1 University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus College of General Studies English DepartmentEnglish 3101 Prepared by Prof. Lydia A. López-Ruiz, 2005 Expanded by Prof. Brenda A. Camara & Prof. Vanessa Irizarry, 2007 Revised by Prof. Lydia A. López-Ruiz, 2011 ELEMENTS OF THE ESSAY An essay is a prose composition which presents a writer’s perspective on a subject.Most essays attempt to discuss a topic, convince the reader of a thesis, or simplycommunicate a personal experience or belief. An essay can be fairly brief or quite long.It is a versatile and flexible literary form. Unity and coherence are characteristics ofwell-written essays.The Paragraph The paragraph is the basic unit of the essay. Most developmental paragraphs have a topicsentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence. A topic sentence states orstrongly suggests the focus or topic of the paragraph. Every sentence is closely related tothe topic sentence, bringing a sense of unity and clarity to the writing. Supportingsentences help develop the topic sentence by presenting evidence in the form of facts anddetails, examples and illustrations, comparison and contrast, reasons, cause and effect,analysis, analogy, definition and classification. A well-written paragraph flowssmoothly and has coherence. It will have an inner structure (inner logic, naturaldirection) or pattern of organization that will allow the reader to follow the writer’s ideaswith ease. The writer selects the most appropriate method of paragraph development andpattern of organization depending on the purpose of his/her paragraph.Methods of Paragraph Developmentfacts and details: The central idea of a paragraph can be supported withinformation. A fact is verifiable information. Factual details may be taken fromnewspapers, magazines, journals, scientific research, books, or other essays.Other details may be objective descriptions of people, concepts, objects orevents. They differ from opinions or subjective ideas of the writer.examples and illustrations: An example is a specific instance of a generalconcept or idea. Something mentioned to show what you mean, what somethingis like or to prove a point. An illustration is a lengthy example, an anecdote or
2 short account of some happening. Paragraphs which use this method ofdevelopment usually contain a main idea followed by several examples orillustrations to back up this idea. In most cases well-chosen examples can provea point far better than any other method. Examples and illustrations are alsofrequently used with other methods of development.comparison and contrast: In this method of development the writer measuresone subject against another subject that is often familiar. The writer states themain point of the comparison and presents the likenesses (similarities) betweensubjects in a clear, organized way. Contrast uses details to measure thedifferences between them.reasons: When using reasons, the writer gives an explanation or justification ofan idea, cause, or motive. The reasons may be supported by details, examplesor some other method of development.cause and effect: This method of paragraph development establishes aconnection between a result and the events that preceded it. The generalstatement may be a cause which can be supported by specific effects or results,or the general statement may be an effect which can be supported by specificcauses.analysis: In this method of development the writer tries to explain something bybreaking a subject into parts and examining them carefully in order to clarify thewhole. A method of writing that explains in a step-by-step way how to dosomething or achieve a desired effect is called process analysis.analogy: This method of development shows a similarity between two otherwisedissimilar things. For example, music is analogous to the wind. It may at times be strongand loud and soft and gentle at other times. A false analogy, on the other hand,distorts the points of similarity and results in an invalid conclusion.definition: A definition is the explanation of a word, concept or idea so that thereader knows, as clearly as possible, what the writer means by it or how he/sheis using it in a particular situation. It is often combined with classification.classification: With this method, the writer divides a subject into categories orplaces a term or concept in an appropriate class. When used with definition, thewriter provides details to show how the term or concept used is different fromothers in the same category.
3 Patterns of Paragraph Organizationchronological order: Details are arranged in the order in which they happen. Itis effective for narrating personal experience, summarizing steps, and explainingevents.spatial order: Provides unity by arranging details left to right, right to left, top tobottom, edge to center, distant to near, and so on. The descriptive details arearranged in physical space. This pattern of organization is useful for many typesof descriptions.deductive order: With this pattern of organization the writer first states ageneral idea and follows with specific reasons, examples, facts, details or other evidenceto support it.inductive order: With this pattern of organization the writer presents evidencefollowed by a general statement or conclusion drawn from the specificinformation provided. The topic sentence may be placed at the end.process order: This pattern of organization is used where there is a step-by-stepapproach to an activity. It is useful to explain how something is made or done.climactic order: Ideas are arranged in order of importance. The order can beascending, from the least to the most important, or descending, from the most tothe least important.Transitional Expressions and Linking Words No matter what method is used for developing a paragraph, transitionshelp connect ideas smoothly. Following is a list of useful transitional expressionsand linking words.A. Words that can be used to show continuation of thought:again in factnow incidentally that is to saythen in this manner furthermoreindeed in the same mannerB. Words that can be used to add information:again in addition furtherand additionally furthermorealso besides likewiseand then too moreover
4 C. Words that can be used to show comparison and similarity:in the same way similarly asin a like manner likewise alsojust like just asD. Words that can be used to contrast things (show differences):but however on the contraryyet despite on the other handstill nevertheless on the contraryalthough notwithstanding in contrastin spite ofE. Words that can be used to show passing of time:lately presently temporarilymeanwhile recently thensoon since then thereafterlater after eventuallyduring at after a short/long timeas soon as before afterwardat last today immediatelyF. Words that can be used to show result/cause & effect:thus hence as a resulttherefore accordingly on this accountas a consequence naturally because of thisconsequently for this reason becausesince so G. Words that can be used to show sequence or numerical order: first in the first place then second in the second place finally third next lastH. Words that can be used to show location:above beside off belowacross between onto intoagainst beyond on top of beneathalong by outside nearamong down overaround in back of throughoutaway from in front of to the rightbehind inside under
5 I. Words that can be used to emphasize a point: again truly for this reason to repeat in fact to emphasize indeed surely without a doubtJ. Words that can be used to clarify: in other words for instance that is put another wayK. Words that can be used to show examples:for example in fact specificallyfor instance in other words that isanother instance in particular indeednamely particularly incidentallyL. Words that can be used to summarize: in summary in short all in all to summarize in brief that is in conclusion to sum up to conclude finallyThe Organization of the EssayAn essay deals with a subject which is developed by a number ofparagraphs. It is a prose composition, written to entertain, inform or persuade,that may be fairly brief or quite extensive. The author’s style and tone willdetermine if the essay is formal or informal. A formal essay establishesdistance between the writer and reader; it is fairly impersonal and objective. Aninformal essay is personal and subjective; it makes the reader feel the author isspeaking directly to him/her. Notice the scholarly, formal tone in the followingparagraph: That seventeenth-century thought was, in fact, characterized by a waning faith in Aristotelian ideals is evidenced by Galileo’s discoveries, which were made possible by his skepticism toward Aristotle’s teachings.Now notice the informal, resigned tone in the paragraph below: I suppose it is an immutable truth that money means power and vice-versa. Acceptance of this simple, sad fact can make life, if not more fair, at least less frustrating. Tone is the attitude of the author to what is being discussed, expressed
6 through a style which can be ironic, bitter, sympathetic, humorous, serious,objective, subjective, resigned, critical, impartial, speculative or conjectural (theauthor does not give any answers, he/she merely speculates on possibilities),rhetorical (the author asks questions to sustain a point), among others. The tone used by the author will arouse a feeling in the reader. Thegeneral emotional feeling aroused in the reader is called mood and may bedescribed as angry, resentful, nostalgic, reflective, among others. Although an essay is longer than a paragraph and contains moreinformation, the organizing principle between the paragraph and the essay isalmost identical. Both are organized around a main point or controlling idea. In aparagraph this main point or controlling idea is expressed in a topic sentence andsupported by details. In an essay this main point or controlling idea is expressedin a thesis. The thesis is the writer’s statement of what the essay will cover ordiscuss. Transitional devices used to hold sentences together in paragraphs arealso used in essays to link, not sentences, but paragraphs. However, the essay,being longer and more complex, will often contain paragraphs individuallydeveloped by different strategies. There are three fundamental types of paragraphs in an essay: theintroductory paragraph(s), the developmental paragraphs, the concludingparagraph(s). The introductory paragraph or paragraphs introduce the subjectto be discussed and give the reader an indication of how this topic is going to bedeveloped. A good introduction should indicate whether the essay is going tonarrate, describe, explain, or persuade. It should be inviting and interestingenough to make the reader want to continue reading. Generally speaking, itshould contain the thesis statement with its controlling idea. This, of course, isonly a general rule. In some essays, the thesis statement sometimes appearslater, sometimes even at the end. In some cases, too, the thesis is just implied.(For college essays, however, it is a good idea to state the thesis clearly in theintroduction.) The body of the essay will consist of several developmental paragraphs.These paragraphs will contain the major points that the writer selected to proveor develop the controlling idea. Each major point will serve as the controllingtopic of one of the developmental paragraphs, and the major point will be statedin a topic sentence. The writer will select the method of paragraph developmentmost appropriate for the development of each topic sentence. Whenever a writer who is discussing two ideas has finished developingone idea and is ready to begin with the other, the writer often uses a sentence (ora short paragraph) to establish a bridge between the two ideas. This type of
7 sentence or paragraph is called transitional. A transitional sentence orparagraph serves to indicate a shift or change from one point or idea to another.It may refer to what has been said and suggest what is coming. Of course, all essays donot have transitional paragraphs. The concluding paragraph usually reaffirms, directly or indirectly, themain points discussed in the previous paragraphs. It may restate the thesisphrasing it in different words. It may summarize or may offer the author’sconclusion. It does not bring up a new topic. In brief, the content and organization of an essay may be outlined as follows:I. Introduction A. Thesis statementII. Body A. Support 1. 2. B. Support 1. 2.III. Conclusion Restatement of thesis or a concluding statement Unity and coherence are characteristics of well-written essays. An essayis unified when each of its sentences and all of its paragraphs help support thethesis statement. An essay has coherence when the sentences and theparagraphs are logically arranged and flow smoothly. Linking sentences within aparagraph helps the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought. In like manner,the paragraphs of an essay must also be linked. Paragraphs may be linked byrepeating key words from the thesis statement and by repeating important wordsand ideas. Transitional words and expressions help the reader by relating a newidea to an idea which has previously been expressed. Likewise, the use oftransitional words and sentences helps the reader to see the relationshipbetween paragraphs.Types of Essays Any topic can be the subject of an essay. As it has been suggested, anessay is, indeed, a very flexible literary form that enjoys the freedom that otherforms of literature do not have. There are, however, four types of essays:narrative, descriptive, argumentative, and expository.
8 The narrative essay deals with the telling of a personal experience;therefore, presenting time - whether in a single personal event, a series ofrelated events, or a historical occurrence - is one key element of narrative prose.Commonly, the events are presented in chronological order. Nevertheless, thewriter is free to move around in time and organize the events from present to pastusing the technique called a flashback. A flashback provides a break in thestraight chronological order of narrating events. Its purpose is to introducematerial or information from the past. The writer must connect each event in thetime span to other events that come before or after. Transition words of timeserve as bridges to connect the various moments in the narrative pattern. In thenarrative essay there must always be some purpose for the telling of events, apurpose that goes beyond the story itself. The narration of events is just ameans to an end, a way to support a central idea or thesis. The descriptive essay uses sensory images to present a vivid picture ofsomeone or something. Descriptive writing relies on sensory images that appealto the sense of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Often these images aremade more effective by the use of figurative language. The author’s feelingsabout the subject are clearly expressed in the controlling idea of the thesissentence. All details are carefully selected to convey the author’s feeling throughthe creation of a dominant impression of its subject. To create that impressionthe author may use descriptive language that is objective, straightforward,precise, and factual. This kind of language is called denotative and it makes useof neutral dictionary meanings. If the description is subjective, the writer may useconnotative language, that is, language which suggests or implies somethingbeyond the dictionary meaning. In brief, a word’s denotation is the specificdictionary meaning of a word. Connotation, however, refers to the suggestivequality of words, the feeling(s) or impression(s) that a word may awaken in thereader. Descriptive writing must have an organizational pattern that supports thedominant impression of the subject. Details in descriptive essays are usuallyarranged spatially (from top to bottom, left to right, near to far, interior to exterior),but they can also be arranged emphatically (more important to less important,less striking to most striking). Details could also be organized according to thesensory images they evoke. The argumentative essay tries to convince the reader of some opinion orpersuade the reader to take action on an issue. Argumentation makes an appealto the reader’s intellect. When a writer is trying to persuade, the writer will alsomake a strong appeal to the reader’s emotions. In this type of essay, the authortakes a stand by offering a judgment of value, an interpretation of events, or aproposed course of action and then providing reasons for readers to agree with it.The position of the writer is clearly stated. A good thesis statement is crucial to
9 the essay. This stated position is an idea that can be debated or disputed, andtowards which the writer must take a definite side. The reader must know whatthe writer’s position is, and must see that the central idea is supported withconvincing reasons. To support each minor proposition, a writer must offerevidence such as statistics, facts, historical events, news reports, interviews,personal experience, and testimony from authorities. In addition to presentingthe argument logically and convincingly, the writer must also recognize and dealwith opposing arguments. Since there has to be more than one side to anydebatable issue, the writer must acknowledge the opposition. By effectivelyrefuting rival propositions the writer can make a more convincing argument. Inshort, an argumentative essay is ultimately as strong as the logic that the writerbrings to it. An expository essay informs, explains or analyzes a topic. In this kind ofessay, the thesis or controlling idea is frequently referred to as a generalization (astatement that mostly applies to a group of things, ideas, or people). Thisgeneralization can be a value judgment, an opinion, or a factual statement.Specific details help prove or support the generalization or thesis. Factualdetails, examples, and illustrations are often used as support. The ideas in anexpository essay are organized in a logical manner. Order of importance andorder of familiarity are two of the most frequently used forms of logicalarrangement for expository essays. Although the paragraphs in expositoryessays can be developed in many different ways, some of the most commonmethods of paragraph development are: classification, comparison and contrast,analogy, examples and illustrations, process analysis, cause and effect, anddefinition. However, it is important to keep in mind that most essays ate not pure specimens. Forexample, an expository essay may begin trying to convince the reader that a particularpoint of view or a particular brand of a technological devise is the best. Or the essay maybegin with a very brief narrative. In like manner, an argumentative essay may includesome exposition.Imagery and Figurative Language A writer selects words carefully in order to convey the message or tocreate the desired impact on the reader. Imagery and figurative language addrichness to writing and help to stimulate the reader’s imagination. Images areclassified according to the sense that is awakened by the word or phrase.1. Visual - sight “ … old women with jet-black faces and braided hair … “Salvation” by Langston Hughes
10 2. Auditory- hearing “The preacher preached a wonderful rhythmical sermon, all moans andshouts and lonely cries and dire pictures of hell …” “Salvation” by Langston Hughes.3. Gustatory- taste “Is love the sweetness of flowers?” “The Key to Language” by Helen Keller4. Olfactory- smell “ …attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered.” “The Key to Language” by Helen Keller.5. Tactile - touch “Miss Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand the word d-o-l-l. I was at onceinterested in this finger play and tried to imitate it.” “The Key to Language” by Helen Keller6. Kinesthetic- movement “Women leaped in the air.” “ Salvation” by Langston Hughes7. Thermal- hotness or coldness “As the cool stream gushed over her hand.” “The Key to Language” by Hellen Keller “ A figure of speech is language that expresses something in such a way asto give sparkle and vitality to the meaning. That is to say, the idea is not statedliterally. A figure of speech speaks of one thing in terms of another with which itshares a similarity.1. Simile - A similarity between two elements is directly indicated by thewords like, as, or seems. “Pupils are more like oysters than sausages.” “What True Education Should Do” by Sydney Harris2. Metaphor - The comparison is less obvious. Instead of saying that onething is like another, it implies or states that one thing is another. “A formidable, solidly built woman with a salt-and-pepper hair… “ “TheTeacher Who Changed My Life” by Nicholas Gage.
11 3. Personification - Human characteristics are given to inanimate things,abstractions or animals. “…my knowledge limped, my intelligence limped.” “Overcoming an Invisible Handicap by Thomas J. Cottle.4. Hyperbole or overstatement - An exaggeration. “So I read all the time I was not in class.” “Becoming Educated” by Barbara Jordan5. Paradox - A statement that at first reading seems contradictory orillogical but actually contains an element of truth. “I spend so much time studying that I don’t have a chance to learn anything.” “What True Education Should Do” by Sydney J. Harris.Other Literary Devices1. Allusion - A reference to persons, places, or events known to us from history, popularculture or from previous literature. “But genuine education, as Socrates knew more than two thousand years ago, is not inserting the stuffings of information into a person, … “ “ What True Education Should Do” by Sidney Harris2. Irony - The use of language to suggest something different from what is stated. “He had grown up in a country run by politicians who sent the pilots to fly bombers to kill the babies to make the world safe for children to grow up in.” Usurla K. Le Guin3. Symbol - A symbol stands for or represents something else. “ An eye flowing with tears could represent sorrow, and a man with the head of a lion might be bravery.” “Symbols of Human Kind “by Don Lago.4. Analogy - A comparison of two things alike in certain respects. A methodof exposition by which one unfamiliar object or idea is explained by comparingseveral of its characteristics with those of other objects or ideas which are morefamiliar. “I’d no more scribble all over the first edition of Paradise Lost than I’d give my baby a set of crayons and an original Rembrandt!” “How to Mark a Book” by Mortimer Adler