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Acing the Essay: Introduction


The fall semester is underway, which means an essay will inevitably be assigned in at least one of your classes. Many students confuse an essay with a research paper, but an essay is a distinctly different type of writing. The Free Dictionary defines the essay as "a short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal view of the author."

Notice any points of difference between that definition and the research paper? A research paper explores a subject by locating several sources of information, then organizing, synthesizing, and critically evaluating the sources. The resulting paper is written objectively, and always in the third person. In contrast, while an essay may require some research in order to write knowledgeably about the subject, from there the emphasis is on your ideas about the topic. In addition, given the subjective nature of the essay, it is sometimes appropriate to write in the first person. The essay offers an opportunity for you to examine a subject through your own unique vision and to show off your critical thinking skills.

Most essays will follow the standard five-paragraph format:

Introduction, including a thesis statement
Three body paragraphs

Your instructor may give you different instructions; just be sure to carefully follow whatever directions you are provided.

In this series, we’ll examine several types of essays you’re likely to encounter in your undergraduate classes. Instructors are usually quite specific about which type of essay they want you to write, so it is important to understand the requirements of each. We’ll examine expository, argumentative (or persuasive), opinion, descriptive, and narrative essays in this series of blogs. Stay tuned for the first entry, in which you will learn the basics of acing the expository essay!

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