The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2018-02-09 12:42:48
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. 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 these resources will help.
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 either to be done in class, which requires previous planning and practice (and a bit of creativity) on the part of the student, or 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.
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 more than their own thoughts (it may be helpful to view the essay as the converse of a research paper). Therefore, essays are (by nature) concise and require clarity in purpose and direction. This means that there is no room for the student’s thoughts to wander or stray from his or her purpose; the writing must be deliberate and interesting.
This handout should help students become familiar and comfortable with the process of essay composition through the introduction of some common essay genres.
This handout includes a brief introduction to the following genres of essay writing:
Characteristics of different types of Essay
Note: With all the types of rhetorical strategy mentioned below, we are not talking about essay "types", but about rhetorical styles which writers use for particular purposes. Some essays ask for a more expository than argumentative style, and for particular strategies within those styles. As we shall see later, authentic essays actually require you to use a combination of these styles.
"Exposition" is a rather formal term which really means either "information" or "explanation", modes of communication we might use to write a manual, offer instructions on how things work or where to find things, or recount what happened during a revolution, etc.
Below we have identified 4 types of expository essay found in university curricula:
Science-related essays often require background description: of a thing, process or state of affairs - analyzing it into its parts. This can be done chronologically, serially, hierarchically, etc. It is a test of your ability to select and synthesise factual information.
This approach is asked for in essay looking for an account of reasons or causes in relation to perceived effects or results. In most Social Science disciplines, you will be asked to draw on theory to support your explanation. Your interpretation demonstrates how well you understand the relevant theories.
This could be fairly descriptive, but illustrations need to be relevant and appropriate, and written with explicit reference to the theoretical point being supported.
This could apply to experimental data, or to an argument or text. It is the process of breaking down something into its component parts, often in order to analyse patterns or categories based on a theoretical position.
In more general terms it refers to a more subjective style of writing, where writers engage in defining their terms or interpreting and evaluating the views, evidence or data very clearly from their own perspective or viewpoint.
Essays which expect a strong defining component are common in philosophy, but also feature in Sociology.
A question may look factual- e.g. Do we have free will? , but the way to answered it is by careful definition of what is meant by the concept of free will.
In Sociology, in particular, competing definitions often need to be explored at length, particularly in essays on social stratification or social class.
Some essays require you to pass judgement or make an assessment, according to stated criteria. In cases when you could say Well, it depends what you mean by (X) ... , it is important that you define theterms by which you apply or explore these criteria. Terms, such as "success" or "effectiveness", are often value-laden.. Basically, you may be asked to judge how good or bad something is, or how far it is true.
E.g.: Evaluate the contribution of political parties to the development of
Note: Interpretation + Evaluation:Critical Review Essays typically combine these processes and styles of writing
|In all argumentative essays, you are expected to|
|||consider all sides of an issue before taking a stand, and then to|
|||argue for the validity of your own position|