1 Tygor

Elements That Are Features Of A Good Academic Essay

An essay puts forth a viewpoint, so think of it as structuring an argument.

1.  Begin by writing an introduction that is general and introduces the topic. In your introduction, include a thesis statement that makes your position clear.

2.  Write as many paragraphs as you need to make all the points of your argument.  Begin each paragraph with a topic sentencethat does two things: supports your thesis and controls the content of the...

An essay puts forth a viewpoint, so think of it as structuring an argument.

1.  Begin by writing an introduction that is general and introduces the topic. In your introduction, include a thesis statement that makes your position clear.

2.  Write as many paragraphs as you need to make all the points of your argument.  Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that does two things: supports your thesis and controls the content of the paragraph it heads.

3.  Be sure to establish your credibility.  This is called ethos. Make your audience aware of what qualifies you to speak on the subject.

4.  Make sure your position is reasonable, logical, and supported by factual information.  This is called logos.

5.  Engage your audience by appealing to the appropriate emotions for your subject.  This is called pathos. The words you choose (diction) create your tone, and it, too, should be appropriate to your subject.

6.  In your concluding paragraph, don't simply restate your main points.  This is a bit insulting to your reader.  A more effective way to end is to once again turn to more general terms, but rephrase your thesis.  Rephrase, but don't repeat, to cement your argument.

7.  Be sure your grammar, usage and mechanics are clean.  Proofread carefully and seek an edit from someone you know to be a good writer. Be open to their edits and willing to revise.

Notice how each of these objects are objective correlatives for the writer’s family. Taken together, they create an essence image.

Quick: What essence image describes your family? Even if you have a non-traditional family–in fact, especially if you have a non-traditional family!–what image or objects represents your relationship?

Based on the image the writer uses, how would you describe her relationship with her family? Close? Warm? Intimate? Loving? Quiet? But think how much worse her essay would have been if she’d written: “I have a close, warm, intimate, loving, quiet relationship with my family.”

Terrible.

Instead, she describes an image of her family "huddled in front of the fireplace while drinking my brother’s hot cocoa and listening to the pitter patter of rain outside our window.” Three objects--fireplace, brother’s hot cocoa, sound of rain--and we get the whole picture of their relationship. We know all we need to know.

There’s another lesson here:

Principle #2: Engage the reader’s imagination using all five senses

This writer did. Did you notice?

  • Fireplace (feel)
  • Brother’s hot cocoa (taste, smell)
  • Pitter patter of rain (sound)
  • Biggest photograph (sight)

And there’s something else she did that’s really smart. Did you notice how clearly she set up the idea of the scrapbook at the beginning of the essay? Look at the last sentence of the second paragraph (bolded below):

Cutting the first photograph, I make sure to leave a quarter inch border. I then paste it onto a polka-dotted green paper with a glue stick. For a sophisticated touch, I use needle and thread to sew the papers together. Loads of snipping and pasting later, the clock reads three in the morning. I look down at the final product, a full spread of photographs and cut-out shapes. As usual, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride as I brush my fingers over the crisp papers and the glossy photographs. For me, the act of taking pieces of my life and putting them together on a page is my way of organizing remnants of my past to make something whole and complete.

The sentence in bold above is essentially her thesis. It explains the framework for the whole essay. She follows this sentence with:

This particular project is the most valuable scrapbook I have ever made: the scrapbook of my life.

Boom. Super clear. And we’re set-up for the rest of the essay. So here’s the third thing we can learn:

Principle #3: The set-up should be super clear

Even a personal statement can have a thesis. It’s important to remember that, though your ending can be somewhat ambiguous—something we’ll discuss more later—your set-up should give the reader a clear sense of where we’re headed. It doesn’t have to be obvious, and you can delay the thesis for a paragraph or two (as this writer does), but at some point in the first 100 words or so, we need to know we’re in good hands. We need to trust that this is going to be worth our time.

Principle #4: Show THEN Tell

Has your English teacher ever told you “Show, don’t tell?” That’s good advice, but for a college essay I believe it’s actually better to show THEN tell.

Why? Two reasons:

1.) Showing before telling gives your reader a chance to interpret the meaning of your images before you do. Why is this good? It provides a little suspense. Also, it engages the reader’s imagination. Take another look at the images in the second to last paragraph: my college diploma... a miniature map with numerous red stickers pinpointing locations all over the world... frames and borders without photographs... (Note that it's all "show.")

As we read, we wonder: what do all these objects mean? We have an idea, but we’re not certain. Then she TELLS us:

That second page is incomplete because I have no precise itinerary for my future. The red flags on the map represent the places I will travel to, possibly to teach English like I did in Cambodia or to do charity work with children like I did in Guatemala. As for the empty frames, I hope to fill them with the people I will meet: a family of my own and the families I desire to help, through a career I have yet to decide.

Ah. Now we get it. She’s connected the dots.

2.) Showing then telling gives you an opportunity to set-up your essay for what I believe to be the single most important element to any personal statement: insight.

Principle #5: Provide insight

What is insight? In simple terms, it’s a deeper intuitive understanding of a person or thing.

But here’s a more useful definition for your college essay: Insight is something that you’ve noticed about the world that others may have missed. Insight answers the question: So what? It's proof that you’re a close observer of the world. That you’re sensitive to details. That you’re smart.

And the author of this essay doesn’t just give insight at the end of her essay, she does it at the beginning too: she begins with a description of herself creating a scrapbook (show), then follows this with a clear explanation for why she has just described this (tell).

Final note: it’s important to use insight judiciously. Not throughout your whole essay; a couple times will do.

So what can you steal from this for your essay?

  • Principle #1: Use objects and images instead of adjectives
  • Principle #2: Engage the reader’s imagination using all five senses
  • Principle #3: The set-up should be super clear
  • Principle #4: Show THEN Tell
  • Principle #5: Provide insight

Leave a Comment

(0 Comments)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *