Time and again, toppers have discussed the importance of the essay paper. Throughout your preparation, you fortuitously prepare rich content for your essay paper. But the most important thing is left out by most. That is proper articulation of that knowledge. This article tries to address that issue.
We are not trying to throw rules at you. In fact, here are little nuances you otherwise overlook but are crucial for a well-structured essay. The goal is to bring simplicity, clarity and elegance to your writing. You can work on your essay at four levels: the narrative setting, the paragraph style, sentences and playing with words.
The first step towards approaching your essay should be setting your intention. Getting clear with your intention and the target audience (here, the examiner) would let you build precise content with appropriate tone and pace.
The basic unit of writing points. You have a point, and then you illustrate it in a paragraph. For this, you should definitely follow the evergreen advice of using the first fifteen minutes of your exam to jot down the points you are going to add. You can also clear your mind of things you are not going to write. Once you write down relevant points, the next step is to organise the points elegantly to build up the narrative of your interest. This process of organisation will help you prevent repetitions.
Paragraphs – Introduction, Conclusion and in Between
After setting your narrative, you are up for a fiery introduction. An introduction should be quick to display your intent to the examiner. It should have a dramatic tone. For instance: the introduction can consist of anecdotes. You can start with a relevant historical anecdote and connect it to the theme e.g. a political science student can use an anecdote from contemporary global politics (remember what realists say? state behaves like a human). Irrespective of your subject, there will always be something you can mould to the theme of the essay, especially if it is a philosophical essay.
Equally important is the ending of your essay, which should complement the introduction. The conclusion must have some kind of impact since it is the last impression of your essay for the examiner. You can circle back to the intention with which you began the essay, reminding the examiner of your original stand. However, prevent yourself from summarising your points in the conclusion. It appears repetitive and often less impactful.
Here, it needs to be mentioned that quotations are mostly misused. A quotation should be used to emphasise your points. It should be like saying: see, even so and so has said the same thing, so you’ve got to believe me. Before using the quote, you need to set a premise for the quotation, then use it and in the next few sentences, explain the same. Don’t let it hang in the void.
Between the introduction and the conclusion is where your main structure lies. You will have to take some time to choose your paragraph style. Are you going to set your paragraphs in the narrative and counter-narrative style? Are you going to talk categorically about political, economic, and sociological aspects in different paragraphs? Or you can decide to style it chronologically. It’s up to you and the theme you choose.
You have to write a long essay with many diverse and contrasting ideas put down together. It can be tough to comprehend if not arranged properly. The examiner is in no mood to detangle your essay. Serve them well by avoiding changing the directions of your arguments constantly. One should focus on one idea at a time and avoid going zig-zag with the ideas for your reader to get a sense of direction. For instance, in a paragraph, instead of writing a positive point followed by a negative point and again positive, one can focus first on the positive point and then go to the negative one. Don’t give your readers too many head turns. Make sure to stick to what is necessary. Again, with too many details, the readers will have to work harder to comprehend the material.
Now you can work on making your sentences crisp and sharp. We will start with punctuation. Punctuation can immediately impact the flow and the tone of a sentence. A comma should be used to separate closely related phrases. To separate distantly related phrases, a semicolon should be used, whereas a dash is appropriate to insert information between the sentence. Punctuations also help us in preventing run-on ambiguity, a sentence which can give different meanings to the reader. This can be avoided by the correct use of punctuation.
Eliminating unnecessary words can tighten the sentence. In normal times, it is done while editing, but for you to maintain that sharpness will require regular practice and awareness. Instead of fidgeting around, you can keep your paragraphs sharp by going to the important points quickly. Moreover, try to avoid being abstract. Meaning that by only providing an idea to the reader, you are not giving them a vision. Try to add substance by relating it to people and the real-life effect of the idea. Do not hesitate to use metaphors to give texture to the writing. The metaphors can be subtle or loud.
Reading a piece is pleasurable if there is a rhythm to it. Rhythm can be induced in three ways: by playing with the length of the sentences, by using appropriate punctuations and by experimenting with the sentence structure. To acquire the rhythm, one needs to practice and observe other such writings. You should develop a habit of reading essays and articles by writers you admire to observe their techniques.
We have reached the art of playing with words. The essence here is paying attention to the subtle details and practising the same. First of all, you should not be lazy when choosing words. Choose precise words to avoid giving a blurred effect. Following that, one should avoid using technical words just to sound sophisticated. The writer should simplify the writing. The end in mind should be the proper comprehension by the readers. Your sentence should provide a complete picture to the reader, and using such abstract words will make the understanding hazy.
Now, writing ‘simply’ doesn’t mean that you have to keep it dull. You should play with words, like using a word that has never been used in a context or inventing a whole new phrase. You can use poetic devices to create the required effect. It can be done by using words that sound good together. It will give a musicality to the write-up when read. For this to come naturally, the writer will have to develop sensitivity toward the sounds. e.g. repeating the same strong letter throughout the sentence. It will require work, looking for different words that fit into the music intended. Coming to details, when you have a list of things being mentioned in a sentence, say emotions or food items, pay attention to the order in which you are mentioning them. This might seem a small detail but gives the sentence a smooth structure. Words can be ordered to create a special effect. For this, you need to try out the various manner of arranging the words and the sentence until you get the elegant structure.
You should develop muscles to notice implied words. This will help in two ways; by avoiding abstraction or preventing repetition. At times, a missing word, which for the writer is implied, might be vague for the reader. On the other hand, mentioning an implied word in another sentence might sound repetitive. Numbers and capital letters in titles or designations act as distractors, albeit subtle. You should try to avoid numbers as much as possible. Although using words for longer numbers would also be distracting. Hence, the writer needs to act with discretion.
Again, to avoid distraction try to describe the designation of a personality until possible. For instance, instead of ‘XYZ, Managing Director of ABC Company…’, use ‘the managing director of ABC Company, XYZ….’ But here, too, the rule can be changed according to the situation.
Lastly, a good vocabulary is a prerequisite for precise communication. To build up the vocabulary, you should make it a habit to look up any new word that you come across. Then you should study the exact difference between that word and the closest word that you know. Studying the whole family of the word will help you understand their proper usage. Although, no trick can surpass reading good books.
Language is a moving target; the style will keep changing. You should avoid having stringent rules regarding the essay paper. The most important thing is to be clear with the intention of writing. Ask yourself before you begin; what do you feel about the topic? This will make the process of writing smooth and will reap effective communication.