Shmoop Writing Guide

The 17 Essay Terms You Need to Know

The 17 Essay Terms You Need to Know


9 Explanation/Analysis: These terms refer to what the writer does with his or her evidence in order to prove a point. A writer might provide a bunch of data about people's responses to advertising, but he will typically explain or analyze that data in order to prove his point that advertising is a bad thing. (Sheesh—he’s not going to get very many sponsors that way.) Like evidence and support, you'll see this in the body paragraphs.

10 Quotation: When not used as grabbers, quotations come in the body paragraphs. They are typically the words of experts on the topic of the essay that the writer uses to back up his or her point. They come in quotation marks ("…") and they are not italicized. Good writers avoid plunking them down and letting them do all the work. Instead, writers set up the quote, telling the reader where it came from. After the quote, they explain, in their own words, how and why the quotation proves their point. You might think The Simpsons is hysterical, but you wouldn’t want to insert a favorite Homerism just for a little comic relief. Unless your essay directly relates to the deliciousness of donuts. Gaaarrhaahrrrr…

11 Citation: In academic essays, writers always let the reader know the source of a quotation. In MLA, the citation style most common in English classes, it means providing the author's last name and the page number of the quote in parentheses (James 88) and listing the title of the book, periodical, or webpage the quote came from in a "Works Cited" page. Simply saying “I overheard this at the mall,” is not going to cut it.

12 Transition: A transition is something essay writers do to create a flow from body paragraph to body paragraph. At the end of a body paragraph, a writer might include a sentence or two hinting at what's to come in the following paragraph so that the transition isn't choppy. What a tease.

13 Refutation/Counterargument: This device is most common in persuasive or argumentative essays, but it shows up in all kinds. Often, in order to prove their point, essay writers will reference opinions that oppose their own, or "counterarguments," in order to knock them down, or "refute" them. It can make it look as though the writer has thoroughly thought through all sides of the issue and determined that his or her position comes out on top. It can also make it look as though they are suffering from Gollum Syndrome, but they have to be willing to take that chance.

14 Conclusion: A conclusion is the final paragraph of the essay. It is typically about the same length as the introduction, a minimum of 80-100 words. A conclusion restates the main points of the essay in original language and then attempts to branch out and answer the question, "so what?" by exploring what was important or meaningful about the essay and what the reader might take from the essay that is valuable. No, there are no closing credits. You’re thinking of a movie. Common mistake.

15 Tone: The tone is the vibe, atmosphere, or mood of an essay. It's based, in part, on the examples a writer incorporates—referencing a tractor pull and a bass-fishing tournament creates a different tone than referring to a conference of scholars held at Yale. More than anything, tone depends on the language a writer chooses to use: "lame" would be casual; "despicable" would be more formal and intense in tone. Academic essays are almost always formal in tone, but there is a range of tones within. A writer might come across as aggressive, dismissive, and judgmental while being formal. She also might come across as compassionate and thoughtful in tone.

16 Organization/Cohesion: "Organization" refers to how an essay is arranged, what ideas come in what order. When an essay is well-organized, things are arranged logically; everything works together in order to support the thesis; and each idea and paragraph flows smoothly into the next. If an essay is doing these things, it is described as "cohesive." (If the paper upon which it is written sticks to the skin, it may be described as “adhesive,” but this situation is rarer.) If, for example, in the middle of an essay about the effects of pollution on the breeding habits of trout, the writer drops in a paragraph about how the appearance of the fish has changed over time, without tying it back in to the central idea or thesis about breeding habits, the essay would be described as disorganized or lacking cohesion. Come on—we want to know how these fish pick up other fish in bars. Get back on point.

17 Focus: You are likely to see demands for both essay focus and paragraph focus on essay assignments. A focused essay is one in which every part of it works together to support a central claim or thesis—no detours, no tangents. A focused paragraph tackles one point in support of the thesis and fully develops it. A paragraph that veers into territory unrelated to the main point of the paragraph is unfocused. Sometimes a paragraph can veer horribly off-track, which is why it’s a good idea to have guard rails installed on either side of your laptop.