In school, most people learn how to write the standard persuasive and argument essays, but there are so many other genres that can be just as effective when written for the proper audiences.
Opinion essays are probably the easiest essays to write because they are only based on one factor: the writer's own opinion on a specific topic. There is typically no outside research involved, and in most cases the writer is able to use first-person pronouns. Like any essay, a solid opinion essay should have a thesis statement (typically located as the last sentence of the introduction) that expresses why this particular writer holds this opinion. An opinion essay should also have an introduction, followed by several body paragraphs, and finally a conclusion. The fact that the essay is based in opinion does not excuse the genre from proper paragraphing with topic sentences and transitions. Opinion essays may also be referred to as response papers, depending on the arena in which the essay is written.
Anyone who went to high school has more than likely written several persuasive essays and probably cringes at the phrase itself. This is typically what students are required to write in standardized tests, both in and out of the U.S. public school system (SAT, Praxis exams), which is why students are required to write so many while in school. The persuasive essay is also a helpful tool out of academic settings. Cover letters are arguably the most common form of a "persuasive essay," as just about everyone will write more than a few of these throughout their lifetimes. A persuasive essay takes the opinion essay a few steps further. A PE can be based in a writer's opinion, but typically in an academic setting the writer should use third-person pronouns rather than first person pronouns. The writer might also be required to use outside evidence to support his or her assertions.
The gold standard of academic writing, the argument essay is not an opinion essay, and is more formal than a persuasive essay. Argument writing involves several facets that are usually not required in persuasive writing. Arguments are based in logic, whether or not the writer agrees with the points being argued. Arguments will almost always require outside evidence, and that evidence must be reliable. Arguments also rely on logos, which is the mode of persuasion concerning logic and reasoning, according to Aristotle – the "father of logic." What this means is that the conclusion does not necessarily have to be "true," it just has to arrive from a series of logical claims and evidence that supports those claims. The connotation of the word "argument," at least in America, is a negative one that often invokes a sense of tension or disagreement. Argument essays, though, are based in the philosophical treatises of Aristotle and his contemporaries.
A narrative essay is quite different from the first three discussed here. Narrative is another word for a story, and a narrative essay is just that: a story. It can be told in first or third person, either about the author him/herself, or about an event, or another person – the list goes on! Narrative essays are often assigned in first-year writing courses to help students adjust to the writing process with an easy assignment. These essays do require effort, despite the fact that they are less research-based (usually) than an argumentative or persuasive essay. Narratives call for vivid details throughout the story to engage the reader, as well as some sort of "lesson," moral, or significance: why is the writer telling this story? The story should also include a suspenseful plot, which can be difficult to establish for new readers. Essentially, narratives are not as easy as they seem!
An analysis essay is a close look at a text that involves the writer reading between the lines and find meaning in the text through themes, symbols, allusions, patterns, critical lenses, and other literary devices; this is typically called a literary analysis or literary criticism. An analysis may also be rhetorical, which is analyzing to determine the text's effectiveness as an argument. In a rhetorical analysis, the writer will look at the text's author's credibility, their use of ethos, pathos, and logos, and the evidence presented. The type of class or course will determine what type of essay is assigned. The analysis essay is typically the most challenging for new writers, because it involves taking a text to a higher level and spending quite a bit of time reading and rereading to truly understand and analyze.
A descriptive essay is exactly what it sounds like: it describes something. Descriptive essays can be used in any discipline. Descriptive essays require writers to use clear, concise language, as well as vivid details. The goal is to create an image in the reader's mind of the object/person/feeling being described. Using one's five senses is also crucial in a descriptive essay, as the reader should receive the full experience of this "thing" by the essay's end. Descriptive essays are effective training for science labs, when students will have to describe what happened during a particular experiment. In a business setting, an employee may be asked to describe an idea for a product or an advertisement – these describing skills will once again come in handy!
These are just a few of the types of essays students can be assigned while in college (or high school!). While it seems overwhelming, each of these essays helps to develop a skill that students will need once they leave the arena of higher education. Writing is a skill that everyone needs in some capacity or other, especially in this world of digital communication that depends heavily on email, text, and instant messaging platforms. The more types of writing one is exposed to, the more skills he or she will acquire to become an effective, efficient communicator!
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