Ann Handley, the best-selling author of Everybody Writes, didn’t have much to say about essays except:
‘There is no one way to write—just as there is no one way to parent a child or roast a turkey.’
Essays are written pieces that promote the positions of their writers.
But they’re not articles like what we read in online news media, newspapers, or magazines; articles, after all, report events and the facts behind them.
Essays are also not editorials in which each express often a strong opinion that either prefers or opposes an issue.
And essays are not blogs, which stems more from the writer’s experiences as much as it attempts to advertise or argue about an idea or issue.
According to Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab ((OWL), essays are:
‘shorter pieces of writing that often require the student to hone a number of skills such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity, and exposition. […]
‘The purpose of an essay is to encourage students to develop ideas and concepts in their writing with the direction of little more than their own thoughts (it may be helpful to view the essay as the converse of a research paper). Therefore, essays are (by nature) concise and require clarity in purpose and direction. This means that there is no room for the student’s thoughts to wander or stray from his or her purpose; the writing must be deliberate and interesting.’
Essays, hence, narrate and justify the perspectives of writers, whatever the topics they are writing about. They are distinct from blogs, articles, and editorials in that essays put out the writers’ agenda in very intentional, clear, and transparent terms.
Essays don’t stress personal experiences; they stress making a point, backed up by the writers’ thoughts and ideas that are concise and deliberate. Facts and citations are welcome in essays as long as they provide foundations for the writers’ arguments or narratives.
Essays are also not without style. Style defined is:
‘A quality of imagination and individuality expressed in one’s actions and tastes.’
The best essays don’t beat around the bush. But the best ones don’t sacrifice style. Style is just as much an imprint of the writer as much as his or her signature is.
Ann Handley is right in that we should just write without having to think about whether what we’re writing is a blog, editorial, article, or essay. We should just write. As long as we keep on writing, we will find ourselves moving up the scale we call mastery.
One thought on “Insights from Writing Essays”
That’s great advice right there. And it’s so rare that I see Ann Handley mentioned here on WordPress. She’s was my inspiration for starting my newsletter! And yes, you really can’t go wrong with ‘just write’ as a mantra!
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