Elements of an Essay

Exhibit A - Death by Shakespeare
Exhibit A – Death by Shakespeare

My first essay for the Shakespeare class is due this weekend. Ho, hum. Couldn’t they come up with something more original?

If you’ve been in college for any length of time, you know that professors adore essays. Perhaps they’ve run out of reading material, so they assign an essay to while away their evening and weekend hours. Don’t they have a life? They sure know how to keep me from having one.

As much as professors love essays, students loathe them. I’m loath to admit it, but most of the time, I don’t mind writing an essay. I love to write. I’m pretty good at discerning facts and then synthesizing them and expounding on paper.

Sadly, writing about the first three plays I’ve read for my class this term ranks right up with going to the dentist for a filling. (I’m doing that today, by the way.) I have nothing positive to say about these plays.

As essays go, this one only has to be 800 to 1000 words. That’s a mere three pages. Since we’re required to cite two outside sources in the essay, it should be a simple matter to find enough to satisfy the requirements.

What Makes an Essay?

An essay needs four things: a thesis statement, supporting evidence, convincing argument and a satisfactory conclusion.

Wrapping all the important details into a neat package, the thesis statement is a thorough summation of the entire content of the essay. In a nutshell, my essay says…and that’s the thesis for the paper.

All the supporting evidence ties back to the thesis. Every example from the text being analyzed should support the stated thesis. It’s easy to pull things out of context, but if your professor knows the source, you’ll just be shooting yourself in the foot. Keep it in context.

Argue concisely and with clarity. Supporting statements from secondary sources written by experts are convincing arguments. Formulate your own analysis. Don’t just parrot what has already been published.

The best conclusions are those that tie up all the loose ends neatly. They never introduce new information. They refer back to any analogy used in the introduction. A satisfactory conclusion flows like water and reveals the strength of the thesis, like a beautiful bow on a professionally wrapped package.

Now, I guess I should get back to that essay on Cleopatra. Does anyone like this woman? She acts like a rich, spoiled queen and appears to have loyalty only to herself.

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.