Taking a year off University, you can learn a lot. Something this long break I’ve come to realise upon returning this semester is, “I’ve completely forgotten how to write an essay”. I have an essay due for my subject Major, and this will be the first time I’ve written more than a few coherent sentences in a very long time. I have no idea where to start and I’m terrified.
This reading could not have come at a more perfect time.
“The Age of the Essay” gave me a new insight into writing essays. I agree, in high school studying for VCE essays do seem “a pointless exercise”; essays were the least enjoyable for me, and yet the easiest for me to complete. I had the structure down pat, Introduction, 3 main points or arguments including evidence, and conclude the essay with a summary and closure of what you have written about. I would smash three “essays”, all 4-5 pages long (hand written) in one night, did enjoy it or discover something new after each essay? No. I was merely writing what needed to be wrote to get the marks I needed. Mind you I did well in English, without which I wouldn’t be doing this course at RMIT.
Coming into University that changes, minutely mind you, but it still changes. All of a sudden you don’t get told how to structure your essay, there are no examples of what will get you the best marks and it is up to you how you approach the “question” posed to you.
The concept that we begin with an idea, we gather our knowledge surrounding that idea and we explore this idea as if following a river. We can meander down many streams, waterfalls and shallow pools, we don’t need to know where we will end up when we set off in. So really, an essay is just an exploration of your main idea, an instrument in discovering how much you know and how much more you need to learn.
Finally getting around to writing my essay, I used this newfound approach to it. I was given the posing question, I wrote down what I knew, why I knew it and what this question has become after exploring it. Rather than arguing, I explored. I haven’t got my marks back on it, but I feel more confident in my knowledge of the subject than I maybe would have if I smashed it out like I used to with the same structure I used in VCE.
Is “the essay” dead? My opinion? No, there is definitely merit in the essay, if you take the standpoint that “the essay” is really just exploring and understanding ideas and your own knowledge. What I think is dead? How we are teaching “the essay”. If schools are still basing their structure on something that began 700 years ago? Sheesh, they’re ancient.
Can an old dog learn new tricks?