Tuesday, 28 September 2010

How to Write an Essay: Part 1

The writing of "essays" has become both a habit and a discipline in our schools, our colleges, our universities, and our self-culture societies; and the ability to write a good "essay" has been made a qualification for early advancement in almost every sphere of specialized work. What is an essay? It is an endeavour, a trial, an attempt. You can essay to do anything. In literature an essay, as defined in Webster's Dictionary, is "a literary composition, analytical or interpretative in nature, dealing with its subject from a more or less limited or personal standpoint, and permitting a considerable freedom of style and method."
This definition is as good as any I require, although I would implore "Webster" to substitute in future editions, the word "kind" for the word "nature." But the definition, good as it is, is hardly abreast of the truth. It would be better if a certain kind of essay - and this the largest in number - were known by the now obsolete term "thesis." A thesis differs from an essay. It is less personal and expansive. An essay is centrifugal in its action, a thesis is centripetal. The essay gives liberty, the thesis demands purpose. The essay may diverge, the thesis must concentrate. The writer of a thesis has to commit themselves to a proposition or, at least, to an orderly statement of facts or opinions concerning a definite matter. Nevertheless, the principles which govern success in producing an "essay" or a thesis are identical up to a certain point. Obviously clear thinking and good English must be found in both. It has happened that the word "essay" has virtually replaced the word "thesis" but the distinction remains. If I am asked how it is possible to write Essays such as were written by Goldsmith, Dr. Johnson, Charles Lamb, and Hazlitt I can impart to you the whole secret and will make you a present of it. All that is necessary is to be a Goldsmith, a Johnson, a Lamb, or a Hazlitt. But I would add that it is much more important, and also much more possible, to be yourself. For a good essay is the trial and expansion of one persons mind and outlook, of their sympathies and emotions. These must be interesting, and the writer's way of conveying them must be magnetic.

Part 2