MontaigneThe English-language “essay” was invented by a Frenchman. Specifically, the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne wrote a book containing what we now call essays. The book was titled, “Essais” (pronounced something like S, A, E), meaning attempts, derived from the French verb essayer, meaning to attempt. Montaigne was attempting to convey his own personal views on life.

The typical essay on a language test for non-native English speakers is a persuasive essay. The writer – that is, you – is asked to write as if you are persuading the tester that a view you hold is correct. Your objective is to demonstrate you can make an argument – that is, a proposal – that is coherent and persuasive. Actually convincing the tester is irrelevant; just write as if that is your goal.

For our purposes, ALL essays MUST contain an opinion!! Never write an essay for a language test without expressing an opinion in it. If you have no opinion, invent one. Trust me on this. It is the English writing style the tester wants to see.

English essays have three major components.

The Introduction

As the word suggests, the introduction introduces the reader to the topic which you are writing about. More importantly (for us), the introduction is where you introduce THE QUESTION YOUR ESSAY SEEKS TO ANSWER.

Example: “Do cats make good pets? Many people disagree.”

This is not a complete introduction. It is simply a summary of the message an introduction would contain.

Tip: You always want your introduction to seem interesting. Make the topic feel important.

Tip: Do not make your conclusion in the introduction. The introduction introduces. That is all.

The Body

The body is where the majority of your essay’s words are written. It is the “main portion.” That’s why we call it the body.

In the body, you will support the argument you are making to the reader.

Support means two things.

  1. Evidence: Provide facts that support your argument.
  2. Logic: Provide reasons that support your opinion.

Example: While some people are allergic to cats, cats make excellent companions. Cats get along very well with their owners.  Also, cats are cute!

Tip: Write the point of view you want to oppose, first. Write the point of view you want to support, last. This is a basic, basic trick of English writing to make your argument stay in the reader’s mind. All English natives writing academically know this trick. You are expected to know it as well.

Tip: In the body, write as objectively as you can make yourself sound. While your essay must have an opinion, your goal is to make your opinion sound like everyone should think like you do. This requires the appearance of objectivity. That is why facts and logic are used.

The Conclusion

The conclusion is a summary of the argument you are making, and the opinion you seek to persuade the reader to share.

Example: After weighing all the arguments, I believe that cats make wonderful pets. While some people cannot keep cats as pets due to allergies, everyone who can own a cat, should.

Tip: Your conclusion should appear to be the sensible, objective, natural result of the facts and logical arguments made in the body. In English, the goal is to appear impartial and unbiased, even if you are very partial and very biased.

Tip: Your goal is to persuade. Always make the conclusion seem as compelling as possible.

Tip: Do not exceed the rest of the essay. Build your conclusions from the content of the body and nothing else.

It’s That Simple

Simple does not mean easy. Writing a good essay is a challenging task. You just need to remember one thing:

Keeping it simple makes it easy.

Easier, anyway.

Thank you very much! If you have additional questions, feel free to leave a comment.

Of course, you can also hire me as your personal tutor. That works too.