The word “essay” derives from the French “essayer” - “to try” or “to attempt”. Hence, an essay is a text that attempts to argue (prove or make clear) a point of view.
The essay’s argument is the logical ordering of sequenced specific EVIDENCE in support of a point of view proposed at the start of the essay.
The word “argument” when applied to an essay does not mean that it debates or argues as two friends might argue over which team is the better football team. “Argument” comes from a Latin word that means to “make clear”. Thus, an essay has at its centre an argument that sets out proof proceeding from one piece of evidence to another in a consistently logical way and an ever increasingly convincing way. The argument ensures that each piece of evidence relates to the essay’s proposition. The purpose of the essay is to persuade an audience that a point of view is true. EVIDENCE is crucial.
There are THREE FORMS OF ESSAY STRUCTURES, expressed in symbol form below.
It is possible to describe the three key structures of an essay in mathematical terms.
Let “P” be the proposition (statement/topic) that gives rise to the essay.
SAMPLE ESSAY TOPIC
“Macbeth is not an evil man, but circumstances prompt him to commit evil.” Write an essay where you give your view on this statement.
P = Macbeth is not an evil man, but circumstances prompt him to commit evil.
THE THREE ESSAY STRUCTURES
1. P 2. P 3. P
+ - +
+ - +
+ - -
P -P P
If we think about the basic essay as having 5 paragraphs (of course, in reality it may have many more than five paragraphs):
three major points involving evidence,
Essay Structure 1 states the proposition, brings three pieces of evidence to support its truth, and then concludes by restating the proposition.
With our Macbeth topic, this means that the essay will argue that Macbeth is a victim of circumstance, and will perhaps claim that the circumstances that cause him to commit evil are, say, 1. his wife’s goading, 2. the witches’ suggestion, and 3. the weakness of the nature he was born with. It will conclude by restating that Macbeth is a victim of circumstance.
Essay structure P + + + P
Essay Structure 2 begins by stating that the proposition is false, identifies three pieces of evidence to undermine its truth, and then concludes by countering the proposition.
With our Macbeth topic, this means that the essay will argue that Macbeth is not a victim of circumstance, and will perhaps claim that 1. he had premeditated the crime, 2. used the promptings of his wife and the witches’ as excuses to cover his own murderous ambitions, 3. give ample evidence of his positive relish for evil, and conclude by stating that Macbeth was the author of his own downfall.
Essay structure P - - - - P
Essay Structure 3 states the proposition, identifies two pieces of evidence to support its truth, but counters with one piece of worryingly discordant evidence, and then concludes by modifying the proposition - understanding that the proposition is limited in its total veracity (truth).
With our Macbeth topic, this means that the essay will begin by arguing that Macbeth is a victim of circumstance, and will perhaps claim that the circumstances that cause him to commit evil are, say, 1. his wife’s goading and 2. the witches’ suggestion, BUT 3. follow with evidence showing he has thought about the crime before the witches or his wife ever mentioned it, and conclude by seeing Macbeth as a complex character - both a victim and a machiavel or villain.
Essay structure P + + - ± P
Of course, Essay Structure 3 is the most interesting and intelligent response.
A Note About Essay Conclusions (and Introductions)
For years students have been taught about the importance of introductions and conclusions in essays. Students have slavishly
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