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Updated: Apr 20, 2016
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The essay is a form of writing, usually an assignment given to students all throughout academia, from elementary school to graduate school and Ph.D. programs. These writing assignments are often rewarding, and always challenging to some extent; given as in-class or homework assignments, essays test students’ ability to comprehend and sort through information to make connections.

What is an essay?


An essay is a short piece of writing on a particular subject; it can also be understood to mean “an attempt or effort.” The purpose of an essay is to encourage students (of any age and level) to test or examine their ideas on a given topic, subject or issue. Essays require students to develop a number of skills such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity and exposition.

As opposed to a dissertation or thesis paper, the standard essay is quite short in nature, ranging anywhere from just a few paragraphs to several pages in length. The purpose of an essay is to encourage students to develop ideas and concepts, while demonstrating this in their writing with the direction of little more than their own thoughts. Therefore, essays are (by nature) concise and require clarity in purpose and direction.

Types of Essays


Students are assigned so many essays to write in college that it’s a challenge to keep track of how they’re different. But the truth is, most essays written at the college level fall under one of four categories: Exposition, Narration, Description and Persuasion.


*Note: While an essay generally falls under one of these four main categories, a well-written essay incorporates a variety of them into the same assignment. For example, a Persuasive Essay (Persuasion) must first explain certain facts to the reader (Exposition).


Exposition Essays: attempts to inform the reader about something or seeks to explain something to them. The following assignments fall under this genre of essays: Expository Essays, where the reader explains something to their reader, (like love or poverty) with factual information; Definition Essays, where the student-writer defines subjective words based on their own understanding and experiences; Classification Essays, where certain subjects are classified, and its components expounded on for better understanding of the subject as a whole. Others include Informative, Interview, Reflective, Process, Compare and Contrast, Cause and Effect and Exploratory Essays.


Narration: tells the reader about a particular even that has taken place, essentially a narrative, or a spoken or written account outlining a series of connected events. The following assignments fall under this genre of essays: A Narrative Essay, which is a spoken or written account of several connected events; this is essentially the telling of a story – in which the student-writer conveys some kind of experience to the reader, and it is often anecdotal, experiential and personal in nature. Also, a Personal Experience Essay is drawn from the student-writer’s own personal, lived experience, one which they feel carries an important meaning when reflected upon and shared intimately with the reader.


Description: describes a person, place or event through the use of vivid language so that the reader can literally visualize what the student-writer is sharing. A Descriptive Essay, which falls under this category, is like painting a picture with words and sentences so that the reader can quite literally visualize what the writer is describing to them – though is sometimes subjective in nature, as people see perceive the world differently.


Persuasion: takes a stand on something and attempts to persuade or convince the reader to adopt a similar mindset or stance on something, most times an issue or idea. A Persuasive Essay falls under this category: when the student-writer makes a case for something and attempts to persuade the reader to adopt a certain belief or mentality. Various essay assignments fall under this category: Five-Paragraph Essay, Analytical Essay, Evaluation Essay, Argumentative Essay, Research Essay, and Critical Essay.


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