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How to write an essay

An essay (or composition) is a formal piece of writing about a particular topic, containing an introduction, a body and a conclusion. The title of an essay is often a controversial statement to which you have to respond. In the body of this kind of essay you have to discuss arguments for and against the statement, and then in the conclusion you should make it clear which arguments you think are strongest. As an example, consider the statement: Students at FIS should be required to wear school uniform. In the body of your essay you should discuss the arguments for and against. One way to do this is to follow each separate argument with a counter-argument as below:

Alternatively, you could discuss all the arguments in favour of the statement together in one block, followed by all the arguments against, as below:

The first way is probably best if each argument for is balanced by an argument against, otherwise the second way is preferred. In both cases, however, it is best if your personal opinion is contained in the counter-arguments (i.e. the arguments that are listed second.)

As a further example, let's look at the title statement: Abortion is a crime. An outline response from someone who disagreed with the statement could look like this:

Introduction

Arguments for statement

Counter-arguments

Conclusion

An important aspect of good essays is the appropriate use of transitions. Transitions are the words and phrases you use to show the development and connection of your ideas. Firstly, finally, in addition, furthermore, in contrast, consequently are all examples of transitions. The Academic Writing Centre at the University of Ottawa has a good list of the most important transitions.


Below is an example of a complete essay entitled: Is it acceptable to cause the extinction of a butterfly in order to build a factory in a poor area?

Introduction

Palaeontologists believe there have been many periods in earth's history when large numbers of animals have suddenly become extinct. For example, the entire class of dinosaurs was wiped out over 60 million years ago. Another mass extinction happened at the time of the last ice age. Scientists believe, however, that the extinction we are experiencing now at the beginning of the 20th century is on an even larger scale and at a vastly more rapid speed. It is said that 3 to 4 species of plants or animals are becoming extinct every hour. One of the main reasons for the current extinction rate is the spread of industrialization all over the world. The building of a factory in a previously unspoilt habitat can lead to the destruction of another 3 or 4 species. Is this an acceptable price to pay for providing poor people with jobs?

Arguments against

There are many strong reasons to leave the habitat untouched and thus spare the butterfly from extinction. Butterflies are creatures of this earth just as humans are, and have the same rights to existence. Imagine what we humans would feel if a superior alien race informed us that they needed to use our planet as a massive factory to build their supersonic spaceships. Surely it is the duty of humans to protect more vulnerable species, not to destroy them.

Another powerful argument for leaving the butterfly in peace is that all creatures are part of a great linked chain. If one link is destroyed, then other parts of the chain are destroyed too. farmers know this only too well. If they drive away all the birds from their fields that are eating their seed, then there is no protection from an invasion of insects. Furthermore, very many important medicines have been developed from the parts of plants or animals. If we destroy the butterfly, we may also be destroying to chance of a cure for cancer or AidS.

There is a further argument against building the factory. A factory would not only destroy the immediate habitat but would also bring pollution to the whole area. This would affect the health of the people who worked in the factory and their children. The possibility of making money from tourists who come to a beautiful area to see a rare species would be gone.

Arguments for

There are also many powerful arguments for building the factory. As stated above, many species are lost every day so one more is not going to make a big difference. There are thousands of butterfly species still in existence, and it may even be possible to transfer the endangered colony to another habitat. This has been done successfully with other animals. Even is this is not possible, lepidopterists could collect samples of the butterflies before they disappear, and exhibit them in museums for anyone who wanted to see them.

A more powerful argument is to consider what would happen if the factory was not built. Without work, the poor people of the region would not have enough food to live a healthy life. We have seen the results of this in many deprived parts of the world. The people cut down the forests to provide wood for housing and heating. They also poach the animals to sell as trophies, pets or to make medicines, or simply to eat them. Alternatively, they may try to migrate and find work in Europe or North America. We can see the results every day on television as hundreds of illegal immigrants are stopped at the borders, or suffocate in container ships bringing them across the sea.

It is easy for someone who is rich, with a good job and a comfortable home, to plead for the protection of a an animal species in a habitat far away from where he lives. It would be a different matter if he was poor and unemployed, and could not feed his children. When the poor people of the region have attained a reasonable standard of living, they are much more likely to start considering how they can protect the environment in which they live.

Conclusion

Although there are powerful arguments for saving the butterfly, I believe that the factory should be built. Whatever anyone says, humans are a higher form of life than insects and have greater rights. Of course, we must do everything we can to protect our fellow creatures, but this does not mean that we should return to a way of life like 300 years ago before industrialization.


Frankfurt International School: Art and artists. (Click to see at full size.)