Building upon your earlier
work with paragraphs, the next major writing skill
you will need to master is the essay. It is arguably
the most important skill that you can learn in school, and it incorporates all
of the previous English skills (e.g. spelling, punctuation, sentences, paragraphs)
into one complete writing format.
What exactly is an essay?
It is difficult to define, but generally you could say it's an extended (i.e.
longer than a paragraph) piece of non-fiction writing that presents a key idea in a structured
and logical manner. It's also a skill that you are required to master by
the end of Grade 12 and is essential for your success in post-secondary education.
In fact, in America, their university entrance test (called the SAT) recently
added an essay component to its exam. It dropped the testing of analogies in
favour of essays because the latter is a much more consistent indicator of success
at colleges and universities.1
There are many types of
essays, each with a particular objective, each with a particular format and
each with a particular set of "do's and don't's". In secondary English, we will focus on three basic types. On the other hand, there are many elements
that are common to (almost) all essays. In other words, there are elements which make essays different from each other, and elements which almost all essays have in common.
Common Essay Elements
For those elements
that are common to all essays, read the following handouts. (These handouts,
and more, are found at FVDES's "Secondary Humanities
basics of essay writing
Different Essay Types
The three different types of essays that you should become familiar with are narrative, expository and persuasive essays. Narrative essays are a little less structured than most essays, and
are as close to story-telling as you will get in a non-fiction essay. Expository essays
are analytical explanations of difficult topics, and are less personal than
narrative essays, but less argumentative and more neutral than persuasive essays.
Persuasive (or argumentative) essays take a specific point of view and defend
it against competing points of view. For more information, visit these pages
expository essays (which include definition, compare and contrast, cause and effect, and illustrative essays)
- In English 11, consult pp. 128 to 138 of Canadian Writer's Companion.
- In English 12, consult the chapter on "Narration" in 75 Readings Plus, which includes a useful introduction and sample essays.
persuasive essays (otherwise known as argumentative essays)
- In Grade 11 English, consult pp. 154 to 174 of Canadian Writer's Companion.
- In English 12, consult the chapters on "Definition", "Comparison and Contrast", "Cause and Effect", and "Illustration" in 75 Readings Plus. Each of them includes a useful introduction and sample essays.
- In Grade 11 English, consult pp. 190 to 197 of Canadian Writer's Companion.
- In English 12, consult the chapter on "Argument" in 75 Readings Plus, which includes a useful introduction and sample essays.
dddd1 Robinson, A.and J. Katzman. The Princeton Review: Cracking the SAT.
(New York: Random House, 2004) p. 4.