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The word essay is derived from the French verb essayer, which means to try. This French word is used because it was Michel de Montaigne, a Renaissance philospher, who popularized this form of writing for his philosophical arguments.
An essai is a literary attempt; likewise, the modern essay is also such an attempt to discuss, explain, or prove an idea. One format that is used for this effort is the five-paragraph essay because for students it provides a facile structure that communicates the writer's ideas in a well-structured manner. In Bailey and Powell's The Practical Writer, the parts of the five-paragraph essay are defined as follows:
As the first paragraph of an essay, the introduction contains what is called a "motivator," a type of lead-line that entices the reader to continue reading. This "motivator" can be an anecdote, a relevant quotation, or an observation on the part of the writer regarding the topic, which may sometimes be in the form of a question. After the motivator, the thesis statement is made in the introduction. This thesis statement, the main idea of the essay, contains what is termed "a blueprint." That is, it is a short list of the main points that will be presented in the essay. Here is an example of a thesis statement about the delights of visiting Alabama:
Alabama is a state that has the terrain to entertain everyone--forests, mountains, lakes, beaches, the ocean--and can easily interest the hunter, the fisherman, and the sailor.
The central paragraphs
The body of the essay is contained in three paragraphs that develop the main point. Each paragraph develops a topic sentence made from one of the points of the blueprint by means of support such as examples, facts and statistics, or testimony from authorities. For instance, in the example above, the author can describe the points of interest for anyone who enjoys hunting.
Unity and coherence are needed in these paragraphs as ideas should move together in a comprehensible manner. The use of transitional words and phrases help to establish the flow of ideas in a coherent fashion. The last sentence of the paragraphs should lead to the topic sentence of the next paragraph.
This paragraph ties together the main points and provides the essay a sense of finality. A conclusion has two parts: a reworded thesis statement, and what is called "a clincher," or a final sentence that leaves the read with no doubt that the essay has terminated. It sometimes finishes the thoughts of the essay while intriguing the reader with more food for thought. Many times it is a reminder of the motivator with such words as certainly, clearly, and indeed, prefacing the reworded idea of the essay. An example of a concluding sentence for an essay on Alabama's attractions may be something like this,
With the high population of deer in the forested areas. the sizable lakes that support various fish, and the emerald green sea washing in to Gulf Shores, Alabama is, indeed, a paradise for those who enjoy the outdoors.
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