Monday, July 23, 2012

Good Expository Writing: the Essay

Writing Nonfiction for the Literary Magazine

Before we get into this portion of Non-fiction for the Literary Magazine, and the nature of essay, let's revisit our definition of a piece of expository writing.
Let's just say nonfiction is a piece of expository writing based in fact. Further definitions are as follows: piece-a work with a beginning, a middle and an end. Expository writing-writing with a purpose such as, but not limited to, explanation, definition, information, description of a subject to the extent that a reader will understand and feel something.
Now, let's discuss the essay. For some reason when most of us think about essay, it just brings back the notion of school, of high school English class and the universal English teacher who was brutal, cruel, unrelenting or just unpredictable. Essay, for most of us is a chore at its best and a nightmare at its worst. But it does not have to be that way. Rather, as adults, as writers, and as pursuers of publication, the essay is probably the best platform for expression.

Going back to high school, for a moment, lets talk about types of essay, the mode of work and the objective of each. I pinched this table from

Table 1. Comparative Table of the Main Essay Types
Essay Type
Analyze and Present
Analyze literature
Prove a viewpoint
Cause and Effect
Establish relation

When we consider that each of us has something to share, whether it is a set of knowledge, an idea, a point of view or an otherwise special perspective, the essay suddenly becomes a less daunting task. For instance, my sister Sarah works is a paleontological botanist. Not only is she very intelligent, she has studied this science in both the class and in the field. When Sarah sits down to write an essay on her findings she can probably use any of the above types of essays depending on her audience. For the academic or scientific community she'll choose an appropriate tone. But, if she wants to write something for the literary magazine, she'll take a tone that is accessible to readers (and editors) that is more universal. So, perhaps she wants to illustrate a point about deforestation, or travel, or cultural understandings of the people Peru, she will have to use her knowledge and experience to make a reader who may not be well versed in the fields of paleontology or botany, understand her point.

Well, what about the rest of us who just want to write an essay? I recently read a wonderful opinion in the Wall Street Journal about the economic state of affairs in America today. Please read this: Warren Kozak's “Food Stamps and the $41 Cake.” Mr Kozak poses some interesting questions in this informal essay. He's compared a number of things: his normal grocery store, and the one this experience takes place in. He compares his grandmother's common sense to the transaction he sees before him. And in a time of economic crisis, this essay can give fodder either side of the food stamp issue. It's a brilliant piece of writing, and The Wall Street Journal published it.

Moving along, if you want to write an essay, here's the primer I came with:
Pick a topic: make it pertinent. If you choose a highly charged subject like abortion or the death penalty you have lost at least 50% of your readers before you start, and you will probably lose more along the way. Pick something unique and universal.
Introduce yourself and your position. Why are you writing this, and why are you qualified to write this?
Make your point of view. This will guide readers into the fold of your thought. In Mr Kozak's essay, he states: “How did this great nation travel from the common sense of our grandparents to where we are today?”
Write your thesis (control, topic) statement. This is basic high school English stuff. This is your declaration to the world, especially to readers, as to what this essay is all about. Many argue that this one sentence is what will make or break your essay. When you get this sentence, rewrite as many times as you can until it is perfect. This statement will probably change as your research grows.
ResearchResearch some moreWrite the body of the essay. This reinforces your purpose and your thesis statement. The body of the essay needs to be supported by your research. In all of my rants about having a beginning and middle and end to everything you write, consider this the middle.
Conclude it: This is your end. Make it good. If a reader has made it this far in your essay, this will be the last thing the read sees.
Introduce it: Some people find that writing the beginning last helps them to be more focused. Remember, this is the beginning of your piece of good expository writing. If the introduction is well written and engaging, your reader will stay with it.
And once you've come this far, you should have a completed piece. Don't be fooled into thinking you're finished. These last two items are too often overlooked:
Revise it (language, tone, voice and flow)Revise it again.

Good luck with your essay.

I believe that there are ample opportunities for publication especially for non-fiction. Learn to write an engaging essay and you will be a published writer.

Here are some links I found useful and appropriate:

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