The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2018-02-09 12:42:48
This resource begins with a general description of essay writing and moves to a discussion of common essay genres students may encounter across the curriculum. The four genres of essays (description, narration, exposition, and argumentation) are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres, also known as the modes of discourse, have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these genres and students’ need to understand and produce these types of essays. We hope these resources will help.
The essay is a commonly assigned form of writing that every student will encounter while in academia. Therefore, it is wise for the student to become capable and comfortable with this type of writing early on in her training.
Essays can be a rewarding and challenging type of writing and are often assigned either to be done in class, which requires previous planning and practice (and a bit of creativity) on the part of the student, or as homework, which likewise demands a certain amount of preparation. Many poorly crafted essays have been produced on account of a lack of preparation and confidence. However, students can avoid the discomfort often associated with essay writing by understanding some common genres.
Before delving into its various genres, let’s begin with a basic definition of the essay.
What is an essay?
Though the word essay has come to be understood as a type of writing in Modern English, its origins provide us with some useful insights. The word comes into the English language through the French influence on Middle English; tracing it back further, we find that the French form of the word comes from the Latin verb exigere, which means "to examine, test, or (literally) to drive out." Through the excavation of this ancient word, we are able to unearth the essence of the academic essay: to encourage students to test or examine their ideas concerning a particular topic.
Essays are shorter pieces of writing that often require the student to hone a number of skills such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity, and exposition. As is evidenced by this list of attributes, there is much to be gained by the student who strives to succeed at essay writing.
The purpose of an essay is to encourage students to develop ideas and concepts in their writing with the direction of little more than their own thoughts (it may be helpful to view the essay as the converse of a research paper). Therefore, essays are (by nature) concise and require clarity in purpose and direction. This means that there is no room for the student’s thoughts to wander or stray from his or her purpose; the writing must be deliberate and interesting.
This handout should help students become familiar and comfortable with the process of essay composition through the introduction of some common essay genres.
This handout includes a brief introduction to the following genres of essay writing:
6. Personal JudgmentsAs per #5, these papers concern facts and the ordered arrangement of data.Whether you like those facts or not has little to do with good writing. In theabsence of hard evidence, your personal opinion cannot advance your thesis. For this reason, never use the first person singular. By the same measure, the couplingof the first person with such verbs as “feel” and “believe” grossly compounds theerror.Page 27. Argument by Analogy/Rhetorical QuestionsBeware of analogical arguments because what might seem an irrefutablereference to one person might seem false to another. At the same time, you havefactual evidence enough without resorting to analogies. The same argumentsdiscount rhetorical devices for proving a case as well.8. One Sentence ParagraphsIf the ideal paragraph presents a case (via a topic sentence) and then provesit with the data that follows, one sentence paragraphs fail by the very definition of the term. The usage possesses great popularity in contemporary newspaper writing, but it is the literary equivalent of advertising videos. Use them only, if ever, as a startling literary usage.9. Keep Paragraphs SimpleAim for one major theme per paragraph. Don’t crowd.10. Extraneous MaterialIn researching a topic you will find much that fascinates you that fallsoutside your thesis. Does the material not fit your thesis exactly? Lop it out.Either that or alter your thesis or make allowances within your topic sentences for such otherwise exceptional data.11. Inter-Paragraph LogicYour paragraphs should flow in a natural, orderly fashion from one toanother. The collection of your topic sentences together should provide areasonable outline of your entire paper.12. Intra-Paragraph Logic