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What is an essay?

This adaptation of Lucille Vaughan Payne's The Lively Art of Writing helps students to learn the basics of the essay. If you like this, spend the $5 and buy the book.
by

Peter Flynn

on 15 December 2014

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Transcript of What is an essay?

Writing an Essay (1. What is an essay?)
An "essay" is a specific kind of writing
in French, the verb "essayer" means "to try."
An essay is not a purely factual or opinion piece.
It is a combination of both, and it can be a few paragraphs or hundreds of pages.
An essay is the written expression of its author's opinion
You are not just recording facts
or explaining experiences; you are
recording and explaining your opinion of those facts and experiences.
Writing essays is important because it allows
you
to explore new ideas, ultimately learning more about
yourself.
Subjects for essays
The good news: You can write an essay about anything.
Anything
. You simply have to know or learn enough to have an opinion.
If I were to ask you to
write an essay right now
about "friendship," you would
have enough information through your life experiences to form a strong opinion.
If, however, I were to ask you to write an essay about the first amendment, do you really have enough knowledge to form a strong opinion and defend it?
This brings us to another point. You are not just stating your opinion; you have to defend it.
What exactly is an opinion?
opinion: A belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what seems to be true, valid, or probable to one's own mind; what one thinks; judgment.
Example: If you were to write about how the world's population recently reached seven billion people, that is not an essay.
If you were to write that education must change due to increased technological proficiency of students, that is an essay.
Even if a topic is an opinion because it is unprovable, it could still be a bad topic for an essay. "Friendship is an important human relationship." Well, yeah, I can't PROVE that, but is that really arguable? Your topic should be something with which some will disagree. Otherwise, why bother?
But, even this "boring" topic could be worked with, if you know how to do it. Let's take that statement "Friendship is an important human relationship" and start asking questions about it.

Do girls make better friends than boys?
Can parents and children ever really be friends?
Does friendship usually have an element of self-interest?
What makes an opinion interesting?
Simply, the thing that makes an opinion interesting is OPPOSITION.
Why would anyone want to waste their time reading something that everyone agrees with?
People want to read something that they may disagree with.
Which essay topic would you be more interested in reading?
Boys and girls aren't the same.
Boys are smarter than girls.
Examining the Opposition
When you begin to form your opinion, you must consider opposing views.
Often, an issue will have more than 2 sides, sometimes many more.
One mistake young writers make is that they start writing before they think through their opinion.
Sometimes when you consider opposiing views, you may even change your original position.
You need to be able to answer "yes" to both of these questions:
Can a valid argument be made against my opinion?
Can I defend it logically against this argument?

If so, then you are on a good track.
To summarize:
Pick a subject
Examine everything you know about it
Arrive at your honest opinion

The most important rule of writing an essay:
Think before you write.
The amount of work you do before you start writing an essay is typically at least half the work involved in writing an essay.
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