to Write a Good Essay
by Stan Wankey
During the course of the last few years as I've taught entry-level English
composition classes, I've discovered that there is an important factor
missing from most texts dealing with the subject. This great, glaring
gap would seem to be unjustifiable when stated as plainly as I'm about
to, but it exists nonetheless, and no one I know of has been so far willing
to fill it. In the form of a question, it runs thus: "How do you
write a good essay?"
In response to this much disregarded flaw in our system of higher-education,
I present the following; boiled down into the form of a list it may be
easily understood by all teachers of writing, even those whose first name
is for all intents and purposes "Coach."
1. Get a sheet of paper. This law is thought by some to have been superceded
by the advent of computer technology. However, it is still an important
first step in that it leads to the following:
2. Sit at a desk with the paper on it, scribbling senseless doodles, silly
faces, and, if you are so inclined, the name of an object of affection
surrounded by hearts, flowers, and, again if you are so inclined, barbed
3. Start feeling guilty for wasting so much time and begin staring off
into space waiting for the muse to start blowing you kisses or for inspiration
to shoot a lightning bolt through the top of your head.
5. Begin tearing pieces of the paper off and put them in your mouth. Chew.
Swallow if necessary.
6. Now that you are ready to write your first draft, turn on your computer
and/or word processor and begin cruising the Internet or wiping dust off
of your screen with the aforementioned paper or your thumb, whichever
is more convenient.
7. Remember that you've done no research. Go to the shelf and pick up
a volume of the World Book Encyclopedia, preferably "P-R." "Q"
always has some interesting topics in it.
8. Finally settle--after combing through a few more volumes--on something
to do with Wombats.
9. Remember that the instructor actually gave you a list of possible topics
from which to choose.
10. Search in vain for the list of possible paper topics your instructor
gave you from which to choose.
11. Call up your friend who is also taking the class and beg her for the
12. Meet for coffee. Forget about the list.
13. Call her the next day and ask her to just read a few of the topics
over the phone to you.
14. Listen in horror as she says: "You did know this paper is due
tomorrow, didn't you?"
15. Go to the library.
16. Research by checking out randomly selected books on vaguely related
17. Highlight like mad.
18. Look at the stack of books for a good long while.
19. Repeat step one.
20. Wad up paper and throw it a random direction.
21. Begin writing.
22. Finish writing.
23. Hand essay in.
24. Receive grade.
There, in 24 easy steps, the reader can see just how it is done. The
great strength of this plan, I feel, is it's incredible simplicity and
marked efficiency, especially in steps 21 and 22. Should any questions
arise about there being more than one way to write an essay, bear in mind
that this plan leaves plenty of room for that, being only a mere pattern:
your own writing experience might evince a slight variation.