Essays are an important part of formal education in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America. They are useful tools for educational institutes to assess student understanding of a topic or idea.
What is an essay?
An essay is a logical and well-organized piece of writing that presents and argues a point of view (opinion) on a topic or question. It uses evidence to support any claims made in an attempt to remain factual and objective.
“An essay is a written ARGUMENT that contains evidence and logic to support its reasoning and conclusions.”
Although an essay is used to present an author’s point of view toward a topic or specific question, it does not become an effective essay until it turns this point of view (opinion) into an argument.
Opinion vs. Argument: The difference.
Simply, an argument is an improved opinion. The Oxford Dictionary (2010) defines them as:
• Opinion: “A view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge”
• Argument: “A reason or set of reasons given in support of an idea, action or theory” As an example consider this question (College Board, 2012; p575):
“Do changes that make our lives easier not necessarily make them better?”
Essay: Standard structure.
The minimum number of paragraphs an essay can have is 3 (Introduction, body, conclusion), however, in most cases, this is not an acceptable format for an essay. The most commonly accepted standard essay format is 5 paragraphs with 3 body paragraphs. Each body paragraph should progressively make the argument more convincing (shown in the
illustration below), therefore the more body paragraphs present, the more the more support the thesis receives and the more convincing the argument will become.
“No, not all changes that have made our lives more convenient have made them better.”
• Simply answers the question
“No, not all changes that have made our lives more convenient have made them better. Some have made us unhealthy.”
• Answers the question and provides some reasoning.
“No, not all changes that have made our lives more convenient have made them better. Some have made us unhealthy. Take for example fast food.”
• Answers the question, and provides some supported reasoning.
NOTE: To form a 4-5 star argument, analysis of the support (the evidence) for the reasoning is needed.