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Ron Cooley, English Faculty

The Point of Essays

What is the point of writing essays?

That goes back to the business of what we have in common. The biggest answer to that, or the biggest reason for writing essays is because essays are what we have to write, and therefore it's what we're best qualified to evaluate. And it really does turn out that people who are good essay writers can convert those skills into all kinds of other writing. You have to still be able to describe accurately, you have to be able to choose words carefully, you have to be able to select evidence from a large body and present the most important evidence. All that is as important in the business world as it is in the academic world. If you're a subordinate in a middle management position, and you've got to write a report for the CEO on what are the key issues facing our business in the coming year, you've got a large body of evidence, and you've got to select some of it and present it to a person who's going to do something else with it: [he or she will] make a decision. So it's not really unlike writing an essay. It's true if you're constructing a newscast or a piece of advertising. We communicate through language in every profession in every field of endeavor. If you're coming to university, then one of the things you're going to learn is how to use language to communicate in whatever field that you're studying, and the assumption is, the working assumption behind university study, is that that knowledge is portable. You take it and you remake it in a new setting, in a new job environment after you leave the university or indeed if you go from undergraduate to graduate study and on to becoming a professional academic. There's kind of a dress rehearsal aspect to essay writing, and it's a dress rehearsal for different kinds of writing a person might do.