Course Content
BA Arabic
About Lesson

Unit 3

Learning Outcomes

Upon the completion of this unit, the learners will be able to:

  • acquire a general insight into the history of the essay form
  • recognize the important features of an essay
  • identify various types of essays
  • develop necessary skills for drafting essays


Writing essays can be a challenging task for many. But once we master it, it develops our writing skills, to express ourselves in a more logical way. It also helps to improve a student’s critical thinking, analytical and convincing skills, essential in one’s professional life.

You might have often come across a particular question during your language exams: “Write an essay on……..”. And many students find themselves in a difficult position to attempt to write an essay. Are you one among them? If you are, don’t worry, we will figure it out in this chapter. Do you know why this happens? Writing an essay is also a skill that can be mastered only through practice.

Let’s begin with some basic understanding. What is an essay? The word ‘essay’ is derived from the French word essai meaning an effort or an attempt. An essay is a written prose composition, discussing a particular subject in its various facets. However, remember that not all essays are in prosaic style (for example, Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism (1711) and Essay on Man (1733) are in poetic form). An essay reflects the author’s point of view, clarity of thought, and understanding of the subject. The coherence of thought holds the essay together and throws light on the maturity of the vision of author.

Key words

Definition, Types, Features, Process, Structure


5.3.1 History of the Essay

Although there were classical writers like Seneca and Theophrastus who wrote essays, it was the French writer Michael de Montaigne (16th century) who was considered the ‘Father of Essays’. His 1580 work Essais covers a wide range of topics, written in an informal style. The first major English practitioner of this form was Francis Bacon. He followed an impersonal and aphoristic style, to discuss his philosophical ideas. This shows that an essay consists of a loose form and does not follow a particular form. Samuel Johnson has aptly defined the term essay as “a loose sally of the mind; an irregular digested piece; not a regular and orderly composition”. Later, with the coming of periodicals and essayists like Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, and Walter Pater, the essay became popular as a genre.

5.3.2 Different Types of Essays Personal Essays and Impersonal Essays

Montaigne’s and Bacon’s styles of writing essays offer two major types of essays – the informal or personal essays and the formal or impersonal essays.

Informal essays are usually written in the first person and directly address the reader. It offers personal commentary on a topic and is subjective. It is loosely structured in form. Charles Lamb (Essays of Elia, 1823) is the greatest practitioner of this form. Hazlitt, De Quincey, George Orwell and E.M. Forster are other important personal essayists. The casual tone in which the essays are written makes them enjoyable to read. This form is not academically common, but is ideal for extensive reading purposes, for instance blog posts, editorials, etc.

Formal essays, sometimes also called Baconian essays, are rich in didactic thoughts and practical wisdom. It is usually written in the third person and appears to be objective in nature. It has a structure showing the development of thought in a logical manner. Some examples of impersonal essays include the critical essays of Matthew Arnold, and T.S. Eliot (The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, 1920). This is the form commonly used in academics, where you will present your arguments with supporting facts.

Other common types of essays are: Argumentative Essays

An argumentative essay compels the writer to take a stand on the topic after proper investigation and evaluation on it. It is not merely an opinionated essay, rather it is structured under solid evidence and facts thoroughly researched. The writer thus convinces the reader and persuades the reader to follow his/her perspectives. Therefore, such essays are also called point-of-view essays. The roots of such essays can be found in the ancient Greco-Roman “art of persuasion”.

Argumentative essays, sometimes, challenge established notions, based on rationale and logic rather than subjective opinions. Topics related to science and technology, medical field, legal field, academics and politics generally come under this head. For a better understanding, read Mathew L. Sanders’ essay, “Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education”:

“If job skills are not the most important outcome of a college education, then what is the purpose of earning a degree? After months of thinking about these stories and reflecting on my own experiences in college, I finally figured out my answer: The primary purpose of college isn’t learning a specific set of professional skills; the primary purpose of college is to become a learner. In other words, the kind of person you become is much more important than what you learn how to do.”

Here, Sanders has challenged the common understanding of the purpose of college education and stated his stand clearly in the above thesis statement. Analytical Essays

When you have a novel for detailed study, how are you going to prepare notes for it? You will look into books that deal with the novel for better understanding, right? Most often such books carry analytical essays on your desired topic. So analytical essays are essays that look into the deeper layers of the text (movie, novel, topic, situation or book). When we look deeper into the text to analyse it, we get a picture of the meaning created by the author. All its subtleties are carefully observed and examined to go beyond the surface level of understanding of the text.

Take a look at the following excerpt about Dickens’ novel David Copperfield:
Regarded as the autobiographical novel, Dickens’ David Copperfield focuses on the social world of his times and its morality. The novel is a bildungsroman about the growth of its eponymous hero David Copperfield. Written in the first person narrative, the novel is told in retrospect. Descriptive Essays

In general terms, the description refers to the detailing of a person, thing, feeling of mind or an event, in an elaborative manner, yet appealing to the senses as if an image were painted. Descriptive essays will leave a mark on the readers as if they themselves have felt it. With the vivid detailing of the specific situation or the thing, the readers are able to visualize and feel it. Most often, descriptive essays are written in a subjective manner, and it reflects the writer’s personality. Therefore, this genre enjoys maximum artistic freedom.

Read the following excerpt from Salman Rushdie’s essay “Taj Mahal”:

I had been skeptical about the visit. One of the legends of the Taj is that the hands of the master masons who built it were cut off by the emperor, so that they could never build anything lovelier. Another is that the mausoleum was constructed in secrecy behind high walls, and a man who tried to sneak a preview was blinded for his interest in architecture. My personal imagined Taj was somewhat tarnished by these cruel tales.

The building itself left my skepticism in shreds, however. Announcing itself as itself, insisting with absolute force on its sovereign authority, it simply obliterated the million counterfeits of it and glowingly filled, once and forever, the place in the mind previously occupied by its simulacra.

And this, finally, is why the Taj Mahal must be seen: to remind us that the world is real, that the sound is truer than the echo, the original more forceful than its image in a mirror. The beauty of beautiful things is still able, in these image-saturated times, to transcend imitations. And the Taj Mahal is, beyond the power of words to say it, a lovely thing, perhaps the loveliest of things. Expository Essays

As the term itself suggests, an expository essay exposes or explains a topic with clarity to the readers. Expository essays are differentiated from argumentative essays in the following ways:

In an expository essay, the essayist explains a subject without giving his/ her personal comments, whereas, in an argumentative essay, the essayist has to take a stand.

Expository essays involve less research than argumentative essays, which carry out extensive research and are shorter in length.
The aim of an expository essay is to explain the topic rather than to persuade the readers.
In short, an expository essay conveys the information that the writer has about a particular subject, to the readers. Therefore, it follows a detached and objective narrative style. Most often authors make use of expository paragraphs in argumentative, analytical, or philosophical essays for ensuring authenticity.

Take a look at the following expository paragraph taken from Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor:
Throughout most of their history, the metaphoric uses of TB and cancer crisscross and overlap. The Oxford English Dictionary records “consumption” in use as a synonym for pulmonary tuberculosis as early as 1398. But the pre-modern understanding of cancer also invokes the notion of consumption. The OED gives as the early figurative definition of cancer: “Anything that frets, corrodes, corrupts, or consumes slowly and secretly.” The earliest literal definition of cancer is a growth, lump, or protuberance, and the disease’s name —from the Greek karkinos and the Latin cancer, both meaning crab—was inspired, according to Galen, by the resemblance of an external tumor’s swollen veins to a crab’s legs; not, as many people think, because a metastatic disease crawls or creeps like a crab. But etymology indicates that tuberculosis was also once considered a type of abnormal extrusion: the word tuberculosis—from the Latin tuberculum, the diminutive of tuber, bump, swelling—means a morbid swelling, protuberance, projection, or growth. Reflective or Philosophical Essays

If you are a civil service aspirant, while preparing for the Mains examination, you would have often come across philosophical essay questions. For example, the UPSC asked the following questions in 2021:

Your perception of me is a reflection of you; my reaction to you is an awareness of me.
Hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
History repeats itself, first as a tragedy and second as a farce

From the above examples, you might have got an understanding of what comes under this genre. Philosophical or reflective essays deal with profound and deep subjects, often universal in theme. As this type of essay uses self-reflection, it offers a journey of discovery to the readers. As it often represents the writer’s attitude to the subject, it is subjective in nature. However, it also calls for a neutral or detached approach considering the wide range of universal human issues it deals with. The purpose of a reflective essay is to foster personal growth. It shows maturity and the critical thinking of the author.

Read the following excerpt to get an idea of what exactly is reflective essay:
It pained me immensely when a bright star in Bollywood ended his life owing to depression. When a young person who had many years of productive life left, who was a National Olympiad Winner in Physics, and who left a career in mechanical engineering to become a talented and popular actor, takes such an extreme step, it’s a collective loss to the nation. He was also a budding entrepreneur. It is sad that a prodigious actor and an exceptional citizen is no longer with us.

Life is sometimes filled with anxiety, internal conflict, disharmony, uncertainty and fear of the unknown. These thoughts give way to myriad feelings. One tends to feel like a stranger to one’s self. COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst inducing angst in the life of individuals who are already stressed because of various factors and modern lifestyles.

There are many factors that cause stress in modern life. They include more engagement with technology and less with people; more focus on “success” (the ends) rather than the process of learning (the means); never-ending aspirations; relationship issues; impatience while doing tasks, for this is a generation looking for instant gratification; and too many choices and the limitations of the human mind to choose wisely. With the bridging of gender inequalities, increase in employment of women, growth and development of urban and peri-urban areas, interference of the media and social media in every aspect of life, and disruption in the traditional joint family system, there is an underlying strain on the socio-cultural fabric. Some of this stress, if not handled well, can push human beings into depression.

Some interesting cases and studies throw light on the coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression. Viktor Frankl, who was detained in Nazi concentration camps, studied the source of depression and found that it is the lack of meaning in life. Individuals who are able to discover meaning tend to achieve the will and strength to endure life.

That brings us to the next question: how do we find meaning in life? Meaning can be found in love and work. Love for fellow beings is what motivates a person to work or take action. If we can base our actions and work on a shared love for family members and society at large, we can find effective meaning in life. ‘The Art of Living’ involves managing the self for others.
Source: Ramesh Pokhriyal, “How to battle depression?”, The Hindu, 25 June 2020.

5.3.3 Key Features of an Essay

  1. Good essays require careful consideration of thought, planning and selection of primary and secondary materials.
  2. An essay must carry out a balanced viewpoint, and not a biased one.
  3. An essay should have a direct, simple, and lucid style, devoid of any kind of ambiguities.
  4. Coherence and continuity of thought between paragraphs.
  5. A good essay will cover the various aspects of the topic comprehensively.
  6. Addition of anecdotes, ideas, quotations and examples makes essays impressive to the reader.

5.3.4 Process of Essay Writing:

  1. Collection of materials and data.
  2. Defining the scope of an essay: an essay’s comprehensiveness is decided by the scope of the subject set by the writer.
  3. Make an outline or a skeletal form, consisting of the key points. A good framework will help the writer to maintain coherence and keep focused on the topic of discussion.
  4. Prepare the first draft.
  5. Revise and edit the first draft.
  6. Prepare the final draft.

5.3.5 Structure of an Essay

Although there is no universal template for writing an essay, generally an essay comprises three parts: an introduction, the body part, and a conclusion.

  1. Introduction
    The writer presents his central idea or thesis statement in the introduction. It will also provide the necessary background information needed to make sense of the essay. Here are some points to keep in mind while making an introduction to your essay:
    Avoid starting abruptly and using jargon or bombastic beginnings.
    Make an attempt to connect the introduction with the title of the essay.
    Make sure that your introduction is catching the attention of the reader. So make use of anecdotes, definitions or related quotations to impress the readers.
    Keep it short.
  2. Body
    This is the main part of the essay where the development of thought occurs. Here we elaborate our thoughts and ideas with supporting research and claims. By comparing  and contrasting, challenging, questioning, and establishing, we bring every nuance to the thesis statement. Each paragraph has a topic sentence (where the main idea is introduced), supporting details (also called developers), and the concluding sentence or terminator. While preparing the body part, keep in mind the following points:
    Consider all possible facets of the topic and each should be given a balanced weightage.
    There must be a logical progression from one paragraph to the next.
    If possible, maintain equal length for different paragraphs rather than a mix of too-long or too-short paragraphs.
  3. Conclusion
    A short and effective conclusion will take your essay to another level. It summarizes what you have mentioned so far and provides a way ahead. It also offers solutions for the problems mentioned in the essay, recommendations and suggestions for further research.

5.3.6 Exercise

Is there any Honour in Honour Killing?

In 2018, Kerala stood shocked on hearing the news of 23-year-old Kevin’s murder. It was the first of the kind in Kerala. He was the victim of ‘honour killing’. Honour Killing, sometimes also known as customary killing refers to the murdering of a family member out of the belief that the victim has brought dishonour to the family, usually by marrying outside the caste. It is a reality that even after 75 years of independence, casteism isn’t annihilated and its presence is felt through events like honour killing, mob lynching, etc.

Between 2017 and 2019, there were 145 incidents of honour killing in India, according to a Govt. report. The frequency of such atrocious cases has numbed the public mind. Earlier this was misinterpreted as a practice limited to rural areas only. But the recent events show that even the most progressive states are not free from this crisis. Usually, perpetrators resolve to such heinous crimes due to the following reasons: behaving in a manner unacceptable to the family or community, inter-caste marriages, engaging in homosexual acts, fear of losing caste status, etc. People engage in such crimes under the pretext of defending their families’ reputations.

While tracing the history of honour killing, we find its most terrible form during the partition of the country, where many women were awarded death, to protect their family honour. The patriarchal mindset and cultural prejudices of the perpetrators work behind these actions. Women are considered to be the epitome of honour and men as its regulator. This perceived notion of ‘honour’ is creating gender violence but it is manipulated as the perpetrators themselves play the victim card. As a result, their immediate society justifies their actions and there is no negative stigma associated with them.

Despite the constitutional measures that safeguard against such abusive actions, it still persists. One of the reasons is the continued rigidity of the caste system. The presence of Khap Panchayats, who exercise authority through illegal means also adds up the fuel. Another reason is the lack of implementation of laws. The right to life is guaranteed to every citizen by the law of the land. But laws remain as mere scarecrows and people indulge in ghastly actions. There are incidents when the witnesses have turned hostile, under life threats. The failure of government machinery to provide legal, financial, and moral support to the victims boost the confidence of perpetrators.

How can we deal with this crisis? As honour, pride and reputation are greatly sensitive topics, rooted so deeply in the patriarchal mindsets, we need to begin with the attitudinal change. Universal values of love, liberty and equality must replace the age-old false notions of honour and pride. What we need to understand here is that there is no “honour” in an honour killing. The change must begin from home – from within ourselves. Civil society also needs to awake from its slumber state and react against such crimes. There must be proper awareness among the public that honour killing and casteism are not just crimes, but social evils.

Another important solution is to ensure legal protection for the victims. Here media play a significant role. Their “freedom of speech and expression” ensures that the voice of the victim is heard and such social evils are no longer unnoticed. Through media coverage, such issues become sensational and it will create awareness among the larger public and educate them. This will build confidence and trust in the victims that they are no longer alone. It also acts as a warning against any such future crimes.

Honour Killing is a huge blot on humanity. It violates an individual’s right to live with dignity (Article 21). Active policing and the proper implementation of laws are necessary to strengthen the rights of individuals. Let there be no more victims killed in the name of ‘honour’.


  • History of Essay – Montaigne and Bacon
  • Types of Essays
  • Personal or Informal
  • Formal or Impersonal
  • Argumentative
  • Analytical
  • Descriptive
  • Expository
  • Reflective or Philosophical
  • Key features of an essay – careful consideration, balanced viewpoint, direct and lucid style
  • Process of essay writing – Collection of materials, scope, key points, drafts
  • Structure of an essay – Introduction, Body, Conclusion

Objective Questions

  1. What is an essay?
  2. Who is considered the ‘Father of Essays’?
  3. What kind of essay is Charles Lamb famous for?
  4. What is referred to as ‘Baconian’ essays?
  5. Who is the author of the argumentative essay “Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education”?
  6. Which essay form looks into the deeper levels of the text?
  7. Which essay form uses the vivid detailing of a situation or an object?
  8. What do reflective or philosophical essays deal with?
  9. What is the first step in the process of essay writing?
  10. What are the three parts of an essay?


  1. An essay is a written composition in which the writer shares his information regarding the topic.
  2. Montaigne
  3. Personal or Informal essays
  4. Formal essays
  5. Mathew L. Sanders
  6. Analytical
  7. Descriptive
  8. Philosophical or reflective essays deal with profound and deep subjects, often universal in theme.
  9. Collection of material and data
  10. Introduction, Body, and Conclusion


  1. Write an essay in about 300 words on any three of the following topics:
  • Gender equality in education
  • The role of social media in bringing innovative changes in the society
  • Marital rape and rights of women
  • The horror of dowry deaths
  • Toxic parenting
  • The refugee crisis and war-torn nations

Suggested Reading

  1. Kumar, Sanjay and Pushp Lata. English for Effective Communication. Oxford UP, 2013.
  2. Robert, Barraas. Students Must Write. Routledge, 2006.
  3. Bailey, Stephen. Academic Writing. Routledge, 2006.