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This resource was written by
Jack Raymond Baker and Allen Brizee
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Last edited by Allen Brizee on September 24th 2007 at 1:09PM
This resource begins with a general description of essay writing and moves to a discussion of common
essay genres students may encounter across the curriculum.
Note: The Modes of Discourse: Description, Narration, Exposition, Argumentation (EDNA)
The four genres of essays (description, narration, exposition, and argumentation) are common paper assignments you may encounter in your
writing classes. Although these genres, also known as the modes of discourse, have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue
OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these genres and students’ need to understand and produce these types of essays. We hope our new
resources will help.
1. Essay Writing
The essay is a commonly assigned form of writing that every student will encounter while in academia. Therefore, it is
wise for the student to become capable and comfortable with this type of writing early on in her training.
Essays can be a rewarding and challenging type of writing and are often assigned both in class—which requires previous
planning and practice (and a bit of creativity) on the part of the student—and as homework, which likewise demands a
certain amount of preparation. Many poorly crafted essays have been produced on account of a lack of preparation and
confidence. However, students can avoid the discomfort often associated with essay writing by understanding some
common genres within essay writing.
However, before delving into its various genres, let’s begin with a basic definition of the essay.
What is an Essay?
Though the word ‘essay’ has come to be understood as a type of writing in Modern English, its origins provide us with
some useful insights. The word comes into the English language through the French influence on Middle English; tracing it
back further, we find that the French form of the word comes from the Latin verb exigere, which means ‘to examine, test,
or (literally) to drive out’. Through the excavation of this ancient word, we are able to unearth the essence of the
academic essay: to encourage students to test or examine their ideas concerning a particular topic.
Essays are shorter pieces of writing that often require the student to hone a number of skills such as close reading,
analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity, and exposition. As is evidenced by this list of
attributes, there is much to be gained by the student who strives to succeed at essay writing.
The purpose of an essay is to encourage students to develop ideas and concepts in their writing with the direction of little