Our last lesson focused on the structure of the basic five paragraph essay and how to go about writing one. Today's lesson will focus more on one of the most common issues students have when composing an essay.
Back in high school and on through my sophomore year of college, I saw many people making the same mistake over and over when it came to writing essays. It was more common with prompts where a specific question was asked, but it'd happen with almost any kind of prompt. They danced all around the question they were asked to answer without answering the question. While this worked for some high school classes, most college professors will only award 50% at best since the essay fails to meet the objective altogether. When you're assigned an essay, make sure you answer the question, or you're just wasting your time!
If I'm giving lots of facts, how can I not answer the question?
Facts are important; however, they can't make an argument on their own. A fact list will not answer a question. They have to be interpreted. Leaving them for your reader to interpret is not only lazy, but it's a coward's move. As the author of the essay, it's your job to interpret the data and form conclusions.
Once again, I'll use a silly example. Let's say you're asked to write an essay on, "Why is it important to wash dishes?"
A student might respond with the following.
Used dishes are gross. They smell, and they grow bacteria. Bacteria can make you sick. Washing removes dirt and bacteria.
The paragraph contains lots of facts. It covers the reasons washing dishes is important, but does it answer the question? No, it doesn't.
Let's try rewriting the paragraph in a way that answers the question.
If old food can be scraped off used dishes, why should water, soap, and time be wasted washing them? Even if the dish appears clean, traces of the old food are left behind. These traces provide the food bacteria needs to thrive and multiply, and they will begin to decay. The dishes will begin to smell, and bacteria and other microscopic organisms will continue to accumulate. If the dish is used again without being cleansed, the food will pick up traces of the last meal and billions of microbes, potentially causing food poisoning. Only a thorough washing with soap and hot water will remove all traces of past meals as well as microbes from the dish's surface, thus lowering the danger of contamination.
The same facts are given, but in the second paragraph, they are also interpreted. This interpretation leads to a conclusion. The conclusion answers the question that was asked.
But, I don't know the answer!
Here's the real crux of the problem. Dancing around the question without answering it is a way students try to bluff their way out of a bad grade. Sometimes it "works" in lower grades, but most teachers aren't going to let it slide.
If you don't know the answer, go research the topic until you do! Find the facts you need. Interpret them, and form your conclusion. Don't let doubt make you wishy washy. If you aren't confident in your answer or interpretations of the facts, keep researching until you are. Then use your conclusion to form a dynamic thesis statement that answers the question. Back it up with the facts and your interpretation them in the body. Finally, wrap the essay up with a concise review of the most important points and conclude with your answer.
Don't let fear of failure keep you from working with conviction. All it will do is insure you get far less than full marks.
Here is the elementary adjustment of today's lesson.
If you missed the elementary adjustment for the last lesson, you can find it at the end of that lesson or just below.
In addition to working as a freelance writer, A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and a homeschooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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