The Academic Essay - Dartmouth College

Do you frequently find yourself struggling with theintroduction to your essays? Do you not know how to begin theessay? Do you find yourself searching for a generalizingstatement that will get things going, and trying to find adelicate balance between BS'ing and saying somethingmeaningful? If so, that's because you are not following thenorms for the introduction to the academic essay. Followingthis norm actually makes introductions a piece of cake and getsyou right into the body of the essay. Here is the norm:

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The writer of the academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence

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If you keep it clear to yourself that the purpose of theintroduction to your essay is to only INTRODUCE your theoreticalframework, and your thesis statement, then the function of thebody of your essay will also become evident to the reader. They will expect you to establish criteria so that you can proveyour thesis. As a result, another important norm of theacademic essay is:

Sample Academic Essay

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The following five paragraph essay has paragraph labels to show the parts of an academic essay. (Note: This essay does not contain authentic references and has been written specifically to use for this teaching task.)

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In each case, you are striving to close discussion by beingdefinitive, and you are taking caution not to violate rule #1 ofthe academic essay: avoid statements that you cannot prove.

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The Role of Description
Relating "the object of investigation" or the"object of the thesis" back to the established criteriais necessarily going to involve description. Description isfrequently an unclear and thorny issue for writers of theacademic essay–especially in terms of scope (how much isenough?). The purpose of description, however, clarifiesthe issue of scope. The purpose of description to is tomake clear, or establish WHAT in the object of investigation (thefilm, the scene, the shot) relates to the criteria beingused. It therefore becomes important for the writer to usedescription in such a manner as to establish the basis of therelationship between the object and the criteria. Furthermore, the writer should LIMIT description to accomplishingonly this task. Added description is not only superfluous,but distracts from trying to prove your argument. As aresult, another important norm for the body of the academicessay is:

(Opinion) Academic Writing Topic 6 Should businesses that pay for healthcare require employees to exercise?

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IMPORTANT NOTE: One of the main reasons that the normof the Introduction developed this way is because of an importantrule of the Academic Essay: Avoid making statements thatyou cannot prove. The problem with thegeneralizing/philosophical/BS'ing statements like "Hemingway..."and "The Western..." is that they cannot be proventhrough reasoned discourse. Moreover, to even try and do sowould require voluminous amounts of discourse for something thatis not even your thesis: what you actually ARE setting out toprove. As a result, the genre of the Academic Essay hasevolved into the above norm. It still meets anintroduction's purpose of orienting the reader, it just does soin a very specific manner.

(Opinion) Academic Writing Topic 7 Should caps or limits be put on the salaries that professional athletes can earn?

The beginning of the essay is a crucial first step in this process

The academic essay is merely a specific writing genre–asis the love letter, newspaper editorial, or pop-fiction. Asa genre, it functions within a set of norms, rules, andconventions. The purpose of this discussion is to makeclear to you what those rules and norms are, and how to use themto express your argument clearly.

Zapper, Y. (2006). Learning essay writing. In F.T. Fax & Y. Phoney (Eds.),  (pp. 55-70). Calcutta: Academic Scholar Press.

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Final Observations
There are, of course, variations on the genre of the academicessay--some rather large difference exist, for example, betweenthe social sciences and the humanites. This discussion isbased on the humanties approach. Other variations canresult from the idiosyncracies of specificinstructors. To the degree that what is written here soundsheavy handed and inflexible, I caution instead that such tone istrying to reflect the manner in which your own analysis andwriting will need to sound precise and rigorous–thestandards by which the academic essay is evaluated.