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Figuring out « what is essay »

We actually don’t doubt that you’ve heard this term «essay» at least one time in your life. If you still don’t know the meaning of this word, it’s high time to answer the question « what is essay ?»

Aldous Huxley once told that an essay is a literary device enabling its author to tell everything about anything. Many other prominent personalities expressed the same thoughts regarding the subject. It’s believed that a professor of English, Frederick Crews, has managed to give the clearest definition of it. From his words, an essay is a fairly brief nonfiction stuff, which makes a point in rather an interesting way.

Of course, you know what means «brief», but «nonfiction» may require a detailed explanation. To cut a long story short nonfiction stands for real facts. In other words, an author of this genre is expected to tell the truth to his readers, rather than entertain them. As follows from this short stories can’t be essays. They may share their length with essays, but that’s a completely different stuff. An essay is nonfiction, while a short story is almost a pure fiction. Frankly speaking, nonfiction doesn’t necessarily suggest truth for every essay’s word. For example, your essay may contain quotations from fiction works. But, in this case these quotations serve for the purpose of illustrating or clarifying a claim that the author believes to be true.

As we’ve just told above, making a point is a typical thing for any essay. That’s probably the most challenging and important aspect of this writing work. The matter is that an essay isn’t just a bunch of paragraphs. All the points here share the same direction and lead to a definite conclusion. In this regard, essays greatly differ from articles. An article is just an interesting nonfiction stuff without making a point. An essay has a thesis, except providing information, an essay also supports a certain statement. In an essay, the pleasure of reading normally takes precedence of the pure information.

In spite of the fact, an article also has its own author, an essay in this regard is far more personal. When reading an essay, you feel that it’s written by a real person, and you perceive his or her aim – to change reader’s thinking or to get them involved in a worthy idea. As for articles, their number one purpose is to inform and nothing else.

The structure, fictional qualities, voice, types and reader’s role

It’s often said that essays are absolutely shapeless. In other words, they don’t have any structure at all. Some scientists call them an indigested and irregular literary performance. Even such outstanding masters of the genre as Ralph Emerson and William Hazlitt boast the casual nature of their creations. Nevertheless, essayists adhere to certain organizing principles, known as «modes of exposition» when writing their stuff. To some extent, these modes are similar to the composition of some textbooks.

The most common fictional feature of any essay is a sense of human presence in the writing work. Most essayists explain this effect by such weird terms as voice and persona. Perhaps, they’re not truly right, but, anyway, we all feel like being fully plunged in this narration space. By the way, other researchers point out to nonfiction as one of the key fictional features of an essay.

The basic principle of the relationship between an essay’s author and his readers is a sort of presumption that anything told by the essayist is absolutely true. One needs to add that the major difference between an autobiographic essay and a short story is rooted in the narrative structure or the material’s nature. An essay’s audience is encouraged to participate in the making of meaning. It’s up to readers to decide whether they need to join an essay’s author or play along.

When talking about an essay, many researchers draw our attention to such terms as familiar, personal, subjective, intimate, conversational and friendly. The given terms simply represent common efforts to identify the number one organizing force of an essay. Sure, we’re talking about the genre’s rhetorical voice also dubbed projected character.

Fred Randel, in his well-known research work «Charles Lamb» unveils that any essay comes with a special essayistic voice. Virginia Woolf mostly shares this point of view. She describes this voice as «the genre’s most delicate, but dangerous tool». Evidently, the voice is solely responsible for shaping the text in his genre.

As for types of essays, we’ve already mentioned a standard division, which includes informal, formal, familiar and impersonal essays. Unfortunately, the given classification is quite troublesome, to put it mildly. Other researchers added such types as conversational, humorous, systematic and dogmatic.

We’ve just said that the classification is fully troublesome. Well, you can find the answer here above. Haven’t guessed by yourself, yet? As told above, an essay is shapeless by structure. As follows from this, the classification can hardly be rational. Any essayist can generate tons of exclusive styles and types. So, it’s a worthless approach to classify essays in this regard, though many people try.

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