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Essay Writing

What is an Essay ?
An essay is a short literary composition, providing a personal view on a single subject. An essay is not just an exercise in research, it is also an exercise in communication. Essays require you to demonstrate that you understand the question asked, issues involved and that you possess the required knowledge quotient. Essays also allow you to demonstrate your analytical thinking and force a deep and powerful form of learning to take place for both the author as well as the reader.The length of the essay should be apt enough to meet the purpose, keep the reader gripped, and conform to any pre-stated space constraints. It is important to understand that a redundant detail may take the charm away from an essay while an over condensed one may elude certain relevant details. In fact, someone has rightly said"An essay should be like a mini-skirt: long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep it interesting"!
What does an essay reflect ?
Importance of essay writing
An essay reflects one's personality. It gives an insight into an individual's ability to express. It gives the reader an idea about the person's attitude, aptitude, and vision. Infact, the purpose of an essay is to evaluate the following aspects of one's personality:
  • Knowledge- This is an important parameter as it measures the awareness levels of the writer; more so in case of factual topics. It reflects a well-rounded and aware personality with a strong environmental sensitivity.
  • Written ability-This parameter evaluates the writer's expression of interest.A well written essay demonstrates good written communication skills.
  • Logical structure-This parameter displays the writer's logical thinking and ability to prioritize. It is important to cluster and group different sets of ideas and arrange them in a manner that reflects logical progression and proper sequencing.
Foundations of a Good Essay
A good essay is based on the following foundations:
  • Content: This is the subject matter on the topic; please remain close to the topic given. For example, if the topic is "FDI in higher education", don't deviate to include issues and challenges w.r.t "FDI in retail", as they very different topics. Focus on higher education in India and explain the rationale for FDI in higher education.
  • Organization: How the argument is constructed using examples from the introduction to the end.
  • Presentation: This includes style, use of language, correct sentences,& spellings and ease of reading. Using simple words with a clean and neat handwriting is an added advantage.
What are the steps in writing a good essay ?
The process of writing an effective essay is quite simple. In fact, it can be outlined in three steps:
  • Define the purpose
  •  Organize your ideas
  •  WRITE !!! 
Let’s look at each of the above and understand what needs to be kept in mind for each.
  • Define the purpose - Broadly, the purpose can be either to give an overview or an analysis. More specifically, it should be pre-defined as an essay intended to:
    • Persuade - whether for or against, you should be atleast moderately passionate about the issue.
    • Explain/Educate- you should be suitably well-informed about the issue.
  • Organize your ideas
    • Brainstorm- This helps you to think laterally and divergently on the various issues and challenges with respect to the given topic. The following are some simple tips to brainstorm effectively:
      1. Write the topic in a circle
      2. Arrows and smaller circles outside
      3. Fill these circles with points/facts/info. which support the respective point
In fact, you can use two very effective techniques for brainstorming.
Technique-1: The SPHELTIR technique of brainstorming
This serves as an effective tool to control and brand the diversity of ideas which come to one's mind while brainstorming. This approach is a yardstick to evaluate the topic from multiple environmental dimensions- social, political, historical, economic, legal, technological, international, and religious. This method is more useful for brainstorming on factual topics.
Let’s use this technique and analyse one topic. This will help you understand how to use this approach in order to generate content.
Sample Topic : Should there be reservations?
 
Social
  • Social inequalities in rural and urban India like untouchability
  • Reservations for socially and educationally backward classes (Art 15)
Political
  • Caste-based vote-bank politics
  • Women Reservation Bill
Historical
  • Genesis of Caste System in India
  • Was there any timeline set by constitution?
Economic
  • Creamy Layer
  • Reservations in jobs and educational institutes
Legal
  • Indian Constitution - Right to equality (Art 14)
  • However, 'positive discrimination' allowed (Art 15)
Technological
  • Reservations in private sector like IT/ITES
  • Is Reservation in IITs / IIMs killing merit
International
  • Is Reservation making India less competitive in world?
  • Similar policy of affirmative action in USA too.
Religion
  • Reservations for Minorities?
  • Sachar Committee Report
Technique-2: The POPBEANS approach to brainstorming
This is also a useful tool to think about topics require both structure and diversity. The tool assesses the following aspects surrounding a given topic- people, objects, place, behavior, event, action, nature, and society. This method is particularly useful for expanding abstract topics.
Let’s take up an example topic and see how we can use this technique.
Sample Topic: "Black"
As you can see, this single-letter is extremely abstract in nature and requires you to think outside of the box. Using the POPBEANS approach, you can think of the following pointers for this topic:
  • People - Corrupt/ dishonest people
  • Objects - Black hole, manipulated balance sheet (commerce point)
  • Place - Historical monuments, graveyard, South or North pole
  • Behavior - Rude and aggressive behavior 
  • Event - 26/11, other tragic events 
  • Actions - Honor killing, female foeticide, negligent behaviour
  • Nature - Environmental degradation, catastrophic events, 
  • Society - Decline in values, morals 
Remember, the above are simple pointers that you can relate with the topic in any way possible. You can build content on these pointers and take the essay in any direction you wish.
Another aspect of organizing your ideas for the essay is to prepare effective outlines and thesis statements. You can keep the following points in mind for these two activities.
  • Outline
    • Edit the main points- consider: chronology, logic, sequence
    • Put the strongest points at the start and the end, leaving the weakest in the middle
    • Ensure a logical and structured flow
  • Thesis Statement
    • Tells the author the domain and range of the essay
    • Tells the reader what the essay will be about
    • The Thesis Statement follows from the main ideas you have listed about the topic-what do they say or indicate about the topic?
The Thesis Statement has two parts:
  1. The first part states the topic
  2.  The second part either states the point of the essay or lists the ideas you will discuss
  • Writing the essay
In its most basic and traditional form, an essay has three elemental parts: introduction, body and conclusion. Each of these parts has a specific purpose which means the reader will be looking for expected features.
  • The Introduction
Any introduction starts with a general opening statement which informs readers about the subject and gradually narrows to a specific thesis. The thesis, or thesis statement, tells the reader what you are going to say about your topic.
Thesis statements often come at the end of the introductory paragraph. A good introduction keeps a check on the following:
  • Attract attention- quote, anecdote, statistic, etc.
  • Give an overview of the essay's focus and flow
  • Finish the introduction with the Thesis Statement
  • It is NOT a summary but merely an introduction to what is to follow
  • As a thumb-rule, should not exceed 10% of the total length of the essay
  • Writer's block occurs the most here-so consider writing it AFTER the rest of the essay is clear to you
  • The Body
The body is made up of the paragraphs which support your thesis. These paragraphs contain the evidence, arguments, and examples that support your thesis. The number of paragraphs will depend upon on the number of ideas covered. Try to follow one point one paragraph rule.
The following need to be kept in mind at this stage:
  • Each main idea becomes a body paragraph
  • Start each body para. by writing a main point
  • Next, write supporting points for the main point
  • ELABORATE on the supporting points
To be effective, body paragraphs must possess three important qualities:
  1. Unity: Focus on one main idea.
  2. Development : This occurs when the idea is elaborated in the paragraph. This elaboration usually consists of the evidence you have gathered from your research to support the point you are making in the paragraph.
  3. Coherence: Here, everything in the paragraph relates to and expands on the point you are making.
  • The Conclusion
The conclusion starts with a summary of the specific points of your essay, followed by a restatement of your thesis (usually in a slightly reworded form), and ends with a rather general statement about the implications of your thesis). Considering the time given to write an essay, please try to conclusion concise and do not try to introduce new idea.
Remember the following while writing a good conclusion:
  • Review the main points (but DO NOT RESTATE them)
  • Provide a final perspective on the topic-feel free to describe your feelings about the topic
  • Remember not to violate the intent specified by the Thesis Statement
As you begin writing the essay, do remember that this is an assessment of not just your knowledge about the subject. The examiner is also assessing your command over the language, the clarity and consistency of your thoughts and your ability to persuasively communicate your views on the subject.
Final Tips for writing a distinctive essay
To sum it up, there are four key ingredients you need to get right in order to right an effective essay. In this final section, we explore this one at a time:
  • Interpreting the topic the right way
Your interpretation of the topic is based on your familiarity with the topic as well as on the wording itself. For example, consider this topic: Corruption- a necessary evil? v/s Corruption- a necessary evil.
A simple change in the punctuation has changed the implication of the topic itself. This is something you need to vary while interpreting topics: make sure you are on the lookout for minor details and you can understand the subtle nuances that these topics contain.
  • Determine your stand
Does the topic allow you to choose your stand? If yes, then you are writing an essay intended to persuade; If no, then you are writing to explain/educate.
For example, consider the topic "UN-Reforms". Let’s see how this topic will look if any takes any one of the above lines of thinking.
  • Persuade :  Does the UN need reforms? (list arguments FOR or AGAINST)
  • Explain : The UN needs urgent reforms ( list the steps proving why)
  • Educate : The need for UN reforms (list the areas that need attention)
  • Ideation
There are three kinds of ideation that you can up for essay topics:
  • Theoretical-the underlying basis
  • Conceptual- the tools/concepts
  • Empirical-the illustrations/examples
All three refer mainly to the body paragraphs
  • Theoretical – the main point of a body paragraph
  • Conceptual - the elaboration of the body paragraph
  • Empirical -the example to substantiate the body paragraph
Let’s take up two sample topics and built the ideation table for these topics.
Topic 1 : Combating Corruption
TheoreticalConceptualEmpirical
Socialism / LiberalismDemocracyAnna Hazare
CapitalismCompetitionEnron / Kingfisher
AuthoritarianismRevolutionArab Spring
Topic 2: Educational Reforms
TheoreticalConceptualEmpirical
LevelsPrimary, Sec., HigherSSA, Mid-day meal, online CAT
GenderEqualityGender ratio, financial independence
NationalDevelopmentDemographic Dividend
  • Better Presentation
This is the final part of the jigsaw and once you have this in place, you have solved the puzzle for writing effective essays. In order to present your well, you need to keep the following parameters in mind:
  • Mention the TITLE
  • Indent (for each new paragraph)
  • Avoid slang/casual references
  • Avoid too many corrections/cuttings
  • Avoid spelling mistakes
  • Handwriting should be neat and legible.
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