Write in Style: A Guide to Good English

By Richard Palmer | Go to book overview

11

ESSAYS

An essayist is a lucky person who has found a way to discourse without being interrupted.

Charles Poore

Argument seldom convinces anyone contrary to his inclinations.

Thomas Fuller

It is one thing to write a good letter; to write a good essay is quite another matter.

An essay is a formal, coherent and usually quite lengthy piece of informative and/or argumentative writing, as are its 'cousins', the article and the report, to which I devote my main attention in the two chapters following this one.

All essays develop an argument and seek to persuade. The argument may be pre-provided, as in a student answering a title set by a teacher and an executive producing a study requested by the board of directors, or it may be the writer's own idea. Whichever one applies, the activity ought to be fun, bringing pleasure to writer and reader alike. As Charles Poore suggests, writing an essay is an arguably unique opportunity to hold forth for as long as you like on a topic that interests you and about which you have plenty to say.

If those remarks strike you as wildly idealistic, I can assure you that you're in good and large company! For while I stand by what I've just said, the fact remains that most people find essay-writing the hardest, most elusive and most frustrating skill to acquire, and that it takes a long time for them to look on it as remotely pleasurable; indeed, some never do.

Writing a good letter undoubtedly requires you to make an effort, and often puts you under a certain amount of pressure, especially if an important matter of business or finance is at stake. However, that seems very pale stuff when faced with writing an essay. Weeks of preparation, discovery and sheer hard work now require a product: it's 'crunch time', and you are aware of being under a glaring spotlight both intimate and very public. If it is true that the single most frequent phobia is that of speaking in public [more often cited than death, apparently!], then many would admit that the fear of writing in public is hardly less formidable. Moreover, the problem seems to have little to do with ability: in my experience the very bright student encounters just as many difficulties as does the moderate one.

-161-

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Write in Style: A Guide to Good English
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • From the Reviews: vi
  • Contents vii
  • List of Exercises xi
  • Acknowledgements xiv
  • Preface xv
  • Part One - Engage Brain and Ear Before Writing 1
  • 1 - Disasters 3
  • 2 - Triumphs 9
  • Part Two - Foundations 13
  • 3 - Introduction 15
  • 4 - Bone Structure 16
  • 5 - Joints 28
  • Part Three - Style 65
  • 6 - Introduction: Style Versus Fashion 67
  • 7 - Fight the Flab 70
  • 8 - Voice 109
  • Part Four - Tailor-Made 139
  • 9 - Introduction 141
  • 10 - Letters 142
  • 11 - Essays 161
  • 12 - Articles 189
  • 13 - Reviews 192
  • 14 - Reports 194
  • 15 - Minutes 199
  • 16 - PrÉcis and Summary 203
  • 17 - Reportage 225
  • Part Five - Grammar Primer 229
  • 18 - Grammar Primer 231
  • 19 - Inflections 274
  • 20 - Syntax 286
  • 21 - Parts of Speech (Advanced) 294
  • 22 - Punctuation in Speech and Quotation 315
  • 23 - Spelling and Confusibles 327
  • Appendix: Answers to Exercises 343
  • Further Reading 355
  • Authors, Sources and Named References 359
  • Subject Index 361
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