All Types of Essays
The essay is the prototypical assignment at the college level, but many students are surprised by the bewildering number of essay types and can quickly become overwhelmed when they realize that mastery of just one or two essay forms isn’t enough to keep up with the enormous number of college essay types. To help understand what you’re up against, consider just some of the many types of essays:
An argumentative essay attempts to prove a proposition by marshaling evidence toward a conclusion. The argument starts with a series of claims, and by applying evidence to those claims the essay yields a conclusion. In general terms, an argumentative paper follows the format of a syllogism, whereby premises serve as the logical foundation for a conclusion. The argument, however, is not based on opinion or emotion but only fact.
A persuasive essay is similar to an argumentative essay because it also attempts to reach a conclusion through facts and evidence. But the persuasive paper has greater latitude in terms of using emotion and opinion because its goal is not to prove a point per se but rather the convince the reader to change his or her own views. Thus, the essay must consider the audience’s attitudes, values, and beliefs and appeal to those in order to effectively reach the audience.
A critical essay begins with a topic and then systematically analyzes the positive and negative aspects of that topic. While many people think that “critical” means “negative,” in reality it means that the writer is carefully analyzing the topic to evaluate it. This evaluation does not have to be negative so long as it examines the topic for multiple angles and asks hard questions to get at deeper layers of truth. The key element of the critical essay is this asking of probing questions to seek out underlying truth.
An analytical essay is almost identical to a critical essay and also systematically analyzes the positive and negative aspects of a topic. While a critical paper brings the writer’s own knowledge into play by asking probing questions, an analytical essay begins with a specific item to analyze such a piece of literature, a speech, an event, etc. and probes that specific item rather than a more general situation that you would find in a critical essay.
A descriptive essay seeks to describe a person, place, or thing. Unlike the other types of essays we have discussed so far, this type of paper does not attempt to make an argument or to try to convince the reader of anything. Instead, it seeks to give the reader an overview of the topic and to paint a word picture so the reader can get a sense of the topic and understand it as though the reader had experienced it firsthand.
A narrative essay attempts to tell a story by moving systematically through a discussion of an experience or an event. A narrative essay is similar to a descriptive essay in that both attempt to show the reader what the experience was like, but a descriptive essay tries to paint a picture of a person, place, or thing while a narrative paper attempts to paint a picture of an event and to explain what it was like to be there and to experience what happened.
A cause and effect essay attempts to explain how a situation emerged by looking to create an argument establishing how a cause yielded an effect. In this, it is similar to an argumentative essay because it uses the same techniques to make a case for a specific conclusion. Unlike an argumentative paper, however, the focus here is very specific and it is to prove that one specific situation or event led directly to another. This can be difficult to establish, which is why advanced argumentation skills are often needed to carry out this type of essay successfully.
A compare and contrast essay looks at two different things and explains how they are similar or and different. While this may seem simplistic, comparisons can be extremely complex, especially when the essay makes complicated arguments about the underlying meanings and motives behind each of the two things. To that end, a compare and contrast paper tends to begin by describing the two things to be compared and then systematically analyzes what the two things have in common and what they do not have in common, eventually drawing conclusions about the comparisons.
An expository essay is similar to an analytical or argumentative essay. Indeed, those two types of paper are types of expository essays. The expository paper asks students to examine a concept in an analytical way, making an argument about it in the form of support for a thesis statement. In common practice, the phrase “expository” is used when the emphasis of the assignment is on the clarity of the student’s writing and the need to make an argument in a concise and clear way.
An exploratory essay is similar to an argumentative essay but with one key difference. An exploratory paper does not have a predetermined conclusion in the form of a thesis that it seeks to prove, or to convince the audience to believe. To that end, the exploratory essay examines a problem from multiple perspectives in order to provide an overview of many different approaches to the topic and a variety of potential points of view or preliminary conclusions. Because it does not have strong argument, it is more like you would see in an encyclopedia entry or a news report where lots of different viewpoints are presented sequentially and neutrally.
The 5-paragraph essay is a classic found in almost every high school in America. This type of essay focuses on the format more than the content of the paper. The first paragraph is the introduction, which concludes with a thesis statement composed of three parts. The three parts outline three main points the essay will cover. Those three points then become the topics for the three body paragraphs of the paper. Each of these paragraphs then supports and defends that point with facts, reasoning, and evidence. The final paragraph is the conclusion, which ties everything together and restates the thesis. This type of essay is highly adaptable and can fit most topics.
A scholarship essay is a personal statement produced in answer to a question on a scholarship application. This type of essay typically differs from an academic paper in that it is based on the student’s own experiences and interests, and it requires the writer to think about how best to present himself or herself in order to appear to be highly qualified but also humble and in need of the scholarship. This balancing act can be a bit difficult to pull off!
An evaluation essay is very similar to a descriptive essay and an analytical essay, and this is because its purpose is to determine whether the item under consideration is worthy of recommendation. In other words, these essays look to evaluate the quality of the person, place, or thing, similar to the way a movie review or a product review tries to determine whether the audience will enjoy the product under consideration. An evaluation paper might go beyond a typical product review, and at the academic level it will likely involve more thorough research, but the basic idea remains the same.
A definition essay, as the name implies, provides a definition for a term or concept. Obviously, if a term is simple and has an easily agreed upon meaning, it would not provide enough material to fill out a definition essay. Therefore, this kind of paper requires a complex and disputable topic, one on which people have varying viewpoints. This will give you enough material to develop a strong definition paper that examines multiple perspectives.
A classification essay is similar to a definition essay except that it takes a broader category of material and attempts to construct a logical order for understanding the category. For example, you might examine a group of closely related concepts and construct a hierarchy showing how they relate to one another and back to a preceding original term. The idea is to show relationships rather than simply provide definitions.
A deductive essay is similar to an argumentative essay in that the writer starts with a concept and the proceeds to analyze that concept in order to draw conclusions about it. A deductive paper, however, focuses on the form of the logical reasoning employed, following deductive logic whereby premises are established in order to draw a firm conclusion.
A response essay offers the writer’s personal point of view on a topic and lets the writer describe his or her opinion on a subject as his or her personal response.
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