SUU English 101: Essay Patterns




Expressive Forms DescriptionNarration Dialogue
Explanatory and Analytical Analogy Cause & Effect

under construction

Classification
Comparison/ContrastDefinition Illustration
SummaryProcess analysisProblem/Solution

under construction


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Expressive Forms

Expressive writing conveys emotion and ideas through images. For instance, Laura Botkin's essay "Divorcing Lisa" is, on the surface, narrative about the breakup of a childhood friendship. However, on a deeper level, it is an exploration of the effects of divorced parents on childhood how children cope--or fail to cope--with changes which they cannot understand. In discovering and communication of meaning, expressive writing relies on three primary strategies: description, narration and dialogue.

Description

In description, your challenge is to use concrete imagery to create a dominant impression (St. Martin's 594) through which you can express feelings, set the mood of the essay, and/or prompt the reader to think about the particular subject of the writing. You may choose to describe a person, as Cody Case does in his essay "Mamacita Carmen," or a place, as Joey Martin does in "Picture Perfect." Of course, you may also describe objects and animals in descriptive writing. Note the way Annie Dillard combines concrete imagery and abstract language to describe a weasel in her collection of essays Teaching a Stone to Talk:

He was ten inches long, thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon, brown as fruit wood, soft-furred, alert. His face was fierce, small and pointed as a lizard's; he would have made a good arrowhead. There was just a dot of a chin, maybe two brown hairs' worth, and then the pure white fur began that spread down his underside. He had two black eyes I didn't see, any more than you see a window. (St. Martin's 593)



Words like "ten inches" and "ribbon," "pointed," "arrowhead" and "two brown hairs'" combine with the more abstract terms like "thin as a curve" and "muscled," "dot" and "alert" to create a dominant impression about the weasel in your mind.

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Narration

Narration describes a sequence of events over a period of time to "illustrate and support ideas...., to entertain readers...., to analyze causes and possible effects with scenarios, and to explain procedures." (St. Martin's 481). You can use narrative to create a sense of urgency, show detachment, or to set a stage for recurring action followed by a specific scene. The tone of your narrative will be affected by the point of view from which you choose to control your reader's perception of the action. An example of narrative voice, or attitude, can be heard in Monica Potter's essay "Please Feed the Animals" in SUU's student journal.

Shaw is the murder capital of our nation. Knowing this fact did not help ease my thoughts. Police cars rolled slowly down the eerie, quiet streets. The men and women inside the vehicles basked in the few peaceful hours before the sun fell behind the gray buildings and the frightening reality of gang wars and drive-bys came alive. Graffiti covered nearly every inch of concrete and brick. Brownstone houses stood side by side, only feet from the street; behind them were small yards littered with old couches, beer bottles, and grocery carts. I had an unusual urge to put my face up to the frosty windows, possibly hoping to see some similarities between what went on behind their closed doors and what went on behind mine. Thus far I had seen nothing that resembled my comfortable life at all.

Notice Monica's use of description to set the tone of her essay, and how her feelings and fears are realized in concrete terms. She sets the stage for her essay with concrete description of a place, then associates the feelings toward the place with the people who live there. This is only one of the ways in which narration can be utilized in an essay. Narration can emphasize a point in an otherwise explanatory essay, or it can carry the weight of the load in an exploratory paper.
A typical narrative contains a rising action, followed by a climax, then a resolution or conclusion. The amount of time one spends on any given section depends upon the relative importance of that section to the whole. Another key ingredient of narrative form is dialogue.


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Dialogue

Dialogue is the representation of conversation; it can be used to reveal the personality of the speakers or to show something about their relationships. Take, for example, this excerpt of Scott Peterson's fiction piece "Quitting":

"Tim, why are you quitting?" Beth asked. Oh, I thought. Like she doesn't know. "I don't know," I said. I shifted, looked at the yellowing walls, the stained and ratty carpet, the grey-black kitten napping under the chair. Beth stared at me. My lungs tingled and itched. "I'm quitting because you won't marry me if I don't. And because it's bad for me, I know it is." Her eyes didn't flicker. She just kept staring at me. "I want to quit," I said. "Really, I do." My heel bounced relentlessly. I forced it to stop, the other started. I shoved both feet flat against the floor, my hands clawed and grasped each other. I shoved them under my thighs and rocked back and forth. A clump of fur clung to the edge of the couch. It looked like a torn up cotton filter. "Tim," Beth said. "I don't think you're quitting for the right reasons." "I know, I know. I should hate them, right? That's what you want to hear, isn't it? You want to hear how much I loathe the damn things. Well, I don't. I don't know why, but I don't. Okay.?" "Lower your voice, please." I took a deep breath, let it out slow. "Sorry."

Notice how the immediacy and tenseness of the situation is enhanced by the lack of dialogue tags like "he said" and "she said" and by the occasional use of beats to show physical action. Beats are the small references to physical action or observances by one or another character which help add to the power of the words instead of detracting from them. When dialogue is not supported by action the characters can seem static and lifeless, even if the dialogue itself is good. You might present dialogue in either the first or third person point of view.

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Informative and Explanatory Essays

The explanatory essay is the traditional academic form. Explanatory essays assert thesis statements through supporting detail.. Such papers often follow one of the traditional formats explained in this section. As a result, they have an immediately recognizable pattern of logic and organization. Additionally, this style is often marked by its attempt to maintain an objective tone.



Analogy

An analogy is the comparison of one thing or idea to another to explain an unknown in terms of the known. Usually, an analogy lasts only as long as necessary to get the idea across. But some writers have used analogies to give shape to entire essays. For an example of an analogy, see this excerpt from an essay in which Gary Zukav uses the image a movie projector to explain Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in particle physics:


The uncertainty principle reveals that as we penetrate deeper and deeper into the subatomic realm, we reach a certain point at which one part or another of our picture of nature becomes blurred. and there is no way to reclarify that part without blurring another part of the picture! It is as though we are adjusting a moving picture that is slightly out of focus. As we make the final adjustments, we are astonished to discover that when the right side of the picture clears, the left side of the picture becomes completely unfocused and nothing in it is recognizable. When we try to focus the left side of the picture, the right side starts to blur and soon the situation is reversed. If we try to strike a balance between these two extremes, both sides of the picture return to a recognizable condition, but in no way can we remove the original fuzziness from them. (St. Martin's 614-615)

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Classification/Division

Classification means combining items into a number of discrete group[s] and then labeling each group" (St. Martin's 513). This kind of format can give you a way to break large subjects into manageable chunks of easily digestible information. Please note the examples in the text by Thomas Sowell and Ernest Hemingway in excerpts from Ethnic America: A History and Death in the Afternoon. (St. Martin's 513-15). Keep in mind that once you start moving from idea to idea in a classification essay, good transitions will be imperative.
One caution: Don't break your subject into categories unless doing so lets you express a significant idea. Sure, I might say "Students can be categorized by the shoes they wear." But the next question is always, "So what?"

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Comparison/Contrast

Comparison/contrast is the examination of two or more subjects or ideas at once for the purposes of showing their relation, or the lack thereof, and illustrating those (dis)similarities. The comparison/contrast often follows a standard format. You might, for example, completely cover one subject showing all supporting evidence, then cover the second and subsequent subjects, and finally come to a conclusion about what point your presentation has shown (41). This "whole to whole" organization can be outlined like this:

"Whole to Whole" Format
Thesis: Although much-maligned, snakes--not man's so-called best friend--may be the perfect choice for a household pet.Part I: Dogs
*Dogs bark
*Dogs require exercise
*Dogs are predictable
Part II:Snakes
*Snakes are quiet
*Snakes are self-sufficient
*Snakes open up a new world of knowledge

The other pattern introduces features common to both subjects and analyzes them sequentially in what's often called a "point to point" pattern:


"Point to Point" Format
Section A:
*Dogs bark
*Snakes are quiet
Section B
*Dogs require exercise and attention
*Snakes are self-sufficient
Section C
*Dogs are predictable
*Snakes open up a new world of knowledge

Other illustrations are listed in  St. Martin's Guide, starting on page 617.

One caution: Don't try to show both the similarities and differences in your paper. Instead, focus on one or the other. A good rule of thumb for approaching a comparison/contrast essay is to highlight the differences in topics closely related, and to highlight the similarities in seemingly unrelated topics. This tactic will make your job a lot easier and keep the essay focused.


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Definition

A definition is an explanation of a word, term, phrase, idea or concept expressed in a few words, a sentence, a paragraph, or an entire paper. Formal definitions place a term in a category and then identify its distinguishing characteristics: Education is the process (category) of both acquiring information and understanding (characteristics). Less formal definitions often explore how past uses of word shed light on present meanings or ague for a new interpretation of a term. "Stipulative" definitions give writers the chance to assert "Let's say that X means (or should mean) the following under these circumstances."


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Illustration

The foundation of an explanatory paper lies in the relation between thesis and the supporting evidence that explains or proves that evidence. View a thesis/example essay in Rebecca Myers' "Nature Can Inspire and Heal" in the 1996 Scriblerian. Also visit the Research Essay page to see "A Culture Threatened" and "Bullies and their Victims."


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Summary

To summarize means to condense the point and supporting reasons of a piece of writing into a few words. It's different from paraphrasing  in that it "boils down" information or arguments contained in much longer works. In contrast, paraphrasing means that a writer rephrases a source's words line by line.


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Process Analysis

Process analysis is the description of a situation or action, especially one which is repetitive, to show how such an action represents character or culture. For instance, in the novel A River Runs Through It, fly fishing is described in intricate detail not just to impress us with the beauty of the art, but to convey its significance to the characters in the book. (Of course, sometimes you might choose to describe a process in a "giving directions" sort of way. But that's not the kind of process analysis in which we're interested in English 101.)






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