A way with words

Writing an essay with flair takes some training and practice

Updated - June 15, 2019 02:36 pm IST

Published - June 15, 2019 02:31 pm IST

One question which appears in every English or Language paper is the one on essay writing. Testing you for essay writing starts in school, continues through college and finds itself in a number of competitive exams. Yet, it is never really taught.

What we know is that an essay has three parts: the introduction, the middle and the conclusion. The introduction introduces the topic, the middle develops it, and the conclusion sums up the topic. Are we any wiser for such a generic explanation? No.

Hence, when given a topic for essay writing what do you do? Probably, you write whatever comes to your head. When the essay is corrected and returned, there are more red lines than marks.

What is an essay? According to the dictionary, an essay is an attempt to write a piece of continuous writing on a topic. While content is important, the teacher is also looking for logical writing, linguistic correctness, and originality in ideas. The purpose of teaching essay writing from school upwards is to train you to do sustained writing so that you can produce quality reports, dissertations and other workplace documents later in life.

How to write an essay:

The best way of writing an essay is to choose a framework to develop your ideas. For example, you can choose the Problem-Causes-Analysis-Solution outline, and then use simple examples to elaborate your ideas. If the examples are your own, you will sound original.

Introduction: Supposing my topic is ‘Road Accidents’, I can begin thus: ” Shailesh was driving rashly to college when a child ran across the road. Trying to avoid the child, Shailesh swerved sharply to the left and his bike hit an electric pole. He hurt his head and had to be hospitalised.

Middle: Now look for the cause of the accident. Ask, “ Was the accident avoidable?” Yes, it was avoidable. Had Shailesh had been driving carefully, he would have been able to control his bike better and could have saved himself from injury.

Next, analyse and answer why people drive fast when they know it is dangerous? They do so because they enjoy speeding like the heroes in movies, or because they have left home late and fear getting delayed.

What is the solution to this common problem? Now think of the solutions. The most important solution is a sense of responsibility. If each person decides to drive carefully, there will be fewer accidents. Another solution is to leave home early to avoid having to speed up.

Conclusion: You may now briefly sum up your argument and motivate people not to drive recklessly.

Got it? Using a framework ensures a logical flow to your ideas. Giving examples helps explain abstract ideas better. Minding your grammar and spellings, and revising for errors makes for correct language. Taking these three steps will help you write interesting, original essays and get good marks.

Bertrand Russell, Charles Lamb, and Mahatma Gandhi have been some famous essayists. Read them and learn how they crafted their essays.

The writer is former professor of English, IIT Bombay. vineykirpal@gmail.com

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