What is an Essay?

Everyone has at least once heard about essays. It is a piece of writing, in which author expresses own opinion. Content of an essay can be very diverse, from political manifestos, literary criticism, recollections and observations of daily life to reflections of the author. Content is usually subjective.

Essay is defined vaguely because it’s a kind of a short story and an article at the same time. The majority of modern essays are prose works, though there’re some works in verse.

However, there are also counterexamples. These are comparatively long essays, such as An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke or An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus.

So, what is an essay: a literary genre and a pedagogical tool?

The homeland of essays is France. Michel de Montaigne was the first man who named his works this way. The first essays in English were written by Francis Bacon. Nowadays we know a lot of outstanding essayists, such as Voltaire, Joan Didion, Virginia Woolf, Natalia Ginzburg, Leo Tolstoy, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Bysshe Shelley and so on.

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In recent times, essays are widely used for educational purposes. Students learn how to write essays, express opinion, using arguments in a logical way. These skills are often important when applying to university (admissions essay). In this case, essays are used to see how the student grasps and analyses material. In different kinds of essays students have to comment, explain opinion and assess the material. Academic essays are formal, so the author expresses own point of view but in a strict manner, usually without the first person.

The first kind of essays everyone learns to write is a five-paragraph essay. Its structure is simple: introduction with thesis, three paragraphs with ideas supporting this thesis and a summarizing paragraph. This format is useful to teach students to organize their thoughts but it’s also quite repetitive.

Academic essays are longer and deeper. They often require in-depth understanding of the topic, different quotations and bibliography. These essays are used to test students’ ability to express thoughts clearly and support opinion with the right arguments. The most widespread types of academic essays are: descriptive, narrative, compare and contrast, persuasive and argumentative essays.

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