Whether you’re studying or at school – you rarely come across an essay during an academic career. Although you have a lot of freedom with this type of text, there are a few things to consider for a successful essay. We explain how to find your topic, which elements must be included, and which stylistic devices you can use to reinforce your arguments. You will know about the different strategies for writing an essay.
The essay – a type of text with a lot of freedom
Table of Contents
- The essay – a type of text with a lot of freedom
- Preliminary work
- Final part
An essay offers a lot of freedom.
The word essay has different origins. It can derive from the French “essai” or “essayer,” the Spanish “ensayo,” and the Italian “Saggio.” The translation of these words is to try, examine, or judge depending on the context. An essay is also known as an attempt at the thought. For the first time, pupils come into contact with this type of text in the upper school, i.e., in their final school years. In some federal states, there is the possibility of writing an essay on a given topic in the Abitur examination in German. Depending on the subject at the university, it is common that students have to write one or the other essay. The formal conditions are different in each case. At school, an essay usually has up to five pages. At, at university, the essay should sometimes even have ten pages.
As a rule, the author has a lot of freedom with the essay. In contrast to a term paper, you do not have to show that you can work scientifically correctly. An essay is a witty treatise that looks at phenomena from science, culture, and society. This type of text can be compared with columns and journalistic text types such as glosses or comments.
Literary essay vs. explanatory essay
There are generally two types of essays. With the literary essay, you are completely free. All you should do is look at the chosen topic of the essay from different perspectives and develop your thoughts in front of the reader. In an explanatory essay, which is usually common at universities and in school, you should reflect on the chosen topic, work out your perspective and take a stand. You mainly bring in your ideas, arguments, and considerations. It is important not only to reflect the positions of others in the essay. In essays, you will therefore find few or no citations.
By writing an essay, you learn to develop your ideas from other opinions and issues. Sometimes there is little information available on the subject of the constitution, so you need to take inspiration from it and develop your arguments. You will also learn to evaluate scientific positions that you have acquired during the previous literature research. In addition, writing an essay can help develop precise and understandable language and in explaining your arguments. Mastering these skills is very important in later life. For example, if you have to write an expert opinion in your future job or write a statement after an accident.
Little formalized linguistically: the essay.
An essay is not as formal as a term paper. Even with an essay for university, you have a lot of stylistic freedom that you should use whenever possible. In order not to exaggerate, you should discuss in advance what stylistic freedom you have.
Of course, the language has to be authentic and match the topic. To begin with, you can think about what level you want to write on. More casual or formal? Rather spoken or written? Switching between the levels during the essay is also a stylistic device. If you change the language level at certain points, this can clarify or reinforce your argument.
In general, stylistic devices help clarify your arguments. Therefore, you should use them in the appropriate places, for example, to reinforce the meaning of a point. The reader takes on some stylistic devices rather unconsciously, but they still affect. You should use the stylistic devices sparingly. Otherwise, the reader can get the impression that you are not writing authentically. So your text loses credibility. In the beginning, it is probably still difficult to assess whether the stylistic devices use appropriately. Still, those who have already written a few essays get a feeling for it over time.
The choice of words and sentence structure are also decisive in how the reader receives your arguments. For example, you can work with a diminutive. These are diminutive forms such as “duckling” instead of “duck” or “town” instead of “city.” Sometimes it is also a good idea to use euphemisms or dyphemisms. That means using glossing over or derogatory paraphrases for a word. A euphemism is, for example, “asleep” instead of “die.” A dyphemism is “mutt” instead of “dog.” Archaisms can also be a good stylistic device. It means outdated words. Instead of “uncle,” you write “uncle,” or instead of “golden,” you use “gold.” Depending on the topic, vulgarisms are also conceivable: “slut” instead of “prostitute.”
The rhetorical stylistic devices come from antiquity. Therefore, the names are mostly Greek or Latin. At that time, they were mostly used for speeches. Over time many poets used them in their works. There are many stylistic devices. Some are only suitable for poetry or poetry. Here is a list of style figures that can help you with an essay:
In an adynaton, you say that under no circumstances will anything happen. But you only express that indirectly. The words “never, in any case,” are paraphrased. An example: “It would be easier for fish to learn to walk than for the Jamaica coalition to come about.”
You probably already know it from advertising: “Buy clothes cleverly” or “Games, fun, excitement, chocolate.” In an alliteration, two or more consecutive words have the same initial sound. There are also alliterations within a word: “sparkling clean” or “tiny.” Such concise expressions get stuck in the reader’s mind.
To emphasize important passages, you can use the same word at the beginning of two or more sentences in a row: “I think that’s wrong. I think we should think differently.” It is called an anaphor.
Ellipses you use probably very often in everyday speech: “First work, then please” shortens and therefore impresses itself faster. The phrase means “work comes first, then enjoyment.” The only rule when using ellipses is that they can reconstruct from the linguistic context.
The word comes from Greek and means “one through two.” It means that you use two words with the same or a similar meaning to describe a situation. That reinforces the overall message. An example: “thick and fat” instead of “very fat.”
Hyperbole Hyperbola is
Where you exaggerate to reinforce your point? “There are a dime a dozen start-ups.”
Irony and sarcasm
You can use these stylistic devices to add humor to your essay. However, it should be made clear that it is ironic. The problem is that fewer and fewer people understand irony. Irony means saying the opposite of what you mean. For example, when someone gets fired, an ironic reaction is: “You did a great job!”
Klimax and Antiklimax
“Veni, Vidi, vici” – the saying of Caesar is probably the most famous climax. With a climax, you increase the statements in stages. It will reinforce your argument. An anti-climax is the opposite and is, for example: “This is bad; the world is going bad, very bad!” from Woyzeck by Georg Büchner.
In everyday life, you probably also use litotes. Specifically, this is the double negative: “I earn quite a bit.” With this, you make it clear that you tend to belong to the higher earners.
The metaphor is probably one of the best-known rhetorical stylistic devices: If you use it, you create an image in the reader’s mind. For example: “crown of a tree” instead of “top of the tree” or “a heart of gold.” A metaphor can also be like a comparison, only without the word “like.” An example: “Hercules, the lion” instead of “Hercules is as strong as a lion.”
Neologism means creating a new word. It can either emerge from scratch (“sitt”), an old word can give a new meaning (“mouse” as a computer mouse), or combinations of words can result in a new expression (“eggshell breakpoint cause”).
In an oxymoron, two words are used together that have opposing meanings. “Love-hate” or “eloquent silence.”
To draw attention to an important passage, you can build up several sentences or parts of sentences that follow one another in parallel. “He is rich, and she is poor.”
With a parenthesis, you can insert words or parts of sentences to reinforce your message. “The politicians say, unsurprisingly, that unemployment is rising.
Pars pro toto
The term comes from Latin and means in translation: Apart stands for the whole. In the news, journalists often use pars pro toto when they say “Berlin” but mean “Germany.”
This stylistic device creates images in the reader’s mind. In personification, animals, objects, or other things assign human characteristics. “The wind plays with the leaves” or “The sun laughs.”
To reinforce an expression, you can use a pleonasm. You use words that have the same meaning in the same context. “The black horse” or “the old seniors.” Everyone knows that black horses are black and seniors are old.
In addition to the metaphor, the rhetorical question is also one of the classics among stylistic devices. You are simply asking a question that no one expects an answer to. It can use to point out an obviousness or to make the reader think. “Did you know that unemployment has risen?” Or “Why don’t we live more environmentally consciously?”
Last, a stylistic device that you use in everyday life. A comparison means comparing things with one another to clarify your statement or to create a picture: “Andreas runs as fast as a cheetah” or “The substance is as liquid as water.”
In general, it is wise to start writing the essay as early as possible. Especially at the end, it makes sense to leave the essay for a few days and to correct it later with a little bit of time. Therefore, you should think about the time horizon. You should allow enough time for topic finding, literature research, structuring, writing, and correction. For example, if you have 30 days, you can create a diagram that shows how much time you plan for which block. Even if there is sometimes an infinite amount of research or reading, you should set a maximum amount of time per category. It can help you control yourself and make sure you stay on schedule.
First of all, it depends on whether the topic gives for the essay or whether you can freely choose one. If the latter is the case, you should first consider what interests and moves you. Ask yourself questions like: What am I noticing right now? What moves me? So, what is shocking me? What should change? The search for the topic can take some time, but you should set a time limit for the research as described.
After the topic has been determined, the literature research begins. If the topic is given, there is usually literature that you have to read. It is up to you to refer to other literature as well. If no literature is given, you should research it and read it, of course. Opinions differ when it comes to the scope of the literature research: Some recommend reading less literature because you should express your own opinion and not that of others. With little literature, there is more room for inspiration. Anyone who recommends reading a lot states that one should acquire comprehensive knowledge about the topic and be better able to write on it. You should decide for yourself which method is better for you.
Markings and notes make essay writing easier.
When reading, you should mark important points in the text and note down the key ideas in note form. It can also help organize the notes in a diagram, such as in a mind map. In this way, you structure your thoughts. After writing, you should think about the topic and the literature yourself. It is usually helpful to write these down in a disorderly manner to limit yourself in thinking. When you’ve written down your thoughts, you can put them into a mind map to give everything a structure.
After reading it and the mind map, it is time to formulate a thesis. The thesis must be short and concise. If you are writing an essay on a complex topic at university, the thesis must also be understandable for outsiders. It is comparable to a “kitchen shout.” So the core idea that you can shout out to someone in one sentence. It should also be possible to refute the thesis. However, a thesis is not a well-known fact like “the sky is blue.” You must think about the thesis yourself. It can also be a contentious issue, problem, or phenomenon.
Based on the mind map, you then write down your arguments for or against the thesis in keywords. You can use your own opinion for discussion, but you have to argue in an understandable manner. You can also give the viewpoints from the literature, but your own opinion should be in the foreground. Also, write down examples that you would like to give for clarification.
Once the thesis and arguments are in place, you should draw up an outline. Think about how you want to get into the topic and organize your arguments in a meaningful way. It is generally helpful to write the main part first, followed by the introduction and the end. Lastly, you should formulate the headline.
I am writing an essay: flexibility in structure.
There is only a rough structure for the essay. You have to decide the subtleties yourself based on your topic. First of all, your essay needs a title or a headline. The title should be understandable, meaningful and encourage the reading of the essay. As a rule, a table of contents, notes, and footnotes is omitted.
In the beginning, there is, of course, the introduction, which should be short compared to the main part. Ensure that the introduction, the main part, and the conclusion transition between the paragraphs is fluid. After the introduction, the main part follows. It is not common to work with subheadings in the essay. Therefore, you should make thematically meaningful paragraphs. Include only one main thought per paragraph. It should also be recognizable. It is best to address it at the beginning of the paragraph. As a rule, a paragraph should not take up more than half a page. It is also important not to lose sight of the thesis. You should give examples for the arguments and include your opinion in a meaningful way.
After all the arguments have been given, the final part follows. It is usually a little longer than the introduction, but you should also be brief here. A bibliography at the end of the essay is particularly common at universities but is not always required.
In the introduction, you should, if possible, express your own opinion in the first sentence. You have to name the thesis at the beginning. You can also fall in with the door and briefly describe your own experience of the thesis. Do not go into the reasoning in the introduction. You must encourage the reader to read on.
Based on the structure, you formulate your arguments in the main part. Give arguments for or against your thesis. You should not only express your own opinion but also justify it in detail and logically. You can also refer to literature you have read, examples from your life, or thought experiments. If you can no longer come up with arguments for your thesis, it helps to consider which arguments the other side could bring up and what you would, in turn, respond to.
The order of the arguments is decisive. Use your strongest argument consciously and reinforce weaker arguments with stylistic devices. Otherwise, your essay can get boring quickly. If you introduce new terms, be sure to explain to them, so everyone knows what you mean. Think carefully about which arguments are convincing and which are less likely to be. Use a few strong arguments rather than many weak points.
You should avoid just reproducing the literature, describing problems with the thesis, or telling the topic. While the background is important to the reader, your reasoning is the most important thing about the essay. Don’t lose sight of the main lines of the argument. If your thesis does not formulate enough, it will be difficult to discuss it.
In the final part, you should go back to the question. Do not give any new arguments; repeat at most the main argument. In the end, you can give an overview of the research situation and go into the validity of your thesis. In the end, you should conclude and give an outlook. Sometimes it is also advisable to briefly take up other subject areas.
Especially with longer texts, it is never wrong to leave them a few days after being written and read them again at a distance. Make sure you plan enough time for this. From a formal point of view, you should make sure to find spelling and grammatical errors when making corrections. It also helps to read the text aloud to yourself. You can also see whether the reading flow is right. If you often get stuck, you should revise the transitions. If you are quoting, you should check that you have marked the quotations appropriately.
In terms of content, you should think again about whether the arguments formulated are logically structured and formulated understandably. If necessary, you can also add stylistic devices to reinforce the effect. If you find arguments too weak, discard them. The arguments made should be really convincing. Also, consider whether the arguments sort correctly. A different order can make a lot of difference.
It is advisable to have the essay read by a third party. Too many opinions can be confusing. However, it makes sense for a fellow student and a non-specialist to read the essay. The test readers should then evaluate whether the arguments were formulated understandably. If you are unsure about using stylistic devices, you can also ask your test readers what their impression was, whether the stylistic devices have the desired effect or whether you should take some out. Then you should revise the text again based on the criticism.
After you have submitted the essay, you will usually receive an evaluation at the university with a reason. If the reason is missing or detailed feedback is missing, it is advisable to ask the proofreader. If you have to write an essay again later, you will know which points you still have to work on. Some things are also a matter of opinion, but it is helpful to know whether you have argued incomprehensibly in some places or whether you could use more stylistic devices. Practice creates masters.