Essay writing for students usually begins in the elementary grades, and, at this level, students are given simple specific topics, such as “What I did over my vacation” or “What I want to be when I grow up.” The focus of these assignments is to give student practice in creating effective paragraphs, with topic sentences and to master the skills of writing a variety of sentence types. As students progress through secondary school and on to college, however, they are expected to write a variety of essay types, based upon both topic and purpose. If one lacks the understanding of the purposes of essay types assigned, then s/he will not satisfy the requirements of such assignments.
For purposes of brief explanation, the following essay types are most commonly assigned at the high school and university level:
Narration: This essay will require the telling of a story or the description of an event or experience. Among all essay types, this one is often considered the easiest, but the writer must not become complacent. The “story” must be compelling and motivational, so the reader has an enjoyable experience. Students will find these essay types most often assigned in high school, in some English composition classes in college, and certainly in the application process for undergraduate or graduate admissions.
Descriptive: This type of essay requires the writer to fully describe a person or an object, and it may require both objective and subjective comments. If, in an art appreciation course, for example, a student is asked to describe a certain painting, s/he may talk of color, texture, medium, and, as well, his/her emotional response to the painting.
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Process: In describing a process, the student will be asked to provide very specific detail, and appropriate sequencing will be critical. Examples of these types of essays might be the process for changing the oil in one’s car or the dressing of a deer once the hunt has ended.
Comparison/Contrast: These types of essays can be tricky, and it will be important to have some type of diagram or outline prior to writing about the similarities and/or differences between those things/events/people that are the subjects of the essay. Using a Venn diagram often assists a student in thought organization.
Persuasive or Argumentative: Here, a student will be asked to take a stand on a controversial issue, such as abortion, illegal immigration, or any local or national political debate, and strongly defend a position s/he takes on the matter. Generally, these essay types will require some research, and the student should be prepared to have enough factual information to defend the position.
Literature Response Essay: While these essay types are generally assigned in English classes, they are not necessarily confined to that discipline. In a history or political science class, for example, a student may be asked to read the non-fiction writings of others and to respond in some fashion. A thorough understanding of the work about which one is writing is critical and will provide the foundation for the points to be made. You may often be required to evaluate the piece in a number of aspects, and this may require some additional research as well.
Essay writing is a complex process. If one is to compose effective essays of any type, both the topic and the purpose must be clearly understood before the piece is organized for writing. Using outlines and graphic organizers are solid means for organization; the writing, of course, must be grammatically correct, and demonstrate not only knowledge but the ability to use the language well, providing imagery, similes, metaphors, analogies, and other devices to make the reading or your piece enjoyable and compelling.