A word about essay writing

It’s hard to write a good essay if you don’t know what one looks like. Theory alone isn’t going to help you. Writing is a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together: you really do need to see the picture on the box before you begin the long process of putting all the pieces together. In short, if you don’t know what good writing looks like then you’ll never know if you have achieved it.

Good writing is a combination of many things such as; the presentation of an idea; the argument of why something is good or bad; the organisation of your thoughts; the language, tone and words used and how it’s all packaged together in well structured sentences and paragraphs.

Below are two short answer responses to the same essay question. You can judge for yourself the quality of each response.

Question: Examine the themes in Lord of the Flies and how Golding addresses the effects of fear.

Answer A

Lord of the Flies is a thought-provoking novel. It presents numerous themes and basic ideas that give the reader something to think about. One of the most basic and obvious themes is that society holds everyone together, and without these conditions, our ideals, values, and the basics of right and wrong are lost. Without society’s rigid rules, anarchy and savagery can come to light.

The book describes in detail the horrific exploits of a group of young boys who make a transition from civilized to barbaric behaviour. Lord of the Flies is a pessimistic outlook that shows how man is tied to society, and without it we are likely to return to savagery.

Answer B

Lord of the Flies was driven by Golding’s consideration of human evil, a complex topic that involves an examination not only of human nature but also the causes, effects, and manifestations of evil. It demands also a close observation of the methods or ideologies humankind uses to combat evil and whether those methods are effective. Golding addresses these themes throughout his novel by an intricate use of symbolism. The landing of the dead paratrooper on the mountain is a pivotal event in Lord of the Flies, for it serves as an actual manifestation of the beast which the boys fear.

Golding addresses the effects of fear on the individual and on a group. For individuals, fear distorts reality such as when Samneric’s terror at spotting the dead paratrooper magnifies their experience from merely seeing movement and hearing the parachute, to being actively chased down the mountain as they flee. When the boys hear Samneric’s tale, the group dynamic of fear comes into play. The boys do not band together to overcome this fearful situation through unity but allow their own worst impulses to surface and dominate, fragmenting into opposing groups and killing one of their own in a frenzy of fear and savagery.

The conch shell symbolises the law and order of the old adult world which Piggy tries so desperately to protect. The conch represents all the authority which the boys are so used to obeying. When Jack destroys the conch, anarchy quickly ensues because any hope of strong, central leadership has been abandoned, and the island society collapses into chaos. Another symbol is Piggy’s glasses. It symbolised knowledge and insight. While Piggy had them, he was able to give advice to the group, such as that of the signal fire. It was the glasses that created the fire. However, after the glasses are broken, the group loses what insight they had. The war paint symbolises the rejection of society. In a way, when they put on the mask of war paint, they took off the mask of society and revealed their true inner selves, which was savage.

The island, which symbolises isolation, serves as a perfect backdrop for the frailties of human nature which eventually surface. Golding cleverly constructs the assembly to show how fear foments and spreads among the young boys.

Learn to read an essay a day

Newspapers employ some of the best opinion writers in the business. An opinion piece is a short essay of approximately 1,000 words. These short essays are often informative and/or entertaining. We particularly like writers from The New York TimesThe Guardianand The National Times.

You don’t have to agree with what the writers say but do look at their style of writing. How they open their argument, state their case, and close. Also look at how they move effortlessly between paragraphs.

Try to read at least one essay a week if you’re in years 7 – 10. For those of you in years 11 – 12, you should be aiming to read an essay a day. The more you read, the more you will learn about writing style and how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

An example of what good writing looks like

Below is an extract from The Pope’s Radical Whisper by The New York Times’ opinion writer, Frank Bruni. You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate this essay but know that it highlights quality writing at its very best. Note Bruni’s use of appropriate vocabulary and terms such as miters, flock and shepherds.

“It was the sweetness in his timbre, the meekness of his posture. It was the revelation that a man can wear the loftiest of miters without having his head swell to fit it, and can hold an office to which the term “infallible” is often attached without forgetting his failings. In the interview, Francis called himself naïve, worried that he’d been rash in the past and made clear that the flock harbored as much wisdom as the shepherds. Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper.”

The essay can be read in full here.