Types of Academic Essays
Most essays written in an academic setting fall into one of four categories, or modes: exposition, narration, description, and persuasion. There are variations (or subcategories) of different essays that are written in each main mode, but each variation ultimately has the same overall purpose:
Exposition: an essay that attempts to inform the reader about something important or explain something to him/her (a process, a set of rules, the benefits of an activity, etc.). Common expository writings: business or technical writing, process writing, compare and/or contrast essays, reaction essays, response essays, and often research-based essays.
Narration: writing that tells the reader about a particular event(s) that took place. Common narration writings: personal essays, short stories, novels, poetry.
Description: writing that uses vivid language to describe a person, place, or event so that the reader can picture the topic clearly in his/her mind. Fiction and poetry often use large amounts of descriptive writing, and sometimes only attempt to serve this descriptive purpose.
Persuasion: writing that takes a stand on a principle (oftentimes a controversial issue) and attempts to persuade the reader to adopt a similar mindset. At the collegiate level, persuasive writing assignments are quite common. The most common persuasive essay is the argument paper. The reason for this is because writing an argument essay involves incorporating critical thinking and often the use of outside sources. Many papers written in disciplines other than English are a variation of the argument paper and should be treated in a similar fashion (ex-an analysis essay for literature that defends a particular form of literary criticism for the literary work).
It is important to note that while an essay generally falls under one of these main modes, good writing usually incorporates a variety of these into the same assignment. For instance, a narration piece will benefit from incorporating heavy amounts of description, and often a persuasive essay must first explain certain facts to the reader (exposition) before arguing for or against a certain solution.
Writers of all disciplines and backgrounds should study these modes and learn how to write each one successfully and incorporate them into different forms of writing.
After you have a topic idea, what's next? You have to develop information that you will put into your essay and decide on your audience and purpose. Then you will need to decide the point of view, tone, and style of writing you will use. Sound confusing? Don't worry. Just answer the following questions to get ready to write. You can open up a word processing program, copy these questions, and then answer them, or do it the old-fashioned way with paper and pen.
- Topic idea: ______________________________________________. (Write yours out.)
- What kind of expository essay is this? (How to? How does it work? Definition? Fact? Cause? History of?)
- List or cluster different aspects or parts of your topic.
- Circle the aspects which are most interesting to you. Cluster those.
- Do you have enough to say or too much? Do you need to narrow your topic or expand it?
- What sources can you use? Where can you find them?
- What are some things your audience would be familiar with which you can compare your topic with?
- What do they already know?
- What would they be interested in knowing?
- What kind of tone would be best for this audience? (informational, satiric, humorous, folksy, professional?)
- Considering your audience, which point of view would be the most effective one to write in? Would it be better to write in the first person ("I" or "we"), second person ("you"), or third person (impersonal)?
Write Your Thesis
- Your purpose (What do you want audience to think, do, or know after reading? This will be related to what your audience doesn't know.)
- Turn your topic into a question: ___________________________________________
- Answer that question: __________________________________________________
- Make a thesis statement: _______________________________________________
- Essay map—sentence(s) which list main sub-topics: ______________________________________________________________ (These can be headers for sections of the paper.)
- Which sort of organization would work best for you? Examples: chronological (in time), spatial (in space and time), process (step-by-step), topical (part-by-part), cause/effect, historical overview, comparison and contrast, or reverse expectations.
- Write a brief outline for how you will structure the body of the paper.
Intro and Conclusion
- Which of these introduction and conclusion ideas could you use? Reverse expectation, expectation fulfilled, scenario (imagined typical story, also called a case study), personal story, frame story, vivid description, conversation, definition, comparison and contrast, analogy, startling statistic or fact, quotation, story from book or movie.
- Choose the best one(s) for your essay and explain what you will do.
Tone, Voice, and Style
- Which person will you write in for your essay? (1st “I,” 2nd “you,” or 3rd “he, she, it.”) Why?
- What sort of tone will you have? Why? (Example: serious and informative, humorous, sarcastic, enthusiastic.)