During the first two years of study no distinction was made between composition and essay writing, and you were free to interpret the subjects set in any way you liked. From now on, however, these two forms of written work will always be differentiated.
1) In a composition, you will be expected to set out the facts as they are, the primary objective being your accurate and impartial presentation.
2) In an essay, one the other hand, the task will be to give an individual interpretation of facts.
Thus the interpretation of a subject will be different, depending on whether you are required to write a composition or an essay. An example will make the distinction clear.
Let us presume that the subject set is May Day. If it is a composition that has to be written, you will be expected to deal with the history of May Day, and will have to do some research in order to collect the necessary material. As an essay subject, May Day may be interpreted in a variety of ways and the material used will depend entirely on your own choice. You might, for example, try to convey the impressions which the first May Day procession you took part in made upon you, or you might choose to describe the general atmosphere of the festivities.
Thus, in a composition the writer assembles facts; in an essay, he expresses his own ideas, opinions and feelings.
MODEL COM"#000000"># 1 “A SCHOOL I HAVE ATTENDED”
Stanford University, famous as one of northern California's several institutions of higher learning, is called "the Harvard of the West". Its reputation is based on its location, its intelligent students, its distinguished faculty, its overseas programs, its substantial endowment, and its recent extensive growth.
The closeness of Stanford to San Francisco, a city thirty-two miles to the north, gives the university a decidedly cosmopolitan flavor. Equally cosmopolitan is the student body. Students enroll principally from the western United States. But most of the fifteen states send students to Stanford, and many foreign students study here, as well. Young men and women are selected for admission to the university from the upper fifteen percent of their high school classes. Not only because of the high caliber of its students but also because of the desirable location and climate, has Stanford attracted to its faculty some of the world's most respected scholars. Among them have been Dr. Rober North in Asiatic studies and Dr. Albert Guerard in humanities. Stanford's undergraduate school of engineering and its graduate schools of business, law, and medicine are particularly strong. Recently the university established overseas branch study centres in Germany, Italy, France, and Japan for its third-year students. In addition to financial support from alumni, Stanford receives grants from the government and from private philanthropic foundations. In recent years, government grants have made possible advanced studies in the fields of history, psychology, education, and atomic energy. At present Stanford is carrying out an ambitious building program, financed in part by the Ford Foundation's 25 million grant. Rising now on the campus are a new physics building, a new graduate school of business, a student union, and an undergraduate library.
Founded only in 1891, Stanford is now considered comparable in quality to such other longer established, major American universities as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia.
(from American English Rhetoric by Robert G. Bander)
So far, in writing compositions, you have decided on the structure of your work without giving the matter much thought. In some cases the result has been quite good, on others – disappointing. In order to improve your writing, you must learn to plan your work more consciously. The aim of the following brief analysis of the model composition is to help you to do this.
Let us see what the structural pattern of the composition is and how the writer arrived at this pattern. The title of the composition tells us nothing about the subject beyond the fact that it deals with the author's college. How he intends to treat his subject is stated in the first sentence: he is going to write about the excellence of Stanford. This sentence, then, expresses, in very general terms, the main idea of the composition, thus forming its organizing centre. Now clearly the author must provide evidence in support of his statement. He does this by breaking down the main idea into six separate points and arranging them in order of increasing importance: "its location, its intelligent students, its distinguished faculty, its overseas programs, its substantial endowment, and its recent extensive growth." Thus, the framework of the composition has been determined. All that remains to be done is to develop each of the points, presenting groups of facts to illustrate each point, and to think of a concluding sentence which summarizes the content of the composition.
Here is an analysis of the composition in the form of a diagram.
An essay is a piece of writing, usually short and in prose, on any subject. The difference between a composition and an essay has already been explained in the section on composition writing. However, unlike a composition, an essay usually assumes an individual interpretation of facts. For this reason it is a more difficult form of exercise, though also more satisfying, as it gives more scope for self-expression.
According to the subject matter and the treatment it receives, essays may be divided into four main types: narrative, descriptive, reflective and discoursive. The division is, however, by no means clear cut; in fact most essays have features characteristic not of one particular type, but of several.
THE NARRATIVE ESSAY
A narrative essay is a description of happenings as they follow one another. It is the easiest to write because the material is arranged according to the actual course of events; one knows where to start and what to do next, each paragraph being devoted to one particular episode or group of episodes. Even so, it is advisable to write down a plan with paragraph headings first and then proceed with your essay on the basis of these notes. In this way you will be able to make sure that you are not devoting too much space to less important items or treating the most important ones too briefly
Let us presume that you have decided to write about a hitch-hiking holiday. Your plan may look like this:
What made my friend and me decide on a hitch-hiking holiday.
The most interesting, amusing or memorable events of the holiday: 1) ... 2) ... 3) ...
4. Home again. Some thoughts on the advantages of a hitch-hiking holiday.
As it has already been noted, an essay rarely belongs to one type only. In this particular case, in addition to describing events in chronological order, you are expected to express your views on the subject as well (item 4). Your narrative will also include short descriptions of people and places. For example, you might want to describe an impressive view, a lively scene or a person whom you met during your holiday. All this will give your composition more substance and will make it more interesting to read. The subjects set for your narrative essays will as a rule permit this kind of treatment, but you should take care to preserve the necessary balance, that is, your descriptions and reflections should not occupy too much space in relation to the rest of the essay.
Narrative essays bear a close resemblance to those short stories in which the author describes events as he himself has experienced them. In fact, practically all narrative essays could be classed as short stories. For this reason some authors consider that there is no justification for distinguishing between the two forms in text-books on written English.
Exercise1. Write an essay of not more than 500 words on one of the following subjects: 1) A cycling tour. 2) The most memorable events of my holiday. 3) My first day at the university. 4) A night spent in the open air. 5) A terrible adventure. 6) An amusing incident during a couple. 8) My debut as an actress/ singer/ dancer/ etc. 9) a subject of your own choice.
THE DESCRIPTION ESSAY
This type of essay describes people and places at rest. It is more difficult to write because the order in which your ideas follow one another is determined not by the sequence of events, but rather by certain qualities of your ideas and the logical connection between them. You must try to give your essay a clear and logical shape, whether you start from the general and work towards the particular (as is more usual) or vice versa. Here is an example of a descriptive essay.
The first fall of snow is not only an event but it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up to find yourself in another, quite different, and if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found? The very stealth, the eerie quietness, of the thing makes it more magical. If all the snow fell at once in one shattering crash, awakening us in the middle of the night, the event would be robbed of its wonder. But it flutters down, soundlessly, hour after hour while we are asleep. Outside the closed curtains of the bedroom a vast transformation scene is taking place, just as if a myriad elves and brownies were at work, and we turn and yawn and stretch and know nothing about it. And then, what an extraordinary change it is! It is as if the house you are in had been dropped down in another continent. Even the inside, which has not been touched, seems different, every, room appearing smaller and cosier, just as if some power were trying to turn it into a woodcutter's hut or a snug log-cabin. Outside, where the garden was yesterday, there is now a white and glistening level, and the village beyond is no longer your own familiar cluster of roofs but a village in an old German fairy-tale. You would not be surprised to learn that all the people there, the spectacled postmistress, the cobbler, the retired schoolmaster, and the rest, had suffered a change too and had become queer elvish beings, purveyors of invisible caps and magic shoes. You yourselves do not feel quite the same people you were yesterday. How could you when so much has been changed? There is a curious stir, a little shiver of excitement, troubling the house, not unlike the feeling there is abroad when a journey has to be made. The children, of course, are all excitement, but even the adults hang about and talk to one another longer than usual before settling down to the day's work. Nobody can resist the windows. It is like being on board ship.
(from First Snow by J. B. Priestley)
brownie—(Scottish folklore) benevolent shaggy goblin (haunting houses and doing household work secretly
Most people would agree that this extract makes pleasant and interesting reading. Let us try to see why. We shall consider the subject matter first.
The genre essay differs from the genre short story in that it is reflective or descriptive rather than narrative, personal rather than detached. The work from which this extract is taken is thus typical of the kind of writing to which the term "essay" is applied, being an account of the author's personal response to the first snow-fall of the year. Why should such a seemingly mundane subject attract us so? The answer is — because it is not mundane. It is ordinary in the sense that we all know what the first snow-fall is like, but it really does give us the feeling of excitement and strangeness which Priestley describes. So we know that he is an honest writer, and we are grateful to him not only because he reminds us of one of life's better moments, but also because he reminds us that we, like him, are able to respond to the snow-fall, that we, too, are sensitive people. By implication he is telling us that we have experiences which are worth writing about, even if we ourselves do not have the time or talent to write about them.
The subject-matter, then, is inherently appealing. Now let us consider the style — that is, the choice of words and constructions which convince us that the writer observed accurately and wrote honestly, and which hold our interest to the end. If we read the passage through attentively we shall find that the sentences are pleasantly and effectively varied in length and structure. Any kind of subject matter requires this variety of rhythm in order to avoid monotony: Variety is a kind of courtesy to the reader. But of course each variation in sentence length or structure must not only provide a contrast to what went before — it must also be in harmony with the meaning expressed.
The following example will illustrate how important it is to choose the right structure. Instead of saying "... if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found?" we could say:
a) and this is enchantment, or:
b) if this is not enchantment, then I don't know what is.
The meaning would be more or less the same (i. e. these are acceptable paraphrases) but the effect would be spoiled.
a) is much too abrupt. A bunch of flowers has to be presented with a smile and a few friendly words; it's no good throwing them on the table without a word as you walk in. Priestley knew that he had to devote more than four words to the introduction of the idea of enchantment; he had to give the reader time to absorb and appreciate the idea.
b) is unsuitable not only because it is a cliché but also because it is a cliché used by annoyed or impatient speakers who are convinced that they themselves are right and someone else is wrong. The associations of this construction would spoil the quite gentle mood.
Here is another example: "And then what an extraordinary change it is!" This is an exclamatory sentence and therefore emphatic. Its emphatic force is brought out to the full by its position between two longer sentences. It may seem superfluous to say that only ideas which need to be stressed should be stressed, but the inexperienced writer may well be tempted to overuse emphatic constructions. In this particular sentence the emphatic form is perfectly appropriate to the content, since the idea expressed is the main idea of the whole passage.
Now let us turn to the writer's use of imagery. Most of the images are taken from fairy-tales and so help to convey the idea of enchantment and magic. They take the reader's memory back to the stories he heard as a child, back to a time when the world seemed stranger and more exciting than it does now. But these fairy-tale images are not swans or princesses, they are elves and goblins, mysterious little people but at the same time funny. The writer is obviously attracted to these little folk and we feel that he has a good sense of humour. This is confirmed by his words "... if all the snow fell at once in one shattering crash ...". This thought must have made him smile when it came to him and we, too, are likely to grin as we imagine this massive bump in the night.
Such touches as this strengthen our impression of the writer as an attractive and balanced human being. His sense of humour keeps his writing in touch with the robust everybody world where people joke and laugh and don't take life too seriously. All this talk of enchantment never threatens to become sentimental or too abstract. Abstract nouns (excitement, feeling, stir, etc.) are used with restraint, and the excitement is conveyed by concrete images — a log cabin, a German village, a woodcutter's hut, a ship.
Exercise 2. Write a short essay of not more than 500 words on the same or a related subject, that is, either describing the first snow-fall and the effect it has on you, or another event in nature which strikes you as mysterious or poetic, for example: a thunderstorm in May; after a summer shower; the thaw sets in.
Do not be afraid to borrow words, expressions and structures from the passage quoted above (though I’d still prefer you to use your own inspiration and thesaurus), but make sure they are used only in the appropriate places and that they blend well with the rest of your essay. If an idea in the text strikes a chord in you, if you feel you can write something of your own in the same vein, by all means use it.
More essay subjects.
1. An afternoon by the river. 2. Watching city traffic. 3. In the park on a Sunday afternoon.
4. Sunrise in the countryside. 5. In the mountains. 6. The underground during the rush hours. 7. A heavy shower in town. 8. A busy shopping centre.
THE REFLECTIVE AND ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAYS
In text-books on written English, a distinction is often drawn between the reflective and the argumentative essay. The first is primarily an exercise in contemplation upon any given subject, the second — an exercise testing your ability to discuss a problem, to argue for or against a proposition. In the first you rely more on your imagination and power of observation, in the second — on general knowledge. Because both these types present similar difficulties in writing, they are combined under one heading. However, the model essays which are included offer sufficient contrast in subject-matter and treatment to show you the difference. The variety to which this or that essay belongs is indicated in brackets, and the subjects which are set after each essay are representative of this particular variety.
Compared with the narrative and the descriptive essays, these are more difficult to write, not only because it is more difficult to arrange one's ideas logically, but also because one has to devote more thought and time to the collection of ideas relevant to the subject. Here a plan is essential.
The best way is probably to jot down ideas as they come into your head. Let us presume that your subject is The Value of Travel. You might have thought of the following:
Seeing how other people live.
Visiting places known from books.
Talking a foreign language.
Other people's customs.
Broadening one's mind.
Meeting interesting people.
Visiting the British Museum.
Seeing big cities like Moscow and New York.
Seeing hydroelectric power stations.
Getting to know one's country better.
Having put down all these ideas, you can now try to group them together and then arrange them in the order best suited for your purpose. You will find that your ideas naturally fall under five main headings.
Places of interest.
People: their customs, habits.
Getting to know one's country better.
Broadening one's mind.
The outline of the essay is now complete. All that you need is a paragraph introducing your subject.
There are a number of things against which you must guard, particularly in an essay of this kind. Remember that it is better to deal with only a few things in full rather than skip casually over many. If, for instance, in an essay on travelling you simply write that this gives you a chance to become acquainted with different national- customs and leave it at that, you will have said little of interest. But if you take one example and describe it, this will not only make your writing more vivid but will also convey some real information to the reader. Thus, rather than spreading out, concentrate and take care not to become too abstract.
Here is an example of a reflective essay.
By J. B. Priestley (abridged)
How difficult it is to make a beginning. I speak of essay-writing, an essentially virtuous practice, and not of breaking the Ten Commandments. It is much easier to begin, say, a review or an article than it is to begin an essay, for with the former you attach yourself to something outside yourself, you have an excuse for writing and therefore have more courage. If it is a review that has to be written, well, there, waiting for you, inviting your comment is the book. Similarly with an article, you have your subject, something that everybody is excited about, and thus you know what is expected of you and you can take up your pen with a light heart. But to have nothing to cling hold of, to have no excuse for writing at all, to be compelled to spin everything out of oneself, to stand naked and shivering in the very first sentence one puts down, is clearly a very different matter, and this is the melancholy situation in which the essayist always finds himself. It is true that he need not always be melancholy; if he is full of himself, brimming over with bright talk, in a mood to take the whole world into his confidence, the essayist will find his task a very pleasant one indeed, never to be exchanged for such drudge's work as reviews and articles; and he will step briskly on to the stage and posture in the limelight without a tremor. But such moments are rare, and the essayist at ordinary times, though he would eagerly undertake to defend his craft, cannot quite rid himself of the feeling that there is something both absurd and decidedly impudent in this business of talking about oneself for money; this feeling haunts the back of his mind like some gibbering spectre, and it generally produces one of three effects. According to his temperament, it will prevent him from doing anything at all that particular day or perhaps any other day, or it will allow him to write a few brilliant opening sentences and then shut up, or it will keep him from making a start until the last possible moment.
For my own part, I am one of those who find it difficult to begin; I stand on the brink for hours, hesitating to make the plunge; I will do anything but the work in hand. This habit is certainly a nuisance, but perhaps it is not quite so intolerable as that of some other persons, men of my acquaintance, who fall into the second category mentioned above and always find themselves making dashing openings and then coming to a stop. They will stare at what they have written, well pleased with it as an opening, and then discover that the flow has ceased, and horrible hours will pass, and perhaps many more dashing openings will have been made, before any real progress will have come about and their essay taken some sort of shape. Such writers seem to me even more unfortunate than I am, for I do at least go forward once I have made a beginning; as soon as I have summoned up courage to ring the bell 1 am at least admitted into the house of my choice, and am not, like these others, left kicking my heels in the vestibules of half a dozen houses perhaps without ever seeing the interior of any of them.
N o t e s
The Ten Commandments — the ten Mosaic laws: thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour, etc. (The Bible, Exodus, Ch. 20)
The passage is an example of a reflective essay. Such essays are developed through analysis, that is, one starts by breaking down the subject into parts, then groups the various ideas together and finally arranges them in an order best suited for one's purposes. Let us briefly examine how the model essay is built up. Judging by the passage, the following sets of ideas occurred to the writer.
It is particularly difficult to make a beginning when one has to write an essay. It is easier to do this when one has to write something else, for instance an article or review.
There are specific difficulties connected with essay writing."
Essayists have different temperaments, so each approaches the task in his own way.
4. How I feel and behave when I set about writing an essay.
These items are listed in the order in which they are dealt with in the text. From this list we can see that in the arrangement of his ideas the author worked from the general to the particular and from the impersonal to the personal.
He begins by stating the subject of his essay. This is done in the first two sentences: "How difficult it is to make a beginning. I speak of essay-writing, an essentially virtuous practice, and not of breaking the Ten Commandments”. These sentences provide the essay's organizing centre. Now clearly the author must explain what difficulties an essayist has to face when he sets himself the task of writing an essay. Here a comparison with other literary genres is essential to justify the choice of the subject.
In an essay of the type we are discussing, the greatest amount of space is generally allotted to descriptions of the author's own thoughts, feelings, behaviour, etc., but in this case a purely subjective approach would have made the essay less convincing, and also less interesting. So the author first speaks of essayists in general, showing various reactions to the task, reactions which vary from person to person and to some extent depends on the writer's mood. This passage also helps to make a smooth transition to the personal part of the essay.
If you compare this essay with First Snow, you will find that they have much in common, both in the arrangement of the material and in the manner of the exposition. Here, too, the author aims at creating pictures in the reader's mind. To a great extent this is achieved through the use of metaphor based on concrete images: "to stand naked shivering and shaking in the very first sentence one puts down", "like some gibbering spectre ..." Abstract nouns are used sparingly, words expressing very general ideas are avoided. The sentence structure is here more complex than in First Snow, as befits the subject. The sentences are varied in length and structure, those which state the most important ideas being short (for example, the opening sentence). Thus the author produces a vivid and imaginative piece of writing, with humorous touches, mainly in the form of metaphors.
Exercise 3/1 After you have studied the text and the comments carefully, write an essay of between 700 and 800 words, using one of the paragraphs given below as a beginning.
1) On Showing-Off.
In childhood, showing-off takes simple direct forms. A child asking you to look at him as he stands on his head expects (and usually gets) immediate praise. As we grow older we seem to get more cunning in our efforts to draw the attention of others to ourselves. Only a professional acrobat has to go to the length of standing on his head to win applause. Adults are capable of the subtlest forms of self-dispraise when they want to boast about their achievements. ...
2) On Standing In A Queue.
As soon as we take our place in a queue, our whole outlook on life changes. All we can think about is how many people there are in front of us and how long it will be before our turn comes. Now and then we look back and feel a warm glow of satisfaction when we note how much the queue has lengthened since we joined it. Our main concern, however, is that no one should use unfair means. We keep a watchful eye on the people in front and are ready to denounce publicly anyone who dares to "jump the queue". ...
(from Essay and Letter Writing by L. G. Alexander)
Exercise 3/2 Write an essay on one of the following subjects:
1. Tourism. 2. On answering children's questions. 3. On wearing glasses. 4. On reading detective stories.
Now here is an example of an argumentative essay.
THE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF LIVING IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
The advantages of living in the twentieth century are clear to anyone who spends time in one of the world's highly developed nations. The disadvantages of modern life, however, are sometimes not so quickly seen. Consider the average man today in contrast with man 200 years ago. Without doubt, man's life has been eased considerably. Machines now perform for him many of the services that he previously had to do for himself. They cut his grass, wash his car, open and close his doors, walk for him, climb stairs for him, serve him coffee, and both put him to sleep and wake him up to music. In two major areas — transportation and communications—great progress has been made. Mass publishing practices have spread newspapers, magazines, and paperback books around the globe. Relayed across oceans by Telstar satellites, television informs and entertains people in every hemisphere. Mail moves swiftly and efficiently; telephone cables connect all continents. More than any other single Invention, the gasoline engine has revolutionized modern life. City streets, clogged with automobile traffic tell us that. More recent discoveries have led to the surge of jet and supersonic plane travel. Even as man darts throughout the world, he is protected from disease as no man before him has been, and he can look forward to living a longer life than his grandfather did. Furthermore, man now commands a more plentiful supply of the world's goods. He may own not only a car and a home but also a stove, a refrigerator, a washing machine, books, phonograph records and cameras. Even his old age is better provided for through pension and retirement plans offered by the government and by industry. Thus the advantages of living in the twentieth century are many.
In contrast, one finds that progress can also have its drawbacks. It is true that today man moves more swiftly through the world. But in doing so, he often loses track of the roots and traditions that give substance and meaning to life. Nor does the fact that he is better informed through television, radio, newspapers, and books necessarily mean that he is wiser than men of earlier generations. Instead, the ease with which the written and spoken words are produced today sometimes seems to lead to superficiality of thought. Although man* has been given the gift of leisure and a longer life, he has become more restless and is often uncomfortable when he is not working. Flooded with goods and gadgets, he finds his appetite for material things increased, not satisfied. Man invented machines to replace his servants. But some current observers feel that man is in danger of becoming the servant of his machines. Mass production lowered the cost of many products, but as. prices went down, quality also often decreased. Another distressing aspect of modern life is its depersonalization. In many offices, automation is beginning to replace human workers. Some colleges identify students not by their names, but by their IBM numbers. Computers are winning the prestige that philosophers had in an earlier age. The frenzied pace in many cities is another of the less attractive by-products of an industrial society. Soon, man may even fall victim to the subtle loss of privacy that threatens him. Even today, he can be watched on closed circuit television screens as he walks in stores and hotels. He may be tracked by radar while driving on the highway or listened to by means of a microphone concealed in his heating system. He might even be sharing his telephone conversation with an unknown auditor. Certainly many problems face men living in the most technologically advanced era in history. As old enemies have been overcome, new enemies come into view, just like the old ones. Yet if modern man remains the master of his own fate, he can still fashion a satisfying life in this fast-moving century.
(from American English Rhetoric by Robert G. Bander)
Note. Bear in mind that in this discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of living in the 20th century, the author draws on facts characterizing the life in technologically advanced capitalist countries in general, and the USA in particular.
The model essay provides another example of development by analysis, that is, by breaking down the subject-matter into separate points and arranging these points in a suitable order.
The structure of the model essay has, however, one peculiarity which we have not discussed so far. The essay consists of two contrasting sections, the first dealing with the advantages of living in the 20th century, and the second mainly discussing its disadvantages. This method of organizing the subject-matter is generally known as analytical development by contrast.
The main problem which arises when you organize your pros and cons in separate sections is that in the second part you will have to remind your readers occasionally of the items contained in the first part. There are a number of such references in the model essay: "It is true that today man moves more swiftly through the world"; "Nor does the fact that he is better informed ..."; "Although man has been given the gift of leisure and a longer life ...", etc. If you remove these references, you will see at once why they are necessary: they establish a firm connection between the contents of the two parts of the essay, and, moreover, help the author to put his arguments more forcefully.
Another way of organizing similar material would be by contrasting pairs, instead of sections, throughout the composition. Here, for example, is a short extract from Anthony Trol-lope's essay in which he discusses some differences he has observed between Americans and Englishmen:
"The American, though he dresses like an Englishman, and eats roast beef with a silver fork — or sometimes with a steel knife — as does an Englishman, is not like an Englishman in his mind, in his aspirations, in his tastes, or in his politics. In his mind he is quicker, more universally intelligent, more ambitious of general knowledge, less indulgent of stupidity and ignorance in others, harder, sharper, brighter with the surface brightness of steel, than is an Englishman; but he is more brittle, less enduring, less malleable, and I think less capable of impressions. The mind of the Englishman has more imagination, but that of the American more incision. The American is a great observer, but he observes things material rather than things social or picturesque. He is a constant and ready speculator, but all speculations, even which come of philosophy, are with him more or less material ..."
(The Englishman and the American by Anthony Trollope)
Note that Trollope's opening sentence not only indicates how the work will be organized, but also tells you on what issues the Americans and the English will be contrasted: their minds, their aspirations, their tastes, and their politics.
Both methods of analytical development by contrast may be successfully used in dealing with a wide range of subjects, for example, in characterizing a person, in describing an abstract concept, an unfamiliar object or situation. Of all the means of development, development by contrast is one of the most forceful.
(Based on Robert G. Bander's analyses in American English Rhetoric)
Exercise 4. Write an essay on one of the following subjects:
1) The advantages and disadvantages of living in the country (in a town). 2) The pros and cons of television. 3) Architecture: old and new. 4) On not having a telephone (advantages and disadvantages). 5) On not knowing how to cook (advantages and disadvantages).
A summary is a brief account giving the main points of a matter. Summarizing, or making a summary, is necessary in a variety of everyday situations. You will need the ability to summarize when you answer an examination question, when you make notes at a lecture or write a business letter, prepare a paper based on collected material or write down a recipe for a honey cake.
In written practice, summarizing is training in style, its ultimate aim being the ability to present ideas, clearly and concisely expressed, in a logical and readable form. There are two types of summarizing: 1) free summarizing, and 2) précis-writing.
I. The free summary is an outline of some broad topic containing only the essential points and expressed in the minimum number of words. One of its varieties is the synopsis, i. e., the summary of a book usually standing at the beginning of the book to tell the reader what it is about.
Below is a very brief outline of the plot of the film Things to Come (1936) based on H. G. Wells' book The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Revolution.
"The film depicts a ghastly world war, beginning in 1940 and lasting for a quarter of a century — by which time the Dark Ages have returned. Ultimately humanity is saved by a group of technocrats who succeed in restoring order and paving the way for progress. By the 21st century, the world is a technical paradise — but there is trouble in this paradise. The trashy, ever-romantic populace craves excitement, having found progress incompatible with happiness. In the end, the first moon shot is carried out as a means of reminding mankind that its real task is not flabby self-satisfaction, but rather the disciplined conquest of the unknown." (107 words)
Here is an example of a synopsis: (H. G. Wells. The Invisible Man.)
The fanatical, ghoulish and triumphant researches of a student of chemistry obsessed with the idea that it is possible for human beings to be made invisible. (26 words)
II. Précis-writing, a more formal type of exercise consists of summarizing the contents of a paragraph, a passage, a chapter, or of a letter, a document, but not of a full-length book. It involves a close study of a piece of prose and setting forth of everything of importance in it in a third or a quarter of the existing length.
It should be understood from the outset that a précis does not express the "thought" of a passage, for the "thought" cannot be divorced from the words and, consequently, the passage cannot be expressed more concisely than its original length. The précis involves the summarizing of the gist of a passage and the exclusion of minor points. It is essential, therefore, that you should understand completely every shade of meaning in the passage to be dealt with. The finished summary effectively shows any vagueness in the understanding of the passage. Conversely, a good précis is a sign of a good brain.
Another important point to note at once is that you should use only the information taken from the passage. Do not include ideas you would yourself have expressed on the same subject.
The passages offered as a first step are provided with questions. The answers, if given correctly, will bring out the main points of the text. You are advised to observe the following rules: (1) the answers must be written within the number of words indicated. (Remember that articles and prepositions are also words!) (2) no introductions or conclusions are to be made; (3) express your answers in your own words as far as possible, but if the words of the original, carefully selected, come more easily, by all means use them; (4) there is no room in a summary for repetition and circumlocutions; avoid wordy phrases containing colourless words like character, nature, case, manner, kind, sort, for example, of a courageous character for courageous or brave, of various kinds for various, different, in many instances/cases for often, in spite of the fact that for although and so on.
The passage that follows can serve as a model.
The National Trust
The National Trust really means what it says. It is an association of men and women who seek to preserve places of historic interest and natural beauty; it is not a Government department, sustained by compulsory taxes, but a charity in the legal sense, depending for its existence on the voluntary support of the public. How it grew up is a story that throws a revealing sidelight on how things get done in Britain. Although it started as long ago as the mid-nineties and has, since the last war, been growing more and more effective, its exact position in the social and economic life of the nation is still widely misunderstood.
Average citizens, deafened by the laments of well-meaning people who cry havoc at any and every proposal to pull down a building or to build on an open space, are inclined to take a plague-on-both-your-houses line. They suspect that many of the preservers are unreasonable. On the other hand, they are equally suspicious of the crocodile tears of official and unofficial despoilers. Their instinct is sound. Much cant is talked about preservation; vandalism, sometimes commercial, sometimes bureaucratic, is rampant throughout the land. That is why the role of the National Trust has become increasingly significant. Before it takes properties, urban or rural, under its aegis, it screens them in a civilized and businesslike manner. The case for saving them from change or destruction has to be made out not merely on grounds of sentimental nostalgia, but because genuine historic or aesthetic values are at stake.
Two men and a woman began it. Canon Rawnsley, whose heart was in the Lake District, Sir Robert Hunter, a solicitor who loved the Surrey open spaces, and Miss Octavia Hill, that indefatigable doer of practical good works, were the founders in 1895. Their embryo Trust was first incorporated under license of the Board of Trade as a public company, not trading for profit, with power to acquire and preserve for the nation places of historic interest or natural beauty. Their first property was a small stretch of cliff overlooking the Barmouth estuary in North Wales, and to this was soon added the fourteenth-century timber-framed Clergy House at Alfriston in Sussex. The pattern had been set.
(from Graded Comprehension for Advanced Students by D. Fisher and J. Day)
What is the National Trust? How did it start and grow up? (70—75 words).
Why has the role of the National Trust become increasingly significant? (50—55 words)
The National Trust is a public organization with "power to acquire and preserve for the nation places of historic interest and natural beauty" and sustained by the voluntary support of the public. Founded in 1895 by Canon Rawnsley, Sir Robert Hunter and Miss Octavia Hill, it has become especially effective since World War II. Its first acquisitions were a stretch of cliff in North Wales and a fourteenth-century Clergy House in Sussex. (71 words).
Destruction of the environment continues on a great scale and can be prevented only by a well-organized campaign supported by the public. Average citizens, however, confused by
over-enthusiastic preservers and, on the other hand, deceived by the "crocodile tears" of despoilers, are inclined to be indifferent and inactive. (48 words)
Note that Answer 1 retains the vocabulary of the original, with the structure of sentences changed. Answer 2 is given "in our own words". You may use either approach to suit the circumstances.
Passages 1—2 are provided with questions which bring out the main points of your summary. The questions do not follow each passage closely, the aim being, where possible, to encourage you to use your own words. The number of words is not indicated for each question in Passages #1 and 2, so you should use your own judgment and vary it according to the relative importance of each point.
Finally, if you are asked to summarize a passage, there are some rules to follow:
Rule I: Read the passage carefully two or three times to be sure that you know what it is about. Isolate the main idea of the piece, state it to yourself and supply a meaningful title. With the title in mind, read the passage again to see how it is constructed, or, in other words, how the main idea is developed. While reading you have to observe the progress of the development, the windings of the thought which will enable you to follow the 2nd rule.
Rule II: Divide the passage up into its sections, using paragraph divisions as a guide. Bear in mind that some paragraphs may be more "packed" or "dense" than others (that is, the thought is expressed with more economy) and that you should take more material from there for your précis.
Rule III: Vary the number of words allotted for each section of the passage depending on the density of thought. In order to ascertain the relative density of the sections, write in your rough note-book the important words and phrases and use them in making rough notes on the important information of each division. Then, putting aside the original, write the draft of your summary, and count the number of words you have used.
Rule IV: In the rough draft it is likely that you will go well over the word limit. Correct your draft carefully, bringing the number of words down to the set limit. In doing so, use the methods of generalization and substitution. Generalization involves making a general statement instead of mentioning a number of individual points. Substitution means choosing a single word for a phrase and a phrase for a clause or sentence; a noun is often a satisfactory substitute for a noun clause, an adjective for an adjective clause, etc. Here are two examples:
1. Because I could not remember where I had left my car, I walked down street after street looking carefully at all the parked cars.
la. Unable to remember where I had parked, I went down the street after street looking carefully at each car.
2. The Captain did not know for what port he was bound or why the expedition was being undertaken. His orders were contained in a sealed packet which was not to be opened until he was 200 miles out to sea.
2a. The Captain sailed under sealed orders for an unknown destination.
Rule V: When you have brought your précis to within the prescribed limits, re-read the original and compare it carefully with your précis, to make sure you have omitted nothing essential. Write a fair copy of your précis, stating at the end the exact number of words you have used.
Rule VI: Remember that in a summary reported not direct speech is used. Archaic words are replaced by ones in modern use. See that your précis reads smoothly as a piece of continuous prose. The sentences in the summary must follow one another in an orderly and logical sequence. Vary sentence beginnings by using such phrases as At this point ...; On the other hand ...; In this way ...; // In this respect ...; etc.
Use conjunctions and connectives, such as: Nevertheless ...; However, ...; Despite ... ; Moreover ... ; Therefore ... ; Although .... Verbals can also be used, e. g.: Being ... In doing . .. ; Having . .. ; After having . .. , etc.
If all these requirements are fulfilled, the summary becomes an original composition. However mechanical an exercise summary-writing may seem, it is in fact a step further on the road to complete independence in your writing.