Back to Basics: Essays
Since the new school year just started, or will be starting soon, I thought now would be a good time to include a few "back to basics" lessons. 2015's writing course focused more on the basics of writing for publication and the publishing process, and it's a good deal more advanced than this series will be. When I say basics, I mean basic.
Think of it as Comp 101 without the tuition fees.
While I plan to write these lessons for a middle to high school audience, I will, by necessity, be adjusting them to suit the third and fifth graders I'm teaching at home.
The adjusted lessons will be available as downloads at the end of each lesson.
Let's start with the backbone of middle and high school composition, the essay.
Most school essays, and even a lot of freshman and sophomore level college essays, follow the five paragraph format. This format begins with an introductory paragraph. Three body paragraphs follow, and the last paragraph concludes the essay. It's simple and effective, which is why it is so popular.
So how to you go about writing each of these paragraphs?
Start with the question you're being asked to answer or the argument you are prompted to make in the essay. Use this to form your thesis statement. Reword your prompt and outline your argument.
In other words, "Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em."
For a rather silly example, let's say your prompt is, "Compare and contrast apples and oranges." Your topic sentence could restate the prompt as a question. "Are apples and oranges more alike than they are different?" It gives the topic of your essay while eliciting interest in the reader to find an answer to the question.
Next, outline your argument in the body of your introductory paragraph.
"While both are fruits that grow on trees, they are also very different. Oranges are a type of berry while apples are accessory fruits. Apple trees prefer cooler conditions than orange trees do, but both have been bred for bigger fruit and longer shelf life."
In the example above, I showed a few ways apples and oranges are both similar and dissimilar. I didn't go into detail, but they still give the reader a general idea of what I will be speaking about in the essay.
Finish your introductory paragraph with your thesis statement, which is something like stating a hypothesis before beginning an experiment in science class. You're telling your reader your conclusion before really getting into the argument. Example: "Therefore, apples and oranges are not more dissimilar than they are alike."
The body of your essay should be fairly easy after writing the introductory paragraph. You've already outlined your argument after all. Now all you need to do is go into more detail. Take each of your arguments and make a paragraph out of them.
The biggest ways apples and oranges are alike are obvious. Both of them are fruits. They both grow on trees, and they are both sweet and juicy. Apples and oranges both contain several stony seeds inside the fruit as well. However, they also have some obvious differences. Apples range in color from green to yellow to red while oranges are varying shades of orange when ripe. Apples have a thin skin, and oranges have a thick rind.
Looking beyond the obvious clarifies the differences between the two fruits. Oranges are classified as hesperidiums, a type of berry with a thick, leathery rind. Berries are defined as fleshy fruits without a stone that develop from the ovary of a single flower like grapes, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Apples are classified as accessory fruits, meaning they develop from something other than an ovary. They grow from a part of the stem, not the blossoms ovary. These differences are part of the reason orange trees and apple trees are part of different orders even though they both belong to the subclass Rosidae.
Oranges, like most citrus fruits, prefer tropical or subtropical conditions. Apple trees do better in cooler climates. However, both species have been domesticated for centuries and had their genomes altered as a result. Wild oranges had small, bitter fruits with much thicker rinds until humans bred them to have more pulp and less rind. Similarly, wild apples were much smaller, more sour, and rotted faster than their modern counterparts. People bred them to be bigger, starchier, and to have a longer shelf life.
We're back to the old joke regarding the writing of essays or sermons. "Tell 'em what you're going to tell them. Tell them. Then, tell 'em what you told 'em." You want to go back over the pertinent facts again and wrap everything up. Then, make sure you end with a strong sentence that closes the essay. Otherwise, you're just stopping without concluding the paper.
That's about like saying, "You know what they say...," without finishing your sentence. It leaves the person listening with the sense you aren't done, and it's annoying. Don't annoy your reader or teacher. It's never good for your grade or reviews.
Saying something is "like comparing apples and oranges" to mean two things are too dissimilar to compare is a flawed simile. While apples and oranges differ in color, taste, classification, and preferred climate, they also have many things in common. Both are fruits grown on trees that were altered by human intervention in their breeding. When you look past the rind, apples and oranges are as much alike as they are different.
The conclusion paragraph touches on the points made in the body of the essay, and then it restates the thesis statement.
Essays are formulaic. Once you learn the formula, they become simple to write as long as you do the proper research. Today's lesson covered this basic formula. Next time, I will look at one of the major problems I noticed others having when writing essays back when I was in high school and college.
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or anything to add, please leave them in the comment section below.
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A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and the home-schooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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