(1) Writing Essays: An Overview. Essay Writing: Purposes. Essay Writing: Product. Essay Writing: Process. Writing to Learn Writing to Communicate

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1 Writing Essays: An Overview (1) Essay Writing: Purposes Writing to Learn Writing to Communicate Essay Writing: Product Audience Structure Sample Essay: Analysis of a Film Discussion of the Sample Essay Essay Writing: Process Stage 1 Clarifying Essay Topics Stage 2 Gathering Material Stage 3 Formulating a Thesis Statement Stage 4 Drafting Stage 5 Revising the Thesis Statement and Essay Structure Stage 6 Revising Individual Paragraphs Stage 7 Final Editing

2 (1) WRITING ESSAYS: AN OVERVIEW 3 In this book we focus on essay writing for two reasons. First, the thinking skills you practise in the process of writing essays are central to the work you do in college or university. Second, the procedures you learn for writing and revising essays will help you with many other kinds of writing assignments. Essay Writing: Purposes Writing to Learn How can writing essays help you develop thinking skills? One way is by encouraging you to explore your ideas. This purpose is reflected in the French word from which the term essay comes: essai, meaning attempt. The term was first used by the French author Michel de Montaigne, who published a book of short prose pieces entitled Essais in This title suggests the personal, exploratory nature of Montaigne s attempts to understand the world around him by writing on everyday subjects such as the art of conversation or liars. You may study informal essays of this type in composition and literature courses, and create them as well. Since Montaigne s day, the term essay has come to include formal writing on a wide range of subjects, from the nature of love in Shakespeare s King Lear to theories about the origins of the universe. Writing academic essays of this kind will help you develop systematic analytic thinking. It is this more formal type of essay writing that you will most often be asked to do in your university and college courses, and that we will focus on in this text. Thinking about a subject* and writing about a subject are different processes. Thinking is largely internal and abstract, while writing requires you to make your thoughts external and concrete. If you were taking a painting course, you would recognize that no matter how good the instructor s lessons might be or how much you thought about painting, you would learn to paint only by painting. The same holds true for writing. Through writing essays, whether formal or informal, you develop greater awareness of the language you and others use to make meaning. What may be less obvious is that you learn the theories, concepts, and procedures of academic disciplines more thoroughly by actively employing them in writing essays. Writing to Communicate Some of the writing you do such as class notes, responses to reading, drafts that go nowhere may have no reader other than yourself. Other types of writing, like texting, have very specific, immediate purposes and may be *Terms in bold are defined in the Glossary of Rhetorical Terms (xxx xxx).

3 4 (Part 1) rhetoric deleted without much further thought. Writing essays, however, is a means of sharing your understanding of a particular issue with others and generally involves a more sustained engagement with the issue you are writing about. Most academic essays require an argument or opinion that will persuade the reader. Contrary to the popular belief that everyone has a right to an opinion of his or her own, not all opinions have equal merit: some opinions can be harmful (such as racism) or even incorrect (that the Earth is flat). Moving beyond mere factual information, an essay will draw conclusions about a particular topic and support a position or course of action related to that topic. The merit of an argument or opinion relies on the reasons and evidence you give to support that position as well as its ability to persuade the reader. In an academic essay, this combination of an opinion and the reason(s) supporting it is called a thesis. A thesis is like a hypothesis in a scientific experiment: it is the statement or assertion that is to be proved. Proof in an academic essay consists of the logical, orderly development of your thesis through explaining your reasons and giving evidence (such as factual information, examples, and quotations from authorities) to support those reasons. By explaining your thesis carefully and giving evidence to support it, you are likely to persuade readers to take your opinion seriously, whether or not they agree with it. Essay Writing: Product If both informal essays and formal academic essays present writers opinions on particular subjects, then the writer must consider the audience for whom a piece is being written and the presentation of the material. Audience Most informal essays are written for a popular audience, and the subject material is usually fairly general in nature. Magazine articles and newspaper stories often contain much factual material and are geared toward information or entertainment as a starting point for discussion. These types of essays do not represent sustained analyses of topics. Formal essays on an academic subject, in contrast, are written for specialized audiences already familiar with the subject. Readers of these essays want to know the writer s thesis from the beginning and to have the evidence supporting the thesis laid out in a logical, orderly fashion. They also appreciate essays that are well written according to the conventions of the discipline. Most of the essays you write in college and university courses will be of this second type. You will be writing for instructors and classmates who know something about the subject and want to hear your opinion on

4 (1) WRITING ESSAYS: AN OVERVIEW 5 it. For such academic audiences, then, you do not need to include broad generalizations or unnecessary summary in the essay, particularly in the introduction. Try to be as specific as possible. Structure Many students have learned the five-paragraph essay structure that includes an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The five-paragraph essay is an acceptable, if simple, approach to the essay. However, the fiveparagraph essay can become a crutch if a writer uses it as a template for every essay. This model s main drawback is that it tends to make writers think in terms of three subpoints, which is not always the best approach to thinking about any given topic. The structure begins to dictate content, when it is generally preferable to let content dictate the structure. Whether you write five, seven, nine, or any other number of paragraphs in your essay, it is important that you have an introduction, middle paragraphs, and a conclusion. Here is a brief description of these elements: Introduction The introduction presents the thesis of the essay. It may also establish the context for the discussion (for example, by defining necessary terms or giving historical background). The introduction should not include broad generalizations that will not be supported in your essay, nor should it contain references to examples or ideas that will not be analyzed. Middle Paragraphs Middle paragraphs present subpoints of your essay, which support your thesis statement. Topic sentences explain each subpoint and how it relates to your thesis. However, you may have two paragraphs that support a single subpoint with a different example explained in each paragraph. One paragraph may fully explain a subpoint of your thesis, or you may need more than one paragraph to explain a subpoint. We will show you how to create an umbrella topic sentence a topic sentence for two middle paragraphs in Chapter 5. Conclusion The conclusion ties together the points developed in the middle paragraphs and mentions the wider implications of the discussion, if any. Sample Essay: Analysis of a Film So that you can see what this kind of essay might look like in practice, here is an example. The assignment asked students to choose their favourite film, to identify a key theme or topic, and to make an argument about their understanding of the material. The main structural elements of the essay have been labelled.

5 6 (Part 1) rhetoric Writing Sample Free Will and Fatalism In The Matrix Introduction Thesis statement Topic sentence Middle paragraph 1 Transition topic sentence Middle paragraph 2 Topic sentence Middle paragraph 3 Released in 1999, the movie The Matrix has found a central place in popular culture, certainly more so than its two sequels. Aside from its compelling action scenes, part of the film s popularity derives from its questioning of the principle of personal freedom, a principle that is usually an unchallenged assumption in North America. The film s fundamental premise is that reality is an illusion and that most humans live their lives inside a computergenerated world called the matrix, manipulated by the machines of the future. The film asks the audience to consider the extent to which they are in control of their decisions and how much technology and other social conditions influence or determine their lives. The two characters Neo and Cypher represent opposite positions in the debate between free will and fatalism, yet the film s treatment of both characters suggests that neither free will nor fatalism is an absolute position but are related terms in the decision-making process. Through his involvement with technology, the film s main character Neo (Keanu Reeves) has the opportunity to choose between knowledge and ignorance, and ultimately to escape from his prison. An office worker by day and computer hacker by night, Neo is searching for more meaning in his life, perceiving that something is wrong with his apparent reality. It is through the hacker network that Neo meets Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) who leads him to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Morpheus offers Neo the chance to learn about the matrix, but he must make a choice between the blue pill (to remain ignorant inside the matrix) or the red pill (to learn the truth and escape the matrix). In choosing the red pill, Neo takes control of his future, which begins his quest through the film to overcome the constraints of the matrix and to become humanity s liberator. To some extent, Neo is god-like in his power at the end of the film, and he has attained this power through choosing to question his surroundings. In contrast to Neo, Cypher represents the opposite reaction to the realization that something is wrong with reality. Cypher has already escaped the matrix and works with Morpheus to liberate other humans from their prison. However, Cypher has grown tired of his struggle against the harsh conditions of life in the real or non computer-generated world. Ironically, when one of the matrix s agents asks Cypher, a technical operator outside of the matrix, to betray Morpheus, Cypher willingly agrees on condition that he be reinserted back into the matrix. Cypher asks to be rich and important in his new life inside the matrix and suggests the life of an actor; he wishes to remember nothing of the outside world. Essentially, Cypher consciously adopts a life inside the illusion provided by technology, a move equivalent to committing suicide in his real life so he can become an actor in a fictional world. Two extremes of the debate are therefore clear. On the one hand, Neo follows his own intuition to discover the limits of technology in order to overcome them and to live in the real world. On the other hand, Cypher, who already knows the limits of technology, cooperates with technology in order to live, once again, inside the illusion of the matrix. Neo appears to embody self-determination and the triumph of free will. Cypher appears to embody resignation and fatalism.

6 (1) WRITING ESSAYS: AN OVERVIEW 7 Transition topic sentence Middle paragraph 4 Conclusion However, the film complicates this simple contrast. While Cypher appears to side with an ignorant life inside the matrix, he makes a free choice to betray his friends. Although we may understand his reasons, we ultimately disagree with his decision. In the case of Neo, Morpheus and his crew believe that Neo is the one. That is, there is a myth inside the matrix that a special person will emerge from within the matrix to liberate humanity. In other words, Neo is predestined to fulfill his role of the one, which implies that he is not acting totally out of free will. In this way, the film reminds its viewers that our choices and situations are not as simple as they might first appear. Free will and fatalism are not discrete and separate; rather, they are intimately intertwined with one another. Overall, the film suggests that the very idea of free will is a concept that is, perhaps, part of our social conditioning. The contradiction the film explores is that the ability to choose free will may be an illusion leaving no meaningful choice. While Cypher apparently gives up in the face of real-world challenges, Neo offers hope that choice is possible, despite the influence of the matrix. Thus, the matrix represents not only technology but also larger social conditions such as politics, interpersonal relationships, and spiritual beliefs. As the internet and other technologies like social media become more pervasive in our lives, The Matrix reminds us to question whether these technologies allow us greater personal freedom to make our own choices and to realize our individuality or whether they limit our creativity by replacing meaningful face-to-face communication with computermediated friendships. The question becomes less about the possibility of free will than about the ability to understand why and how we make our choices within the circumstances in which we make them. Discussion of the Sample Essay Free Will and Fatalism in The Matrix illustrates the effective use of structural elements common to college and university essays. The introduction provides basic information about the film and introduces the topics of free will and fatalism. It concludes with the thesis statement, which posits that the film complicates a simple division between free will and fatalism as evidenced in the characters of Neo and Cypher. The thesis is debatable, because one could argue that free will and fatalism are distinct and separate concepts. The thesis statement also serves as a guide to the structure of the essay as a whole. It sets out a simple proposition that free will and fatalism are opposite terms and establishes that this distinction does not capture the complexity of the film. The essay will demonstrate how each character represents either free will or fatalism, and it will then show how each character demonstrates the opposite position in his actions. The middle paragraphs develop the characters in terms of the concepts under discussion by referring to specific details from the film. The first two

7 8 (Part 1) rhetoric middle paragraphs deal with separate characters to develop them individually, while the following two paragraphs deal with the characters together in comparison with each other. Also notice that this structure does not follow a simple five-paragraph essay structure that deals with three subpoints. But that does not mean that the essay has a flawed structure. Notice how the point made in each paragraph builds upon the previous one: the second paragraph contrasts Cypher to Neo, who was discussed in the first paragraph; the third paragraph develops the two contrasting characters in relation to the relevant concepts; and the fourth paragraph, developing from the third, explains the intertwining of the concepts of free will and fatalism. Each paragraph in the essay furthers the overall argument. In the middle paragraphs of the essay, each of these points is clearly made in a topic sentence. Each topic sentence identifies the aspect of the film to be discussed and connects that aspect to the thesis by stating how it contributes to the topics of free will and fatalism. The topic sentences and some other sentences also provide transitions between one paragraph and the next. The framework you create by establishing this kind of relationship between the thesis, topic sentences, and transitional devices will give your reader valuable assistance in following your line of thinking. The conclusion sums up the argument of the essay and points to the wider implications of the argument. Rather than making broad generalizations, the conclusion takes a minor theme of the essay (technology) to ask further questions about how the technology in the film (The Matrix) might be related to our real lives (the internet, Facebook, and other social media) in terms of the major themes of the essay, namely free will and fatalism. Essay Writing: Process Most people don t write an essay or anything intended to be read by others, for that matter by sitting down with paper and pen (or computer) and rising an hour later with a finished product. The final draft is the last stage of a highly complex process of thinking and writing, rethinking and rewriting. If you want to produce an interesting, thoughtful essay like the one on The Matrix, you have to be prepared to give time and serious attention to your subject. Without that willingness, you will not learn how to write from this book or from any other. But if you make the effort, you can learn to write essays that have something to say and say it well. To help you learn the skills you need, we will begin by discussing reading analytically and writing summaries, important prequels to writing an essay (see Chapter 2). Throughout the rest of the book, we will focus on the major stages of writing academic essays:

8 (1) WRITING ESSAYS: AN OVERVIEW 9 Stage 1: Stage 2: Stage 3: Stage 4: Stage 5: Stage 6: Stage 7: Clarifying Essay Topics Determining what your assignment requires and exploring ideas to define a topic Gathering Material Using methods of analysis to stimulate your thinking and to organize ideas, information, and specific details about your topic Formulating a Thesis Statement Forming a main idea and selecting points to support it from the material you have gathered Drafting Selecting and organizing material in a first draft Revising the Thesis Statement and Essay Structure Checking for possible problems in your thesis statement and essay structure, and making necessary changes Revising Individual Paragraphs Checking for possible problems in your introduction, middle paragraphs, and conclusion, and making necessary changes Final Editing Improving your sentence structure and word usage, and correcting errors in grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and format We are not claiming that the methods and the stages we propose are the only way to write or to write effectively; we don t even claim that they reflect exactly what writers including ourselves do when we write. For many of us, writing is far messier and more intuitive than our model would suggest. You may find that the order in which we present writing activities suits your method of composition perfectly; on the other hand, you may find yourself writing a draft to clarify your understanding of a topic or mentally revising the structure before a word hits the page. Try out our suggestions, adjust them to your needs, and fit them into a writing process that works for you. Exercise Answer each of the following questions in a sentence or two. 1. We suggest that writing essays can help you think through your ideas and communicate them to other people. Which of these purposes is most relevant to you as a writer? Why? 2. What is your usual approach to writing an essay? How effective do you find this approach? Which stage(s) of the process do you find easiest? Hardest?

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