The essay is an art form with a long and powerful tradition and
recognizable qualities. The most important element of an essay is
your thinking. Unless you write honestly, with the conviction that
comes when using your own voice, you are not writing an essay. An
essay generally addresses one central question and develops a
thesis--the answer to the question. Usually you explain or defend
your thesis with reasons and evidence gained from your own personal
experience; often you are expected to include new thinking gained
from your reading or research. Generally, you will need to settle on
some organizational strategy, often including an introduction, body,
An essay is a piece of formal written composition.
Essay-writing is an important part of most humanities subjects.
Although different subjects may have different conventions, rules
and styles for essays (and these conventions should be carefully
followed), the basic skills of essay-writing are common to all these
subjects. Essay-writing is taught directly in English classes, and
you should try to apply what you learn in these classes when writing
essays in other subjects, including history.
What is an essay? The dictionary tells us it's
"a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject,
usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or
But in centuries past, as the entry from Dr. Johnson's 18th-century
dictionary suggests, the term meant something more uncertain and
provisional. To write an essay originally meant to explore or try
out ideas. This old meaning lingers in the verb to essay
(accent on the second syllable), meaning "to try"—and it remains the
underlying idea of the essay. A true essay is a try, a journey of
discovery for reader and writer (for more on writing as a way
to learn, see the next section on
The word "essay" comes from the French
essai, a try or attempt. The essay is an attempt to
communicate information, opinion, or feeling, and usually it
presents an argument about a topic. In the university context, an
essay is an exercise that gives the student an opportunity to
explore and clarify thoughts about a subject. In the larger world
the essay appears in newspapers as opinion articles, editorials,
reviews, and the more thorough commentary on news.
If at times the essay form seems a little artificial, or removed
from the kinds of writing you expect to produce when you leave
university, remember that the skills you learn in thinking,
organizing, researching, and writing will be required in almost any
career. There will always be expository reports to write and
arguments to present.
An essay is a relatively short piece of writing
dealing with any one subject.
The word essay means an attempt. Like a single throw in a javelin
competition, it should deal with one issue in a unified way. Essays,
focus on their title, rather than discussing everything to do
with the subject. Some people say that the unity should come from
taking the form of an
argument that takes the reader from the title at the beginning
to a conclusion at the end.
It is helpful to think of an essay as having
introduction will explain the academic problem as you see
it, and say how you intend to handle it. It tells the reader what to
expect, and what to look for.
2) The body or content of the essay will contain the
points you want to make, with supporting arguments and evidence. It
must show the reader that you know your subject. You do this by
explaining the subject to the reader. It should also present the
evidence for the essay's
essays have a clear line of argument, and they
present a thesis. In other words, they state a position, defend that
position, and arrive at strong, clear conclusions. They have a
well-defined introduction which identifies the central problem or
issue and introduces the argument, a body which logically develops
the argument point-by-point, and a conclusion which sums up the
A short literary composition on a
single subject, usually presenting the personal view of
Something resembling such a
composition: a photojournalistic essay.
A testing or trial of the value or
nature of a thing: an essay of the students'
An initial attempt or endeavor,
especially a tentative attempt.
To make an attempt at; try.
To subject to a test.
essai, trial, attempt, from Old French,
essayer, to attempt, from Vulgar Latin *exagire,
to weigh out, from Late Latin
exagium, a weighing : Latin
ex-, ex- + Latin
agere, to drive; see
ag- in Indo-European Roots. V., from Middle
assaien from Old French
assaer, assaier, variant of
attempt, bandy, battle, bid,
challenge, clash, collide, contend, contest, cope
with, emulate, encounter, essay, face, fence, fight,
go after, go for, grapple, joust, lock horns, match
strength, match wits, oppose, participate in, play,
rival, run for, scramble for, seek prize, spar,
strive, struggle, take on, take part, tilt, try,
tussle, vie, wrestle
There a different types of essays. For example, here is one type
called a Definition Essay.
What is a Definition Essay?
A definition essay is writing that explains what a
term means. Some terms have definite, concrete meanings, such as glass,
book, or tree. Terms such as honesty, honor, or love are abstract and
depend more on a person's point of view.
Our Book’s Definition
The essay is a piece of nonfiction writing that uses five or more
paragraphs to develop a single topic. The essay usually includes an
introductory paragraph that states the thesis, three or more supporting
paragraphs that develop the topic, and a concluding paragraph.