative essay, can feel like a short story, with “characters” and a plot arc. A personal essay is a short work of nonfiction that is not academic (that is, not a dissertation or scholarly exploration of criticism, etc.).

In a personal essay, the writer recounts his or her personal experiences or opinions. In an academic essay, the writer’s personal journey does not typically play a large part in the narrative (or plot line).

Sometimes the purpose of a personal essay is simply to entertain. Some personal essays may have a meditative or even dogmatic feel; a personal essay may illustrate a writer’s experiences in order to make an argument for the writer’s opinion. Some personal essays may cite other texts (like books, stories, or poems), but the focus of the citation is not to make an academic point. Rather, emphasis is on the writer’s emotional journey and insight.

Personal Essay Example: A writer pens the story of his experience at the scene of a car explosion in his town. The work is short enough for publication in a literary journal and focuses on the author’s perspective and insight.

What is a commentary?
The personal essay form and commentary may sometimes overlap, but it may be helpful to make some distinctions. A commentary is often very short (a few hundred words) and more journalistic in tone than a personal essay. It fits nicely as a column in a newspaper or on a personal blog. The writing can be more newsy than literary.

Some very short nonfiction pieces may be better suited to newspapers than to literary journals; however, literary magazines have been known to publish commentary-esque pieces that have a literary bent.

Commentary Example: A writer tells the story of a car explosion in his town to illustrate the point that the police are not vigilant enough about people throwing flaming marshmallows out their windows.

What is a memoir?
Memoir generally refers to longer works of nonfiction, written from the perspective of the author. Memoir does not generally refer to short personal essays. If you’re writing a short piece based on your real-life experiences, editors of literary journals will identify this as a personal essay. If you’re writing a book about an experience, it’s a memoir. A collection of interrelated personal essays may constitute a memoir.

Memoir Example: A writer composes a full-length book about his experiences after a car explosion in his town.

Learn more: Creative Nonfiction: How To Stay Out Of Trouble

What is a nonfiction short story?
There’s no such thing as a nonfiction short story. Short stories are inherently fiction (with or without real-life inspiration). Personal essays are not fictional.

Example: None.

So what is mixed genre writing?
Mixed genre writing is creative work that does not sit comfortably in any of the above genres. Mixed genre writing blends some elements of fiction with elements of nonfiction in a very deliberate way. Some examples:

Mixed Genre Example One: A professional accountant named John Jones is writing a story about a man named John Jones, who is John Jones and lives John Jones’ life—except that the fictional John Jones one day decides to leave his real-life accounting job, and live his dream of being a rock star (since the real-life John Jones is thinking of doing the same thing).

Is this a short story? An essay? If ninety percent of the story is true and ten percent is fiction, then what should the writer call this?

Mixed Genre Example Two: A writer decides to compose a family history, using pictures and documents from her family albums. But sometimes her story veers into fiction. She finds herself embellishing elements or omitting characters; and, the result is a story that’s better than the one she might tell if she were to stick to the facts.

Again, is this an essay? A short story? If half of the story is made-up, but half is very obviously true, it might be best called mixed genre.

NOTE: Sometimes the term mixed genre is defined in terms of the novel or book. A mixed genre novel might be a novel that mixes science fiction elements with characteristics of a legal thriller. Or a mixed genre novel might also be a work that plays fast and loose with fact and fiction. If you’re going to refer to your book as mixed genre, be clear about what you mean.

Learn more: Genre Fiction Rules: Find Out If Your Novel Meets Publishers’ And Literary Agents’ Criteria For Publication

Tips on Writing Mixed Genre
If you’re going to write mixed genre prose, do so with care. Mixed genre writing often has a kind of self-aware, almost tongue-in-cheek, element to it—a wink to the reader who is not fooled by the mixing of fiction and nonfiction, even if the lines are blurry. Mixed genre can be considered experimental, and as such, it’s important that the writing be exceptionally smart in order to live up to the demands of the (mixed) genre.

Why is mixed genre writing so often self-referential? Writing mixed genre and passing it off as an essay or a short story could make editors think that you are trying to dupe them, so it helps to include something in the work that makes reference to itself as being a mixture of fact and fiction. These “meta” elements can help put the reader at ease.

Who is publishing mixed genre short prose?
The primary markets for short prose are literary magazines and journals. Writer’s Relief frequently helps writers target their work to literary journals. For more information on how to find markets for your short prose, please read Researching Literary Markets for Your Work if you plan to research on your own. Or learn about Writer’s Relief submission services if you’d like help targeting your submissions.

Photo by greeblie via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/greeblie/

QUESTION: Have you ever tackled a mixed genre piece?

 

Ronnie L. Smith, President of Writer’s Relief, Inc., an author’s submission service that helps creative writers get published by targeting their poems, essays, short stories, and books to the best-suited literary agents or editors of literary journals. www.WritersRelief.com

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