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Essay
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For other uses, see Essay (disambiguation).

Essays of Michel de Montaigne
Essays are generally scholarly pieces of writing written from an author 's personal point of view, but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of an article, a pamphlet and a short story.
Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays (e.g. Alexander Pope 's An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man). While brevity usually defines an essay, voluminous works like John Locke 's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthus 's An Essay on the Principle of Population are counterexamples. In some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada), essays have become a major part of formal education. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills, and admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants and, in the humanities and social sciences, as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.
The concept of an "essay" has been extended to other mediums beyond writing. A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary film making styles and which focuses more on the evolution of a theme or an idea. A photographic essay is an attempt to cover a topic with a linked series of photographs; it may or may not have an accompanying text or captions.

Contents [hide] 1 Definitions 2 History 2.1 Europe 2.2 Japan 3 As an educational tool 4 Forms and styles 4.1 Cause and effect 4.2 Classification and division 4.3 Compare and contrast 4.4 Descriptive 4.5 Dialectic 4.6 Exemplification 4.7 Familiar 4.8 History (thesis) 4.9 Narrative 4.10 Critical 4.11 Economics 4.12 Other logical structures 5 Magazine or newspaper 6 Employment 7 Non-literary types 7.1 Visual Arts 7.2 Music 7.3 Film 7.4 Photography 8 See also 9 References 10 Further reading 11 External links

Definitions[edit]

John Locke 's 1690 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
An essay has been defined in a variety of ways. One definition is a "prose composition with a focused subject of discussion" or a "long, systematic discourse".[1] It is difficult to define the genre into which essays fall. Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, gives guidance on the subject.[2] He notes that "the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything", and adds that "by tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece". Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference". These three poles (or worlds in which the essay may exist) are:
The personal and the autobiographical: The essayists that feel most comfortable in this pole "write fragments of reflective autobiography and look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description".
The objective, the factual, and the concrete-particular: The essayists that write from this pole "do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists on setting forth, passing judgement upon, and drawing general conclusions from the relevant data".
The abstract-universal: In this pole "we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions", who are never personal and who seldom mention the particular facts of experience.
Huxley adds that "the most richly satisfying essays are those which make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist".
The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt". In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning. The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as "attempts" to put his thoughts into writing, and his essays grew out of his commonplacing.[3] Inspired in particular by the works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Oeuvres Morales (Moral works) into French had just been published by Jacques Amyot, Montaigne began to compose his essays in 1572; the first edition, entitled Essais, was published in two volumes in 1580. For the rest of his life he continued revising previously published essays and composing new ones. Francis Bacon 's essays, published in book form in 1597, 1612, and 1625, were the first works in English that described themselves as essays. Ben Jonson first used the word essayist in English in 1609, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
History[edit]

The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. Please improve this article and discuss the issue on the talk page. (January 2011)
Europe[edit]
English essayists included Robert Burton (1577–1641) and Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682). In France, Michel de Montaigne 's three volume Essais in the mid 1500s contain over 100 examples widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern essay. In Italy, Baldassare Castiglione wrote about courtly manners in his essay Il libro del cortegiano. In the 17th century, the Jesuit Baltasar Gracián wrote about the theme of wisdom.[4] During the Age of Enlightenment, essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical literature, as seen in the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote essays for the general public. The early 19th century in particular saw a proliferation of great essayists in English – William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey all penned numerous essays on diverse subjects. In the 20th century, a number of essayists tried to explain the new movements in art and culture by using essays (e.g., T.S. Eliot). Whereas some essayists used essays for strident political themes, Robert Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather wrote lighter essays. Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, and Charles du Bos wrote literary criticism essays.[4]
Japan[edit]
Main article: Zuihitsu
As with the novel, essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in Europe, with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu – loosely connected essays and fragmented ideas – having existed since almost the beginnings of Japanese literature. Many of the most noted early works of Japanese literature are in this genre. Notable examples include The Pillow Book (c. 1000) by court lady Sei Shōnagon, and Tsurezuregusa (1330) by Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenkō being particularly renowned. Kenkō described his short writings similarly to Montaigne, referring to them as "nonsensical thoughts" written in "idle hours". Another noteworthy difference from Europe is that women have traditionally written in Japan, though the more formal, Chinese-influenced writings of male writers were more prized at the time.
As an educational tool[edit]

University students, like these students doing research at a university library, are often assigned essays as a way to get them to analyse what they have read.
Main article: Free response
In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, essays have become a major part of a formal education in the form of free response questions. Secondary students in these countries are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills, and essays are often used by universities in these countries in selecting applicants (see admissions essay). In both secondary and tertiary education, essays are used to judge the mastery and comprehension of material. Students are asked to explain, comment on, or assess a topic of study in the form of an essay. During some courses, university students will often be required to complete one or more essays that are prepared over several weeks or months. In addition, in fields such as the humanities and social sciences,[citation needed] mid-term and end of term examinations often require students to write a short essay in two or three hours.
In these countries, so-called academic essays, which may also be called "papers", are usually more formal than literary ones.[citation needed] They may still allow the presentation of the writer 's own views, but this is done in a logical and factual manner, with the use of the first person often discouraged. Longer academic essays (often with a word limit of between 2,000 and 5,000 words)[citation needed] are often more discursive. They sometimes begin with a short summary analysis of what has previously been written on a topic, which is often called a literature review.[citation needed]
Longer essays may also contain an introductory page in which words and phrases from the title are tightly defined. Most academic institutions[citation needed] will require that all substantial facts, quotations, and other porting material used in an essay be referenced in a bibliography or works cited page at the end of the text. This scholarly convention allows others (whether teachers or fellow scholars) to understand the basis of the facts and quotations used to support the essay 's argument, and thereby help to evaluate to what extent the argument is supported by evidence, and to evaluate the quality of that evidence. The academic essay tests the student 's ability to present their thoughts in an organized way and is designed to test their intellectual capabilities.
One essay guide of a US university makes the distinction between research papers and discussion papers. The guide states that a "research paper is intended to uncover a wide variety of sources on a given topic". As such, research papers "tend to be longer and more inclusive in their scope and with the amount of information they deal with." While discussion papers "also include research, ...they tend to be shorter and more selective in their approach...and more analytical and critical". Whereas a research paper would typically quote "a wide variety of sources", a discussion paper aims to integrate the material in a broader fashion.[5]
One of the challenges facing US universities is that in some cases, students may submit essays which have been purchased from an essay mill (or "paper mill") as their own work. An "essay mill" is a ghostwriting service that sells pre-written essays to university and college students. Since plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty or academic fraud, universities and colleges may investigate papers suspected to be from an essay mill by using Internet plagiarism detection software, which compares essays against a database of known mill essays and by orally testing students on the contents of their papers.[citation needed]
Forms and styles[edit]
This section describes the different forms and styles of essay writing. These forms and styles are used by a range of authors, including university students and professional essayists.
Cause and effect[edit]
The defining features of a "cause and effect" essay are causal chains that connect from a cause to an effect, careful language, and chronological or emphatic order. A writer using this rhetorical method must consider the subject, determine the purpose, consider the audience, think critically about different causes or consequences, consider a thesis statement, arrange the parts, consider the language, and decide on a conclusion.[6]
Classification and division[edit]
Classification is the categorization of objects into a larger whole while division is the breaking of a larger whole into smaller parts.[7]
Compare and contrast[edit]
Compare and contrast essays are characterized by a basis for comparison, points of comparison, and analogies. It is grouped by object (chunking) or by point (sequential). Comparison highlights the similarities between two or more similar objects while contrasting highlights the differences between two or more objects. When writing a compare/contrast essay, writers need to determine their purpose, consider their audience, consider the basis and points of comparison, consider their thesis statement, arrange and develop the comparison, and reach a conclusion. Compare and contrast is arranged emphatically.[8]
Descriptive[edit]
Descriptive writing is characterized by sensory details, which appeal to the physical senses, and details that appeal to a reader 's emotional, physical, or intellectual sensibilities. Determining the purpose, considering the audience, creating a dominant impression, using descriptive language, and organizing the description are the rhetorical choices to be considered when using a description. A description is usually arranged spatially but can also be chronological or emphatic. The focus of a description is the scene. Description uses tools such as denotative language, connotative language, figurative language, metaphor, and simile to arrive at a dominant impression.[9] One university essay guide states that "descriptive writing says what happened or what another author has discussed; it provides an account of the topic".[10] Lyric essays are an important form of descriptive essays.
Dialectic[edit]
In the dialectic form of essay, which is commonly used in Philosophy, the writer makes a thesis and argument, then objects to their own argument (with a counterargument), but then counters the counterargument with a final and novel argument. This form benefits from presenting a broader perspective while countering a possible flaw that some may present.
Exemplification[edit]
An exemplification essay is characterized by a generalization and relevant, representative, and believable examples including anecdotes. Writers need to consider their subject, determine their purpose, consider their audience, decide on specific examples, and arrange all the parts together when writing an exemplification essay.[11]

Malthus ' Essay on the Principle of Population
Familiar[edit]

References: Europe[edit] English essayists included Robert Burton (1577–1641) and Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682)

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