The Basic Essay

This means that you have to marshal plenty of data to persuade your point.  Current and historical data work best to combine into a persuasive argument.  You’ll also need to marshal views from the opposition.  Incorporating this and commenting on their views while you argue for your side makes for a good argument.  How you present that argument makes for interesting or clever persuasion.  It’s true that people love a good story, but they love a good fight even more.  Give them both. 
To make your argument more persuasive, having all the finer points of structure in place serves that goal.  This means you need to have a hook in your introduction.  Even if it’s not your best introduction, have one.  Your instructor will minimally appreciate the effort you made to include a writing technique.
Must have topic sentences.  These make it easier for your reader to follow your points, to check for the flow in your narrative.  Can’t think of a topic sentence?  Simply write a few words for a headline, then recast that headline into a topic sentence.  Again, this helps your reader follow the flow of your argument.  That’s the whole point.   
Incorporate commentary of the evidence you present.  By commentary, I mean evaluate your evidence, critique it, praise it if need be.  Comment on it.  Doing so shows your reader/instructor that you have some familiarity or working knowledge of the subject and your topic.
Finally, make sure your essay read like a story.  It has to have a story-like quality to it.  You’ve heard it a dozen times that people like stories.  So give people what they want.  The final editorial decision you make then will be to adjust the sentences in and between your paragraphs so that they flow so that your paper reads like a very effective, very smart, very flattering experience for the reader–in this case, your college-educated professor. 

To achieve this story-like quality to your essay, answer the following and follow the guidelines outlined here.  You can also use the journalistic format of Who? What? Where? When? Why? to structure an expository essay.  I’d like to see that.  Ask and you shall receive! Now you can only abide by these guidelines if your instructor allows.  I’ve written essays inserting the occasional 1st person, and the instructor forbade it.  So check in with your instructor. 

Ditch the five-paragraph essay and embrace “authentic” essay structure. Times news and feature articles are excellent models for structure, including transitions and organization. Look at the guide to forms of Times news coverage to get started, and then deconstruct some articles to get a feel for how they are organized.

Classic news stories like this one about conflicts over rebuilding ground zero are written in the “inverted pyramid” format, starting with the most important information – the first paragraph or two answers the questions “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” Why?” and “How?” – and proceeding with the most important details, filling in the less important information as the article proceeds. This can be a useful structure for, say, newspaper articles based on the events in a play or novel, or relatively short research reports.

Feature stories pull the reader in with an engaging introduction and develop from there to explain a topic, issue or trend. Examples of this structure: this article on gauging the national mood by tracking popular songs, blog posts and the like, and this column on the blankets-with-sleeves trend.

A sub-genre of the feature, the personality profile, is also a useful expository writing model, as in this lesson on Dickens, which suggests using a profile of Bernie Madoff as a model for writing a character profile, and this lesson on the literature Nobelist Naguib Mahfouz.

To take the idea of using newspaper story structures further, try this lesson on comparing classic storylines with news reports.

Exciting writing is writing that involves a fight.  People love a good fight.  We don’t like being involved in real, physical fights but, man, are take-downs in print and in video satisfying.  So take down an opponent.  For this to work, you must have opponents.  For you to take down your opponent, you must know the issues.  For further reading on this point, check out Gary North’s article on “Budding Intellectuals.”  

My father-in-law took the attitude that refuting intellectual lightweights in print is a waste of time. He took on major figures in his books and articles, but he did not spend time refuting people who had neither intellectual firepower nor organizational influence. He thought it was wasting his time to interact with such people. I have generally stuck to his rule.

If some intellectual lightweight has a lot of supporters, and these supporters publish regularly in journals that other intellectuals read, then it might be worthwhile beating him up in full public view. You do this only because you want to make an example of him. You show that he doesn’t have the right facts, or doesn’t have any kind of coherent logic, and then you use ridicule to point this out. If he responds, you do it again. You keep doing it until he stops responding. Then you declare victory, and go look for another one. But it doesn’t do much good, because beating up an intellectual lightweight, except for amusement, doesn’t gain any followers.

So keep this in mind as you write.  Remember, good writing involves a good fight often times.  It is one of the few places where you can, nay, where you’re encouraged to destroy someone without going to jail.  

Start with the big boys if you’re going to gain your reputation as a critic. It doesn’t do any good to gain a reputation for being a critic of non-entities.

This was good too. 

Time is precious. If you can write, you should write for publication. You should have a website on which you publish articles weekly. Build up a following of readers. Encourage them to write. Post their articles. Encourage them to organize institutionally. Encourage them to gain followers. The whole point of writing is to change people’s minds. If you are not seeking to change other people’s minds, you are wasting your time. If you are not equipping intelligent, dedicated followers to carry on the intellectual battle, you are wasting your time.


The Nerdwriter does ware on me a bit. It’s the English Literature, prep school boy tones that grate on me, and yet he works those tones consistently throughout his videos and presentations. But he’s still somewhat interesting to listen to.

Here is a list of Paul Graham essaysHere, his essays are ranked.

William Parker wrote the essay, “Where Do English Departments Come From?”

This is an interesting summary of that essay.  


  • English comes from a “broken home” of its parents Public Speaking and Linguistics.
  • English studies are older than the teaching of English and date back to the Renaissance and Reformation.
  • Cambridge didn’t have a professor of Anglo-Saxons until 1878 (empty position for ~230 years) and no literature professor until 1911.
  • The notion of English studies is fairly recent and is the convergence of English literature, linguistics, English grammar, elocution and oratory skills,
  • UK English ed adopted modern Eng. much more readily than US
  • John Hopkins university tried to bring specialization of teachers to education after it opened in 1876. Before then, there were no teachers specifically trained for English as there were for history per se.
  • MLA was founded for several reasons: change in attitudes towards traditional education p 11
  • English departments “overreached” themselves to take up unclaimed spaces between departments.
    • Because of this, we (English) have never bothered to stop and determine what we are and are not.
  • How professors teach the upper level grad courses or speciality courses and grad students teach comp…yeah, that started in the 1890s