Types of Essays: End the Confusion
Effectively writing different types of essays has become critical to academic success. Essay writing is a common school assignment, a part of standardized tests, and a requirement on college applications. Often on tests, choosing the correct type of essay to write in response to a writing prompt is key to getting the question right. Clearly, students can’t afford to remain confused about types of essays.
There are over a dozen types of essays, so it’s easy to get confused. However, rest assured, the number is actually more manageable. Essentially there are four major types of essays, with the variations making up the remainder.
Four Major Types of Essays
Distinguishing between types of essays is simply a matter of determining the writer’s goal. Does the writer want to tell about a personal experience, describe something, explain an issue, or convince the reader to accept a certain viewpoint? The four major types of essays address these purposes:
1. Narrative Essays: Telling a Story
In a narrative essay, the writer tells a story about a real-life experience. While telling a story may sound easy to do, the narrative essay challenges students to think and write about themselves. When writing a narrative essay, writers should try to involve the reader by making the story as vivid as possible. The fact that narrative essays are usually written in the first person helps engage the reader. “I” sentences give readers a feeling of being part of the story. A well-crafted narrative essay will also build towards drawing a conclusion or making a personal statement.
2. Descriptive Essays: Painting a Picture
A cousin of the narrative essay, a descriptive essay paints a picture with words. A writer might describe a person, place, object, or even memory of special significance. However, this type of essay is not description for description’s sake. The descriptive essay strives to communicate a deeper meaning through the description. In a descriptive essay, the writer should show, not tell, through the use of colorful words and sensory details. The best descriptive essays appeal to the reader’s emotions, with a result that is highly evocative.
3. Expository Essays: Just the Facts
The expository essay is an informative piece of writing that presents a balanced analysis of a topic. In an expository essay, the writer explains or defines a topic, using facts, statistics, and examples. Expository writing encompasses a wide range of essay variations, such as the comparison and contrast essay, the cause and effect essay, and the “how to” or process essay. Because expository essays are based on facts and not personal feelings, writers don’t reveal their emotions or write in the first person.
4. Persuasive Essays: Convince Me
While like an expository essay in its presentation of facts, the goal of the persuasive essay is to convince the reader to accept the writer’s point of view or recommendation. The writer must build a case using facts and logic, as well as examples, expert opinion, and sound reasoning. The writer should present all sides of the argument, but must be able to communicate clearly and without equivocation why a certain position is correct.
Learn How to Write Different Types of Essays
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A process paragraph is a series of steps that explain how something happens or how to make something. It can explain anything from the way to enrich vocabulary to overcoming insomnia to the procedure of operating a machine. It may also give tips for improving pronunciation or for answering a telephone call. Because such explanations must be clear, the process paragraph must be written in chronological order, and it must include a topic sentence that clearly states the paragraph’s purpose. It must also include transition words and phrases such as “first,” “next,” “finally,” that connect each of the steps.
There are two kinds of process paragraphs: directional and informational. A directional process paragraph explains the directions to perform a task. It provides the reader a set of instructions or a step-by-step guidance. The following is an example of a directional process paragraph:
How to Make a Good Cup of Tea
Making a good cup of tea is exquisitely simple. First, the teapot is heated by filling it with water that has just come to a boil. This water is then discarded, and one teaspoon of loose tea per cup is placed in the teapot (the exact amount may vary according to taste). Fresh water that has just come to a boil is poured into the pot. A good calculation is six ounces of water for each cup of tea. The tea must now steep for three to five minutes; then it is poured through a strainer into a cup or mug. A pound of loose tea will yield about two hundred cups of brewed tea. Using a tea bag eliminates the strainer, but it is still best to make the tea in a teapot so that the water stays sufficiently hot. The typical restaurant service—a cup of hot water with the tea bag on the side—will not produce the best cup of tea because the water is never hot enough when it reaches the table and because the tea should not be dunked in the water; the water should be poured over the tea. Although tea in a pot often becomes too strong, that problem can be dealt with very easily by adding more boiling water. (From: Scarry S. and Scary J., 2011: 422)
An informational process paragraph explains how something works or how something worked in the past. Its purpose is purely to provide information. Such writing could be found easily in history books. For instance, if you described how General Diponegoro planned his battle strategy, this would be informational process writing. The following example explains the developmental phases of the use of literature in the second or foreign language teaching. In the paragraph, the transitional words that signal the steps or stages of the process have been italicized.
The Use of Literary works in Second/Foreign Language Teaching
The use of literary works in the second/foreign language curriculum varies greatly depending on the method dominating the practice. First, literary works were notable sources of material when the Grammar Translation Method dominated until the end of the 19th century. But they were absent from the curriculum until 1970s when the Grammar Translation Method was successively replaced by Structuralism Approach, Direct Method, Audio-lingual Method, Community Language Learning, Suggestopedia, the Silent Way, Total Physical Response, and the Natural Approach because these methods tend to regard a second and foreign language teaching as a matter of linguistics. They emphasize more on structures and vocabulary. Then literary works became even more divorced from language teaching with the advent of the communicative approach which focuses on the teaching of “usable, practical” contents for enabling students to communicate orally. In this period the second and foreign language classrooms were dominated by dialogues. However, the situation changed quite radically since the 1980s when literature has found its way back into the teaching of second and foreign language though not in the way it was used with the Grammar Translation Method. Afterward, literature undergoes an extensive reconsideration within the language teaching profession.
To write a good process paragraph, you should pay attention to three important things. First, make sure that the steps in the process are complete. Following a procedure whose steps are incomplete will fail to produce the expected result. Second, present the steps in the right sequence. For example, if you are describing the process of cleaning an electric mixer, it is important to point out that you must first unplug the appliance before you remove the blades. A person could lose a finger if this part of the process were missing. Improperly written instructions have caused serious injuries and even death. (Scarry S. & Scary J., 2011: 415). Finally, use correct transitional words to indicate the sequence of the process you are writing. the followings are transitions commonly used in process analysis.
the first step
in the beginning
first of all
to begin with
to start with
the second step
while you are . . .
as you are . . .
after you have . . .
the last step
the final step
Scarry, Sandra & Scarry, John. 2011. The Writer’s Workplace with Readings: Building College Writing Skills (7th ed.) Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning