what is an essay

What is an Essay?
Words are collections of sounds; sentences are collections of words; paragraphs are collections of sentences; and essays are collections of paragraphs. But so are many other forms of writing such as that found in novels, magazines, and newspapers. So what are the essential differences between the essay and other types of writing?
The essay is, first and foremost, essentially true, a piece of non-fiction. As soon as authors begin making up characters, adding details that really didn't occur, or fabricating a plot structure in order to make what they are writing larger than real life, they are writing in a fictional mode. In other words, essays may be descriptive, use narration, propose solutions to problems, elucidate the inner workings of complicated creations of nature and/or humanity, but one thing they aren't is fake or false or made up or fabricated. Essays may be creative in the sense that the authors have creatively explained their points of view, but essays aren't creative.
Secondly, all essays have definable beginnings, middles, and endings, unlike some forms of writing such as newspaper stories. In addition, essays are built around central ideas, normally referred to as theses. Elsewhere in this Online Writing Lab, the thesis statement is discussed, so there will be no great elaboration of that essential ingredient here. Basically, the thesis is the glue which binds the essay together. It is the point of the essay. It's what the essay is about, what it intends to show, prove, or do: the controlling purpose.
Finally, essays consist of one, three, or more paragraphs. While a two paragraph essay may be possible to write, the requirement that essays have introductions, bodies, and conclusions makes the use of a two-paragraph format rather awkward. And the one paragraph essay, consisting of a topic sentence, supporting details, and a closing sentence, is too brief to be considered a serious effort in terms of narrating, describing, explaining, or arguing a point of view. Realistically, that leaves us with three paragraphs or more. But length should never be a primary consideration when creating an essay. More germane is the idea that the essay should be long enough to completely discuss, argue, prove, or relate the main idea of the essay, the thesis. The well-written essay has a completeness, a wholeness about it that announces, "There's nothing more to be said."
The primary job of the essay, then, is to thoroughly discuss its main idea(s). In addition, three or more paragraphs are normally required to adequately perform this important function, even though under certain circumstances the one-paragraph essay is acceptable. In other areas of this OWL, typical one-paragraph, three-paragraph, five-paragraph, and longer essays will be displayed.
"Start writing, no matter about what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. You can sit and look at a page for a long time and nothing will happen. Start writing and it will." -- Louis L'Amour

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