What are the structural elements and processes of an essay?

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An essay is usually a non-fiction prose piece of writing that is persuasive in nature, in that it attempts to establish credibility in its author: its voice and message attempt to move its audience to a change in action or thought.

The structure of an essay depends on the type, but it usually is written in first or third person, and, according to Toulmin, it can be broken down into these parts:

Data: The facts or evidence used to prove the argument

Claim: The statement being argued (a thesis)

Warrants: The general, hypothetical (and often implicit) logical statements that serve as bridges between the

claim and the data.

Qualifiers: Statements that limit the strength of the argument or statements that propose the conditions under

which the argument is true.

Rebuttals: Counter-arguments or statements indicating circumstances when the general argument does not hold true.

Backing: Statements that serve to support the warrants (i.e., arguments that don't necessarily prove the main point being argued, but which do prove the warrants are true.)

In terms of process, Aldous Huxley advocates an abstract-universal type of appeal:

"essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference".

The three poles are:

  • Personal and the autobiographical essays: these use "fragments of reflective autobiography" to "look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description".
  • Objective and factual: in these essays, the authors "do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme".
  • Abstract-universal: these essays "make the best...of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist".
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