Why Essays Are Ultimately Useless

Essays…don’t we all just love them? Ever since I could remember, these things have determined the success of my future since school actually started to matter. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather power through an essay than go through an exam (these are also non-sensical, but we will save that for another time).

The catalyst for these thoughts originate with Paul Graham’s article titled “The Age of the Essay”. He ultimately suggests that we are forced to hate writing essays about things…we hate, and that we have to do this for the majority of our school days. Moreover, a lot of these poor people find that the subjects they spend so much time writing these painstakingly annoying essays for are irrelevant. For example, despite the fact that I used to find geography interesting does not mean that I want to invest such a substantial amount of time and effort into even passing the subject – I do not want to pursue it for a career, so why should I have to regurgitate information coming from my teacher’s mouth and terrible print-out sheets? In fact, why do I even have to study it? Mr. Graham echoes this as he then goes on to say that a lot of these essays are just replications of words coming from the teacher’s mouth. These formulaic essays are meaningless and unless someone has a genuine interest in the subject, the content is easily forgotten or not even understood by the author himself (how embarrassing).

Does this then mean that essays are completely useless? Is there no use for them at all, or have we just got it wrong?

Paul Graham upholds, quite controversially, that essay writing is not about forming an argument. Instead it should ask a question, answer it, and search to find a truth of some sort. It should promote new information, original ideas, and should not be so particularly structured. I would personally find this difficult to uphold as I have a very specific structure and formula to my essay writing – exactly what Paul Graham says I should not do.

I must have an introductory paragraph, a paragraph for defining technical terms, then I make bullet points for each section following on from this so I know what to say and that my structure is logical and flows. Furthermore, I only start writing after countless hours of research and planning. However, Mr. Graham maintains that a general idea of the essay subject will suffice. The author’s ideas should gradually progress and develop with each paragraph and should contain a majority of information coming from one’s own thoughts. Why should I research and write an essay about what others have already written? What does this really achieve? Sure, I will be putting it into my own words, but I will be producing and sharing nothing new.

Don’t be afraid to try something new – go against the norm of essay writing and form a style that best suits you. Original ideas are best expressed when shared with others who can hopefully learn something from you.

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