Writing An Academic Essay: Some Points to Ponder


(A popular article; a summary of two articles below; by one NEB)

Kathy Livingston (2010). Guide to Writing a Basic Essay. Available online at http://lklivingston.tripod.com/essay/sample.html.

University of Toronto (No year of publication). Advice on academic writing. Available online at http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice.

Most of college papers expected of students to write take the form of an essay. This is so because an essay is usually brief in writing but concise in content. Students by definition have to be able to write on a topic in such a way that they present it in some paragraphs and really elaborate on the topic in those paragraphs. From the articles studied, the following is what can be summarized regarding writing an academic essay for college students.

Firstly, we should begin with a topic, which is a noun or a noun phrase. This way a topic can be put in a single word or a phrase. Oftentimes a phrase makes a much clearer and a better topic because it is narrow and specific. In the sample essay provided, we can say that the topic of the essay is “cats (as) excellent housepets” better than just “cats.”

Secondly, after having a topic, we should put it into what’s called a ‘thesis statement’ that makes up our argument regarding the topic. There are ways of creating a good thesis statement. What’s important is that we have to incorporate in it our point of argument that we are going to explain and prove. This point of argument can be in the form of an adjective, an adjective phrase, a noun phrase with an adjective, or a verbal phrase that sounds in such a way that it has to be further explained and supported. The point of argument can also be made explicit with the all argument details mentioned. In a third fashion, both the phrase and the explicit details can be combined in the thesis. The sample essay combines both of this. In the thesis, the point of argument “make excellent housepets” is combined with its explanation “good companions”, “civilized members of the household, and “essay to care for.”

Thirdly, after we have our thesis, we have to provide a minimum of 3 of what’s known as ‘pro-arguments’ to explain and support our point of argument in the thesis. These pro-arguments or simply ‘pros’ better take the form of complete sentences because they will later automatically become the topic sentences that will begin the pro paragraphs. If the thesis is explicit already with the argument details mentioned, others can easily see our pros from the very beginning they see our thesis. In the sample essay, the 3 pros visible already from the thesis are: In the first place, people enjoy the companionship of cats, In the second place, cats are civilized members of the household, and Lastly, one of the most attractive features of cats as housepets is their ease of care.

Fourthly, we have to ‘outline’ each of the 3 or more pros. This means that we have to provide details for each pro in such a way that it is these details that later we are going to develop into ‘supporting details or sentences’ to explain and support the pro in the paragraph. These details can be in phrases or complete sentences. But I think I’d say that these details better be in phrases rather than sentences. This is so that we can flexibly develop them into supporting details or sentences later in the paragraph. There is no outline provided for each of the 3 pros in the sample essay, but in the other article, it is as follows:

II. Hamlet has a highly developed moral nature.
A. Hamlet is idealistic.
B. Hamlet is aware of his own faults, whereas others are self-satisfied.
C. Hamlet does not want to take revenge without grounds for acting.

Fifthly, we can now write the pro details in(to) full sentences in each pro paragraph. In the sample essay, the 1st pro paragraph with its topic sentence and supporting details looks (like) as follows:

In the first place, people enjoy the companionship of cats. Many cats are affectionate. They will snuggle up and ask to be petted, or scratched under the chin. Who can resist a purring cat? If they’re not feeling affectionate, cats are generally quite playful. They love to chase balls and feathers, or just about anything dangling from a string. They especially enjoy playing when their owners are participating in the game. Contrary to popular opinion, cats can be trained. Using rewards and punishments, just like with a dog, a cat can be trained to avoid unwanted behavior or perform tricks. Cats will even fetch!

Sixthly, wherever necessary and possible, we should provide statistics, tables, numbers, survey results, research findings, expert quotes etc. to back our opinions. This can easily be done by finding sources regarding the topic we are writing on the internet. There are numerous credible sources on the net we can quote to back or support our opinion regarding something. In one of the 2 articles, for someone writing about a topic on ancient Egyptian Pyramids and their significance, it can be like this: One writer (Von Daniken 1970) even argues that the Great Pyramid was built for the practical purpose of guiding navigation.

Seventhly, we can write the introduction to the topic of our essay. A good way to do this is by beginning with general ideas about our topic, then narrowing them down into our point of argument and ending it with our previously formulated thesis statement. This can be very brief in some cases. In the sample essay, it goes this way:

“A dog is man’s best friend.” That common saying may contain some truth, but dogs are not the only animal friend whose companionship people enjoy. For many people, a cat is their best friend. Despite what dog lovers may believe, cats make excellent housepets as they are good companions, they are civilized members of the household, and they are easy to care for.

Eighthly, we write our conclusion. Easily put, a conclusion is the re-statement of major points we have written in our previous pro paragraphs. But this doesn’t have to copy-and-paste the exact ideas that we have given. Rather, we put them in different ways meaning the same. In the sample essay, it is the following:

Cats are low maintenance, civilized companions. People who have small living quarters or less time for pet care should appreciate these characteristics of cats. However, many people who have plenty of space and time still opt to have a cat because they love the cat personality. In many ways, cats are the ideal housepets

Ninthly, lastly, we go over our whole essay once again in case we forgot something we should have included or there is something we need to add. This can easily be practiced now as writing is done using a computer or laptop with anything to be corrected being revised on the spot on the screen. In either case, checking our writing and possibly proofreading it again for accuracy and fluency will only make our essay better.

To conclude, writing an academic essay for college writing purposes is a task that goes beyond composing ideas that we have learnt in junior and senior high school. It incorporates more than just ideas. It includes organizing them in a logical way, providing others’ opinions to support ours, etc. Only this way can writing in college meet its purpose of not only writing itself but also exercising (critical) thinking.

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