Friday, October 16, 2009

The nuts and bolts of essays


LAST week, we looked at how to write a narrative composition. Today, I would like to take you back to the basic structure of an essay.
This will help you to write other types of essays such as factual, reflective,argumentative, expository and open essays.
Let’s say we are going to write a reflective composition titled “What would you do if you had a lot of money?” Use the acronym B.A.G. to help you plan your essay.
B - Brainstorm for main ideas,
A - Add supporting details,
G - Get organised.
STEP 1 Brainstorm for main ideas
Write any idea that you may have concerning the topic above in the box provided.
STEP 2 Add supporting details
From the main ideas, add more facts or ideas that support each main idea.
STEP 3 Get organised
Look at all the points and determine which paragraph is stronger and should have top priority. Rearrange the points and put them into a list. Think of an interesting introduction and a suitable conclusion. Your basic structure should roughly look like this.
There are many ways to organise your essay depending on the types of essays.
i. Chronological order – according to the order of how the events occurred.
ii. Cause and effect – discuss the causes (reasons) first, then give the effect.
iii. Problem to solution – discuss the problems, then give the solutions
iv. Spatial order – describe from one spot to the next. This is suitable for descriptive writing.
v. Climactic order – starts with the least important to the most important.
vi. Reverse climactic order – starts with the most important to the least important.
The introduction should be designed to attract the reader's attention and give her an idea of the essay's focus. Introduce your essay with an attention- grabber.
Here are some ideas:
1. Use some startling information or facts. Example: “A recent survey on teenagers who smoked revealed that 20% picked up smoking before they were 13.”

2. Use an anecdote.
- An anecdote is a short story that illustrates a point. Be sure your anecdote is short and relevant to your topic.
• Example: “Raj and his friends do not go home after school. They hang out daily at shopping complexes after school. They are just the tip of the iceberg of the=loafing syndrome.”

3. Use a question
• Example: “Do you know that Malaysians throw away 1.2 million tonnes worth of newspapers daily? For every 10 newspapers bought, only four are recovered for recycling.”
4. Use a general statement and lead to your topic.
• Use a few sentences to explain your topic in general terms, then lead the reader gently to your main of the essay.
• Each sentence should become gradually more specific, until you reach your point.
• Example: “Of late, there has been increasing concern about the impact of pollution on the environment and our society. How do we reduce pollution?”

1. Nowadays, we hear of many snatch theft cases…
2. Everyone in this world needs a friend...
3. The dictionary defines a computer as...
These are overused and teachers are tired of reading them.
The conclusion (in three or four sentences) sums up your points or provides a final perspective on your essay.
1. Express your hopes about the topic Example: “Finally, it is hoped that aspeople become more aware of the need to recycle, more will come forward and get involved in environmental issues.”

2. Call for action Example: “Shall we just sit back and wait till all our landfills overflow? Let’s get involved and do something to save our environment.

- include a brief summary of the essay's main points.
- ask a provocative question.
- compare with other situations.

Tips to better paragraphs
1. What is a paragraph?
A paragraph can be divided into three different sections. The first section is the topic sentence which is usually at the beginning of the paragraph, the body and the closing.
The Topic Sentence.
The topic sentence tells you what the paragraph is going to be about, and how it relates to the subject of the essay and the previous paragraph.
Body Sentences.
Body sentences support the topic of the paragraph. There are supporting details and elaboration in these sentences.
Closing Sentence.
This sentence completes the idea expressed in the paragraph. It should also set up a connection to the next paragraph.
1) A good paragraph has only one main idea and one or two supporting details. Example:” First and foremost, I would buy a house for my parents, preferably a bungalow, in a quiet town. I would equip the house with the latest technology so that it would be a smart home. My mother would have a state-of-the-art kitchen as she loves cooking.
There would also be a robot to clean and vacuum the house. I will certainly make sure that my family is comfortably settled in this house.”
The main idea of the sentence is ‘buying a house for my parents’. The paragraph then describes in detail what the house would be like.
2. How to elaborate and add supporting details.
To support a topic sentence, consider some of these possible ways:
• Add examples
• Supply further details or explanation
• Tell a story that illustrates the point you're making
• Discuss a process
• Compare and contrast
Example: “Most word processing software gives you several options for printing. You can print a copy or several copies of the same document with different fonts. Besides that, you can also print a range of pages. What is more, you can even preview a document before printing it out. You can finally say goodbye to the good old typewriter.”
Topic sentence: word processing software - several options for printing.
Body sentences: (Supporting details): print a copy, several copies, different fonts, a range of pages, preview.
(Note that I have given examples and explanation to support my main idea.)
Closing sentence: End the paragraph by implying that now that you have the software, you can say goodbye to the typewriter.
3. Choice of words
i. Do not use tired words like ‘beautiful’ or ‘nice’. Use: magnificent, breathtaking, inspiring, fantastic, and so on.
ii. Do not pepper your essay with words that are superfluous. If a sentence means the same thing with a word taken out, take it out.
Don't write: Ever since Mr Tan came into my class, he transformed it, changing it so that it was altogether different from what it has been like before.
Do write: Mr Tan transformed my class.
(Here, give examples of how he did it.)
iii. Do not use words or phrases that are either unheard of or too bombastic.
Chin Yit, a student from Pahang wrote to ask whether using ‘beautiful words’ would gain her more marks. She had taken these words from a thesaurus. Her teacher is right.
She will not gain more marks as she is testing the examiner and boring her readers. Examples: propitious (favourable), ebullient (cheerful), affray (scuffle, fight)

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