Writing Help

What Makes a Good Essay?

How to Delight the Reader

Admission, scholarship, and academic essays, as well as some kinds of professional writing, often involve pleasing the reader.

In admission and scholarship essays it is vital to please your readers about you. From the first sentence, your readers should feel that you are a person who is worth getting to know better. Give them every chance to enjoy what is best about you. By the end of the essay, your readers should feel glad that they came across such a wonderful person as yourself--they should want to give you whatever you have applied to get.

To please these "institutional" readers, you should (1) get to know the institution and what it values, (2) determine which aspects of yourself best match those values, and (3) demonstrate those values in the essay. Those values are demonstrated both directly and indirectly in your essay.

For example, readers from (1) a scientific institution that values people with a very specific scientific interest will enjoy reading (2) an account of a particular experiment you conducted or wish you could conduct, if at the same time you (3) show how enjoyable the experience was or would be. You would be demonstrating the genuine interest that the institution is looking for.

In academic essays you normally delight readers by helping them appreciate something that is beautiful, good, or true. Note that if you genuinely believe something is beautiful, good, or true, you can rely on your own taste to find reasons why. Why waste energy on an essay about something that doesn't stir you up in any way? Readers won't be interested unless you are.

Delighting readers means (1) showing them the great thing and (2) showing how or why it is great. For example, if the costumes in a film seemed beautiful to you, help your readers imagine what they looked like, and draw their attention to the best parts. If you think a certain policy would be good for the nation, predict all the good results that will come to pass, and connect them to the policy. If you are amazed at the way an author of a mystery keeps the plot so exciting, recreate the suspense by quoting the most suspenseful passages, and point out what makes them so suspenseful. If you think a philosopher has really hit the nail on the head, explain the significance of the problem that the philosopher addresses and then show the reader what the philosopher has contributed toward a solution.

In professional writing, you might want your readers to feel pleased with your work so far, with their business relationship with you, or with a particular product or service. A resume is like an admission essay in that your readers should become pleased with you. An advertisement encourages readers to be pleased with a product or service. Note that the reader is unlikely to keep reading once the magic is gone; an essay for a class will be read out of duty, but an ad can simply be thrown away. A business letter might demonstrate that you and your company are great at solving difficult problems efficiently, or that your company continues to value its relationship with your readers' company. Many business letters delight readers by being short, formal, and to the point--especially when the readers value directness and efficiency.