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What is an Essay?

Literally the word essay is derived from French word Essai which means "an attempt". In
fact, essay writing" is an attempt of writing ones ideas and opinions in a logical sequence.
Terms 'composition' or 'article' are used as synonyms of essay. The Concise Oxford
Dictionary defines the word Essay as "a literary composition in prose on any subject”. It
is a written composition giving expression to one's own personal ideas or opinions on
some topic; but the term usually covers also any written composition, whether it
expresses personal opinion, or gives information on any given subject, or details of a
narrative or description.

Encarta Encyclopaedia defines Essay as "a literary composition devoted to the

presentation of the writer's own ideas on a topic and generally addressing a particular
aspect °t the subject. Often brief in scope and informal in style, the essay differs from
such formal expository forms as the thesis, dissertation, or treatise”.


The Study of Education

Requirements of an Average Student

Let us begin with the assumption that an average student is not an accomplished essayist.
His interest in the writing of an essay is only selfish one. He wants to get through the
examination by satisfying the whims of an examiner who has taken a -fancy to a few
subjects. Therefore, to him, the writing of an essay is only an uninteresting occupation.
This introduction attempts to tell you how this painful task can be made an enjoyable one.
Most of the essays written by students suffer from:

1) Lack of material;

2) Lack of'observation;

3) Poverty of thought;

4) Lack of arrangement; Lack of Material

; . 'What should I write' is the first question asked by every beginner. The answer is not
far to seek. No one is born into the world a ready-made essayist, furnished with all the
material. On must gather facts scattered in books and periodicals; and must endeavour to
store one's mind with ideas either by reading or by observation. "Reading," said Bacon,
"maketh a full man”. Reading may appear quite irksome in the beginning, but gradually it
becomes an inspiring experience. Even the dullest book assumes a charm. Newspapers
and periodicals also yield ready information on a number of subjects. A careful reader of
newspapersfmay find it easy to write on anything.

Reading does not mean just, a cursory glance at a book. One must eat a book. Again, one
may use a notebook for storing references, brief summaries of important passages; exact
quotations of striking lines of prose and poetry. These references will come handy to the
student when he intends to write an essay.


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Lack of Observation

Reading of books is an exciting experience. It may enable one to know many useful
things in the world. But reading is not everything. At the most books are only a
"bloodless substitute" for life. One must learn to observe things. Those people who go
through the world with their eyes shut make very poor writers. Similarly the student who
depends entirely upon books never imparts a colour of originality *o his writings. It may
be quite possible to write an argumentative essay without the help of observation. It is not
necessary that one should go out in the world to observe things. Even the day-to-day
occurrences and the things around us are enough to train our power of observation, if one
is observant, to him.

'The meanest flower that blows can give.

Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

Most of the essays set in the Intermediate examination are descriptive; for instance, look
at the following list: ' '

a) Life in a Frontier village.

b) The Charm of a City.

c) My Visitors.

d) My Visitors.

e) My Neighbours.

/) A Railway Journey.

Now these essays cannot be.properly handled unless one has learnt to observe things in
their "naked loveliness”. Poverty of Thought
Even some of our best students cannot think for themselves. Someone has put it very
aptly: "The only unexplored territory in the world is under your hat". This is true about
many of us. Our system of education is ironbound. It offers fewer opportunities for
original thinking. But with all these difficulties something can be352

The Study of Education

done to arouse the interest and curiosity of the student. [Joys should learn to look askance
at views that are taken for granted; gradually they will have their own opinions about
things. This is the surest way to think for oneself. Lack for Arrangement

The essay grows like a well-planned building in which every-part contributes to the
whole. It has a unity of design. This unity is secured by limiting the essay to one subject
only. All such matter as has not bearing upon the main theme is excluded from the essay.
There are no digressions. Even if there is any, it should be apt and interesting, short and
clearly marked as a digression. Most of our young essayists devote too much of space to
unimportant details which should otherwise be kept out of the essay. This gives one an
impression of incoherence. Some students put all kinds of ideas together without any
arrangement. A good essayist would always see that his ideas succeed one another in a
logical order "revealing his powers of clear thinking and proper arrangement”.

After ideas have been arranged logically, we should think of the proportion in various
parts of the essay. The essay should be divided in such a manner that each point receives
its due share of emphasis. The space devoted to the development of any idea should be in
exact proportion to the importance of that idea in relation to other -ideas in the essay.

Descriptive essays suffer most in the matter of proportion. Boys generally devote two
pages to the introduction and just a page or so, to be places or things actually described.
The whole essay gives one the impression of a monster whose head is bigger than his

Now. when we have discussed all the important features of the essay, we can have a
workable definition of this peculiar form of literary expression.


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An Essay is a prose composition which has all the qualities of unity, proportion and

We have told you something about the structure of the essay. Now, let us give you some
practical hints on the writing of the essay. When a subject is proposed, be sure, first of all,
that you understand exactly what you are to write about, write about that nor about
something else. Arrange all the ideas in you mind or on paper. Now think of a suitable
beginning. How to begin
Each essay has a beginning peculiar to its theme. Whatever be the nature of the
beginning., it should be striking and relevant. A good introduction arrests the attention of
the reader, and induces him to read on. It strikes the keynote of the essay and suggests to
him the general aim of the essay; It is, however, unwise to put all the best things in the
introduction. One should make only a suggestion in the beginning and prepare the reader
for what is to come in the main body of the essay.

There are different ways of beginning an Essay. No hard and fast rules can be laid down
in this matter. The following are some common types of introduction:

1) A general statement.

2) A quotation regarding the subject.

3) An anecdote or fable.

4) A direct beginning.

Now take up a book of essays, preferably a book of essays selected from many different
writers, and turn over the pages, noting carefully the first sentence of each essay. You will
find an interesting variety of introductions, each striking in its own way.

Swift begins his essay on "Good Manners" with a direct statement: 354

The Study oj Education

'"Good manners' is the art of making those people easy with whom we converse”.

E.V. Lucas, one of the most charming essayists in English, begins his essay on "The
Conjurer" with seeming irrelevance.

"Ambition takes men differently. This would enter Parliament, and that would have a play
accepted at the court. This would reach the North Pole, and that would live at Chislehurst,
while a fifth would be happy if only he had a motorcar. Speaking for myself, my ambition
has always been to have conjurer perform under my own roof, and it has just happened. I
obtained him from the stores”.

Dickens begins some of his essays with a relevant quotation. Such a beginning has a
striking effect upon the mind of the reader. In many essays there is no formal
introduction. Some of the greatest essayists of today plunge straight into the matter.

This is how Aldous Huxley begins his essay on "The Beauty Industry”.

"The one American industry unaffected by the general

depression of trade is the beauty industry "

The direct method is the easiest for an average student. He should not cudgel his brains in
search of an arresting, unusual beginning. This will only confuse him. The Middle

This is the main part of the essay, and contains the appropriate facts, illustrations and
reflections. As regards the middle, there are only two points to be kept in view. First, do
not try to bring in all the facts which are available. Only mention the most important
ideas. Second, omit everything that has no bearing upon the subject. In order to avoid the
non-essential, you should make up your mind at the very outset, as to what precisely falls
within the scope of the essay and what does not. The End


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A well-begun essay is only half-done. The other half depends upon the middle and the
end. For the conclusion no rules can be laid down, except that it should be short. A well-
concluded essay always gives one the impression of 'completeness'. The conclusion must
be so worded that, while perusing the essay, the reader feels that it has ended naturally
and not abruptly. It is always desirable to end with some striking sentence 'which the
reader will carry away.' If the student finds it difficult to think of a striking sentence, he
may give only a short summary of the ideas contained in the middle of the essay.

Essays have been variously classified. A writer has divided essays into two main groups:
(1) The Thought Essay, and (2) The Feeling Essay. This classification is rather confusing.
Essays can be roughly classified into four classes:

1) Descriptive Essays.

2) Narrative Essays.

3) Reflective Essays.

4) Argumentative Essays.

You may not be interested to know the technical differences between the different classes
of the Essays. Descriptive Essays deal with description of places, towns, persons:
whereas Narrative Essays deal with important events, stories and biographical sketches of
some wellknown person. At the Intermediate stage most of the essays are either
descriptive or narrative. For instance, study the following subjects set in the University

a) Life in a Frontier Village (Descriptive)

b) A Picnic (Narrative) b) Packing a Trunk (Descriptive)

. d) A Deserted House (Descriptive)


b) b) d)


Mr. Churchill and Roosevelt (Narrative) *


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g) A Railway Journey (Narrative)

h) The House We Live in (Descriptive)

Reflective Essays consist of Reflections on social, political and domestic affairs. Most of
the essays that deal with controversial subjects come under this head.

Argumentative Essays aim at explaining a saying or a thesis which is not clear to the
mind of an average reader.

These classifications are only theoretical and have got no practical value. Sometime a
descriptive essay may become philosophical in the hands of a great writer. 'A City Night-
piece' by Goldsmith is an excellent example of this. * SOME PRACTICAL HINTS

1. Try to understand the wording of the subject and the scope of the essay. If you are
asked to write an essay on "A Pakistan Bazaar", do not try to write an essay on the trade
policy of the Government of Pakistan.

2. When you have understood the subject, jot down all the relevant thoughts that come to
your mind. Arrange these thoughts according to their natural connection and logical

3. Make a careful outline of the essay. Always think out a suitable introduction as well as
a conclusion to your essay.

4. The write out your essay according to the plan.

5. Always avoid apologies like these: "I am sorry I cannot write much on the subject" or
"I have not been able to do justice to the subject in hand”. Your essay reflects your ability.
By pointing out your faults, which are already evident, you make a bad essay worse.

6. Lastly, you should revise carefully what you have written and correct
mistakes.of grammar, spelling, punctuation, style, etc.

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