The Writing Process
Developing the Thesis
Troublespots: The Hit List
to English Composition First Semester 1998
Suggestions for Reading Essays
You will encounter essays in this course that, as
E. B. White remarked, philosophize, scold, jest, tell stories, argue, or
plead, among the many things they can do. You'll be able to read
essays more easily and understand them better if you bear in mind as you
read some of the following questions concerning the essay's author, intended
audience, type, purposes, and rhetorical strategies.
Who Is the Author?
What Are the Context and Audience of the Essay?
When did the author live? Where? Is the author's ethnic origin,
gender, or regional background relevant to understanding this essay?
What is the author's educational background? Job experience?
Do these, or other significant life experiences make him or her an authority
on the subject of the essay?
Does the author have political, religious, economic, cultural or other
biases that affect the essay's treatment of the subject? The author's
What Is the Type of Essay?
When was the essay first published? Is it dated, or still relevant?
Where (in what magazine, professional journal, or book, if at all) was
the essay first published?
For what audience was the essay originally intended? How much did
the author expect the original readers to know about the subject?
To what extent did the author expect the original readers to share his
or her point of view?
Why would the original audience have read this essay?
What similarities and differences exist between the essay's original audience
and the student audience now reading it?
What am I as a student reader expected to gain from reading this essay?
What Are the Purposes of the Essay?
What type of essay is thisócomparison and contrast, illustration, classification,
argument on reason, or other? Does the essay exhibit characteristics
of other types of essays as well?
Does the subject fit the essay form in which it is presented? Would
other forms be equally apt? Why or why not?
What Are the Strategies of the Essay?
Why did the author write the essay? To inform, describe, explain,
argue, or for some other reason or combination of reasons?
Is the purpose explicitly stated anywhere in the essay? If so, where?
Is this the thesis of the essay? Or is the thesis different?
If the purpose is not stated explicitly, how can I tell what the purpose
is? Through examples? Emphasis? Tone? Other means?
Does the form of the essay suit the purpose? Would another form have
been more appropriate?
Adapted from The Essay Connection: Reading for Writers
by Lynn Z. Bloom (Massachusetts: D. C. Heath and Company, 1988) pp. xxxi-xxxii.
What does the author do to make the essay interesting? Is he or she
What organizational pattern (and subpatterns, if any) does the author use?
How do these patterns fit the subject? The author's purpose?
What emphasis do the organization and proportioning provide to reinforce
the author's purpose?
What evidence, arguments, and illustrations does the author employ to illustrate
or demonstrate the thesis?
On what level of language (formal, informal, slangy) and in what tone (serious,
satiric, sincere, etc.) does the author write?
Have I enjoyed the essay, or found it stimulating or otherwise provocative?
Why or why not?
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