The art of writing an essay is by far the most difficult of arts to practice, especially for the students who are still not mature enough to perceive instinctively the full implications of the subject matter of the compositions which they are called upon to attempt. Students, moreover, do not have generally adequate command over language to express themselves efficiently through a foreign medium like English. They keep on groping in darkness. Conceptual difficulties as well as difficulties of expressing thoughts, through a foreign medium, impinge adversely on the style of their writing. The essay has to bring thoughts to converge into a sharp focus so that after going through a well-written essay the reader feels unforgettably the dent of the author’s thoughts on his own mind. The effectiveness of an essay, therefore, depends on the author’s ability to present himself with the greatest possible clarity of thought and lucidity of expression. The style has to be straight and simple. There must be a direct hit on the points which the author desires to emphasize.
‘Essay’ literally means an attempt or “effort’ or ‘experiment’ and the attempt or effort relevant for the present purpose would be the attempt to compose one’s thoughts so as to present them in a logically coherent structure and sequence. The essay is mainly a sort of experimentation on the intellectual plane and in spite of the fact that it is an experiment, the essay must be able to show that it is an effortless ‘effort’. The ability of the author of an essay to present himself with effortless ease depends on his innate genius as well as his cultivation of a style of his own with repeated efforts on right lines. The best way to know what a good essay is to go through some of the best of ‘efforts’ and acquaint oneself with the technique of composing one’s thoughts. The entire personality of the essayist manifests itself in the thoughts and the style of an essay and as such, it would not be too much to say that a good essay can be written only by a well-developed personality. Students who are rather keen to cultivate the art of essay-writing have to keep their minds open to let in as much of knowledge as possible and sharpen their powers of reasoning by making a critical analysis of what they receive.
The importance of essay-writing could hardly be exaggerated. If I public examinations a considerable weight is given to the ‘essay’. It is also a compulsory paper for many of the provincial competitive examinations and some of the university degree as well as post-graduate examinations. One may naturally ask the question why so much of importance is being given to this particular form of the literary composition when there are several other forms as well and the obvious answer would be that this form is the surest test of the personality of the author. The contents of the personality of the author would somehow get into the form of his essay and the mold that manifests itself would carry certain convincing basis to form an opinion about the intellectual height of the author and his ability to reason out his feelings.
The essay reflects the ability of the essayist. What sort of ability is this? Why not test the ability of any person with the help of objective tests, which it is the fashion in the U.S.A. and other advanced counties to adopt. What is the idea at the back of the so-called objective tests? The questions set therein are extremely simple. Those that appear for the tests are called upon to ‘pair’ or ‘match’ certain facts and statements out of a disorderly jumble. Correct matching of things which are related is possible only if the person is very precise in his knowledge and knows definitely what is what. For instance, if certain names of scientists and certain inventions are given in two columns in a disorderly fashion and if the candidates taking the examination are asked to pinpoint by matching which invention was made by whom, unless there is a precise knowledge, the matching would go wrong. If wrong pairings cancel an equal number of right ones, the credit obtained would not be particularly significant, unless one shows a remarkable precision.
Objective tests are certainly of great value for certain purposes the aim of which is to find out whether or not the candidates are exact in their information. Objective tests are, therefore, a sort of information-test. They are not well suited to test the personality of the candidates. A well informed person is not always in a position to write a good essay for the simple reason that he does not possess the ability to weave a thread of unity out of the diversity of the bits of information. The multiplicity of pieces of information may congest a crowded skull but it would not come to well-integrated pattern of thoughts. The ability to arrange one’s thoughts in a beautiful design is the principal requisite for successful essay writing. What is the main core of this ability?
The core of this ability consists of mainly two things. The first thing is the nature of information which the essayist possesses. It is absolutely essential for the essayist to know enough about the subject on which he is going to write. It is necessary, therefore, for the essayist to find out what particular subject is best suited to him out of the few that are given in any examination. He should choose a bat about which he is best informed. The next step would be to organise that information in a certain sequence. It would be highly useful for the essayist to jot down his points on a piece of paper, arrange them in certain order and see if the sequence of the points has any logical basis. The essential thing to keep in mind is “Does the next step follow inevitably from the one that has gone before ? Would any other step be more appropriate ?”
Thus what precedes and what follows must show a thread of unity and continuity or else it would be more of patch-work and an essay is anything but patchwork. The essay must show the characteristics of a good piece of art. A good piece of art shows some inherent sense of unity. It mirrors the complete vision of the artist. What matters is the completeness of that vision. The artist does not visualise the piece of his art part by part. He visualises the entire piece as one single unit. The various parts come into existence only in process of executing the entire piece as one unit. That is merely a matter of convenience. The mental unity of the artist impresses itself on the materials that constitute the medium for his self-expression. The essayist also has to have the vision of the artist. There must be mental unity.
The whole essay is to be seen as it were, beforehand, to perceive within the mind where exactly it begins, how it flows and where exactly the train of thoughts and feelings are expected to reach an end. It means quite a bit of hard thinking and those who find vigorous thinking rather distasteful are well advised to. keep off from at least this form of composition. It is only those who are endowed with a vigorous mind to analyse the threads that get entangled into a complete skein of the mingled mass of material who can hope to write a good essay. It is however, not beyond the reach of average ability to cultivate the art of essay writing if they are prepared to make a sincere effort. The essay is a matter of sincerity. Resplendent sincerity is the basic step towards writing a good essay.
Difficulties of language can be got over in course of time if people who are serious about the matter make serious efforts. There must be a good choice of words and the sentences constructed must show a certain sharpness of purpose. Words carry very exact meanings and hence, every word that is chosen must be appropriate in the context concerned. A wrong word or a word out of context leaves a sense of roughness. As far as possible words which are extremely simple should be used. Simple words emphasize thought and big words emphasize sound which is of secondary importance. The construction of sentences should be direct and simple and this means that the thought put therein must also be straight and simple. It is all, therefore, a matter of the mental height and personality of the essayist concerned. The essays that follow endeavor to actualize these ideas. The test of the pudding is in its eating.