Essay: Introduction

Essay – The word comes from the French ‘essai’ (an attempt), first applied in 1580 by Montaigne to his short writings. The chief implication in the word being “a tentative study”, an essay is often of a few pages, hut there is no fixed length. (In an examination, however, a word limit is usually given; if not, the time limit governs the length. In a matter of three hours you could be expected to write an essay ranging between 1000 and 1500 words.)

The literary genre allows a great variety of styles: from Bacon’s pithy erudition to Lamb’s chatty and personal ramblings, to the impersonal, formal analysis of Locke’s “Essay Concerning the Human Understanding’. Today, the essay is no longer “a loose sally of the mind, an irregular, indigestible piece”, as averred by Dr. Johnson. It is a short literary composition, well-organised, governed by a broad controlling idea on a subject-indeed, any subject, so long as it is something of meaning in the life of human beings.

Before we go on to discuss the general characteristics of an essay and the do’s and don’ts, we may ask what teachers and examiners expect when they assign an essay. Obviously an essay must be literate; it is hard to imagine “correct” ideas expressed in “incorrect” language. If the language is not right, how does your reader know what you are talking about?

You are also expected to know what you are talking about. Occasionally you may be asked to write from personal experience; usually, however, you would be using facts, figures, theories and ideas that you have culled from others. Clearly, this is one aspect of academic writing & research. You have to gather the information you may require, and this can be done only through wide-ranging reading, serious thought and discussion. Listening to radio and watching television discussions/development programme also help widen your intellectual grasp. The information  you gather should cover several areas of inter biects for an essay are practically limitless.
However, whatever you know on a subie to be dexterously organised and presented. The. thesis of the essay should be clear to the read is not a chapeless mass of ideas and feeli figures, incidents and events, but a well. penmanship.
To meet these expectations, you will need to a the skills associated with the different stage writing.


Although there are, indeed, an infinity of subjects. the are only a handful of forms in which problems can b assigned.

1. Describing

the simplest assignment of all is to describe something. Here you have to concentrate on only element. Descriptive essays are pen-portraits of people, scenes or events. Descriptions can be static or dynamic.

2. Comparing and Contrasting

There are two elements here. Whatever the wording, if you are asked to handle two items, your approach is the same: to find out (a) what links the items together; (b) what distinguishes them from each other; and (c) to work from there to a conclusion. Some topics of this kind could be: Indian Economy-Before and After Independence; Population Concerns in Developing and Developed Countries; Democracy and Dictatorship.

3. Defining

Defining means to pin down a concept with great exactness-saying what characteristics it has, ana what characteristics it lacks. The number of elements you introduce here is up to you. Such an approach would
mach would be called for in the topic “What is meant by Democracy “What is Scientific Temper?” or “What is Religion.

4. Investigating Causes

Here you are request probe into the roots of a problem. It takes a given si and asks how or why it has come about. “Why is a resurgence of fundamentalism today?” and “Account for the growing violence in society” are examples. You are mee to discuss as many elements as you want to or possibly can in a limited time.

5. Classifying

Some subjects treat an endless array of elements, and all of them (atleast the most important) need to be discussed. Some examples: “Ways of Tackling Terrorists”, “Attitudes of Teenagers towards Authority”, “Politicians”.

6. Making a Case

You might be asked to argue for or against a certain point of view. Making a case is not simply a matter of stating your opinion, take it or leave it. You will be expected to convince the reader. Weak or illogical arguments will destroy your case. You must consider arguments for the other side, how far they are valid and how far they can be demolished. When you consider your own point of view, it is wise to locate and consider its weaknesses as well before playing them down, showing that they do not destroy the main thrust of your argument. “Should smoking be banned?”; “Is space research relevant to a poor country like India?”; “Should mothers go out to work?”—these essays demand that you take a stand and argue its validity.

There is no watertight compartmentalization between one form and another: a certain amount of description is bound to intrude in an essay in the form of argumentation; similarly, a certain amount of comparison and contrast may come into an essay basically in the form of definition. What is to be kept in mind is that the overall form chosen should be one.