I hate writing essays! (Picture me yelling this at the top of my lungs.) Give me a plot, characters, and a setting, and I’m good. Ask me to write non-fiction, and I’m done. Papers are my writing kryptonite. An example of my horrible essay track record was my infamous paper on Julius Caesar. It was so bad that it took days to edit. Days. Even after the edit it still sounded, well, horrible. In order to prevent another “Julius Caesar” disaster, this year for school my mom is really focusing on essay writing. (For any fellow homeschoolers who are interested, we’re using The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School by Sharon Watson. So far, I’ve really enjoyed it.) So, I decided to share some of the lessons I’ve been learning that will hopefully be helpful to all of those out there who also hate writing essays or enjoy it and want to learn more.
One of the first things I learned this week was about different ways to organize essay points. I had always set up my essays the same way, placing my topics in an order that made sense to me. Unfortunately, my methods of madness didn’t always make sense to everyone else. It is good to know there are already some established essay organizational formats.
1. Importance orders
Let’s tackle the big one first. This category has three different orders that are all grouped under the umbrella “importance orders.” The first method is the inverted triangle which is one you’ve probably already heard of. Paragraphs are arranged in order of the most important point to the least important. This is popular with newspapers because if the article is too long and the end part is edited out, then the most important details are still there.
The second way is the psychological order. This order is rather strange, and the reasons are arranged like so (using an essay with 5 points as an example): second most important reason, third most important reason, fourth, fifth, and finally the most important reason. You ask why someone would set up an essay like this? Well, it’s based on the theory that most people read only the beginning and ending of something, skipping the middle. This way, if a reader skips the middle of the essay, they’d still understand the most compelling reasons. Smart, huh?
The third member of the importance order family is the climatic order. Just as the action builds to a climax in a fiction novel, the “tension” of your essay builds as the essay opens with the least important reason and ends with the most important.
2. Generals and Specifics
Two more ways to set up an essay involve generals and specifics. No, we’re not fighting a war (though it might be easier ;)); we’re writing essays. Anyway, bad joke aside, in the general-to-specific order, points are organized from the most general reason to the most specific. For example, if I’m writing a paper on why I think The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fantastic movie and arranging my points in the GTS (general-to-specific) order, I might start with the point that the movie is very adventurous, which is a broad reason and end with a specific reason like “This movie is great because it was directed by Peter Jackson.” Now, if you were setting up your points in the STG (specific-to-general) order, you’d place the Peter Jackson reason first and the very adventurous reason last.
I will post part 2 with the rest of the orders next Monday, and I plan to write an occasionally continuing series about “I Hate Writing Essays” over the school year to check in with you and report on my essay writing progress.
Once again, let me recommend The Power in Your Hands by Sharon Watson. The book is engaging, humorous, and does a much better job of explaining essay point orders than I do. There are also a number of websites with essay writing help. This site below does a good job of explaining the orders as well.
Thanks for reading!