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Mastering the craft of essay writing

education Updated: Jul 14, 2010 10:50 IST
V P Gupta
V P Gupta
Hindustan Times
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Essay writing is as much a craft as an art. While art depends for its expression on inspiration, craft requires preparation, apprenticeship and systematic hard work. The evaluation of the essays written by the candidates in the main examination takes into account:
. Comprehension
. Originality of thought
. Clarity of expression
. Integrated thinking with assimilation of ideas.

In this paper, the candidates are required to write an essay on a specific topic. The choice of subjects is given. They are expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Credit is given for effective and exact expression.

As no two individuals are exactly the same, similarly no sets of writing by two individuals could be exactly the same. Thus, writing style is entirely individualistic and reflective of an individual's personality. One should always follow his natural instinct and produce the best under given circumstances.

A deliberate attempt to make your essay ornamental, flowery and tough could be disastrous. The Webster dictionary defines essay as, “a literary composition, analytical and interpretative in nature dealing with its subject from a more or less limited or personal standpoint and permitting a considerable freedom of style and method. Commonly, essays are brief, suitable for reading at one sitting.”

A good essay writer should have not only sensitivity and feelings, but also a sound vocabulary and command over grammar of the language. A rich vocabulary is quite essential to write effectively. It imparts power and force to the words used in writing.

One should also try to cultivate a lucid writing skill. Lucid style has flow and is smooth to read. Difficult words should not be used out of context and, at best, avoided. Logical and effective writing is a matter of training. “Anyone who does the writing practice over a period of time surely hones his writing skill making it effective.” No guidebook can turn you into a good essay writer. Only you can do it yourself.

Analytical and logical abilities are also expected in the writing of the candidates.

This requires constant and regular reading and writing habit. Reading should be wide and extensive. You may start with national dailies and magazines. Listening to radio and watching TV news and discussions also helps. You can also discuss contemporary issues with your friends and teachers. This will help you to broaden your horizon and assimilate newer ideas. All this is finally reflected in the essay you write.

Broadly speaking all the topics within the essay paper may be divided into two categories:

Statement based topics:
Under this class, a pithy statement, either in the form of a slogan or a phrase may be provided. For example: ‘Youth is a blunder, manhood a struggle, old age a regret’; ‘A useless life is an early death’; ‘Truth is lived, not taught’; ‘True religion cannot be misused.’

These topics are more philosophical in nature than factual. However, while attempting these topics, analysis and interpretation must be backed by facts, examples or illustrations to make your essay more effective.

Issue based topics: These are current topics of burning nature. These topics may be found to be currently being debated, discussed and written about in various fora and media. For example: ‘Politics, business and bureaucracy: A fatal triangle’; ‘Restructuring of Indian educational system’; ‘Whither Indian democracy’; ‘Restructuring the UNO to reflect present realities’.

While attempting these topics a thorough understanding of the subject matter in all its aspects is essential. Besides, you must be able to form and hold an opinion and convincingly put it across.

These two broad categories of topics are not really watertight. Within these two broad categories you may come across some kind of a twilight zone, the kind of topics, that could well be somewhere at the intersection of the two. For convenience, call these topics, ‘Discuss topics’. These topics also demand a philosophical and logical insight, analysis and discussion. For example, ‘My vision of India in 2020 AD’; ‘Men have failed, let women take over’; ‘The challenges before a civil servant today’; ‘Politics without ethics is a disaster’; ‘What we have not learnt during 63 years of Independence.’

The time allowed to write the essay is three hours.

Let us now concentrate on how to utilise these three hours in the examination hall. First and foremost, enter the examination hall with a positive frame of mind as the ‘real person inside you’ is bound to be reflected in your writing there.

You should normally devote one hour in studying the topics, selecting the topic and noting down points or framework of writing. It is essential to arrange the ideas in a proper sequence. Select a topic where you can express yourself with conviction and confidence.

Then you should elaborate those ideas or points for next two hours. This is the most crucial part. A good essay has three essential parts:
. Introduction or beginning should be short and simple. It must give the examiner a feel of things to come. Avoid taking any stand on opinion-based topics in the
introduction itself. Let the mystery unfold itself. Normally, it should not exceed one tenth of the total words of an essay.
. Then comes the body of the essay. It should be in form of paragraphs to elaborate the theme. Elaboration of the ideas should accompany appropriate examples
in support of it. With each change of point, change the paragraph. However, there should be continuity and coherence while changing the paragraphs.

You should neither end and nor start a theme abruptly.
. The concluding part should sum up the discussion done so far. It is a very crucial part of the essay. Conclusion should always be on the same line and spirit as in
the earlier parts. It should be like an icing on the cake. One last piece of advice: always conclude your essay on a positive note.

The author, is the director of Rau's IAS Study Circle, New Delhi

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