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What are the characteristic features of a good essay?  

In addition to being free of grammar and spelling errors, a good essay will have a strong central argument or purpose that it progressively develops. In a literary essay, this central argument is known as a thesis. A good essay introduces its thesis in the opening paragraph, and the following paragraphs are well developed. Each body paragraph should stay focused on one specific topic, which should be introduced by a topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. The paragraphs should also flow in a logical order so that they build on each other and reach a strong conclusion.

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The word "essay" comes from the French word meaning "to try," so an essay is an attempt to be interesting and fresh. Thus, the first rule of thumb in writing a good essay is to catch your reader's interest. You don't want the reader feeling as if she has read some variation of this essay a hundred times before.

Two important ways to catch the reader's interest are to have a provocative thesis and to write a compelling opening paragraph. A provocative thesis should definitely strongly state an opinion that has to be defended. To be provocative, however, a thesis has to not only be an opinion, but one that is narrowed down enough to be defensible—saying a poem, for example, is about love is too broad: what exactly is the poem saying about love?—and one that can be defended with strong evidence either from the literary text at hand or research.

Second, the first paragraph is crucial, and there are many ways to grab the reader from the first sentence on: a provocative quote, a passage of description, and an unusual anecdote are all tried and true ways to get started. The thesis statement can come next.

Characteristically, a strong essay has an interesting and narrowed topic (too broad a topic almost always equates to being boring and superficial), a strong thesis, a compelling opening, and strong facts and evidence to support your claims. Finally, the best essays don't just sum up what you have already said, but leave the reader with an added thought.

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Bridgett Sumner, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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An essay puts forth a viewpoint, so think of it as structuring an argument.

1.  Begin by writing an introduction that is general and introduces the topic. In your introduction, include a thesis statement that makes your position clear.

2.  Write as many paragraphs as you need to make all the points of your argument.  Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that does two things: supports your thesis and controls the content of the paragraph it heads.

3.  Be sure to establish your credibility.  This is called ethos. Make your audience aware of what qualifies you to speak on the subject.

4.  Make sure your position is reasonable, logical, and supported by factual...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 715 words.)

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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