The writer of the academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence. The beginning of the essay is a crucial first step in this process. In order to engage readers and establish your authority, the beginning of your essay has to accomplish certain business. Your beginning should introduce the essay, focus it, and orient readers.
Introduce the Essay.The beginning lets your readers know what the essay is about, the topic. The essay's topic does not exist in a vacuum, however; part of letting readers know what your essay is about means establishing the essay's context, the frame within which you will approach your topic. For instance, in an essay about the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, the context may be a particular legal theory about the speech right; it may be historical information concerning the writing of the amendment; it may be a contemporary dispute over flag burning; or it may be a question raised by the text itself. The point here is that, in establishing the essay's context, you are also limiting your topic. That is, you are framing an approach to your topic that necessarily eliminates other approaches. Thus, when you determine your context, you simultaneously narrow your topic and take a big step toward focusing your essay. Here's an example.
|When Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening was published in 1899, critics condemned the book as immoral. One typical critic, writing in the Providence Journal, feared that the novel might "fall into the hands of youth, leading them to dwell on things that only matured persons can understand, and promoting unholy imaginations and unclean desires" (150). A reviewer in the St. Louis Post- Dispatch wrote that "there is much that is very improper in it, not to say positively unseemly."|
The paragraph goes on. But as you can see, Chopin's novel (the topic) is introduced in the context of the critical and moral controversy its publication engendered.
Focus the Essay. Beyond introducing your topic, your beginning must also let readers know what the central issue is. What question or problem will you be thinking about? You can pose a question that will lead to your idea (in which case, your idea will be the answer to your question), or you can make a thesis statement. Or you can do both: you can ask a question and immediately suggest the answer that your essay will argue. Here's an example from an essay about Memorial Hall.
|Further analysis of Memorial Hall, and of the archival sources that describe the process of building it, suggests that the past may not be the central subject of the hall but only a medium. What message, then, does the building convey, and why are the fallen soldiers of such importance to the alumni who built it? Part of the answer, it seems, is that Memorial Hall is an educational tool, an attempt by the Harvard community of the 1870s to influence the future by shaping our memory of their times. The commemoration of those students and graduates who died for the Union during the Civil War is one aspect of this alumni message to the future, but it may not be the central idea.|
The fullness of your idea will not emerge until your conclusion, but your beginning must clearly indicate the direction your idea will take, must set your essay on that road. And whether you focus your essay by posing a question, stating a thesis, or combining these approaches, by the end of your beginning, readers should know what you're writing about, and why—and why they might want to read on.
Orient Readers. Orienting readers, locating them in your discussion, means providing information and explanations wherever necessary for your readers' understanding. Orienting is important throughout your essay, but it is crucial in the beginning. Readers who don't have the information they need to follow your discussion will get lost and quit reading. (Your teachers, of course, will trudge on.) Supplying the necessary information to orient your readers may be as simple as answering the journalist's questions of who, what, where, when, how, and why. It may mean providing a brief overview of events or a summary of the text you'll be analyzing. If the source text is brief, such as the First Amendment, you might just quote it. If the text is well known, your summary, for most audiences, won't need to be more than an identifying phrase or two:
|In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's tragedy of `star-crossed lovers' destroyed by the blood feud between their two families, the minor characters . . .|
Often, however, you will want to summarize your source more fully so that readers can follow your analysis of it.
Questions of Length and Order. How long should the beginning be? The length should be proportionate to the length and complexity of the whole essay. For instance, if you're writing a five-page essay analyzing a single text, your beginning should be brief, no more than one or two paragraphs. On the other hand, it may take a couple of pages to set up a ten-page essay.
Does the business of the beginning have to be addressed in a particular order? No, but the order should be logical. Usually, for instance, the question or statement that focuses the essay comes at the end of the beginning, where it serves as the jumping-off point for the middle, or main body, of the essay. Topic and context are often intertwined, but the context may be established before the particular topic is introduced. In other words, the order in which you accomplish the business of the beginning is flexible and should be determined by your purpose.
Opening Strategies.There is still the further question of how to start. What makes a good opening? You can start with specific facts and information, a keynote quotation, a question, an anecdote, or an image. But whatever sort of opening you choose, it should be directly related to your focus. A snappy quotation that doesn't help establish the context for your essay or that later plays no part in your thinking will only mislead readers and blur your focus. Be as direct and specific as you can be. This means you should avoid two types of openings:
- The history-of-the-world (or long-distance) opening, which aims to establish a context for the essay by getting a long running start: "Ever since the dawn of civilized life, societies have struggled to reconcile the need for change with the need for order." What are we talking about here, political revolution or a new brand of soft drink? Get to it.
- The funnel opening (a variation on the same theme), which starts with something broad and general and "funnels" its way down to a specific topic. If your essay is an argument about state-mandated prayer in public schools, don't start by generalizing about religion; start with the specific topic at hand.
Remember. After working your way through the whole draft, testing your thinking against the evidence, perhaps changing direction or modifying the idea you started with, go back to your beginning and make sure it still provides a clear focus for the essay. Then clarify and sharpen your focus as needed. Clear, direct beginnings rarely present themselves ready-made; they must be written, and rewritten, into the sort of sharp-eyed clarity that engages readers and establishes your authority.
Copyright 1999, Patricia Kain, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
A discursive essay
A discursive essay is a piece of formal writing which discusses a particular issue, situation or problem.
There are three main types of discursive essays.
There are two basic kinds of discursive essays. Firstly there are persuasive essays in which you can argue strongly either in favour of or against a given discussion.
Alternatively, there are argumentative essays.
An essay is a piece of writing, usually from an writer's personal point of view on a particular topic.
I For and against essays present both sides of an issue, discussing points in favour of a particular topic as well as those against, or the advantages and disadvantages of a particular question. Each point should be supported by justifications, examples, and/or reasons. The writer's own opinion should be presented only in the final paragraph.
II Opinion essays present the writers personal opinion concerning the topic, clearly stated and supported by reasons and/or examples. The opposing viewpoint and reason should be included in a separate paragraph before the dosing one, together with an argument that shows it is an unconvincing viewpoint. The writer's opinion should be included in the introduction, and summarized/restated in the conclusion.
III Essays suggesting solutions to problems, in which the problem(s) associated with a particular issue or situation are analysed and possible solutions are put for-ward, together with any expected results/consequences. The writer's opinion may be mentioned, directly or indirectly, in the introduction and/or conclusion.
A good discursive essay should consist of:
a) an introductory paragraph in which you clearly state the topic to be discussed;
b) a main body, in which points are clearly stated in separate paragraphs and exemplified or justified: and
c) a closing paragraph summarising the main points of the essay, in which you stale/restate your opinion, and/or give a balanced consideration of the topic. You will able to get good essay ideas at Essay Typer sentences generator.
Points to consider
• Present each point in a separate paragraph. A well-developed paragraph contains a clear topic sentence, which summaries the contents of the paragraph, as well as a clear justification, explanation or example in support of the point presented.
• Well-known quotations (e.g. As writer Somerset Maugham once said, 'It is bad enough to know the past; it would be intolerable to know the future."). rhetorical questions (e.g. It people today are not concerned enough about tomorrow, will the future still be there for man?) or thought-provoking statements (e.g. The fact is mat one's future is what one makes it. There Is no such thing as chance.) are useful devices to make your composition more interesting.
• Before you begin writing, you should always make a list of the points you will present.
• Do not use informal style (e.g. contracted forms, colloquial language, etc) or very strong language (e.g. I know. I am sure…)
Use appropriate linking words/phrases to show the links between paragraph, as well as to link sentences within paragraphs.
Many people, however, prefer living in flats because they feel safer.
With increasing crime rates, people are afraid to live in a house, as they feel more vulnerable to burglars and other criminals. Therefore, they prefer the feeing of security that the proximity of neighbouring flats offers them.
Go to Practical exercises on the topic Discursive essay
• Discursive essays are written in formal style. This means you should use:
-passive voice, impersonal constructions
(e.g. It Is argued that It Is a common belief that…)
- a range of advanced vocabulary (verbs, adjectives, abstract nouns, etc)
(e.g. heated debate concerning the controversial issue…)
-formal linking words/phrases (e.g. furthermore, however, nonetheless)
- complex sentences with a variety of links, dependent clauses, etc (e.g. Although it is widely accepted that compulsory military service, which provides an army with abundant manpower, is beneficial to a country's ability to defend itself, closer analysis of military efficiency suggests that it is advanced weaponry which plays a crucial role in…)
- inversion, especially in conditionals
(e.g. Were this true, we would…; Never has this been more obvious…)
You should not use.
-short forms (e.g. I'm, It’s) except when these are part of a quotation
-colloquial expressions, phrasal verbs, idioms
(e.g. lots of, put up with, be over the moon about…)
- simplistic vocabulary (e.g. Experts say they think this is bad….)
- a series of short sentences (e.g. Many people think so. They are wrong.)
- simple linking words (e.g. and, but, so) except for variety
Go to Practical exercises on the topic Formal style
Go to Beginning and ending discursive essays
In the first paragraph, you should state the topic and/or your opinion, and you may include one or more of the following techniques.
• Make reference to an unusual or striking idea/scene/situation e.g. Imagine millions of people coming home from school or work every day to sit staring at a wall for four hours.
• Address the reader directly e.g. You may think this is an exaggeration. and/or ask a rhetorical question. e.g. Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without cars?
• Start with a quotation or thought-provoking statement, e.g. "Television is an invention that
permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn't have in your home." David Frost once said.
In the last paragraph, you should state your opinion and/or give a balanced consideration of the topic, and you may include one or more of the following techniques.
• Finish with a quotation
• Ask a rhetorical question
• Give the reader something to consider e.g. Perhaps then people will re-discover what It is like to actually communicate with each other.
You should paragraph your essay according its content. Try to meet the writing guidelines and basic requirements. Keep your report fairly. Rather than this type essay, you may have to write admission essay or application essays.
Useful Tips for Discursive Essays
• When writing a discursive essay, you should:
- use formal, impersonal style (see Formal Style)
- use topic sentences to introduce the subject of each paragraph
- write well-developed paragraphs, giving reasons/examples
- use generalisations (e.g.ln most developed countries, education…)
- use sequencing (e.g. First/ly, Second/ly, etc) and linking words/phrases (e.g. however, although, etc)
- make references to other sources (e.g. Experts have proved that…)
- use quotations, either word-for-word or in paraphrase, being careful to identify the source (e.g. As Winston Churchill said,”…)
• You should not:
-use short forms, informal/colloquial language, etc (see Formal Style)
- use very emotional language (e.g. I absolutely detest people who…)
- express personal opinions too strongly (e.g. I know…); instead, use milder expressions (e.g. It seems to me that…)
- use over-generalisation (e.g. All politicians are…)
- refer blindly to statistics without accurate reference to their source (e.g. "A recent study showed…" - which study?)
- use cliches (e.g. Rome was not built in a day.)
- use personal examples (e.g. In my school…)
Taken from "Successful Writing Proficiency" by Virginia Evans
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