Familiarizing Yourself with Common Types of Essays


As an English professor who typically teaches freshmen composition every semester, I know that for this type of class, you typically are tasked with writing several different types of essays:

  • The comparison and contrast essay
  • The memorable experience essay
  • The argumentative essay/persuasive

The Comparison and Contrast Essay

In this type of essay, you want to emphasize similarities and differences between things.

You could compare and contrast the difference between a gluten and non-gluten diet, between eating processed versus organic foods, or between your perceptions of what an event would be like and how it actually is.

In a contrast essay, you might contrast your perceptions of an experience both before and after you experienced something. For example,

“my perceptions of what dorm life would be like before I actually lived it, were very misguided. Although I thought the experience would be very hard, it was actually a character-building experience for me that allowed me to form solid relationships with many different kinds of people.”

The Memorable Experience Essay

This essay is one in which you write about an experience which changed you as a human being. You want to pick something significant and to focus upon one – just one experience which caused you to experience some type of epiphany—a moment when you realized something significant about you or your life.

The moment I knew I wanted to become a ski instructor was a mind-blowing experience. I actually hurt myself skiing with some friends in a Swiss alpine journey we took together. I had never been formally instructed in skiing, and therefore, I had taught myself, imitating my friends over time. I even thought I was a good skier, until I broke my leg in three places trying to do a major jump. I now teach students to help them to avoid making the same mistake that I did. What I came to see is that it is best to take your time and learn to do things correctly the first time, before leaping into a major experience which might hurt you.

The rest of the essay would cycle back and recount the experience, moving toward your realization.

The Argumentative/Persuasive Essay

This essay is one you probably have already written before. In this essay, you want to call your reader to take action.

The other day I heard on the news that polar bears are now threated with extinction within 20 years because of global warming’s melting of the polar icecaps. I believe we must do something now about global warming before we lose our polar bears.

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