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You Want Us to Write What? Understanding the Task Assigned

Which academic essay writing types we use depends upon which

disciplines (or classes) we write for. Each instructor or

professor will assign papers that invite us to reveal in

writing what we have learned/what we think about the

material for that particular class:

* ANALYTIC-A classic style used in art, science, history,

psychology, education, and most other disciplines across the

curriculum to explore and investigate an idea, process,

person, action, or attitude.

* ARGUMENTATIVE-Used in more advanced English classes, in

philosophy, and in courses which include theory.

*COMPARATIVE/CONTRASTIVE-Used in most courses where specific

analysis of like and unlike elements, characters, and ideas

lend themselves to comparison.

*DEFINITIONAL-Written when we apply a more thorough study to

a topic, especially an abstract one.

*DESCRIPTIVE-Used to more intensively, more concretely cover

an idea, item, or subject.

*EVALUATIVE-Often confused with analytical, the evaluative

essay moves beyond the what and how to the how much…we put

a value on the topic here.

*EXPLANATORY-Also called the expository essay (though I tend

to see all essays as expository, as exposing a truth about

something). With this type we further our own and our

readers’ understanding of the subject.

*PERSONAL-Also called the response essay, the personal style

essay is still well written (readable for an audience other

than the writer), but is more informal–containing narrative

details that entertain.

*RESEARCH-While most essay types will include references or

will quote authorities, the research essay is mostly

informational, using the findings–the stats and facts–we

made investigating the findings of others.


Modes and Types and Modes…Oh Crimeny! Avoiding Confusion

We need not panic when called upon to do a specific type of

college paper writing. Why? Because we already use the

types…on a smaller scale.

That is, we use miniature versions of the essay types when

we write paragraphs for the complete essay. A type and a

mode are the same thing, then. One is just smaller, while

the other is an extension of the smaller.

For example, we write about the forms and functions of

gossip for a sociology paper. We open with a definition

paragraph that shows how the word “gossip” originated from

the word “gospel.” Then we continue to discuss how gossip

brings people closer–emotionally, spiritually, and even


Go Easy on Yourself: Your Confusion is Understandable

Just as we might call all writing expository, we call one

type and one mode an expository type of essay and an

expository mode of writing. So is the piece I’m writing

explanatory, definitional, comparative? I include

explanatory elements. I use definition and example. I slip

a comparison in, too.

Here’s one way to look at types/modes:

–We write a paragraph or passage in a certain mode. –We

can then turn that smaller piece into a whole essay, into

one long, extended mode.

Here’s another way to look at types/modes:

We buy a box of gourmet chocolates. We lift one from the

box: we understand that the thing we hold in our hands is a

chocolate. It also has chocolate in it.

Here’s one more way to look at types/modes:

You own a Camaro with a Corvette engine. They’re both


You’re Going to What, Now? Confuse Us All Over Again?

No. Now that we have the types/modes separated enough to

understand the difference, I’ll just remind you of one more

thing: we can and usually do overlap the modes. No one

piece of academic essay writing exists in one isolated mode

alone. It includes many varied sub-styles to make it more

engaging, entertaining, and expository.

And it requires a number of major parts–an opener, a main

body of text, and a closer. And you know what? These parts

are written in the modes.

I’ll add more pages on academic essay writing. Much more.

So if you haven’t had enough, come back again for monthly

freebies. But for now, if you want to check out samples you

can use as models for modes/types, click here for mode

samples written by college students.

One more thing about college paper writing:

Enjoy the process. Find one thing in it you like and are

good at.

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