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“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” 

A Very Brief History of the Very Brief Essay

A Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) became the first to describe his act of creating as being 'essays'. He described these as 'attempts' to put his ideas into writing, and the essays grew from his commonplacing i.e. Commonplace books (or commonplaces) - these were a system to compile understanding of the written word, essentially by writing in books. This type of recording grew to become significant at the beginning of Modern Europe.

"Commonplace" is merely a translation from the Latin term locus communis  meaning "a style or argument of general application", like a statement of  knowledge


Essays Today

From private English tutors to one to one tutoring Sociologists, writing essays is among the most common of academic activities in the majority of educational institutions around the globe. In nations such as the U.S. and The U.K. essays have grown to be a main element within the education system - The essays have grown to be compulsory within the syllabi.

Secondary students are trained in structured essay formats to enhance their writing abilities, and admission essays are frequently utilized by colleges and universities in choosing candidates and, within the humanities and social sciences, as a means of assessing the performance of scholars throughout final exams. 

It may also be mentioned that essays are utilised as a way to judge the mastery and idea of material. It has been stated that the number of students who tend to be worried about writing essays is rising substantially, however, this is hardly surprising considering the huge importance that is place on success in the education system in today's society. Interestingly, although many students feel that essays always need to contain big words (!) it is noticeable that essays do contribute within the wider world of those students i.e. essays are utilised as a staple a part of the diet of many popular magazines.

With regards to this article I will take a look at shorter pieces of writing that frequently require student to hone numerous abilities, close reading through: analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clearness and exposition.

i. The fundamental types of essay that are, typically, for pupils up to the age 16 and would be given 45 - 60 minutes to accomplish within examination conditions. In the U.K. this would be the taking of GCSE exams upon leaving school.

ii. Essays which are frequently attempted at school, which require previous planning and creativeness and regularly given as homework.

Types of essays

The most common categories of essays for the the up to 16 year olds are:

i. Argumentative - Persuasive essays are written to convince readers to behave or see some problem from a certain perspective. These are often contentious subjects such as: abortion, hunting and corporal punishment

ii. Character - Take a look at a person such as a grandparent or perhaps a best friend. A detailed study of their physical characteristics, encounters, habits, etc. will be made.

iii. Personal Experience - Experiences such as the holiday of the lifetime or an event which has had a profound impact on the student.

iv. Expository - Explaining how something works. The primary purpose of the expository essay would be to explain, in order to acquaint your readers with something then would then understand and be able to use.

v. Imaginary - A tale such as an adventure, e.g. ‘Marooned on the Desert Island’ or ‘Journey Towards The Moon’.

vi.Descriptive - This could be a description of an inanimate object or a scene. Selected details, which appeal to the senses are used to build a picture i.e. painting a picture with words.

Essays on subjects such as religion and politics aren't usually given at this time.


Essays are, by their very character, concise and with clearness in purpose and direction. One good way for the student to practice would be to find out more essays within a particular area and then write their own. Correctly drafting the information of the essay to be written, ought to be done with care in order to form  an effective approach to well-organised essays.

As any one to one home English teacher or a private Sociology tutor will advise, the skeleton of each and every essay is extremely straightforward:

i.   A brief but sharp and incisive introduction

ii.  An in-depth body that fulfils the promises of the introduction 

iii. A concise conclusion that concludes the piece but also leaves the reader wanting more. . . 

All that is required then, would be to put flesh on the skeleton! Easy really. . . 

Dean Nixon is a private English tutor in Stoke On Trent, Staffordshire, England. Working with him is

Norma Shaw who offers private Sociology tuition.

Please feel free to be a guest blogger at our Experienced Tutors blog.

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The following three minute video provides a brief outline of the essay

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 (C) Dean Nixon 2012 - Private Tutors - Private Tuition - One to One - Home Tutor - Stoke-On-Trent - Essay Writing