Mr. So and so is my best teacher. He teaches us English. He is very punctual…
Perhaps most of the people in my generation especially those from Urdu medium public schools are well familiar with these sentences when we were told to write an essay on our best teacher. Teachers changed but it was invariably the English teacher who would be always the best no matter who he was or how he taught us. We had the intuition that this is the only way of getting higher grades. Or perhaps we used to memorize it from our English Grammar book. The brighter among us would have a few more essays in their repertoire like My School, My Best Friend, and My Village. We were made to remember Greedy Dog and Thirsty Crow by heart. Sometimes by mistake or design, the topic would be Honesty is the Best Policy and we would start panicking. Once there was a question in the exam to write names of 3 pet animals to which my little brother replied: Lion, Snake and Wolf. And we were thinking that English medium private schools would be better?
For people like me who are stuck in the quicksand of biology, we have a vocabulary of 300-odd words in our books and research papers and most of these are not even English! So what we do when we have to write that evil thing called statement of purpose for our graduate/post-graduate school admission? Yes you guessed it right. We ask Dr. Google who gives us a high quality essay which we attach with our applications. But wait. After 16-year education, why cannot we write a one-page essay about ourselves? Simply we have no confidence in our skills. Similar is the case when we write our theses or worse a research paper. Here, I give some suggestions to my friends for writing any kind of essay.
Understand the topic. Unless you don’t know what is being asked, you cannot write an essay on it. If you are writing it in the exam or some other place where specific topic is given then you should know the rules. The scope, the word limit, paragraphs etc. For example, you should not write a 1500 words essay when it is clearly mentioned to limit it to 300 words. If you are asked about the rules of cricket, you should not mention the Famous Sixer of Javed Miandad against India. Exceeding the world limit and scope of the topic is perilous as it takes precious time and sometimes leaves a bad impression or even results in lesser grades if it is an exam. As I don’t have to worry about space or time for my blog, I do not have to stick to the rules.
After the topic has been understood, you should draw a mental sketch of the points you want to discuss. For example, rules of cricket can have sub-topics like bowling rules, batting rules, fielding rules and miscellaneous rules. It would be better if you draw a sketch on paper. Add points to each sub-topic as they come to your mind. For example, in a 30-minute essay, you should spend 5-10 minutes in organizing it.
Essays often have a topic-paragraph which gives a rough idea of what it is all about. You can start you essay with a quotation from someone. As G.B. Shaw said, “I often quote myself. It adds spice to my conversation.” The start of your essay is all what most of the people will ever read if you do not make it sufficiently interesting for potential readers. First paragraph should not be a summary of the whole essay but it should introduce the topic.
Each succeeding paragraph should start with a topic sentence with the rest of the paragraph elaborating on it. Try to avoid two topics in a single paragraph is it can be very confusing for the readers. Make the sentences simple and short. Repetition should be avoided as much as possible. Make full use of your vocabulary keeping in mind the intended audience or if in exam, the education level. Write in your own words and do not copy others work unless you want to quote someone.
Conclude your essay by a short paragraph expressing your own opinion about the topic and if relevant, the future prospects.
Essays are usually in the present tense except when you are talking about a past event. Most writers suggest that active voice should be used to create a good impact. If you are weak in remembering proverbs, do not use any. For example, if you try a proverb by translating from Urdu/Pashto into English it could be something like this; the person who is burnt by milk sips buttermilk by first blowing it (once bitten twice shy?). Proofread your essay at least once after writing. Do not rely on MS Word as it can only identify the misspelled words. Example could be this: I want too right in assay in English (I want to write an essay in English). Moreover, do not try to replace words by using the synonym function in MS Word as it cannot contextualize a particular word. Example is: he is a dreadfully excellent critic (He is a very good writer). Do not combine US and UK English in the same essay. Give proper attention to verb case and form in a sentence as well as form of pronoun.
Hopefully, this will help you in your next writing assignment. You may well start writing a statement of purpose about your higher studies. Or perhaps try a new essay on My Best Teacher.