An essay is a "short formal piece of writing..dealing with a single subject" ("Essay," 2001).
Derived from the French word "essai" meaning "experiment" or "attempt," an essay is typically written to try to persuade the reader using selected research evidence ("Essay," 1997).
Students are often required to write essays as course assignments in college-level programs in order to develop many important skills, such as:
- close reading
- critical thinking, analysis and interpretation
- persuasion and argumentation
- integration of research sources through summary, paraphrase and quotation
- communicating with clarity and conciseness
There are several different essay genres, which influences the content and structure. In general, an academic essay has three parts:
(1) An introduction that gives the reader an idea of what they are about to learn and presents an argument in the form of a thesis statement
(2) A body, or middle section, that provides evidence used to prove and persuade the reader to accept the writer's particular point of view
(3) A conclusion that summarizes the content and findings of the essay
Many students tell us that they don't know what to check for once they have finished their essay. They usually know to check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling, but other details are often seen as less important because of the high emphasis placed on these problems in their early education.
Writing experts generally agree, however, that while details such as grammar and punctuation are important, they are far less important than solid organization, fresh writing, and creative content.
The following guidelines are designed to give students a checklist to use, whether they are revising individually or as part of a peer review team.
- Is there a clear introduction, body, and conclusion?
- Does the introduction provide sufficient background for the reader? Are the "who," "where," "why," "what," and "how" questions addressed?
- Is there a thesis sentence? Is the purpose of the essay clear?
- Does the essay move from general to specific?
- Are there sufficient transitions between related ideas?
- Is the overall organization murky or clean? In other words, does the writer avoid introducing new material in the conclusion or switching subjects in the middle of a paragraph in the body?
- Does every paragraph address the subject matter of the thesis in some way?
Content and Style
- Does the essay show that the writer has a knowledge of the audience?
- Is the length appropriate and adequate?
- Has the writer used sufficient examples and detail to make his or her points clearly?
- Has the assignment been addressed?
- Is the tone of the essay appropriate?
- Has the writer avoided insulting the reader?
- Is the tone of the essay professional and appropriate?
- Is the language convincing, clear, and concise?
- Has the writer used fresh language and a creative approach?
Research and Sources
- Are all sources credible?
- Is the research accurate, unbiased, and complete?
- Has the writer fully interpreted the findings?
- Has the writer commented on each source used?
- Is the analysis based on hard evidence?
- Is the analysis free of faulty reasoning?
- Is the documentation in the Works Cited page and body of the essay correct?
- Have all quotations been checked against the original?
- Are all quotations introduced? Is the flow of the essay seamless?
- If material was paraphrased, are the sources still mentioned?
- If necessary, are limitations clearly spelled out?
- If included, are recommendations based on accurate interpretations?
- Have all facts been checked for accuracy?
- Have any potentially libelous statements been eliminated?
- Has the writer checked grammar and punctuation?
- Has the writer spell checked the essay?
- Has the writer checked for his or her particular pattern of error?
- Are the page numbers correct?
- Is the title capitalized correctly?
- Has the writer used the correct margin and font?