A happy and blessed Easter to you all! This past year, my oldest daughter has been writing essay after essay: essays for English and history classes, essays for college applications, essays for scholarships… it never seems to end.
“Since you are so experienced at writing essays,” I suggested, “why don’t you write an essay on how to write an essay? You know — for the plebians like us.”
So she did. Well, the essay was so witty and clever, I just had to share. Because sometimes we all just need a good chuckle:
On Writing an Essay
by Carolyn Cooney
The first thing a student must understand in writing the five-paragraph essay is that no one likes to do it, and therefore he is not alone in his distaste for the task ahead of him. This being his solitary consolation, he must next conquer the paralyzing effects of abhorrence and simply get the paper over with. Once it has been finished, he will have the freedom to bask in satisfaction instead of wallowing in uneasy procrastination with the greater portion of his classmates. However, toward the actual construction of the deeply loathed five-paragraph essay, some guidance may prove of invaluable assistance, especially regarding the fact that a bad grade on such a weighted assignment may well become destructive to the beloved grade point average. Therefore this guidance, in that succinct and infamous sentence which men of letters call the thesis statement: in order to create a five-paragraph essay which both proves his claim and maintains the teacher’s willing attention without requiring several cups of coffee, the student must employ the three theological virtues of literary composition, namely, structure, style, and grammar.
Firstly, the student unarguably must employ sound essay structure. He must begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence which clearly outlines the claim his befuddled brain is striving to prove and ensure that every subsequent sentence has something or other to do with that topic. There is nothing so agitating to an English teacher’s nervous system as a paragraph which begins by declaring that Othello’s downfall was his trust and ends by noting that mankind should have invented a means to fly by now. In short, the writer must repeat himself as many times as he can without being obvious about it. Introduce the three parts of the claim in the introduction, restate them in the topic sentences, replicate the thesis at the beginning of the conclusion, and so on. Certainly, some train of thought and expansion of these three points will be quite welcome; on the other hand, by the time the student has repeated his three points this many times, he will find it veritably impossible to squeeze in any substantial explanation of his ideas. In other words, the infallible form of the five-paragraph essay is to repeat the claim as many times as possible – and validate it, if there’s any room left.
Secondly, if the student wishes to read praise rather than condemnation in the letters of the red pen, he should submit to the services of Style, that most helpful and arbitrary aid of the grade. Most tragically, Style is far less formulaic than Structure and often proves impossible to coerce. One must not only refrain from writing ten sentences in a row beginning with the subject; he must also speak with a certain flow, a certain confidence, a certain poetic flair. Such attributes can cause the paper to ring with grandeur and the music of “A plus”; the lack of them, regrettably, can sound the death knell of one’s English grade. As to the development of Style, therefore, the soundest advice remains to just have it and use it, for pity’s sake.
Finally, if the student desires to avoid being mentally burned at the stake by his teacher, he should ensure that his grammar is not that of a diehard texter. While texting shorthand has its undeniable advantages in regard to texting, it has none whatsoever in regard to authoring the lofty five-paragraph essay. Commas, the fatal flaw of the majority of mankind, actually do have rules as to where they should exist. As to the rest of our perplexing English language, the student would do well to merely spend hours poring over a grammar book and use a hammer, if necessary. The rules are too many to outline here – or, as a matter of fact, probably anywhere. That being said, the easiest solution is to have been homeschooled, where one learns enough grammar with which to drown an ocean.
Thus are presented the three essential components of the confuddling five-paragraph essay: structure, style, and grammar. Structure to bang the same idea into the reader’s head multiple times, style to give it an intriguing peal, and grammar to avoid the tear-inducing scribbling of the red pen. Last of all, since the student has no choice but to undertake this disagreeable engagement, he may as well make it enjoyable for himself.