An essay is a "short formal piece of writing..dealing with a single subject" ("Essay," 2001).
Derived from the French word "essai" meaning "experiment" or "attempt," an essay is typically written to try to persuade the reader using selected research evidence ("Essay," 1997).
Students are often required to write essays as course assignments in college-level programs in order to develop many important skills, such as:
- close reading
- critical thinking, analysis and interpretation
- persuasion and argumentation
- integration of research sources through summary, paraphrase and quotation
- communicating with clarity and conciseness
There are several different essay genres, which influences the content and structure. In general, an academic essay has three parts:
(1) An introduction that gives the reader an idea of what they are about to learn and presents an argument in the form of a thesis statement
(2) A body, or middle section, that provides evidence used to prove and persuade the reader to accept the writer's particular point of view
(3) A conclusion that summarizes the content and findings of the essay
Major points are the building blocks of your paper. Major points build on each other, moving the paper forward and toward its conclusion. Each major point should be a clear claim that relates to the central argument of your paper.
Sample Major Point: Employment and physical health may be a good first major point for this sample paper. Here, a student might discuss how dropping out of high school often leads to fewer employment opportunities, and those employment opportunities that are available tend to be correlated with poor work environments and low pay.
Minor points are subtopics within your major points. Minor points develop the nuances of your major points but may not be significant enough to warrant extended attention on their own. These may come in the form of statistics, examples from your sources, or supporting ideas.
Sample Minor Point: A sample minor point of the previous major point (employment and physical health) might address worker injury or the frequent lack of health insurance benefits offered by low-paying employers.
The rest of the body of your paper will be made up of more major and minor points. Each major point should advance the paper's central argument, often building on the previous points, until you have provided enough evidence and analysis to justify your paper's conclusion.
More Major and Minor Points: In this paper, more major points might include mental health of high school dropouts, healthcare access for dropouts, and correlation between mental and physical health. Minor topics could include specific work environments, job satisfaction in various fields, and correlation between depression and chronic illness.