The writer of a true essay on this theme would make use of the historical facts, but he would subject them to criticism; he would appraise the value of the various achievements in aeroplane construction; he would consider the possibilities of the future; in short, besides giving a statement of facts, he would give a revelation of his own mind. The essay thus becomes a test, not merely of knowledge, but of thought and imagination. Indeed, a very good essay on “The Development of the Aeroplane” might be written by someone who had a very scanty knowledge of the facts, but who had critical power and originality.
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As a form of literature the essay includes compositions of a very varied character: Bacon, Addison, Lamb, Macaulay, Matthew Arnold, for instance, all wrote “essays”, though their compositions that go by that name seem to have few features in common. But for examination purposes the term “essay” has a definite signification. It is applied to a composition in which the writer states his knowledge of, and gives his opinions about, a certain topic. The essay, as thus understood, may contain a narrative or descriptive elements, but it will also include comments and criticisms representing the writer’s own point of view. The difference between purely narrative or descriptive composition and the essay proper may be seen by a consideration of the two possible ways in which a subject like “The Development of the Aeroplane” might be treated. The simplest treatment of this subject would be a narrative of the various stages in the development of the aeroplane, beginning with the early attempts at gliding and ending with the position reached at the present day. But the composition of this kind would not be a true “essay”.
College students must be able to express their ideas on the various composition topics freely and correctly. It is true test of their attainments. It demands good command on English Language. The young persons must form good reading habits and do constant practice in the art of self-expression. Reading not only opens the doors for understanding but it also furnishes ideas and matter for the composition exercises. Reading of poetry, drama and novel provides constant pabulum for the curious readers. Besides the three lasting literary forms, there is another popular mode of expression of ideas and feelings. It is called ‘occasional Literature’ which is a product of Journalism. It includes essays, short stories, Biographies, reviews, comments and talks, etc. Essay is the most versatile form of occasional literature. The essay like poetry, lifts the scale from the inner eye of mind and spirit, and it awakens insight in truth revealed in familiar experience and scenes. It is also subjective like poetry. These are essays for css, pms, pcs, ielts, fpsc, ppsc, ib, isi, ias, ips, ifs, ibps, law officer, gat, college students and other competitive exams
Oxford Dictionary defines essay as: “A literary composition on any subject, usually in prose and short.” The essay is well expressed in a paradox. In the light of definition of essay by Dr. Johnson as: “A loose sally of mind, irregular, undigested piece”, it has become subtle art through which the writer assimilates and interprets experience. Inspite of adverse criticism by some critics, it continues to weave into its fibre, the stuff of daily life. Being a flexible literary form, the essay has always adapted itself to changing thoughts and fashions. An essay is concerned with the stuff of everyday experience, its engaging egotism and revelation of personality. It is a form of composition in which the college students may achieve an amazing measure of success. Essay always implies an idea. However elusive, idea runs like a kind of motif through most essays. This discovery stimulates the student’s own thinking. To interpret experience in terms of idea, expressed or implied, this is the significant function of the essay.
It is natural for a student of English who wishes to become proficient in essay writing to read the work of successful essayists. But he must remember if he is preparing for an examination, that there are certain forms that are not to be imitated. A popular essayist has won his special public, and his personality is so well known and well liked by his regular readers that his name alone at the head of an essay is enough to arouse in them a strong interest in what he has to say. Hence he can write freely in the first person singular, this is a manner that the student should carefully avoid, unless it is specifically demanded, because it assumes a reputation that does not exist. Again, there are certain elaborately unusual methods of treatment that are typical of certain essayists-G. K. Chesterton, for example and even if the student could achieve anything similar, he could not do so within’ the time limit of an examination.
It is inadvisable for a student to copy the mannerisms of other writers, or consciously to try to develop his own. With practice in writing, once the elementary difficulties of the craft have disappeared, everybody acquires his own style. It is useless to try to force its development.
The Four Stages in Essay Writing
It is most important that essays should be written strictly according to the method. There are four stages to be gone through
- Think about the subject, and set down on paper all the facts or ideas that occur to you.
- Arrange these facts according to topics, and so construct an outline for the composition.
- Write the essay.
- Revise what you have written.
Notes on the Four Stages
- The title of the essay must be read carefully; so that the precise scope of the subject and the point of view from which it is to be treated may be grasped.
- When the facts have been arranged, it will be found that they group themselves under certain heads. Suppose there are five topics. Each of these topics will now form the subject of a paragraph, and the essay will contain five paragraphs in, all. The rules of paragraph-structure must be carefully observed. It must be seen that a due proportion of space is allotted to each aspect of the subject.
- In writing the essay, one must pay attention, of course, to grammar, punctuation, and style. In the matter of Style the following points should be particularly noted, Clearness is the first essential therefore words must be chosen accurately; words, phrases, and clauses must be placed in the right order; all pronouns must be clear in their reference. Slang and colloquial expressions must be avoided. The 1st person should not be used in any essay in which the subject can be treated impersonally that is to say, such expressions as “I think”, “in my opinion”, must not be used. To qualify a statement, it is always possible to use impersonal expressions such as “it is generally agreed”, “it is probably a fact”.
- It is most important that everything that is written should. be thoroughly revised. In this way the student will detect a number of errors which can be easily corrected, but which, if allowed to remain, would detract considerably from the value of his work.
It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the actual writing of an essay is only half the task, the preliminary arrangement of material and the final revision of the work are of great importance, and must receive careful attention if a good result is to be obtained.
Common Mistakes to be Avoided
The paragraphs of the essay must not be numbered. Headings must not be inserted in the body of the essay. Single sentence paragraphs should be avoided. In general, each paragraph should consist of several sentences.
Plan and Coherence of Ideas.
We have already insisted on the need for a definite plan and for proper paragraphing in every essay. But even when the difficulty of paragraph-structure has been mastered, there is still more to be learned before a good essay can be produced. In most essays, there should be a clear line of thought or argument governing the arrangement of the material and giving coherence to the ideas.
Suppose the subject of “Polar Exploration” is set. The student is apt to think that, if he produces a series of paragraphs written in good English and arranged according to some such plan as the following, he has done all that is required
- The objects of the explorers.
- History of early expeditions.
- Discovery of the North Pole by Peary, and of the South.
- Pole by Amundsen
- The tragedies of Scott and Shackleton.
- The trials of Fuchs and Hillary.
- The triumph of the Nautilus.
But such a composition will not be a true essay if each paragraph is treated as an isolated unit having no connection with the one preceding it or the one following it and having no clearly assignable place in a complete structure. An essay is not a mere collection of disjointed paragraphs: it must be considered as a whole, and each paragraph must be made to contribute to the total effect. The first paragraph should lead on to the second, the second on to the third, and so on. This means, of course, that the opening and the closing sentences of each paragraph must be carefully considered and constructed. Now the best way to give coherence to the essay on “Polar Exploration” would be to adopt the soine definite point of view and make the essay illustrate or justify it. (Often the title of the essay itself indicates the point of view to be taken.) Thus, the essay might be made to answer the question—”Are polar expeditions worth the sacrifice?” Or the history of polar exploration might be considered as a remarkable manifestation of the spirit of adventure and discovery inherent in the human race. In this way, by keeping a leading idea in mind throughout his composition, the student will be able to produce a structure that is a unified whole, and not a conglomeration of disjointed fragments.
We now propose to give some model essays and outlines, together with comments on them designed to throw light on typical problems confronting the writer of essays. The examples considered will belong to four types:
- those requiring a certain amount of fact-knowledge.
- those requiring the writer to explain and amplify a given idea
- those involving a discussion
- those requiring no special fact-knowledge, but demanding originality of treatment and excellence of style.
1: Essays Requiring Some Fact-Knowledge
An essay of this kind generally presents least difficulty to the elementary student, because, provided he has the necessary knowledge, the material is ready to hand and needs only proper arrangement. The following example is on a subject deliberately chosen because the mere selection and arrangement of the facts is rather difficult. Given some historical knowledge, there will be little difficulty in calling to mind a large number of facts bearing on the subject of “Women famous in history”. How are these facts to be arranged? Is the student to take all the famous women one by one and say what he knows about them? If he does this, the result will be a catalog and not an essay. Shall he take only three or four women and devote all his attention to them? This will hardly do because the title clearly requires greater breadth of treatment. One way of overcoming the difficulty is illustrated in the following model.
2: Essays requiring the Explanation and Amplification of a Given Idea
Here the subject set is a statement-often a quotation or proverb embodying an idea that will command general agreement. This idea is to be explained and illustrated. Examples are: “He who reigns within himself, and rules passions, desires, and fears, is more than king”, “Knowledge is Power”, “Necessity knows no Law”, “Honesty is the best Policy”.
3: Essays Involving Discussion
Essay subjects frequently require the writer to discuss a certain problem and to present a logical statement of his point of view; for example “Co-education”, “The Influence of Seapower on History”, “The finest occupation in life”, “Should all censorship be abolished?”; “Simplified Spelling”. In dealing with such questions the student must first of all make up his mind what his own view is. He will then generally arrange his essay so that the statement of his opinion comes in the last paragraph. The preceding paragraphs should set out the argument leading to this conclusion. The opening paragraph will generally contain an explanation of the nature of the problem to be discussed.
Often the title for an essay of this kind consists of a quotation; e.g.- “East is East and West is West”, “Liberty must be limited in order to be possessed”, “Comfort is the aim of science”. It is most important that the student should not assume that such a quotation contains a statement of undoubted truth. It generally expresses either a half-truth or an opinion that challenges the opposition and discussion. It is the business of the essay writer to say how much truth, if any, is contained in the statement, and to give reasons for the view he holds. It is generally inadvisable to adopt an extreme partisan attitude, especially in dealing with political subjects. As far as possible, both sides of the question should be stated. The method of treatment required is illustrated in the following essay.
4: Essays Requiring Chiefly Originality and Style
Subjects of the following kind are sometimes set for essays: “Proverbs”, “Can’t”, “Personal. Influence”, “Music”, “Romance”, “British National Characteristics”, “Colour”. For dealing with these subjects no special information is needed. About “Personal Influence”, “Music”, “Romance”, and “British National Characteristics” there is obviously much to be said. The material for an essay on “Proverbs”, “Cant”, or “Colour” probably seems very scanty. At the same time, these titles leave a writer great freedom in the matter of treatment and give scope for the expression of his personality. Most students, however, would do well to avoid such subjects if they have any choice, for essays on abstract themes of this type too often become dull effusions that are nothing but strings of commonplaces. And young writers dealing with, say, “Personal Influence”, or “Cant”, seem particularly prone to take up an excessively moral attitude, so that their compositions become rather bad sermons. A coherent line of thought and originality of ideas are essential in essays on abstract topics. Interest can often be given to the subject by the introduction of suitable illustrations from history or “literature. We give below what a practiced essayist Leigh Hunt wrote on.