2 Chapter 5 – Rhetorical Modes
The term rhetorical modes refers to the different styles and techniques we use when we write. This chapter will discuss different modes, explaining the specific aspects and techniques involved in these methods of communication. As you read about these, remember that the rhetorical mode a writer chooses depends on his/her purpose for writing. Some assignments ask students to use a specific rhetorical mode, such as writing a descriptive passage or contrasting two concepts, but most essays incorporate several different rhetorical modes to express an idea. Overall, the rhetorical modes are a set of tools that allow you different methods to effectively communicate information to your audience.
Figure 5.1 Choosing Paragraph Patterns
The purpose of narrative writing is to tell stories. This is a form we are familiar with, as any time we tell a story about an event or incident in our day, we are engaging in a form of narration. In terms of writing, narration is the act of describing a sequence of events. Sometimes this is the primary mode of an essay—writing a narrative essay about a particular event or experience, and sometimes this is a component used within an essay, much like other evidence is offered, to support a thesis. This chapter will discuss the basic components of narration, which can be applied either as a stand-alone essay or as a component within an essay.
Ultimately, narrative writing tries to relay a series of events in an emotionally engaging way. You want your audience to be moved by your story, which could mean through laughter, sympathy, fear, anger, and so on. The more clearly you tell your story, the more emotionally engaged your audience is likely to be.
The Structure of a Narrative Essay
Chronological order, the order in which events unfold from first to last, is the most common organizational structure for narratives. Stories typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Certain transitional words and phrases aid in keeping the reader oriented in the sequencing of a story. Some of these phrases are listed below.
Figure 5.2 Transition Words and Phrases for Expressing Time
The following are the other basic components of a narrative:
• Plot. The events as they unfold in sequence.
• Characters. The people who inhabit the story and move it forward. Typically, each narrative has there are minor characters and main characters. The minor characters generally play supporting roles to the main character, or the protagonist.
• Conflict. The primary problem or obstacle that unfolds in the plot, which the protagonist must solve or overcome by the end of the narrative. The way in which the protagonist resolves the conflict of the plot results in the theme of the narrative.
• Theme. The ultimate message the narrative is trying to express; it can be either explicit or implicit.
Writing at Work
When interviewing candidates for jobs, employers often ask about conflicts or problems a potential employee had to overcome. They are asking for a compelling personal narrative. To prepare for this question in a job interview, write out a scenario using the narrative moved structure. This will allow you to troubleshoot rough spots as well as better understand your own personal history. Both processes will make your story better and your self-presentation better, too.
An anecdote is a short, personal narrative about something specific. It is often used as a component in an essay, acting as evidence to support your thesis, as an example to demonstrate your point, and/or as a way to establish your credibility. It always has a point in telling it.
Elements of an Anecdote
1. Who, Where, When
Have you ever wondered why children’s stories begin something like this?
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, the teachers were revolting …
It is the start of a simple narrative. It also contains all the elements of a beginning to any narrative: when, where, and who. An anecdote, because it is short, will begin similarly:
One day, while I was sitting at a stop sign waiting for the light to change…
This little particle of an anecdote tells when, who, and where before the first sentence even ends.
Note: An anecdote sets up a particular incident; it does not tell about a long period of time.
2. What Happened (Sequence of Events)
Any narrative also includes a sequence of events. You should be able to read an anecdote and tell what happens first, what happens next, and so on. In the following anecdote, the bolded words suggest each event in the sequence.
My first day of college I parked in the “South Forty,” which is what everyone called the huge parking lot on the edge of the campus. It was seven forty-five in the morning, hazy and cool. I walked across the parking lot, crossed a busy street, walked over a creek, through a “faculty” parking lot, crossed another street, and came to the first row of campus buildings. I walked between buildings, past the library and the student mall. I passed many quiet, nervous-looking students along the way. Many of them smiled at me. One trio of young girls was even chuckling softly among themselves when they all smiled and said “Hi” to me at once. By the time I got to my classroom, far on the other side of campus from the parking lot, I was smiling and boldly saying “Hi” to everyone, too, particularly the girls. Every single one of them smiled or responded with a “Hi” or made a friendly comment or even chuckled happily. It was my first day of college.
When I found the building I was looking for, a friend from high school appeared. She was in my first class! I smiled at her and said, “Hi!” She looked at me. She smiled. Then she laughed. She said, “Why are you wearing a sock on your shirt?” I looked down. A sock had come out of the dryer clinging to my shirt.
3. Implied Point
Most of us want to make sure that we “get the point across” to whatever story we are telling, assuming it has a point. To do this, we tend to explain what we are telling. It is sometimes very difficult to stop. However, stopping in a timely way allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
Show, don’t tell
In the anecdote above, I am very tempted to tell the reader what I felt at the moment I realized that everyone was laughing AT me rather than just being friendly. For the ending, where the point is in this case, it is best to let the reader infer (draw conclusions, fill in the blanks) what happens implicitly rather than to state explicitly what the point is, or what the narrator felt, or anything else.
The more indirect you are about your object or place the better. In the anecdote above, it might be obvious that my object is a sock or my place is a parking lot. The point is, it is not an anecdote “about” a sock; it is referred to indirectly.
How do we show rather than tell? First, describe what you see (I don’t really see anything with “I was SO embarrassed…”) or what you smell, hear, or taste, but NOT what you feel. An easy way to check whether you are showing or telling is to go through your anecdote and underline the verbs. If the verbs are “be”-verbs (is, was, were, etc.) or verbs that describe actions we cannot see (“I thought…” “I believed…” “I imagined…” “it made me upset…” and so on) then you are probably telling. In the sentence above I used “walked,” “lecturing,” “ripped,” and “said.”
Most Common Question:
“What makes stories or anecdotes interesting and something I can relate to?”
Actually, it is a simple principle, even though it may not be obvious. We “relate” or “connect” most easily to situations we recognize and so fill in the blanks. If you “tell” me, for example, “I was SO embarrassed …” then you have not let me fill in MY embarrassment. On the other hand, if you “show” me a scene, it allows me to fit my own experience into it:
“I walked past the corner of the aluminum whiteboard tray while lecturing to a class. It ripped my pants. After a moment I said, ‘Class dismissed.’”
The writer of those statements, hopes the reader will fill in some similarly embarrassing moment without the writer clearly stating that this is what is supposed to be done. The connection, the act of “filling in,” is what people tend to refer to as “relating to.”
Interestingly, it does not even matter whether or not readers fill in what the writer intend for them to fill in; it is the act of filling in our own experiences that makes us “relate” to an incident. From a writer’s perspective, that means we should show rather than tell.
Second, resist the temptation to “explain.” Let the reader fill in the blanks! It is so much more personal when the reader participates by filling in.
Write an anecdote that contains who, where, when, and what happens (a sequence of events). Think about an anecdote that involves, alludes to, or otherwise includes your object or place; it does not have to be “about” your place. It also does not have to be “true” in the strict sense of the word; we will not be able to verify any believable details if they add to the effect of the anecdote. Type it out. Keep it simple and to the point.
What are ‘clichés’ and why can’t we use them?
Clichés are figurative phrases and expressions that you have probably heard a million times. For our purposes, there are two kinds of clichés: the ones that jump out at you and the ones that we use without thinking.
If you are paying attention, you will notice that the two sentences above contain at least 3 clichés. You might also notice that clichés are best suited to spoken language, because they are readily available and sometimes when we speak, we don’t have time to replace a common expression with a unique one. However, we DO have time to replace clichés while we are writing.
The problem with clichés in writing is that they are too general when we should be much more specific. They also tend to tell rather than show. In the first sentence above, we have most likely heard the phrase, “have probably heard a million times.” In speech, that expression works. In writing, it should be literal rather than figurative. The first sentence is better this way:
Clichés are figurative phrases and expressions that we have heard so many times that we all share some understanding of what they mean.
Not exactly what you thought when you read it at the beginning of this answer, is it? That is why being literal and specific in writing is better than figurative and vague as a rule.
Here is a re-write of the second sentence at the start of this answer:
For our purposes, there are two kinds of clichés: the ones that are obvious expressions (like “You can lead a horse to water …”) and the ones that are not part of expressions but seem to “go” easily into a group of words (like “we use without thinking”).
The second type is more difficult to identify and eradicate. Usually it is a group of words we have heard before that doesn’t add anything to a statement. For example, instead of “We watched the donuts roll down the street every night,” you might be tempted to add to it this way: “We watched the donuts roll down the street each and every night.” Avoid clichés in your writing.
To see more see more commonly used clichés and for guidance on how to rewrite them, see this handout (https://writingcenter.unc.edu/cliches/) from The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Writing Center.
Some Other Rhetorical Tips
- To create strong details, keep the human senses in mind. You want your reader to be immersed in the world that you create, so focus on details related to sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch as you describe people, places, and events in your narrative.
- Create tension by making the reader nervous about what is going to happen through sentence structure, tone, and voice.
- Add dialogue to show the immediacy and drama of the personal interactions (re-creating conversations as necessary to make your narrative work).
- Name specific objects to re-create the scene by selecting details that leave the readers with a dominant impression of how things were.
- Show people in action by describing precise movements and dialogue to convey the action of the scene.
“Sixty-nine Cents” (https://tinyurl.com/ybjasq9c) by Gary Shteyngart: In “Sixty-nine Cents,” author Gary Shteyngart describes a coming-of-age experience as a first-generation Russian-Jewish immigrant in modern America.
Sherman Alexie grew up on the Spokane Reservation in Washington State. He chronicles his challenges in school, starting in first grade, in Indian Education (https://tinyurl.com/hlshngr).
Sandra Cisneros offers an example of a narrative essay in “Only Daughter” (https://tinyurl.com/yc4srod7) that captures her sense of her Chicana-Mexican heritage as the only daughter in a family of seven children. The essay is also available here (https://tinyurl.com/y7hzxhz6).
Annie Dilliard offers an example of a narrative essay in an excerpt, often entitled “The Chase” (https://tinyurl.com/ycsen7r4) from her autobiography An American Childhood, outlining a specific memorable event from her childhood. This essay is also available here (https://tinyurl.com/y7udsl88).
Student Sample Essay
My College Education
The first class I went to in college was philosophy, and it changed my life forever. Our first assignment was to write a short response paper to the Albert Camus essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.” I was extremely nervous about the assignment as well as college. However, through all the confusion in philosophy class, many of my questions about life were answered.
I entered college intending to earn a degree in engineering. I always liked the way mathematics had right and wrong answers. I understood the logic and was very good at it. So when I received my first philosophy assignment that asked me to write my interpretation of the Camus essay, I was instantly confused. What is the right way to do this assignment, I wondered? I was nervous about writing an incorrect interpretation and did not want to get my first assignment wrong. Even more troubling was that the professor refused to give us any guidelines on what he was looking for; he gave us total freedom. He simply said, “I want to see what you come up with.”
Full of anxiety, I first set out to read Camus’s essay several times to make sure I really knew what was it was about. I did my best to take careful notes. Yet even after I took all these notes and knew the essay inside and out, I still did not know the right answer. What was my interpretation? I could think of a million different ways to interpret the essay, but which one was my professor looking for? In math class, I was used to examples and explanations of solutions. This assignment gave me nothing; I was completely on my own to come up with my individual interpretation.
Next, when I sat down to write, the words just did not come to me. My notes and ideas were all present, but the words were lost. I decided to try every prewriting strategy I could find. I brainstormed, made idea maps, and even wrote an outline. Eventually, after a lot of stress, my ideas became more organized and the words fell on the page. I had my interpretation of “The Myth of Sisyphus,” and I had my main reasons for interpreting the essay. I remember being unsure of myself, wondering if what I was saying made sense, or if I was even on the right track. Through all the uncertainty, I continued writing the best I could. I finished the conclusion paragraph, had my spouse proofread it for errors, and turned it in the next day simply hoping for the best.
Then, a week or two later, came judgment day. The professor gave our papers back to us with grades and comments. I remember feeling simultaneously afraid and eager to get the paper back in my hands. It turned out, however, that I had nothing to worry about. The professor gave me an A on the paper, and his notes suggested that I wrote an effective essay overall. He wrote that my reading of the essay was very original and that my thoughts were well organized. My relief and newfound confidence upon reading his comments could not be overstated.
What I learned through this process extended well beyond how to write a college paper. I learned to be open to new challenges. I never expected to enjoy a philosophy class and always expected to be a math and science person. This class and assignment, however, gave me the self-confidence, critical-thinking skills, and courage to try a new career path. I left engineering and went on to study law and eventually became a lawyer. More important, that class and paper helped me understand education differently. Instead of seeing college as a direct stepping stone to a career, I learned to see college as a place to first learn and then seek a career or enhance an existing career. By giving me the space to express my own interpretation and to argue for my own values, my philosophy class taught me the importance of education for education’s sake. That realization continues to pay dividends every day.
Description is the tool writers use to make things come alive for their readers, to make sure that their audience is fully immersed in the words on the page. Every time you tell a story to someone, or tell someone about something, you use description even if you don’t know it. Description can be as basic as, “I have a blue car” or “That is such a cute baby” or as detailed as “The flowers soak up the golden sun’s rays and begin to show their vibrant colors.” Descriptive words are used to provide more information and provide added insight. In fact, description is the one tool that most allows writers (and speakers) to show instead of just tell, which enables us to exemplify our points to our readers.
There are two basic types of description, objective and subjective. Objective description is demonstrated in the first two examples above; it gives a factual account of the subject. Subjective description offers a more personal view of the details by choosing specific words and phrases such as vibrant to describe colors in the above example. Vibrant doesn’t just offer detail about the colors, it also offers an opinion or a value judgment within the description. Most descriptions offer a mix of the two to convey the details while also offering the audience an idea of the emotional context of the subject being described.
All expressive description, however, uses sensory details as its basis. These are details that appeal to the five senses—sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. Of course, different subjects lead themselves to an emphasis on different sensory details and not all subjects require a use of all five senses. We all recognize the importance of sight as a descriptive tool, but we don’t always realize how important other sensory details can also be. Consider, though, how often you will smell a certain smell and instantly think of something or someone specific. You might smell freshly baked bread and think of your grandma’s kitchen, or popcorn and think of a movie theater. Hearing a certain phrase might make you think of an old friend or acquaintance. You might associate a certain type of material with a blanket you had as a child. When you take a bite of pepperoni pizza you might be reminded of the slumber parties of your youth. Sensory details really can play an important part in making a description come alive.
Choose an everyday object. Write a description of that object that appeals to all five senses in a way that does not state the object.
On a separate sheet of paper, describe the following five items in a short paragraph. Use at least three of the five senses for each description.
Using Concrete Description
Try to use specific, concrete descriptions. For example, a writer may write beautiful to describe a tree. However, beautiful is too vague. Instead, a concrete adjective or modifier would be stronger and gives greater impact. The reader needs details for a picture to form in their heads, abstract concepts like beautiful lack a real-world analog.
Here’s a reworked description of the tree: “the sun’s rays glistened off the rain-slick leaves, even as the afternoon sky dipped towards evening.” The beautiful qualities of the tree are “shown” through concrete details instead of merely told through abstraction. This gives the reader the illusion of immediate experience, as opposed to the dictionary variety.
Similes and Metaphors
Another way to add descriptive language is to use similes and metaphors, creating a picture in readers’ heads by comparing two objects to each other. Similes and metaphors help to make connections between two ideas, concepts, or objects that clarify or give new meaning.
A simile is a comparison using the words like or as. It usually compares two dissimilar objects. For example, the bread was as dry as a bone. The comparison links a piece of bread that has become hard and white to a bone that is also hard and white. Bones often dry out, and so does bread. These similar characteristics are what make the simile effective.
A metaphor states that one thing is something else. It is a comparison, but it does NOT use like or as to make the comparison. For example, my grandmother is an open book. The comparison implies that the my grandmother is full of information that she willingly shares with others.
To make a simile or metaphor, identify an object like a sunset, tree, or river, or a concept like love, peace, or anger. Then think of another object that has some similar traits. Decide whether the words “like” or “as” will help make the connection more understandable. A good simile or metaphor will make the reader look at both objects in a new perspective.
By adding similes and metaphors to a description paper, the writer can appeal to the readers’ imagination and make the writing more interesting to read. Similes and metaphors add spark to descriptions. However, many cliches come in the form of similes and metaphors, so strive to create comparisons that are specific to your particular subject.
The Structure of a Description Essay
Description essays typically describe a person, a place, or an object using sensory details. The structure of a descriptive essay is more flexible than in some of the other rhetorical modes. The introduction of a description essay should set the tone and the point of the essay. The thesis should convey the writer’s overall impression of the person, place, or object described in the body paragraphs.
The organization of the essay may best follow spatial order, an arrangement of ideas according to physical characteristics or appearance. Depending on what the writer describes, the organization could move from top to bottom, left to right, near to far, warm to cold, frightening to inviting, and so on.
For example, if the subject were a client’s kitchen in the midst of renovation, you might start at one side of the room and move slowly across to the other end, describing appliances, cabinetry, and so on. Or, you might choose to start with older remnants of the kitchen and progress to the new installations. Maybe start with the floor and move up toward the ceiling.
On a separate sheet of paper, choose an organizing strategy and then execute it in a short paragraph for three of the following six items:
- Bus stop
- Your office
- Your car
- A coffee shop
- Lobby of a movie theater
- Mystery Option. Choose an object to describe but do not indicate it. Describe it so that you preserve the mystery.
Writing a Description
In order to write descriptively, you must take a topic and decide how to make that topic vivid for your audience. If the topic of the piece is merely to describe a particular place, you must decide what elements of that place, when described in text, will become most vivid for your audience. The first step in any descriptive writing is to choose a topic and begin to work out a thesis statement. You may choose to describe a particular place.
Sample Thesis Statement
Although Minnesota may seem drab and cold to outsiders, natives of the state find it a wonderful place to live.
We can see in this thesis statement that the writer will attempt to show the aspects of Minnesota that make it a great place to live. After detailing a thesis statement, you should come up with a list of sensory words that provide vivid detail and support the thesis. You may start by thinking about the five senses. How does your particular place look, smell, feel, taste, and sound like? How can you best describe these senses so the reader feels what you feel? By organizing the elements of descriptive language into easier to handle sections, like the five senses, you are able to more specifically engage in what elements of the description are most useful.
Order of Presentation
The writer in this case could choose to present the positive aspects of Minnesota in terms of the seasons and weather changes. The details could be presented linearly, starting with spring and going through the winter, highlighting the aspects of each season that most closely support the thesis, that Minnesota is a great place to live.
Prior to starting the essay, give some thought to the audience of your piece. Who is going to read the essay, and what effect would you like it to have upon the readers? An awareness of audience is important in choosing the level of formality you take with your writing. Knowing your audience will also help you distinguish which details to include throughout your essay. Assume that your audience knows very little or nothing about your subject matter, and include details that may seem obvious to you.
Example Audience: In this particular essay, the writer wants to show an outsider to the state why Minnesota natives are so happy to live there. The essay should help break down stereotypes for those outsiders about Minnesota’s cold weather and apparent drabness. Because the essay is designed for those who do not live in Minnesota, and maybe have never been there, it is important to include details about the state that may seem obvious to a native.
With the preparatory work complete, it is time now to begin writing your essay. Use your thesis statement to begin to construct an introductory paragraph. The introduction should set up the basis for your essay, and the thesis statement should state its purpose.
Many who have not traveled to the state of Minnesota only hear of its cold weather and boring reputation. They are sure missing out on the great opportunities that Minnesota affords. Each season offers different senses that native Minnesotans and tourists know and love. Although Minnesota may seem drab and cold to outsiders, natives of the state find it a wonderful place to live.
With the introduction complete, it is time to start constructing the body paragraphs of your essay. Each body paragraph should have a central theme in itself, and that theme should be represented in a topic sentence. Consequently, each sentence of the paragraph should relate to and support the topic sentence. The body paragraphs are where the majority of the details should be given. When writing the first draft of your descriptive essay, include as many details as is reasonably possible. You can always eliminate the ones that do not serve the essay as well when you are revising your draft. In the case of the Minnesota nature essay, we have decided to set up the body paragraphs in terms of season, starting with spring.
Example Body Paragraph
Spring in Minnesota brings new life to the state after the long winter season. The rain washes the landscape clean, leaving its fresh aroma for all to enjoy. The flowers soak up the golden sun’s rays and begin to show their vibrant colors. The first birds can be seen and heard throughout the woods and fields, telling their stories in beautiful songs. The lakes begin to show their glossy finish as the ice melts away slowly under the heat of the season.
With the body paragraphs complete, it is time to bring the essay to a close with the conclusion. The conclusion should draw a conclusion based on what has been presented throughout the body of the essay. It needs to return to the thesis, but not in an overt way. The conclusion should give the reader a final sense of what the essay was meant to portray. Remember that there should not be any new material introduced in the conclusion, and the way it is worded should give the reader a sense of finality.
The variety of activities and distinct seasons found in Minnesota reveal diverse beauty of this state. As one considers the benefits of each season, it becomes clearer why so many native Minnesotans are content with their home state. Minnesota is truly a wonderful place to live.
With the essay complete, it is time to reread and revise your essay (also see revision sections of this textbook). Read your first draft and pinpoint all of the descriptor words you used. If possible, go back and add more after the ones you already used in the essay. If you can, read your essay aloud to a friend and have him/her tell you what images are vivid and what images need more development. Rework any images that are cloudy with more descriptions. Also, check to see if your descriptions have made use of all of the five senses: sound, smell, texture, sight, and taste. Repeat these steps as many times as necessary until you are happy with your product.
- Description essays should describe something vividly to the reader using strong sensory details.
- Sensory details appeal to the five human senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
- A description essay should start with the writer’s main impression of a person, a place, or an object.
Checklist of Things to Consider (https://tinyurl.com/y7zegezs) when writing a description.
Susan Berne visits New York and describes her impressions in Where Nothing Says Everything ( https://tinyurl.com/yboc9m9s), also called Ground Zero. Another link to the story is here (https://tinyurl.com/y99fchlw).
Heather Rogers provides a detailed description (book excerpt) of a landfill that challenges the reader to consider his or her own consumption and waste in The Hidden Life of Garbage (https://tinyurl.com/y7sb348m).
Sample Descriptive Essay
As the sun hits my face and I breathe in the fresh air, I temporarily forget that I am at a sporting event. But, when I open my eyes and look around, I am reminded of all things American. From the national anthem to the international players on the field, all the sights and sounds of a baseball game come together like a slice of Americana pie.
First, the entrance turnstiles click and clank, and then a hallway of noise bombards me. All the fans’ voices coalesce in a chorus of sound, rising to a humming clamor. The occasional, “Programs, get your programs, here!” jumps out through the hum to get my attention. I navigate my way through the crowded walkways of the stadium, moving to the right of some people, and to the left of others, I eventually find the section number where my seat is located. As I approach my seat I hear the announcer’s voice echo around the ball park, “Attention fans. In honor of our country, please remove your caps for the singing of the national anthem.” His deep voice echoes around each angle of the park, and every word is heard again and again. The crowd sings and hums “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and I feel a surprising amount of national pride through the voices. I take my seat as the umpire shouts, “Play ball!” and the game begins.
In the fifth inning of the game, I decide to find a concessions stand. Few tastes are as American as hot dogs and soda pop, and they cannot be missed at a ball game. The smell of hot dogs carries through the park, down every aisle, and inside every concourse. They are always as unhealthy as possible, dripping in grease, while the buns are soft and always too small for the dog. The best way to wash down the Ball Park Frank is with a large soda pop, so I order both. Doing my best to balance the cold pop in one hand and the wrapped-up dog in the other, I find the nearest condiments stand to load up my hot dog. A dollop of bright green relish and chopped onions, along with two squirts of the ketchup and mustard complete the dog. As I continue the balancing act between the loaded hot dog and pop back to my seat, a cheering fan bumps into my pop hand. The pop splashes out of the cup and all over my shirt, leaving me drenched. I make direct eye contact with the man who bumped into me. He looks me in the eye, looks at my shirt, and tells me how sorry he is. I just shake my head and keep walking. “It’s all just part of the experience,” I tell myself.
Before I am able to get back to my seat, I hear the crack of a bat, followed by an uproar from the crowd. Everyone is standing, clapping, and cheering. I missed a home run. I find my aisle and ask everyone to excuse me as I slip past them to my seat. “Excuse me. Excuse me. Thank you. Thank you. Sorry,” is all I can say as I inch past each fan. Halfway to my seat I can hear discarded peanut shells crunch beneath my feet, and each step is marked with a pronounced crunch.
When I finally get to my seat I realize it is the start of the seventh inning stretch. I quickly eat my hot dog and wash it down with what is left of my soda pop. The organ starts playing and everyone begins to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” While singing the song, putting my arms around friends and family with me, I watch all the players taking the field. It is wonderful to see the overwhelming number of players on one team from around the world: Japan, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Canada, and Venezuela. I cannot help but feel a bit of national pride at this realization. Seeing the international representation on the field reminds me of the ways that Americans, though from many different backgrounds and places, still come together under common ideals. For these reasons and for the whole experience in general, going to a Major League Baseball game is the perfect way to glimpse a slice of Americana.
The purpose of a process analysis essay is to explain how to do something or how something works. In either case, the formula for a process analysis essay remains the same. The process is articulated into clear, definitive steps.
Almost everything we do involves following a step-by-step process. From riding a bike as children to learning various jobs as adults, we initially needed instructions to effectively execute the task. Likewise, we have likely had to instruct others, so we know how important good directions are—and how frustrating it is when they are poorly put together.
What is the difference between process instruction and process explanation?
Process instruction is direct instruction (such as how to change a tire), so direct address (2nd person) can be used. It is okay to communicate to the audience because you imagine their purpose in reading the instruction is to learn and follow said instruction. Process explanations are more like what we get in textbooks (the Krebs Cycle explained in a biology textbook, e.g.). They are more formal and involve third person with the process itself at the heart. No more direct address or command language allowed, and paragraph structure is the norm.
Writing at Work
The next time you have to explain a process to someone at work, be mindful of how clearly you articulate each step. Strong communication skills are critical for workplace satisfaction and advancement. Effective process analysis plays a critical role in developing that skill set.
On a separate sheet of paper, make a bulleted list of all the steps that you feel would be required to clearly illustrate three of the following four processes. Also, identify whether each of these are process instruction or process explanation:
1.Tying a shoelace
3.Planning a successful first date
4.Being an effective communicator
The Structure of a Process Analysis Essay
The process analysis essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis statement that states the goal of the process.
The organization of a process analysis essay typically follows chronological order. The steps of the process are conveyed in the order in which they usually occur. Body paragraphs will be constructed based on these steps. If a particular step is complicated and needs a lot of explaining, then it will likely take up a paragraph on its own. But if a series of simple steps is easier to understand, then the steps can be grouped into a single paragraph.
The time transition phrases covered in the Illustration and Exemplification section are also helpful in organizing process analysis essays. Words such as first, second, third, next, and finally can be helpful cues to orient the reader and organize the content of essay.
Always have someone else read your process analysis to make sure it makes sense. Once we get too close to a subject, it is difficult to determine how clearly an idea is coming across. Having a friend or coworker read it over will serve as a good way to troubleshoot any confusing spots and ensure no steps have been omitted. Can your reader follow the steps to recreate the process?
Choose two of the lists you created in Exercise 3 and start writing out the processes in paragraph form. Try to construct paragraphs based on the complexity of each step. For complicated steps, dedicate an entire paragraph. If fewer complicated steps fall in succession, group them into a single paragraph.
Writing a Process Analysis Essay
Choose a topic that is interesting, is relatively complex, and can be explained in a series of steps. As with other rhetorical writing modes, choose a process that you know well so that you can more easily describe the finer details about each step in the process. Your thesis statement should come at the end of your introduction, and it should state the final outcome of the process you are describing. Remember to also include, either in the introduction or the first body paragraph, a list of necessary equipment/tools and any relevant recommendations for where the process should take place.
Body paragraphs are composed of the steps in the process. Each step should be expressed using strong details and clear examples. Use time transition phrases to help organize steps in the process and to orient readers. The conclusion should thoroughly describe the result of the process described in the body paragraphs.
Choose one of the expanded lists from Exercise 4. Construct a full process analysis essay from the work you have already done. That means adding an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, time transition phrases, body paragraphs, and a solid conclusion.
Choose something that you know how to do well or that your understand thoroughly. Make sure it is complex enough to warrant instructions (i.e. skip instructions for basic tasks – brushing teeth, driving a car, etc.). If you are writing process instructions, be sure to include a section at the beginning explaining what materials or tools are required, what clothing is recommended and what environment is necessary. If you are writing process explanation, be sure to introduce what you plan to explain, and any information about it the reader needs to understand your explanations. Conclude with some idea of what the reader should expect after the steps are done.
- A process analysis essay explains how to do something, how something works, or both.
- The process analysis essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis statement that states the outcome of the process.
- The organization of a process analysis essay typically follows a chronological sequence.
- Time transition phrases are particularly helpful in process analysis essays to organize steps and orient reader.
Stanley Fish, a professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, tells us why Getting Coffee Is Hard to Do (https://tinyurl.com/y89lmsfc). Another link to this story is here (https://tinyurl.com/yareanjc).
Sample Process Essay
How to Grow Tomatoes from a Seedling
Growing tomatoes is a simple and rewarding task, and more people should be growing them. This paper walks readers through the main steps for growing and maintaining patio tomatoes from a seedling.
The first step in growing tomatoes is determining if you have the appropriate available space and sunlight to grow them. All tomato varieties require full sunlight, which means at least six hours of direct sun every day. If you have south-facing windows or a patio or backyard that receives direct sunlight, you should be able to grow tomatoes. Choose the location that receives the most sun.
Next, you need to find the right seedling. Growing tomatoes and other vegetables from seeds can be more complicated (though it is not difficult), so I am only discussing how to grow tomatoes from a seedling. A seedling, for those who do not know, is typically understood as a young plant that has only recently started growing from the seed. It can be anything from a newly germinated plant to a fully flowering plant. You can usually find tomato seedlings at your local nursery for an affordable price. Less than five dollars per plant is a common price. When choosing the best seedling, look for a plant that is short with healthy, full leaves and no flowers. This last point tends to be counterintuitive, but it is extremely important. You do not want a vegetable plant that has already started flowering in the nursery because it will have a more difficult time adapting to its new environment when you replant it. Additionally, choose a plant with one strong main stem. This is important because the fewer stems that a tomato plant has, the more easily it can transport nutrients to the fruit. Multiple stems tend to divide nutrients in less efficient ways, often resulting in either lower yields or smaller fruit.
Once you have found the right seedlings to plant back home, you need to find the best way of planting them. I recommend that you plant your tomatoes in containers. If you have the space and sunlight, then you can certainly plant them in the ground, but a container has several advantages and is usually most manageable for the majority of gardeners. The containers can be used in the house, on a patio, or anywhere in the backyard, and they are portable. Containers also tend to better regulate moisture and drain excess water. Choose a container that is at least 10 inches in diameter and at least 1 foot deep. This will provide sufficient room for root development.
In addition to the container, you also need the appropriate soil mixture and draining mechanisms. For the best drainage, fill the bottom of your container with 2 or 3 inches of gravel. On top of the gravel, fill ¾ of the container with soil. Choose a well-balanced organic soil. The three main ingredients you will find described on soil bags are N-P-K—that is, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Without going into too much detail about the role of each element in plant growth, I will tell you that an average vegetable will grow fine in a 10-5-5 mixture. This ratio, too, will be easy to find at your local nursery.
Once you have the gravel in the bottom of the container and the soil on top, you are ready to transplant the tomato. Pick up the tomato in the plastic container it comes in from the nursery. Turn it upside down, and holding the stem between your fingers, pat the bottom lightly several times, and the plant should fall into your hand. Next, you should gently break up with your hands the root ball that formed in the nursery container. Be gentle, but be sure to rip them up a bit; this helps generate new root growth in the new container. Be careful not to damage the roots too much, as this could stunt the growth or even destroy the plant altogether.
Next, carve out a hole in the soil to make space for the plant. Make it deep enough to go about an inch higher than it was previously buried and wide enough so all the roots can comfortably fit within and beneath it. Place the seedling in the hole and push the removed soil back on top to cover the base of the plant. After that, the final step in planting your tomato is mulch. Mulch is not necessary for growing plants, but it can be very helpful in maintaining moisture, keeping out weeds, and regulating soil temperature. Place two-three inches of mulch above the soil and spread it out evenly.
Once the mulch is laid, you are mostly done. The rest is all watering, waiting, and maintenance. After you lay the mulch, pour the plant a heavy amount of water. Water the plant at its base until you see water coming through the bottom of the container. Wait ten minutes, and repeat. This initial watering is very important for establishing new roots. You should continue to keep the soil moist, but never soaking wet. One healthy watering each morning should be sufficient for days without rain. You can often forego watering on days with moderate rainfall. Watering in the morning is preferable to the evening because it lessens mold and bacteria growth.
Choosing to grow the patio variety of tomatoes is easiest because patio tomatoes do not require staking or training around cages. They grow in smaller spaces and have a determinate harvest time. As you continue to water and monitor your plant, prune unhealthy looking leaves on the main stem, and cut your tomatoes down at the stem when they ripen to your liking. As you can see, growing tomatoes can be very easy and manageable for even novice gardeners. The satisfaction of picking and eating fresh food, and doing it yourself, outweighs all the effort you put in over the growing season.
To illustrate means to show or demonstrate something clearly through the use of evidence. To exemplify means to demonstrate through the use of examples. This is a technique that can stand alone but is most often used within an essay to demonstrate the various points that an essay is offering as it supports it thesis. Effective illustration clearly demonstrates and supports a point through the use of evidence.
A writer can use different types of evidence to support his or her thesis. Using scientific studies, experts in a particular field, statistics, historical events, current events, analogies, and personal anecdotes are all ways in which a writer can illustrate a thesis. A variety of evidence is needed to demonstrate the validity of any thesis. Ultimately, you want the evidence to help the reader “see” your point, as one would see a good illustration in a magazine or on a website. This I Believe (https://thisibelieve.org/) is a website that collects essays that illustrate core values and beliefs. Visit program’s website for some examples.
The stronger your evidence is, the more clearly the reader will consider your point. Using evidence effectively can be challenging, though. The evidence you choose will usually depend on your subject, your essay’s purpose, and your audience. When writing an illustration essay, keep in mind the following:
- Use evidence that is appropriate for your topic as well as appropriate for your audience.
- Assess how much evidence you need to adequately explain your point , which depends on the complexity of the subject and the knowledge of your audience regarding that subject.
For example, if you were writing about a new communication software and your audience was a group of English-major undergrads, you might want to use an analogy or a personal story to illustrate how the software worked. You might also choose to add a few more pieces of evidence to make sure the audience understands your point. However, if you were writing about the same subject and your audience members were information technology (IT) specialists, you would likely use more technical evidence because they would be familiar with the subject.
Keeping in mind your subject in relation to your audience will increase your chances of effectively illustrating your point.
You never want to insult your readers’ intelligence by over-explaining concepts the audience members may already be familiar with, but it may be necessary to clearly articulate your point. When in doubt, add an extra example to illustrate your idea.
On a separate piece of paper, form a thesis based on each of the following three topics. Then list the types of evidence that would best explain your point for each audience.
- Topic: Combat and mental health
- Audience: family members of veterans, doctors
- Topic: Video games and teen violence
- Audience: parents, children
- Topic: Architecture and earthquakes
- Audience: engineers, local townspeople
The Structure of an Illustration Essay
The controlling idea, or thesis, often belongs at the beginning of the essay. Evidence is then presented in the essay’s body paragraphs, to support the thesis. As you decide how to present your evidence, consider order of importance, then decide whether you want to with your strongest evidence first, or start with evidence of lesser importance and have the essay build to increasingly stronger evidence. The table below shows the connection between order and purpose.
Figure 5.4 Order Versus Purpose
The time transition words listed in the table above are also helpful in ordering the presentation of evidence. Words like first, second, third, currently, next, and finally all help orient the reader and sequence evidence clearly. Because an illustration essay uses so many examples, it is also helpful to have a list of words and phrases to present each piece of evidence. The table below provides a list of phrases for illustration.
Figure 5.5 Phrases of Illustration
Vary the phrases of illustration you use. Do not rely on just one. Variety in choice of words and phrasing is critical when trying to keep readers engaged in your writing and your ideas.
Writing at Work
In the workplace, it is often helpful to keep the phrases of illustration in mind as a way to incorporate them whenever you can. Whether you are writing out directives that colleagues will have to follow or requesting a new product or service from another company, making a conscious effort to incorporate a phrase of illustration will force you to provide examples of what you mean.
On a separate sheet of paper, form a thesis based on one of the following topics. Then support that thesis with three pieces of evidence. Make sure to use a different phrase of illustration to introduce each piece of evidence you choose.
- Work hours
Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers. Discuss which topic you like the best or would like to learn more about. Indicate which thesis statement you perceive as the most effective.
Writing an Illustration Essay
First, decide on a topic that you feel interested in writing about. Then create an interesting introduction to engage the reader. The main point, or thesis, should be stated at the end of the introduction.
Gather evidence that is appropriate to both your subject and your audience. You can order the evidence in terms of importance, either from least important to most important or from most important to least important. Be sure to fully explain all of your examples using strong, clear supporting details.
Choose a motto or other inspirational statement that appeals to you. Using the aspects outlined above, write a paragraph that illustrates this statement. Remember to include specific examples and description to illustrate your interpretation of this statement.
Choosing either a topic from Exercise 7 or Exercise 8 write a minimum five paragraph illustration essay.
- An illustration essay clearly explains a main point using evidence.
- When choosing evidence, always gauge whether the evidence is appropriate for the subject as well as the audience.
- Organize the evidence in terms of importance, either from least important to most important or from most important to least important.
- Use time transitions to order evidence.
- Use phrases of illustration to highlight examples.
Student Sample: Illustration/Example Essay
Letter to the City
To: Lakeview Department of Transportation
From: A Concerned Citizen
The intersection of Central Avenue and Lake Street is dangerous and demands immediate consideration for the installation of a controlling mechanism. I have lived in Lakeview my entire life, and during that time I have witnessed too many accidents and close calls at that intersection. I would like the Department of Transportation to answer this question: how many lives have to be lost on the corner of Central Avenue and Lake Street before a street light or stop sign is placed there?
Over the past twenty years, the population of Lakeview has increased dramatically. This population growth has put tremendous pressure on the city’s roadways, especially Central Avenue and its intersecting streets. At the intersection of Central Avenue and Lake Street it is easy to see how serious this problem is. For example, when I try to cross Central Avenue as a pedestrian, I frequently wait over ten minutes for the cars to clear, and even then I must rush to the median. I will then have to continue to wait until I can finally run to the other side of the street. On one hand, even as a physically fit adult, I can run only with significant effort and care. Expecting a senior citizen or a child to cross this street, on the other hand, is extremely dangerous and irresponsible. Does the city have any plans to do anything about this?
Recent data show that the intersection of Central Avenue and Lake Street has been especially dangerous. According to the city’s own statistics, three fatalities occurred at that intersection in the past year alone. Over the past five years, the intersection witnessed fourteen car accidents, five of which were fatal. These numbers officially qualify the intersection as the most fatal and dangerous in the entire state. It should go without saying that fatalities and accidents are not the clearest way of measuring the severity of this situation because for each accident that happens, countless other close calls never contribute to city data. I hope you will agree that these numbers alone are sufficient evidence that the intersection at Central Avenue and Lake Street is hazardous and demands immediate attention.
Nearly all accidents mentioned are caused by vehicles trying to cross Central Avenue while driving on Lake Street. I think the City of Lakeview should consider placing a traffic light there to control the traffic going both ways. While I do not have access to any resources or data that can show precisely how much a traffic light can improve the intersection, I think you will agree that a controlled busy intersection is much safer than an uncontrolled one. Therefore, at a minimum, the city must consider making the intersection a four-way stop.
Each day that goes by without attention to this issue is a lost opportunity to save lives and make the community a safer, more enjoyable place to live. Because the safety of citizens is the priority of every government, I can only expect that the Department of Transportation and the City of Lakeview will act on this matter immediately. For the safety and well-being of Lakeview citizens, please do not let bureaucracy or money impede this urgent project.
A Concerned Citizen
“April & Paris” (https://tinyurl.com/y9rgud9b) by David Sedaris: In “April & Paris,” writer David Sedaris explores the unique impact of animals on the human psyche.
“She’s Your Basic L.O.L. in N.A.D” (https://tinyurl.com/y7ocnnl5) by Perri Klass: In “She’s Your Basic L.O.L. in N.A.D,” pediatrician and writer Perri Klass discusses the medical-speak she encountered in her training as a doctor and its underlying meaning.
Jessica Bennett, a senior writer for Newsweek, offers an example of an illustration essay when she presents The Flip Side of Internet Fame (https://tinyurl.com/y9yjmqt9). You can also see the essay here (https://tinyurl.com/y7vd53db).
It is often considered human nature to ask, “why?” and “how?” We want to know how our child got sick so we can better prevent it from happening in the future, or why our colleague received a pay raise because we want one as well. We want to know how much money we will save over the long term if we buy a hybrid car. These examples identify only a few of the relationships we think about in our lives, but each shows the importance of understanding cause and effect.
A cause is something that produces an event or condition; an effect is what results from an event or condition. The purpose of the cause-and-effect essay is to determine how various phenomena relate in terms of origins and results. Sometimes the connection between cause and effect is clear, but often determining the exact relationship between the two is very difficult. For example, the following effects of a cold may be easily identifiable: a sore throat, a runny nose, and a cough. But, determining the cause of the sickness can be far more difficult. A number of causes are possible, and to complicate matters, these possible causes could have combined to cause the sickness. That is, more than one cause may be responsible for any given effect. Therefore, cause-and-effect discussions are often complicated and frequently lead to debates and arguments.
Use the complex nature of cause and effect to your advantage. Often it is not necessary, or even possible, to find the exact cause of an event or to name the exact effect. So, when formulating a thesis, you can claim one of a number of causes or effects to be the primary, or main, cause or effect. As soon as you claim that one cause or one effect is more crucial than the others, you have developed a thesis.
Consider the causes and effects in the following thesis statements. Identify whether each statement is identifying a cause or an effect. Then, list a cause and effect for each one on your own sheet of paper.
- The growing childhood obesity epidemic is a result of technology.
- Much of the wildlife is dying because of the oil spill.
- The town continued programs that it could no longer afford, so it went bankrupt.
- More young people became politically active as use of the Internet spread throughout society.
- While many experts believed the rise in violence was because of the poor economy, it was really because of the summer-long heat wave.
Write three cause-and-effect thesis statements of your own for each of the following five broad topics.
- Health and nutrition
The Structure of a Cause-and-Effect Essay
The cause-and-effect essay opens with a general introduction to the topic, which then leads to a thesis that states the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event.
The cause-and-effect essay can be organized in one of the following two primary ways:
- Start with the cause and then write about the effects.
- Start with the effect and then write about the causes.
For example, if your essay were on childhood obesity, you could start by talking about the effect of childhood obesity and then discuss the cause or you could start the same essay by writing about the cause of childhood obesity and then move to the effect.
Regardless of which structure you choose, be sure to explain each element of the essay fully and completely. Explaining complex relationships requires the full use of evidence, such as scientific studies, expert testimony, statistics, and anecdotes.
Because cause-and-effect essays determine how phenomena are linked, they make frequent use of certain words and phrases that denote such linkage. See the table below for examples of such terms.
Figure 5.6 Phrases of Causation
The conclusion should wrap up the discussion and reinforce the thesis, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of the relationship that was analyzed.
Be careful of resorting to empty speculation. In writing, speculation amounts to unsubstantiated guessing. Writers are particularly prone to such trappings in cause-and-effect arguments because of the complex nature of finding links between phenomena. Be sure to have clear evidence to support the claims that you make.
Look at some of the cause-and-effect relationships from Exercise 9. Outline the links you listed. Outline one using a cause-then-effect structure. Outline the other using the effect-then-cause structure.
Writing a Cause-and-Effect Essay
Choose an event or condition that you think has an interesting cause-and-effect relationship. Introduce your topic in an engaging way. End your introduction with a thesis that states the main cause, the main effect, or both.
Organize your essay by starting with either the cause-then-effect structure or the effect-then-cause structure. Within each section, you should clearly explain and support the causes and effects using a full range of evidence. If you are writing about multiple causes or multiple effects, you may choose to sequence either in terms of order of importance. In other words, order the causes from least to most important (or vice versa), or order the effects from least important to most important (or vice versa).
Use the phrases of causation when trying to forge connections between various events or conditions. This will help organize your ideas and orient the reader. End your essay by drawing a conclusion based on the information presented. You may find it helpful to think of the conclusion as an answer to the question: “so what” or as a continuation of the statement “and so. . . “. In some cases, may be appropriate to issue a call to action in your essay’s conclusion. XERCISE 4
Choose a local issue or topic that concerns you. Examine both the causes and effects of this issue or topic, and write a paragraph that outlines these using the components of a cause and effect essay.
Choose one of the ideas you outlined in Exercise 11 and write a full cause-and-effect essay. Be sure to include an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, strong evidence and examples, and a thoughtful conclusion.
The purpose of the cause-and-effect essay is to determine how various phenomena are related.
- The thesis states what the writer sees as the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event.
- The cause-and-effect essay can be organized in one of these two primary ways:
- Start with the cause and then write about the effect.
- Start with the effect and then write about the cause.
- Strong evidence is particularly important in the cause-and-effect essay because of the complexity of determining connections between phenomena.
- Phrases of causation are helpful in signaling links between various elements in the essay.
Cause and Effect Essay Example
Effects of Video Game Addiction
By Scott McLean
Video game addition is a serious problem in many parts of the world today and deserves more attention. It is no secret that children and adults in many countries throughout the world, including Japan, China, and the United States, play video games every day. Most players are able to limit their usage in ways that do not interfere with their daily lives, but many others have developed an addiction to playing video games and suffer detrimental effects.
An addiction can be described in several ways, but generally speaking, addictions involve unhealthy attractions to substances or activities that ultimately disrupt the ability of a person to keep up with regular daily responsibilities. Video game addiction typically involves playing games uncontrollably for many hours at a time—some people will play only four hours at a time while others cannot stop for over twenty-four hours. Regardless of the severity of the addiction, many of the same effects will be experienced by all.
One common effect of video game addiction is isolation and withdrawal from social experiences. Video game players often hide in their homes or in Internet cafés for days at a time—only reemerging for the most pressing tasks and necessities. The effect of this isolation can lead to a breakdown of communication skills and often a loss in socialization. While it is true that many games, especially massive multiplayer online games, involve a very real form of e-based communication and coordination with others, and these virtual interactions often result in real communities that can be healthy for the players, these communities and forms of communication rarely translate to the types of valuable social interaction that humans need to maintain typical social functioning. As a result, the social networking in these online games often gives the users the impression that they are interacting socially, while their true social lives and personal relations may suffer.
Another unfortunate product of the isolation that often accompanies video game addiction is the disruption of the user’s career. While many players manage to enjoy video games and still hold their jobs without problems, others experience challenges at their workplace. Some may only experience warnings or demerits as a result of poorer performance, or others may end up losing their jobs altogether. Playing video games for extended periods of time often involves sleep deprivation, and this tends to carry over to the workplace, reducing production and causing habitual tardiness.
Video game addiction may result in a decline in overall health and hygiene. Players who interact with video games for such significant amounts of time can go an entire day without eating and even longer without basic hygiene tasks, such as using the restroom or bathing. The effects of this behavior pose significant danger to their overall health.
The causes of video game addiction are complex and can vary greatly, but the effects have the potential to be severe. Playing video games can and should be a fun activity for all to enjoy. But just like everything else, the amount of time one spends playing video games needs to be balanced with personal and social responsibilities.
“Women in Science” (https://tinyurl.com/y8pggr7g) by K.C. Cole. The link to the essay is correct. It seems to be titled “Hers” but it is the correct essay.
“Cultural Baggage” (https://tinyurl.com/yc7qeuyp) by Barbara Ehrenreich.
Robin Tolmach Lakoff discusses the power of language to dehumanize in “From Ancient Greece to Iraq: The Power of Words in Wartime” (https://tinyurl.com/y76bt3ah).
Alan Weisman examines the human impact on the planet and its effects in “Earth without People” (https://tinyurl.com/mswazr).
Comparison in writing discusses elements that are similar, while contrast in writing discusses elements that are different. A compare-and-contrast essay, then, analyzes two subjects by comparing them, contrasting them, or both.
The key to a good compare-and-contrast essay is to choose two or more subjects that connect in a meaningful way. The purpose of conducting the comparison or contrast is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities. For example, if you wanted to focus on contrasting two subjects you would not pick apples and oranges; rather, you might choose to compare and contrast two types of oranges or two types of apples to highlight subtle differences. For example, Red Delicious apples are sweet, while Granny Smiths are tart and acidic. Drawing distinctions between elements in a similar category will increase the audience’s understanding of that category, which is the purpose of the compare-and-contrast essay.
Figure 5.7 Apples, Green and Red
Similarly, to focus on comparison, choose two subjects that seem at first to be unrelated. For a comparison essay, you likely would not choose two apples or two oranges because they share so many of the same properties already. Rather, you might try to compare how apples and oranges are quite similar. The more divergent the two subjects initially seem, the more interesting a comparison essay will be.
Writing at Work
Comparing and contrasting is also an evaluative tool. In order to make accurate evaluations about a given topic, you must first know the critical points of similarity and difference. Comparing and contrasting is a primary tool for many workplace assessments. You have likely compared and contrasted yourself to other colleagues. Employee advancements, pay raises, hiring, and firing are typically conducted using comparison and contrast. Comparison and contrast could be used to evaluate companies, departments, or individuals.
Brainstorm an essay that leans toward contrast. Choose one of the following three categories. Pick two examples from each. Then come up with one similarity and three differences between the examples.
- Romantic comedies
- Internet search engines
- Cell phones
Brainstorm an essay that leans toward comparison. Choose one of the following three items. Then come up with one difference and three similarities.
- Department stores and discount retail stores
- Fast food chains and fine dining restaurants
- Dogs and cats
The Structure of a Comparison and Contrast Essay
The compare-and-contrast essay starts with a thesis that clearly states the two subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both and the reason for doing so. Remember, the point of comparing and contrasting is to provide useful knowledge to the reader. Take the following thesis as an example that focuses on contrast.
Thesis statement: Organic vegetables may cost more than those that are conventionally grown, but they are definitely worth every extra penny.
Here the thesis sets up the two subjects to be compared and contrasted (organic versus conventional vegetables), and it makes a claim about the results that might prove useful to the reader.
You may organize compare-and-contrast essays in one of the following two ways:
- According to the subjects themselves, discussing one then the other
- According to individual points, discussing each subject in relation to each point
The organizational structure you choose depends on the nature of the topic, your purpose, and your audience.
See the chart below, which diagrams the ways to organize the organic versus conventional vegetables thesis.
Figure 5.8 Organization Diagram
Given that compare-and-contrast essays analyze the relationship between two subjects, it is helpful to have some phrases on hand that will cue the reader to such analysis. See the chart below for examples.
Figure 5.9 Phrases of Comparison and Contrast
Create an outline for each of the items you chose in Exercises 13 and 14. Use the point-by-point organizing strategy for one of them, and use the subject organizing strategy for the other.
Writing a Comparison and Contrast Essay
First, choose whether you want to compare seemingly disparate subjects, contrast seemingly similar subjects, or compare and contrast subjects. Once you have decided on a topic, introduce it with an engaging opening paragraph. Your thesis should come at the end of the introduction, and it should establish the subjects you will compare, contrast, or both as well as state what can be learned from doing so.
The body of the essay can be organized in one of two ways: by subject or by individual points. The organizing strategy that you choose will depend on, as always, your audience and your purpose. You may also consider your particular approach to the subjects as well as the nature of the subjects themselves; some subjects might better lend themselves to one structure or the other. Make sure to use comparison and contrast phrases to cue the reader to the ways in which you are analyzing the relationship between the subjects.
After you finish analyzing the subjects, write a conclusion that reinforces your thesis while drawing a conclusion based on what you have presented. This conclusion is the “and so” statement for your essay, giving you the place to offer a judgement based on the examination you have just offered.
Writing at Work
Many business presentations are conducted using comparison and contrast. The organizing strategies—by subject or individual points—could also be used for organizing a presentation. Keep this in mind as a way of organizing your content the next time you or a colleague have to present something at work.
Choose two people who are significant in your life and have a similar relationship with you (two friends, two siblings, etc). Make a list of similarities and differences between these people. Consult your list, then draw a conclusion based on the presence of these similarities and differences. Outline the similarities and differences, then write a statement that offers an overall conclusion.
Choose one of the outlines you created in Exercise 15 or 16, and write a full compare-and-contrast essay. Be sure to include an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, well-defined and detailed paragraphs, and a fitting conclusion that ties everything together.
- A compare-and-contrast essay analyzes two subjects by either comparing them, contrasting them, or both.
- The purpose of writing a comparison or contrast essay is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities between two subjects.
- The thesis should clearly state the subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both, and it should state what is to be learned from doing so.
- There are two main organizing strategies for compare-and-contrast essays.
- Organize by the subjects themselves, one then the other.
- Organize by individual points, in which you discuss each subject in relation to each point.
- Use phrases of comparison or phrases of contrast to signal to readers how exactly the two subjects are being analyzed.
“Disability” (https://tinyurl.com/y99te6e2) by Nancy Mairs: In “Disability,” writer Nancy Mairs discusses the experience of being a disabled person in a world focused on the able-bodied. It seems to be titled “Hers” but it is the correct essay.
“Friending, Ancient or Otherwise” (https://tinyurl.com/y85u8ae8) by Alex Wright: In “Friending, Ancient or Otherwise,” writer Alex Wright explores the evolution and purpose of friendship in the age of social media.
“Sex, Lies and Conversation: Why Is It So Hard for Men and Women to Talk to Each Other?” (https://tinyurl.com/y95dpehx) by Deborah Tannen. In this essay, Tannen compares and contrasts conversation styles. You can view the essay here (https://tinyurl.com/y9vnjqv8) also.
Example Comparison and Contrast Essay
“A South African Storm”
By Allison Howard – Peace Corps Volunteer: South Africa (2003-2005)
It’s a Saturday afternoon in January in South Africa. When I begin the 45–minute walk to the shops for groceries, I can hear thunder cracking in the distance up the mountain in Mageobaskloof. But at 4 p.m. the sky is still light and bright and I am sure—famous last words—I will be fine without an umbrella.
Just the basics: eggs, bread, Diet Coke in a bag slung into the crook of my elbow. Halfway from town, two black South African women—domestic workers in the homes of white Afrikaner families—stop me with wide smiles. They know me; I’m the only white person in town who walks everywhere, as they do. They chatter quickly in northern Sotho: “Missus, you must go fast. Pula e tla na! The rain, it comes!” They like me, and it feels very important to me that they do.“Yebo, yebo, mma,” I say—Yes, it’s true—and I hurry along in flip-flops, quickening my pace, feeling good about our brief but neighborly conversation. These are Venda women.
My black South African friends tell me it’s easy to tell a Venda from a Shangaan from a Xhosa from a Pedi. “These ones from Venda , they have wide across the nose and high in the cheekbones,” they say. But I don’t see it; I’m years away from being able to distinguish the nuances of ethnicity. Today, I know these women are Vendas simply because of their clothing: bright stripes of green and yellow and black fabric tied at one shoulder and hanging quite like a sack around their bodies. They’ve already extended a kindness to me by speaking in northern Sotho. It’s not their language but they know I don’t speak a word of Afrikaans (though they don’t understand why; Afrikaans is the language of white people). They know I struggle with Sotho and they’re trying to help me learn. So they speak Sotho to me and they’re delighted and amused by my fumbling responses. And I am, quite simply, delighted by their delight.
The Venda ladies are right: the rain, it comes. Lightly at first, and by habit I begin trotting to hurry my way home. Just a little rain at first and there are plenty of us out in it. I can see others up ahead on the street and others still just leaving the shops to get back before the real rain begins.
The people who are walking along this swath of tar road are black. Black people don’t live in this neighborhood—or in my town at all, for the most part. They work and board here as domestic workers, nannies, gardeners. Their families live in black townships and rural villages—some just outside of my town; others far away, in places like Venda.
Today, we’re walking together in the rain, and I’m quickening my pace because—after all , it’s raining . That’s what you do in the rain. And even though it’s coming down noticeably harder, it’s 80 degrees and I’m not cold, I’m just wet. My hair is stuck to my forehead and my T-shirt is soaked … and I’m the only one running for cover. And I think: So what? It’s just water and in the middle of the January summer, it’s warm, refreshing water. Why run? Why do we run from the rain?
In my life back in the United States, I might run because I was carrying a leather handbag, or because I wore an outfit that shouldn’t get wet. I would run because rain dishevels and messes things up. Mostly though, we run because we just do; it’s a habit. I’ve done it a hundred times: running to my car or the subway station with a newspaper sheltering my head. I have never not quickened my pace in the rain until today.
It took all of my 27 years and a move to Africa , where I don’t have a leather handbag to shelter or a pretty outfit to protect. I’m wearing an old cotton skirt and a T-shirt, and I’m drenched, and I love it. I learn things here in the most ordinary circumstances. And I feel like a smarter, better woman today because I got groceries in the rain.
But on the long walk home, positively soaked and smiling like a fool, I notice a car pulling over and a man yelling in Afrikaans to get in, get in. I look in the direction I’ve come from and several meters behind me is a woman with a baby tied to her back and an elderly man carrying bags, leading a young boy by the hand. On the road ahead, a woman about my age carries a parcel wrapped in plastic, balanced precariously on her head. There are maybe 20 people walking with me in my reverie of rain and they are black. And the man in the car is white and he’s gesturing frantically for me to get in. Why me? Why not the others? Because I’m white and it’s about race. Everything is about race here.
This man in the car is trying to do something kind and neighborly. He wants to help me and his gesture is right, but his instincts are so wrong. How do you resent someone who is, for no benefit of his own, trying to help? But I do. I resent him and I resent the world he lives in that taught him such selective kindness. This whole event unravels in a few seconds’ time. He’s leaned over and opened the car door, urging me in … and I get in. And we speed past my fellow walkers and he drops me at my doorstep before I have time to think of anything besides giving him directions.
It feels like a mistake because I’m ashamed to think what the Venda women would have felt if he’d ignored them and they had watched me climb into that car. In some ways, the whole episode seems absurd. I’m not going to atone for 400 years of South African history by walking with black people in the rain. If I’d refused his ride, he wouldn’t have thought anything besides the fact that I was certifiably crazy. That’s the thing about being here: I’m not going to changeanything. But I believe it matters in some infinitesimal way that people like the Venda women, and the dozens of people who may walk alongside me on any given day, know that I’m there. In black South African culture it is polite to greet every person you pass. That’s what they do, so I do it, too. On the occasional morning, someone might greet me as “sesi,” sister. I have to believe that matters; I know it matters to me.
I was disappointed in myself for getting into the car because I acted according to the same habit that makes us think rain an inconvenience. Just as we run from the rain, I hopped into that car because I’m supposed to. Conventionally, it makes sense. But convention compels us to do so many things that don’t make any sense at all. Convention misinforms our instincts. And in a larger sense, it is convention that propels Afrikaner culture anachronistically into the future. Ten years after the supposed end of apartheid, I’m living in a world of institutionalized racism. Convention becomes institution—and it’s oppressive and it’s unjust. I know that if I’m going to make it here for two more years, I need to walk in the rain. It’s a small, wasted gesture, but it’s an uncorrupted instinct that makes me feel human.
So much about living here feels like that fraction of a second when the Afrikaner man was appealing to my conventional sensibilities and the people on the street were appealing to my human instincts. It may feel unnatural to reject those sensibilities just as, at first, it feels unnatural to walk in the rain. But if I lose a hold on my instincts here, I’ll fail myself and I’ll fail to achieve those tiny things that matter so much. It’s simple and it’s small; and it’s everything. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Indeed. Let it rain.
Example Comparison and Contrast Essay#2
Comparing and Contrasting London and Washington, DC
Both Washington, DC, and London are capital cities of English-speaking countries, and yet they offer vastly different experiences to their residents and visitors. Comparing and contrasting the two cities based on their history, their culture, and their residents show how different and similar the two are.
Both cities are rich in world and national history, though they developed on very different time lines. London, for example, has a history that dates back over two thousand years. It was part of the Roman Empire and known by the similar name, Londinium. It was not only one of the northernmost points of the Roman Empire but also the epicenter of the British Empire where it held significant global influence from the early sixteenth century on through the early twentieth century. Washington, DC, on the other hand, has only formally existed since the late eighteenth century. Though Native Americans inhabited the land several thousand years earlier, and settlers inhabited the land as early as the sixteenth century, the city did not become the capital of the United States until the 1790s. From that point onward to today, however, Washington, DC, has increasingly maintained significant global influence. Even though both cities have different histories, they have both held, and continue to hold, significant social influence in the economic and cultural global spheres.
Both Washington, DC, and London offer a wide array of museums that harbor many of the world’s most prized treasures. While Washington, DC, has the National Gallery of Art and several other Smithsonian galleries, London’s art scene and galleries have a definite edge in this category. From the Tate Modern to the British National Gallery, London’s art ranks among the world’s best. This difference and advantage has much to do with London and Britain’s historical depth compared to that of the United States. London has a much richer past than Washington, DC, and consequently has a lot more material to pull from when arranging its collections. Both cities have thriving theater districts, but again, London wins this comparison, too, both in quantity and quality of theater choices. With regard to other cultural places like restaurants, pubs, and bars, both cities are very comparable. Both have a wide selection of expensive, elegant restaurants as well as a similar amount of global and national chains. While London may be better known for its pubs and taste in beer, DC offers a different bar-going experience. With clubs and pubs that tend to stay open later than their British counterparts, the DC night life tend to be less reserved overall.
Both cities also share and differ in cultural diversity and cost of living. Both cities share a very expensive cost of living—both in terms of housing and shopping. A downtown one-bedroom apartment in DC can easily cost $1,800 per month, and a similar “flat” in London may double that amount. These high costs create socioeconomic disparity among the residents. Although both cities’ residents are predominantly wealthy, both have a significantly large population of poor and homeless. Perhaps the most significant difference between the resident demographics is the racial makeup. Washington, DC, is a “minority majority” city, which means the majority of its citizens are races other than white. In 2009, according to the US Census, 55 percent of DC residents were classified as “Black or African American” and 35 percent of its residents were classified as “white.” London, by contrast, has very few minorities—in 2006, 70 percent of its population was “white,” while only 10 percent was “black.” The racial demographic differences between the cities is drastic.
Even though Washington, DC, and London are major capital cities of English-speaking countries in the Western world, they have many differences along with their similarities. They have vastly different histories, art cultures, and racial demographics, but they remain similar in their cost of living and socioeconomic disparity.
The purpose of a definition essay may seem self-explanatory, to simply define something. But defining terms in writing is often more complicated than just consulting a dictionary. In fact, the way we define terms can have far-reaching consequences for individuals as well as collective groups. Ultimately, a definition essay will share your special understanding about your chosen topic.
Take, for example, a word like alcoholism. The way in which one defines alcoholism depends on its legal, moral, and medical contexts. Lawyers may define alcoholism in terms of its legality; parents may define alcoholism in terms of its morality; and doctors will define alcoholism in terms of symptoms and diagnostic criteria. Think also of terms that people tend to debate in our broader culture. How we define words, such as marriage and climate change, has enormous impact on policy decisions and even on daily decisions. Think about conversations couples may have in which words like commitment, respect, or love need clarification.
Defining terms within a relationship, or any other context, can at first be difficult, but once a definition is established between two people or a group of people, it is easier to have productive dialogues. Definitions, then, establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse, which is why they are so important. When defining is the major impetus of an essay, the writer cast him/herself as the expert, aiming at an audience who knows less, maybe much less, about the topic.
When writing definition essays, avoid terms that are too simple, that lack complexity. Think in terms of concepts, such as hero, happiness, or loyalty, rather than physical objects. Definitions of concepts and abstractions, rather than concrete objects, are often fluid and contentious, making for a more effective definition essay.
Writing at Work
Definitions play a critical role in all workplace environments. Take the term sexual harassment, for example. Sexual harassment is broadly defined on the federal level, but each company may have additional criteria that define it further. Knowing how your workplace defines and treats all sexual harassment allegations is important. Think, too, about how your company defines lateness, productivity, or contributions.
On a separate sheet of paper, write about a time in your own life in which the definition of a word, or the lack of a definition, caused an argument. Your term could be something as simple as the category of an all-star in sports or how to define a good movie. Or it could be something with higher stakes and wider impact, such as a political argument. Explain how the conversation began, how the argument hinged on the definition of the word, and how the incident was finally resolved.
Please share with a classmate and compare your responses.
The Structure of a Definition Essay
The definition essay opens with a general discussion of the term to be defined. You then state as your thesis your definition of the term.
The rest of the essay should explain the rationale for your definition. Remember that a dictionary’s definition is limiting, and you should not rely strictly on the dictionary entry. Instead, consider the context in which you are using the word. Context identifies the circumstances, conditions, or setting in which something exists or occurs. Often words take on different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the ideal leader in a battlefield setting could likely be very different from a leader in an elementary school setting. If a context is missing from the essay, the essay may be too short or the main points could be confusing or misunderstood.
The remainder of the essay should explain different aspects of the term’s definition. For example, if you were defining a good leader in an elementary classroom setting, you might define such a leader according to personality traits: patience, consistency, and flexibility. Each attribute would be explained in its own paragraph.
You define according to principles of definition, but you are the author of the definition. As you consider how to develop your essay, it might be helpful to consider the parts of a formal definition:
Parts of a definition:
- Formal re-definition
- Similar things
Example: Here is an example of a formal definition for “candle:”
You may define any object or place this way. When you have a definition constructed, you may add it to the other elements in your personal writing. When you finish ALL the elements, you may then arrange elements for greatest effect.
Writing at Work
It is a good idea to occasionally assess your role in the workplace. You can do this through the process of definition. Identify your role at work by defining not only the routine tasks but also those gray areas where your responsibilities might overlap with those of others. Coming up with a clear definition of roles and responsibilities can add value to your résumé and even increase productivity in the workplace.
On a separate sheet of paper, define each of the following items in your own terms. If you can, establish a context for your definition.
- Consumer culture
Writing a Definition Essay
Choose a topic that will be complex enough to be discussed at length. Be sure that the term is abstract, and that it is or refers to something that can mean different things to different people. Also, be sure that you choose a word that you have some familiarity with. Since you need to elaborate on the word you choose to define, you will need to have your own base of knowledge or experience with the concept you choose. If you try to define something that is beyond the scope of your paper or your own experience, the task will become overwhelming and get mired down in details or abstractions.
After you have chosen your word or phrase, start your essay with an introduction that establishes the relevancy of the term in the chosen specific context. Your thesis can come at the end of the introduction, can be implied throughout the development of the essay, or can be clearly asserted in the conclusion. However, you must have a clear idea of your thesis–your overall definition for the term or concept– that is reinforced throughout the development of the essay.
The body paragraphs should each be dedicated to explaining a different facet of your definition. Make sure to use clear examples and strong details to illustrate your points. A definition can be developed in a number of ways. A definition of a business management concept such as Total Quality Management (TQM), for instance, could begin with a history (a kind of process paper) of its inception in Japanese management systems, its migration across the Pacific, its implementation and transformation in American systems, and its predicted demise. It could also (or instead) include examples of the kind of labor conflict that TQM is supposed to eliminate or alleviate. Or it could describe TQM as a process, the steps involved in its implementation, or involve an analysis of its principles and its place in management theory. Contrasts to other management theories might be appropriate, demonstrating what TQM is not as well as what it is. We could even think of it as a cause and effect situation in which we describe how TQM responds to certain needs in the workplace. Negation also works well, as you can define your topic by what it is not or does not have. A definition essay is not limited to any one method of development and it may, in fact, employ more than one method at once. Implicit in all of these techniques, and therefore essential in your essay, is an analysis of this topic you have chosen. By developing and explaining your own opinion of what the topic you have chosen means, you are in a way analyzing the topic.
Your concluding paragraph should pull together all the different elements of your definition to ultimately reinforce your thesis. It draws a conclusion based on the overall breakdown of the information offered throughout the body of the essay.
Don’t rely on that old cliché of the dictionary or encyclopedia definition. Even if your intent is to show how inadequate or wrong-headed the dictionary might be, this device has been used far too often to be effective. The point of your essay is to provide your reader with a new way of looking at things — your way, not Noah Webster’s.
Choose a label that you would give yourself (such as good friend, daughter, brother, student, etc). For this label, consider both the denotation of the word and your connotation of it. Then, write paragraph that defines this word using at least one other rhetorical techniques such as illustration, description, cause and effect, comparison and contrast, and narration.
Create a full definition essay from one of the items you already defined in Exercise 18 or 19. Be sure to include an interesting introduction, a clear thesis, a well-explained context, distinct body paragraphs, and a conclusion that pulls everything together.
- Definitions establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse.
- Context affects the meaning and usage of words.
- The thesis of a definition essay should clearly state the writer’s definition of the term in the specific context.
- Body paragraphs should explain the various facets of the definition stated in the thesis.
- The conclusion should pull all the elements of the definition together at the end and reinforce the thesis.
Some Additional Tips About Definition
Avoid using the phrases “is where” and “is when” in your definition: “Total Quality Management is when management and labor agree to. . . .” “A computer virus is where . . . .”
Avoid circular definitions (repeating the defined term within the predicate, the definition itself): “A computer virus is a virus that destroys or disrupts software . . . .”
Avoid using a too narrow definition, one that would unduly limit the scope of your paper: “Reggae music is sung on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. . . .”
Avoid defining the word by quoting the dictionary or encyclopedia because that detracts from your own thoughts and opinions.
“I Learned to Understand Shame” (https://tinyurl.com/ybsp3ytz) by Joe Quinn. In this essay, Quinn defines and analyzes shame by combining personal experience in post 9/11 America with research.
“Pride” (https://tinyurl.com/ydamxkqo) by Ian Frazier. In this essay, published by Outside Online, New Yorker writer Ian Frazier uses a mix of rhetorical devices to define the concept of pride.
Student Sample Essay
Defining Good Students Means More Than Just Grades
Many people define good students as those who receive the best grades. While it is true that good students often earn high grades, I contend that grades are just one aspect of how we define a good student. In fact, even poor students can earn high grades sometimes, so grades are not the best indicator of a student’s quality. Rather, a good student pursues scholarship, actively participates in class, and maintains a positive, professional relationship with instructors and peers.
Good students have a passion for learning that drives them to fully understand class material rather than just worry about what grades they receive in the course. Good students are actively engaged in scholarship, which means they enjoy reading and learning about their subject matter not just because readings and assignments are required. Of course, good students will complete their homework and all assignments, and they may even continue to perform research and learn more on the subject after the course ends. In some cases, good students will pursue a subject that interests them but might not be one of their strongest academic areas, so they will not earn the highest grades. Pushing oneself to learn and try new things can be difficult, but good students will challenge themselves rather than remain at their educational comfort level for the sake of a high grade. The pursuit of scholarship and education rather than concern over grades is the hallmark of a good student.
Class participation and behavior are another aspect of the definition of a good student. Simply attending class is not enough; good students arrive punctually because they understand that tardiness disrupts the class and disrespects the professors. They might occasionally arrive a few minutes early to ask the professor questions about class materials or mentally prepare for the day’s work. Good students consistently pay attention during class discussions and take notes in lectures rather than engage in off-task behaviors, such as checking their cell phones or daydreaming. Excellent class participation requires a balance between speaking and listening, so good students will share their views when appropriate but also respect their classmates’ views when they differ from their own. It is easy to mistake quantity of class discussion comments with quality, but good students know the difference and do not try to dominate the conversation. Sometimes class participation is counted toward a student’s grade, but even without such clear rewards, good students understand how to perform and excel among their peers in the classroom.
Finally, good students maintain a positive and professional relationship with their professors. They respect their instructor’s authority in the classroom as well as the instructor’s privacy outside of the classroom. Prying into a professor’s personal life is inappropriate, but attending office hours to discuss course material is an appropriate, effective way for students to demonstrate their dedication and interest in learning. Good students go to their professor’s office during posted office hours or make an appointment if necessary. While instructors can be very busy, they are usually happy to offer guidance to students during office hours; after all, availability outside the classroom is a part of their job. Attending office hours can also help good students become memorable and stand out from the rest, particularly in lectures with hundreds enrolled. Maintaining positive, professional relationships with professors is especially important for those students who hope to attend graduate school and will need letters of recommendation in the future.
Although good grades often accompany good students, grades are not the only way to indicate what it means to be a good student. The definition of a good student means demonstrating such traits as engaging with course material, participating in class, and creating a professional relationship with professors. While professors have different criteria for earning an A in their courses, most will agree on these characteristics for defining good students.
The Purpose of Classification in Writing
The purpose of classification is to break down broad subjects into smaller, more manageable, more specific parts. We classify things in our daily lives all the time, often without even thinking about it. It is important, however, to be sure to use a single basis for the division of categories; otherwise, you may end up with items that fall into multiple categories. Cell phones, for example, have now become part of a broad category. They can be classified as feature phones, media phones, and smartphones.
Smaller categories, and the way in which these categories are created, help us make sense of the world. Keep both of these elements in mind when writing a classification essay.
Choose topics that you know well when writing classification essays. The more you know about a topic, the more you can break it into smaller, more interesting parts. Adding interest and insight will enhance your classification essays.
On a separate sheet of paper, break the following categories into smaller classifications.
- The United States
- Colleges and universities
The Structure of a Classification Essay
The classification essay opens with an introductory paragraph that introduces the broader topic. The thesis should then explain how that topic is divided into subgroups and why. Take the following introductory paragraph, for example:
When people think of New York, they often think of only New York City. But New York is actually a diverse state with a full range of activities to do, sights to see, and cultures to explore. In order to better understand the diversity of New York state, it is helpful to break it into five separate regions: Long Island, New York City, Western New York, Central New York, and Northern New York.
The thesis explains not only the category and subcategory but also the rationale for breaking it into those categories. Through this classification essay, the writer hopes to show his or her readers a different way of considering the state.
Each body paragraph of a classification essay is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subcategories. In the previous example, then, each region of New York would have its own paragraph.
The conclusion should bring all the categories and subcategories back together again to show the reader the big picture. In the previous example, the conclusion might explain how the various sights and activities of each region of New York add to its diversity and complexity.
To avoid settling for an overly simplistic classification, make sure you break down any given topic at least three different ways. This will help you think outside the box and perhaps even learn something entirely new about a subject.
Using your classifications from Exercise 20, write a brief paragraph explaining why you chose to organize each main category in the way that you did.
Writing a Classification Essay
Start with an engaging opening that will adequately introduce the general topic that you will be dividing into smaller subcategories. Your thesis should come at the end of your introduction. It should include the topic, your subtopics, and the reason you are choosing to break down the topic in the way that you are. Use the following classification thesis equation:
topic + subtopics + rationale for the subtopics = thesis.
The organizing strategy of a classification essay is dictated by the initial topic and the subsequent subtopics. Each body paragraph is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subtopics. In a way, coming up with a strong topic pays double rewards in a classification essay. Not only do you have a good topic, but you also have a solid organizational structure within which to write.
Be sure you use strong details and explanations for each subcategory paragraph that help explain and support your thesis. Also, be sure to give examples to illustrate your points. Finally, write a conclusion that links all the subgroups together again. The conclusion should successfully wrap up your essay by connecting it to your topic initially discussed in the introduction. Continue in this section to read a sample classification essay.
Consider things that are a part of your daily life. Create a list that classifies these items both as an overall categories and then within sub-topics.
Building on Exercises 21 and 22, write a five-paragraph classification essay about one of the four original topics. In your thesis, make sure to include the topic, subtopics, and rationale for your breakdown. And make sure that your essay is organized into paragraphs that each describes a subtopic.
- The purpose of classification is to break a subject into smaller, more manageable, more specific parts.
- Smaller subcategories help us make sense of the world, and the way in which these subcategories are created also helps us make sense of the world.
- A classification essay is organized by its subcategories.
Types of Higher Education Programs
Today’s students have many choices when it comes to pursuing a degree: four-year programs, two-year programs, large or small classroom settings, and even daytime or evening classes. With all the different options to consider, potential students should learn about the different types of colleges, so they can find a school that best fits their personality, budget, and educational goals.
One type of higher education program for students to consider is a liberal arts college. These schools tend to be small in size and offer a range of undergraduate degrees in subjects like English, history, psychology, and education. Students may choose a liberal arts college if they want a more intimate classroom setting rather than large lecture-style classes. Students may also consider a liberal arts college if they want to gain knowledge from a variety of disciplines, rather than focus on a single area of study. Many liberal arts schools are privately owned, and some have religious affiliations. Liberal arts schools can come with a hefty price tag, and their high cost presents an obstacle for students on a tight budget; moreover, while some students might appreciate a liberal arts school’s intimate atmosphere, others might encounter a lack of diversity in the student body. Still, students seeking a well-rounded education in the humanities will find liberal arts colleges to be one option.
Universities, another type of higher education program, offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Usually universities are larger than colleges and can accommodate tens of thousands of students in many different majors and areas of study. A large student body means that class sizes are often larger, and some classes may be taught by graduate students rather than professors. Students will feel at home at a university if they want a focused academic program and state-of-the-art research facilities. While some universities are private, many are public, which means they receive funding from the government, so tuition is more affordable, and some even offer discounted in-state tuition for state residents. Also, universities attract many international students, so those looking for a variety of campus cultural groups and clubs will appreciate a greater sense of diversity among the student body. Universities can be overwhelming for some, but they are the right fit for students who seek research opportunities and academic studies, especially in the fields of mathematics and science.
Community college is a type of higher education program popular with students on a limited budget who want to take college courses but may not know what they want to major in. Most schools offer degrees after two years of study, usually an associate’s degree that prepares students to enter the workforce; many students choose to study at a community college for two years and then transfer to a four-year college to complete their undergraduate degree. Like liberal arts schools, classes are small and allow instructors to pay more attention to their students. Community college allows students to live at home rather than in a dormitory, which also keeps costs down. While some young people might not like the idea of living at home for school, many adults choose to attend community college so they can advance their education while working and living with their families.
Online universities are another type of higher education program that are gaining popularity as technology improves. These schools offer many of the same degree programs as traditional liberal arts colleges and universities. Unlike traditional programs, which require students to attend classes and lectures, online universities offer greater academic flexibility and are a great option for students wishing to pursue a degree while still working full time. At online universities, students access course materials, such as video lectures and assessments, remotely using a personal computer and are able to speed up or slow down their progress to complete their degree at their own pace. Students may attend classes in the comfort of their own homes or local libraries, but students hoping for the social community of higher education might not enjoy this aspect of higher education.
With so many colleges and universities to choose from, it may be difficult for a student to narrow down his or her selection, but once a student knows what he or she is looking for, the process may become much easier. It is very important for students to learn about the different types of higher education programs available before making their selections.
CC Licensed Content, Shared Previously
English Composition I, Lumen Learning, CC-BY 4.0.
Frameworks for Academic Writing, Stephen Poulter, CC-BY-NC-SA.
Writing for Success, CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0.
Figure 5.1 “Choosing Paragraph Patterns,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.
Figure 5.2 “Transition Words and Phrases for Expressing Time,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.
Figure 5.3 “Five Senses,” Nicki Dugan Pogue, flickr, CC-BY-SA.
Figure 5.4 “Order Versus Purpose,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.
Figure 5.5 “Phrases of Illustration,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.
Figure 5.6 “Phrases of Causation,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.
Figure 5.7 “Apples Green and Red,” Julenka, pixabay, CC-0.
Figure 5.8 “Organization Diagram,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.
Figure 5.9 “Phrases of Comparison and Contrast,” Kalyca Schultz, Virginia Western Community College, CC-0.