What is an Essay?
When we do not know the exact meaning of a word we look up for the same in the dictionary. It is really an interesting exercise to compare and contrast, the meaning and the definition available in various dictionaries.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines essay as:
“A literary composition on any subject, usually in prose and short.”
Whereas in the Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary, the essay has been defined as:
A trial; an experiment; a written composition, less elaborate than a treatise.
Etymologically essay means:
To weigh, to balance.
Though defining a thing means putting a limit, it will, however, not be out of place if a few definitions by renowned scholars are quoted.
The oft-quoted definition is that of Dr. Johnson who defined essay as:
A loose sally of mind; an irregular, indigested piece; not a regular and orderly composition.
This definition has been criticised since its very inception—-rightly or otherwise. Benson did not attach much importance to the subject, matter but to the charm of personality.
According to him:
The essential point about an essay is not the subject but the charm of personality.
Bacon, the most renowned essayist, said:
Reading macketh a full man; writing an exact man; ani conference a ready man.
None can become an exact man until he is conscious of what he writes.
Essay is the product of our
Qualities of a Good Essay
Essay being the reflection of writer’s whims, caprices, idiosyncrasies, and rationality, it is difficult to bind it in a few stereotyped qualities. As the subject-matter includes Anything from the Day of Judgement to a pair of scissors, as Lynd puts it, the qualities are likely to be different from essay to essay. All the essays, however, possess some common qualities.
Essay is an organic whole but not unshaped lump. It is divided into paragraphs of different length.
Unity: Essay is like a building which is, no doubt, made of individual bricks but each brick is not called a building. It is the unity of design which goes to make the building. Similarly, every sentence, each paragraph, and essay as a whole should have unity. The systematic development of thought is the keynote of a good essay. Digression and unnecessary padding will defeat the very purpose of an essay.
The ideas in the essay should not hang loose like gossamer but should be stitched together in a logical sequence. Ideas in the essay are inter-linked like the links of chain. Disjointed ideas will mar the beauty of the essay. The hotch-potch of ill-digested ideas creates anarchy in the essay.
A proper proportion should be maintained between the various parts of the essay. If the trivial points are unduly stretched and important points unduly economized, the essay will have ill-balance which is a disqualification. The main theme should always be kept in mind.
Suppose the essay has to be written in about 1,000 words, the best division of paragraphs and points would be to put approximately:
- 100 words in the introduction.
- 100 words in different paragraphs numbering 8.
- About 100 words in the conclusion.
Choice of Subject:
Choose the topic with which you are thoroughly acquainted. Some students select unfamiliar subjects, simply wishful thinking. A man who is the master of the topic with which you have got only nodding acquaintance will secure definitely higher marks than you. Understand the subject-thoroughly before you start writing. The wrong start will mean the Wrong essay.
Parts of an Essay
An essay can be divided into following parts:
Every essay needs an introduction. An introduction is the face of the essays. It should, therefore, be striking, fascinating and must at once capture the attention of the reader. Various essayists have started their essays in different ways. The modern tendency is to take a direct plunge into the subject-matter. The hackneyed method was to start the essay with a definition or quotation. The start may also depend on the particular subject-matter. Even a quotation may be most fit if the subject of the essay can conveniently accommodate it.
It is the most important portion of the essay. Here only one is likely to be led astray. The middle of the essay contains the main discussion on the subject-matter and as such attempts should be made to avoid non-essential material.
Conclusion flows naturally out of the essay. No hard and fast rules can be prescribed. The end should neither be dramatic nor abrupt but natural. It is the last impression on the reader or the examiner.
Be very careful that last impression is not bad. No indication of
- It is the time, the essay should end
- In conclusion, I may add
- O God, solve the problems
- Lack of time did not allow me to write more, etc.
should be given. If the introduction is the face, middle the body, conclusion constitutes the legs of the essay. If a beautiful face and symmetrical body are supported on lean legs, the whole structure will lose its charm. The essay is an organic whole, hence the beginning, the middle and the end are to be knit together.
Dean Alford says in this connection:
Be simple, be unaffected, be honest in your speaking and writing. Never use a long word where a short one will do. Simplicity is the soul of good English.