Essayer means “to try”

The essay as a writing form came into existence relatively late in the whole scheme of things. It wasn’t until writing could be easily reproduced (printed) and paper became an inexpensive way to share ideas that the essay was born.

The term for these focused pieces of nonfiction writing comes from the French verb essayer which can be translated to try; to experiment; to explore. That is because, from the start, the purpose of an essay is to allow a writer to try and explain something–to make her thinking visible–and to communicate her thinking to another human being.

Essays are:

  • both formal and informal
  • humorous and serious
  • playful and irreverent
  • academic and fact-bound
  • written to inform, persuade, entertain, and describe–Sometimes essays do more than one of these elements at one time!
  • written for an audience of one, an audience of millions, or an audience somewhere in between
  • supported with facts, examples, quotes and other kinds of details
  • communication
  • making thinking visible

Essays are NOT:

  • just five paragraphs
  • a report, article, or encyclopedia entry
  • meant for “regurgitation”–or simply repeating what another person has said or taught
  • flat or boring
  • for “the future”

Of all the misconceptions about the essay as a writing form, the one that bothers me most is that it is a form of writing that will help students “in the future” instead of right now. Learning how to sift through your thinking to arrive at a conclusion is a life skill that can help you be a better thinker and learner NOW. You don’t have to wait for some imaginary future before it’s all worth the hard work!

In the digital age, we are no longer limited by paper and place. We can share our essays with the world through social media sites or by email. We can blog. We can comment on the writing others do. It’s an exciting time to be a thinker because ideas are so freely available and every voice can be heard.

P.S. Did you notice? This is an essay!

(Cross posted from my private classroom blog.)


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