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An ESSAY. . .

 
has . . .
bullet a thesis (which is also called a main idea);
  the thesis is in some form an opinion on a specific topic
 the thesis can be stated within the essay in a thesis statement, but it isn't necessary
bullet support for that main idea.  Support may be
  facts
 reasoning
  examples
  statistics
  comparisons
  anecdotes
bullet an introduction
bullet a body of several paragraphs
bullet a conclusion
 
 
is . . .
bullet constructed of complete sentences grouped into paragraphs (in other words, it's prose, not poetry.)  Bulleted lists (like this one) are NOT appropriate for essays.
bullet non-fiction
bullet any length
bullet unified -- all the information relates to support or prove the main idea
 
 

And more --

 

If you have been taught the structure of the five-paragraph essay, please realize that such a format is okay for high school writing.  However, in college, your essays will be expected to give much more support and in more specific detail than you can give in just three body paragraphs.  For this class, your essays need to be two to three pages long, double-spaced.  (For format, please see this link.)  If you are used to counting words, that's 500 to 750 words.  Three to five pages is the norm for Freshman English.

Another popular misconception is that an essay cannot have "I" -- the first person pronoun -- in it.  Many of the essay topics you'll be given in your college English classes will ask for your opinion or perspective on a certain issue.  Some essays, in fact, are "personal essays" although such essays are less appropriate for academic writing.  Personal experience anecdotes -- which require "I" --- are ideal for support.  No one knows that information better than you.  True, it's possible you may be asked to write essays on topics that have nothing to do with you, in which case, you wouldn't focus on yourself, but focus on those topics.

Try to avoid phrases like "In my opinion," or "I think."  Whatever you write IS your opinion!  So it's wordy to write "I think there's too much violence on TV" when you can write "There is too much violence on TV," and say the same thing.

 

 
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This page last updated Tuesday, May 18, 2010, by Connie Gulick.