How this course is organised
Ultimately, essays are collections of words. So, we'll start by talking about words.
Typically, we assemble words into sentences. After we've dealt sufficiently with words, we'll deal with stringing words together in meaningful ways. This will be the start of our developing style.
Next, we'll talk about paragraphs. Strunk and White suggest making the paragraph "the unit of composition". We'll investigate the significance of this remark, as well as practice assembling sentences into more complex thoughts.
Finally, we'll talk about the overall structure of an essay. This won't be the run-of-the-mill five paragraph essay you might have learned in school. Essays can take a wide variety of forms, and we'll explore the importance of form under this topic.
By the end, you should have a good idea of how to develop your own essay-writing style, and you should be more confident than ever in writing your own.
Some lessons don’t lend themselves to essay. We don’t learn to play piano or tennis by argument. We learn those, in some sense, epigrammatically. Instructions take the form do this, and a student notices the movements distinguishing this from that, then tries to emulate those movements.
Writing is much the same. Example: choose active verbs. Now, notice how I choose active verbs and how others choose active verbs. Try to choose your own active verbs. In this, we learn to follow rules, which we all must learn.
(Warning: we learn the rules of writing, but writing is not a rule-based activity. Compare: we learn the rules of grammar, but in those rules, we learn nothing of composition. We learn the rules of composition, but in those rules, we learn nothing of conveyance.)
In general, an essay is a well-ordered series of claims. It follows that one way to improve your essay writing skills is to pay close attention to the way you arrange the claims you make. Of course you can also improve your skills at expressing those claims. We will exercise both expression and arrangement throughout this course.
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Other courses on essay writing will take dramatically different approaches to the topic. For example, some courses are structured around different kinds of essays, such as memoir, personal essay, review, and political theses. This course is designed to be general enough to apply to all of these genres and others; this course exercises the skills that are common to a wide range of non-fiction writing, and perhaps even some styles of fiction writing as well.
With that, let's begin our study of the smallest of a writer's building materials: words.