Three Types of Essays Every Student Encounters

Posted by Kiana Nordskog on 10/28/20 1:09 PM


Being able to write well is a fundamental skill in any career field. To prepare students for the real world, Patrick Henry College exposes its students to several different types of essays in its common core classes. Here's a few different types of essays students write within their first two years at PHC:

1. Analytical

Of the three types of essays, students will be writing analytical essays most frequently. Analytical essays require a thorough understanding of the text and an ability to dissect  materials by means of logical reasoning and argumentation. From there, students must use those same skills to make an informed conclusion to communicate to the reader. 

At the heart of every analytical essay is the same process: perception, analysis, and argumentation. 

Both History of the United States I and II, taught by Dr. Robert Spinney, require students to write a persuasive essay based on the readings he assigns. The thesis and topic sentences are the most important pieces of the essay. The thesis is the whole crux of the essay, containing a clear argument for the reader to take away. From the thesis flows the topic sentences. Topic sentences should not merely state what the paragraph is about but should also share the conclusion in the paragraph. This best helps the reader understand where the paper is headed. The sentences following the topic sentence should provide the evidence which leads to that particular conclusion.

At this point readers should know 1.) what your paper is about and 2.) the ultimate conclusion the paper will draw as a whole and from each paragraph. 

Throughout the rest of the paper, students must argue their point  concisely without any flowery language. Students commonly make the mistake of using passive voice in their essays. Furthermore, students need to be familiar with Turabian paper formatting (also known as Chicago formatting) for their essays. At PHC, most papers are written in Turabian. In some cases, professors will allow students to write in MLA formatting, but only infrequently.  Almost all essays at PHC have a minimum word count, so it is fairly tempting to write fluff to meet the requirements. This, however, will only tank your grade. As much as possible, make sure to fill your essay with meaningful content. 

At PHC, faculty encourage students to push beyond the obvious and think outside the box. Dr. Spinney, for instance, encourages students to think about their topics from someone else's shoes, challenging them to think like someone with an opposing argument.  Thinking about the topic from a different perspective helps students develop character traits like compassion and to strengthen one's argument.

Similarly, Dr. Steve Hake, Professor of Literature at PHC, encourages students to ask many questions. As they read the text, they ought to keep a running list of questions they expect their paper to answer.

Careful analysis and intentionality will render a good argument, a good paper, and hopefully an equally stellar grade.

2. Research

When writing research papers, students should structure their paper in order to answer or prove an assertion made in their thesis. If it sounds like the process behind an analytical essay, you're not wrong.

So what's the difference? 

Where an analytical paper centers on evaluation and argumentation, a research paper is really about evidence and precise articulation. You will have to be able to make a statement about something in history and then back up that assertion with facts and qualified sources.

In History of Western Civilization I & II, core classes at PHC, students pick their own research topics in a set time period. The best way to pick a subject is to conduct more research on a topic expounded upon in class. Professors usually suggest students find a topic that's of interest to them. 

After a topic is picked, it's time to dig! There is a lot of freedom in how the actual research gets done. But regardless of topic, the more research the better.

In research papers, citations are more important than in analytical papers because students deal with more sources and because of an emphasis on evidence. As is the case in all academic writing, proper formatting and proper attribution is the difference between original authorship and plagiarism. In order to combat plagiarism, be sure to double check and triple check the formatting of the citations and bibliography. 

[Read Top Five Mistakes Students Make with Turabian Formatting.]

3. Creative

Unlike analytical or research papers, creative papers are largely unstructured, leaving students up to their imaginations and writing prowess. 

Dr. Hake allows students to write a creative paper for Western Literature I & II. A creative paper can mean a variety of topics or formats. There is no one way of doing a creative paper correctly. Students can write a drama, a poem, or a fictional story. The purpose of a creative paper is to help the author understand the text in a better way.

Students have to base their creative paper in an idea, or a concept - maybe one that they've read in class. In Western Lit, that's the assignment. For Hake creative papers, there should be a clear connection between the submitted paper and the textbook. As a result, a good creative paper will help establish a new perspective to understand the text from. In addition, it should surprise the reader.

Once again, being able to write is a fundamental skill to have in your background not just for school, but at jobs too. However developing good writing habits does not come overnight. Students must consciously improve and hone their writing skills every time they pick up a pen or open their laptop. 


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