After me. NAASFDP, because I blasted the 320,000 character limit for this first post. XD I have already failed number 4! Hopefully it will get better.
Originally, I had intended for this topic to be just for me to post essays, but after this poll result, I thought my first essay should be about how to write a good essay.
After studying English for 5 years and writing more essays than you have probably ever seen, I think I can do this one. (Note that users of this topic are NOT required to follow my viewpoint on what makes for a good essay, and can post whatever essays they want.)
How to Write a Good Essay (Academic, Online, and otherwise)
First and foremost, all essays need a title. This essay is written in online essay format, (which is also commonly known as blog post format in other enclaves of the Internet, but not all blog posts are essays), which means that the title of the essay must directly and logically explain what the essay is about. For an academic essay, a creative play on the content is more acceptable - humor can even win points. But I shall get there - first, we are facing a more important question.
1. What is an essay?
As you probably already know, the practice of formal rhetoric (essays) supposedly goes back to the Ancient Greeks. A useful device is the rhetorical triangle, which you also probably already know in some form or another:
Since God was already expressing his opinion on his people and their sin before the Ancient Greeks (Hosea, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc) , the whole Ancient Greek thing is kind of a historical fiction. But the Ancient Greeks overanalyzed this particular form of communication into an oblivion, because they overanalyzed everything into an oblivion. The result is this triangle. Here I have modified the triangle to explain the linkage between logos, pathos, and ethos and writer-audience-subject and end any confusion that you might have.
Logos - logic - applies to the subject of an essay. The subject of an essay is logical. Essays are not rants. A rant is when you use your personal emotional state as the basis for your argument. For example, "Alpacas are cute and adorable!! " is not an essay. Neither is "Alpacas are cute and adorable and I like them very much" admissible evidence in an essay called "Why Alpacas are the Best Part of the Aetherlight Game." Logical evidence would be more like "Alpacas in the Aetherlight game familiarize players with the realities of sheep herding in real life, which allows the players to understand biblical sheep metaphors better." Logic does not apply to the audience or to you. People are not Vulcans. They have emotions, and are at least a mix of logic and emotion.
Another way of putting it is that an essay is about what is true, and explaining the truth to your audience, not about whether something is good or bad. It is important to remain neutral on the good/bad question as regards your subject. Your subject is not good nor bad; it simply is. Example: Lying is not a subject - it's a topic. "Lying causes mental health problems" is a subject. But it's not either good or bad. It could be the mental health problems are just desserts for their sin, and it could be there is some poor Christian suffering out there from a few bad choices they made years ago. Or both. It simply is. Even "Lying is a sin" is a subject - who are we to judge God on his created order and what he considers an offense against him? It's reality we must accept. It simply is.
Pathos - emotion - belongs to the audience. Whether something is good or bad is an emotional judgement. The audience decides whether the subject is good or bad, not you. The subject is the truth about whatever it is, God, web design, manufacture of donuts, video games, whatever.
Ethos - ethics - applies to the writer. It is your ethics that tells you what is true and what isn't, and what is the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do. How much of the Bible you know, how much other knowledge you know, and the knowledge of the situation all inform your ethics. As a writer, you must decide "do I know the truth about this?" and "what is the right thing to say here in order to convey the truth I know?".
And the reason that the writer needs to make these decisions is because of the emotions (pathos) of the audience. You must convey whatever truth it is without triggering the emotional resistance of your audience. (Part of avoiding the emotional resistance of your audience is conveying what your audience wants or needs to know, and not truth that is irrelevant to them.) This is the path to getting your audience to accept the truth that you are conveying. A skilled rhetorician will adopt different language, different length of message, and different formats depending on the needs of their audience, in order to allow the audience to accept the truth that they are presenting.
This means an essay is a conveyance of the writer's ethics on a logical subject, delivered in consideration of the audience's emotions. Frequently, it is simply the writer's response to truth. "This is the truth, therefore I will do this.", "This is the truth, therefore someone else should do this." Etc.
This is another way of saying that an essay is expressing your opinion on a reality that exists (as opposed to one that does not exist, that would be a fantasy novel or comedy routine). Which people already do - instinctively! But perhaps, not very well. Untrained rhetoricians may not know enough of the truth to explain it to their audience, know that they even need to find truth, and have no idea how to avoid offending their audience. So they end up conveying opinions based on lies or speculation or ignorance to the wrong people for the sole purpose of enraging and offending them, and call such enraging and offending the price of progress. Welcome to Twitter. The popular ideology is that the conveyance of lies for the purpose of challenging the lies of others and causing rage is rhetoric. I'm hear to tell you that it is not. It is anti-rhetoric, the foremost rhetorical failure of our time, announcing lies at the audience's expense.
I don't know what this is so hard for public school teachers to explain, except that teachers in public school don't believe the truth. So they try to teach students how to manipulate people to believe lies by not telling the students the linkage between logos, pathos, and ethos and writer-audience-subject. Instead, they talk about about logical fallacies and appeals to logos, pathos, and ethos. If you haven't forgotten that stuff already, or were never taught it in the first place, you have my permission to unlearn it now. Truth and true rhetoric will never fall into an appeal structure - appeal is request on behalf of the writer "please believe my lie for my benefit" and true rhetoric is on behalf of the audience "I highly suggest that you believe the truth for your own benefit, otherwise, you will be suffering badly". These teachers encourage students to write appeals by saying it will cause other people to agree with them (which is what unbelievers want). But it doesn't. All it does is irritate those who believe differently and cause more division and chaos. The only way to get people to agree with you is to present truth to them, because truth is the universal linkage between all human beings.
2 common traps
1. Viewing logic as an indicator of truth. Logic does not indicate truth. The truth will always be logically consistent with itself, but not everything that is logically consistent with itself is true. This is because if someone is an idol worshipper, they will think, act, and communicate entirely consistent with the lies they believe and the fantasy world they think they live in.
You'll know the people who believe logic indicates truth because the first thing out of their mouths when you disagree with them will be to accuse you of being illogical and that your argument is inconsistent with what they are saying. Of course it is - you disagree with them. Duh. Obviously your argument is inconsistent with theirs. They have proven nothing.
If you go down the rabbit hole, they will tell you about all of the logical fallacies you have committed, which of course means that you have riled your audience's emotions, which, since this person disagrees with you and has different beliefs, Captain Obvious has arrived again. Underneath that is a complete intolerance for anyone disagreeing with them. They simply consider that a horrendous emotional offense, because how dare you question their sloppy command of truth and make them learn anything new. They are just using the supposed legitimacy of logic in order to hide their God-complex and make themselves the sole source of truth.
Meanwhile, God is still in charge of the universe and is still the source of truth, and it's pretty safe to say that he isn't impressed. So don't fall for this trap.
If someone attacks you like this, rhetoric is not the tool that you should use to reach them. I recommend prayer instead. Don't throw rhetorical pearls to the logic idolization pigs.
2. Believing that the writer's emotions aren't involved in essay writing and that any writer can write about anything for any audience. Looking at the rhetorical triangle above, you might be inclined to think that the writer's emotions aren't involved in the process - a sense of right and wrong is distinct from emotions, right? Heh, wrong. When something is going according to your beliefs on what you feel should be, you feel better, and if it does not, you feel worse. That's how God designed the system.
Rhetoric that you want to write comes from a desire to convey truth to your audience. The audience has a problem, and the writer wants to present the truth that will help the audience solve the problem. At least, that's the good motivation, as opposed to exploiting the audience's problem for personal gain. Some essays of the comedic sort are for entertainment purposes, but then the problem is boredom or depression, etc. You’re filling a need they have.
This means that the writer, despite being the ethical component in the scenario, must first be emotionally invested in the audience and want to solve their problem. You have to want to know the truth before you can learn it, and the motivation for learning truth is a person you want to help or a problem you need to solve. This is universal. If you want to play a movie and there is no one else around, you have a motivation to learn how to operate the Blu-ray player, no?
The classic example of this mistake is requiring 5th graders to write about adult topics like gun control or affirmative action, etc. Why should 5th graders care about what their teacher feels about gun control? There is little reason for them to do so.
Some teachers try to get out of this by letting the students choose the topic, but then the students are left with no audience. They have no idea what topic to select to solve their teacher's problem, and the teacher has no problem for them to solve - the teacher is the audience. And "taking sides" doesn't resolve anyone's problem - it just makes you feel helpless.
All of this is encouragement to resort to just making some stuff up and trying to manipulate your teacher into believing it to get a good grade. I've had people tell me this actually works. I've never really tried it - it's a violation of rhetorical ethics, and it feels terrible. Hopefully your school career was better than mine. I'm just including this so you know how public school kids suffer, so you know why many of them do what they do, and why the internet is a mess. I blame bad education.
So, based on all of this, a good essay presents the correct truth to the right audience at the right time in order to solve a problem the audience is experiencing, and does not enrage/or irritate the audience. A bad essay does one of those things wrong or has a component missing. The worst essay exploits the problem(s) of the audience for the gain of the writer. That's my definition that you don't have to follow, but first we have to agree on what a good essay is before I can tell you how to write one. So now, to the instructions.
Any format is permissible, but the audience of an essay dictates the format
Yes, rhetorical poems exist. Also: video essays, speech rhetoric, rhetorical blog posts. The 5-paragraph essay has its place. (In the Fogworks. )
However, delivering an essay in the wrong format is irritating to your audience. Imagine that I had placed this entire essay in a video format and put a link instead of writing it out. That would be the worst format possible because the moderators wouldn't allow it. So the audience dictates the format you use. A writer must be flexible regarding format.
Quick guide to common essay formats
Introduction: Common in the academic world, skippable on the Internet. The Introduction is to explain to your audience why they should read your essay. Academics are skeptical creatures and don't want to waste time on knowledge that doesn't apply to them and their problem. The Internet believes knowledge is good and assumes people want more by default.
Thesis Statement (Title/Heading 1): Statement of what the essay is about: the purpose of the essay. In an academic essay, it is a sentence at the end of the introduction. On the Internet, it is the title of the essay and the biggest text on a webpage, commonly known as Heading 1. On the forum, you evoke a Heading 1 with a single # in front of your title. Note that no professors agree on what a thesis statement is or how it should be formatted, so you have to find out their version every time.
Topic Sentence (Subheading/Heading 2 or 3): Statement of the purpose of an essay section that ties it back to the purpose of the essay. In an academic essay, it is the first sentence of each seceding paragraph after the introduction. On the Internet, it is a subheading under the main heading. On the forum, you evoke a Heading 2 with ## and Heading 3 with ### in front of your text. Note that a Subheading can have multiple paragraphs under it, while the academic form has no such accommodation.
Conclusion: Required in Academia, skippable on the Internet. If the Conclusion is evoked on the Internet, it frequently has a heading with "Conclusion" on top of it, but the words "In Conclusion" in academia are frowned upon. It is best to not even use the word "conclusion" in an academic essay. Like the thesis, no professors agree on the content of the conclusion or what should be put there.
Image: Acceptable on the Internet and encouraged. Some academic essays benefit from them and allow them; depends on the field.
Quote: For academia, use the MLA, APA, whatever format (see below). For the internet, it is most proper to link to your source, if possible. Here, we use braces around the URL. For quotes on the forum longer than 3 lines, use the forum quote function by typing the following:
Definition List: You're now reading one. This is entirely an Internet format. Academics put definitions of words in their introductions.
List: Common on the internet, to list points out and number them. Unacceptable in academia.
Informal Language: Unacceptable, except on an online forum. Same goes for emojis. On a forum, both can be useful to keep and retain the audience's attention, but on a blog, the use of either harms your credibility.
How to Write a (Real) Essay in an Academic Environment: College Version
College is a knowledge-averse environment. The underlying assumption behind college, and really, all of education, is that human beings hate knowledge and learning, and that we must learn to accept knowledge, that we hate, as the price of problem solving and human progress. Therefore, we are to learn how to reduce the knowledge price that others must pay.
1. Follow the standard format for citations and page formatting exactly. Ignore the Modern Language Association or the American Psychological Association or the Turbians at your own peril. If you're going into a field with a lot of essays (like English), it pays to actually get the handbook for the citation system that you're using so you know the rhyme and reason behind the thing, why the title goes second and has a dot after it, as opposed to just using a citation generator and having no idea what you're actually doing. Most likely the reason behind the format is to bring order to chaos and to reduce/detect plagiarism.
Professors hate chaos. If you want them to give you a good grade, you will not make them wade through a bunch of chaos. They also hate plagiarism, because the people you're plagiarizing are probably their own colleagues, and it's also illegal - with means they have to fill out paperwork to report you.
English is the Modern Language Assoiciation (MLA) format. American Psychological Association (APA) covers psychology, sociology, communication, and other subjects. Follow the format your professor specifies, and if they don't specify it, you ask them.
2. Follow your professor's instructions exactly. If the essay is to be in Times New Roman 12pt font double-spaced, you shall hand it in Times New Roman 12pt font double spaced. You'd be surprised how many essays I've peer-reviewed in weird fonts. (Why?)
In college, you typically get assignment sheets or the requirements for the assignment laid out in the course syllabus. If you don't follow the directions, you fail.
3. If you don't know what you're supposed to be writing, go to the professor's office hours and ask them. Usually professors aren't cagey about how they feel or think about certain things, why they have selected certain books, or what they are trying to accomplish with their class. Yes, you can actually ask these people, and they will tell you. Unlike teachers in public high school who will make a bunch of condescending comments about how you don't know anything.
Going to class helps if you are question-averse, because someone else might ask the question for you so you don't have to. If you have an essay class, go to the class. Yieeee. Attending the first class is especially important because then you get to learn what the professor is trying to accomplish with the class. And finally, if you are talking in class and a professor says "that would make for a great essay", write whatever that is down immediately. Your next essay, if it fits the directions, is about that. Don't pass up an A when it's practically given to you.
4. Know your audience (the problem is probably bigger than the professor). An essay always has an audience of more than one person. How that works depends on the field, but you're talking to an academic consortium of chaos-averse professors who study whatever field it is. If this professor has a problem in the field, other professors probably do too.
5. Take your thesis statement to the professor or teaching assistant (the person who is grading your work) before you write your essay. Better yet, an outline. This isn't cheating - you're gauging the audience's emotions about your chosen truth presentation before you're being tested on your lack of emotional irritation. One professor I had even required this.
Because, here is the thing: public, secular, colleges will lecture people on how to lie to people and manipulate them to believe you, but they will grade you on how well you can accomplish true rhetoric. Open any academic journal, the platinum standard for essays, and guess what? They all follow the true rhetoric pattern I just explained! All of them explain truth about incredibly boring subjects in order to solve a problem or get insight into one. It's just that these people don't want to use the word "truth" because truth is like an allergic reaction or something, but they want the results of explained truth without actually having to explain that truth is what they want!!! Urgh! Aaaaaah! Whyyyy!!!
Somehow they think that if you manipulate people enough, it will make lies true. I'm here to tell you, that never happens. So just do the true rhetoric thing, ignore the emotional manipulation to believe lies people, and go get your As. You got this!
6. If you uncover a problem that is a spiritual or physical danger, get help. It's a rare case when a professor's problem is beyond the weight of rhetoric, or the emotion they are feeling about it something that you can't navigate through. Usually professors are smart enough to keep their problems they give to you intellectual and very very boring.
But it does happen - the standard is when addressing it poses a danger to you. If this happens, you need to talk to a student affairs officer or an ombudsman to negotiate out the situation so you can present the truth they need to hear while keeping yourself safe. Avoiding an adverse emotional reaction is hard or impossible sometimes. If in doubt, get help. Better to be safe than sorry.
7. Getting emotionally overwhelmed - the professor with too many emotions or the difficult relationship. This can overlap with 6, but it is distinct from 6. This situation occurs when the writer has a deeply personal conflict with the professor-audience. The school system tries to handwave this away by stating that it never occurs, but nope. For example, I once had a prof who had a Christian hurt him very badly in his past. I'm a Christian, and one of my friends told him by mistake - whoops. So many emotions coming at me that whole semester. It was a really hard class, because the person was scared and didn't trust my ethics.
In this case, I really suggest talking this situation out with a friend or counselor. Schools keep counselors on staff for this sort of thing, and it's part of the reason why they do. Having an outside perspective helps in handling a difficult set of emotions.
And if all else fails, the reaction of your emotions to someone else's emotions has a writing form. It's called poetry. Writing some poetry may help get the emotional conflict out of your system. So start with a rhetorical poem, and reformat it until it fits the assignment directions. May the Lord be with you.
8. Cagey Old Professor. Beware the professor who says they have over 20, 30, 40 years of experience teaching rhetoric, because sometimes they will look down on you when you try to get help and not tell you want they are looking for or how they feel in order to try and make you "prove" your expertise. Follow the process I've described above anyway the best you can, and when they grade your first essay with a low grade, go back to their office and ask how to improve the essay for next time, which then allows them to appear brilliant while giving you the information they should have given you in the first place.
If that doesn't work, threaten to file a grade appeal. All colleges have an appeals process for essay grades. If you are taking an essay class, you need to know this. You are an adult. You have power now - fancy that. Use it! Since professors don't want to have to deal with the chaos of an appeal, they will likely swallow their pride to avoid it. And if they still don't, they have left you in an impossible situation of writing essays for a mystery audience, and you have every right to appeal.
And if you get a professor who stands up in front of the class and blatantly tells you that they are there to teach you how to manipulate people to get what you want...now you know that they expect evil, and they have chosen death. I would withdraw from the class. Waste of good time that can be spent elsewhere. (And yes, this actually happened to me. True story.)
How to Write an Essay on the Internet
The Internet is dope, literally. When writing an essay on the Internet, your primary job (other than true rhetoric) is giving people dopamine to keep them reading. It's a feeling of accomplishment. This dictates the format.
This means that you group related ideas together into paragraphs. You finish reading a paragraph, you've accomplished something. Dopamine. People hate walls of text on the internet because they don't know what ideas are grouped together, but also because there is no helpful brain chemicals to assist you on your reading journey. It also helps to have an idea of the rhythm of language and vary that rhythm slightly (but not too much) between paragraphs. Brains love rhythm, and rhythmic variety keeps the brain reading.
This also means that you group related ideas together under a subheading. You finish reading a section and get to the next heading. Dopamine. When people have a problem on the Internet, they go to Google, and Google does best with obvious headings/subheadings that explain what the content of your post is. Also, people on the Internet want to find very specific information, so an obvious title and subheadings make that job easier.
In short, the Internet is a knowledge-positive environment that has been laughing at the stodgy academics and their torture chamber for the past decade. The internet assumes that you want knowledge and are actively searching for it, and you are. The reason school isn't out of business yet is that both environments are correct - some knowledge we hate and don't want to learn, but we have to, and other knowledge we want to know, and thus summon our computational servants to find it.
However, the effect of all of this is that people on the Internet tend to have shorter attention spans. If you're not getting enough positive brain chemicals, you can go somewhere else (on the Internet) very quickly to get them, so you need a constant sense of accomplishment to keep you reading. This is why bold text on numbered lists is a thing, because they you only have to read the list items to get the reason why you should read the entire paragraphs between the list items. Same for definition lists.
So a good essay on the Internet - which is where we are - presents the correct truth to the right audience at the right time in order to solve a problem the audience is experiencing, and makes the audience feel motivated to read it. It does not start a forum war.
This is why my posts should be shorter, because I'm delaying the chemical gratification of having finished reading my entire post for longer and longer. If you have finished reading this essay in its entirety and are now reading this line, CONGRADULATIONS! Hopefully, if you decide to write an essay in this topic, it will be shorter than this one! (My apologies to the moderators.)
If you have any questions about this essay or about the topic, feel free to post them below.