Ah, the essay! The art of reality! Oh, to trap the effervescent moment in a drop of amber, to polish it until it glows, to receive a more-then-passing grade on your English final. Regardless of your reasons, this guide to the different types of essays (with essay examples to edify and inspire you) will discuss what you’re writing, how to write it, and who has written it before.
Argumentative and Persuasive Essays
Argumentative essays use objective, provable facts to make the case for or against a point. You should declare this point in your thesis statement, a sentence that appears in the first paragraph of your essay. However, before you do that, you’d better conduct some thorough research. Argumentative essays are based in facts, and if they’re not, they’re crappy essays.
Persuasive essays are very much the same, except that they base their arguments on personal opinion, feelings, and beliefs.
One of the easiest and best ways to write a strong argumentative or persuasive essay is to use the following structure:
- State your thesis
- “The government is not run by Venusian squid.”
- Present the basis of your argument
- Argumentative: “According to NASA, Venus is incapable of supporting life.”
- Persuasive: “I don’t feel like squid would enjoy Venus.”
- Present counterarguments
- Argumentative: “Cousin Hal claims that squid could live in the higher levels of Venus’s dense atmosphere.”
- Persuasive: “Cousin Hal really gets heated when discussing what he sees as the squid problem, and I validate his feelings.”
- Shoot down the counterarguments
- Argumentative: “However, according to Georgia State University, Venus’s atmosphere is poisonous.”
- Persuasive: “Hal’s attitude is not conducive to dialogue and makes me question whether his head is clear when it comes to this topic.”
- Conclude triumphantly
- Argumentative: “If the government is, in fact, run by squid, then they definitely don’t come from Venus.”
- Persuasive: “I’d be very surprised if the government is actually run by Venusian squid.”
Both argumentative and persuasive essays should stick closely to their point. If, when you reread your essay, you find that not everything you say is directly relevant to your thesis, then that part needs to go. Want some essay examples? We’ve got some winners right here:
Christopher Hitchens, “The New Commandments“
In this argumentative essay, the author sticks closely to the point that the Ten Commandments don’t make judicial sense.
Margaret Atwood, “Attitude“
Some of the best persuasive essays are speeches! This essay tries to convince graduates that it’s worthwhile to pursue a life of writing.
It’s all about the details! A descriptive essay endeavors to leave the reader with an impression rather than a narrative, which is to say that they’re not plot-focused at all. Nothing “happens” per se, but your audience comes away with something important anyway. Lyric essays tend to be descriptive in nature. Sometimes they’re downright poetic, even venturing into experimental territory.
A descriptive essay can just be several pages about your favorite vacation spot, the way gulls guffaw from the peaked roofs and the sea insinuates into the air until your lungs are gills. We’re all swimming here, all the time, out of the flow of time, etc. In a descriptive essay, you’re not declaiming, you’re exclaiming. Get artsy!
Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp“
Notice how Sontag evokes visual details as she attempts to decode camp.
Amaris Feland Ketcham, “How We Echo“
This piece doesn’t make a point so much as a statement, and a large part of that is couched in the metaphor of the red canyon rock.
If descriptive essays unmoor you and leave you wanting a plot, then you might feel more comfortable here. Narrative essays have a point of view, a narrative arc, a climax, the works. Essay examples of this type tend to feel comfortable to readers who like a traditional story. For the most part, they’re chronological in nature and tend to encompass one particular event, start to finish.
Start like this:
- “The day I learned to ride a bike was also the day I learned to crash one.”
- “My dad rode behind me, cheering encouragement as I took my first stuttering quarter mile with increasing confidence.”
- “The gravel skidded and my front tire dove into the darkness of the roadside ditch.”
- Falling Action
- “Mom dabbed iodine on my cuts, assuring me that I’d have better luck on my second ride.”
Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse“
While there are a lot of descriptive elements in this essay, it works up to a grand conclusion (the eclipse) and then back down in a classic denouement.
Jennifer Kim, “Nothing Extraordinary“
This essay is quick, but a perfect textbook example of a good narrative essay. Check out the other award-winners at the link, too!
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Pretty adequate representation of the past 2 weeks → 0 notes, hundreds of research papers, and tOnEs of coffee. . . . In the 2nd year of medical school i’m at, one full month is dedicated to writing a 3000-word essay (mostly critical inquiry) on selected topic. To complete the task each student needs to conduct a systematic literature search, identify relevant papers, and analyse the findings in their essay. . . . Frankly, it’s very boring and monotonous at first, however when you finally get the chance to really explore and understand the chosen topic, as well as the research evidence behind it, it becomes much easier and can even be very interesting, I dare say. I still haven’t finished, but hopefully I will by the end of this week, so that I can have some extra time for revision of the past modules 🤞🏻🤓 . . . #studygram #studyspo #studymotivation #ipadnotes #ipadpro #macbook #apple #medicalnotes #medical #medstudent #medicalstudent #medschool #medicine #essaywriting #asthetic #aestheticallypleasing #prettynotes #studycommunity #desksetup #deskorganization #goodnotes #goodnotes5 #plantbased #evernote #newstudygram #whitelinespaper #cozy #coffee #latteart #oatmilk
A post shared by 𝘮𝘦𝘥 𝘴𝘵𝘶𝘥𝘺𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘮 (@studypod) on Dec 3, 2019 at 10:46am PST
When an author “reflects,” they’re really talking about their memories. These aren’t contiguous in a reflective essay—not like in a narrative structure, where the author sets out to recount one particular event. Reflective essays often tie together several different personal events with what’s going on in the rest of the world. There are few particularly famous essay examples in this category that have really made a splash on the literary world.
James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son“
While Baldwin focuses mainly on his memories here, he hops around in a nonlinear fashion and examines them with the eye of experience.
Joan Didion, “The White Album“
The way that Didion skips around her personal history and ties it to its wider context is what makes this a reflective essay.
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