It you’ve ever written an essay for a school assignment, there’s a good chance you’ve wondered what they have to do with your future. When I was in university – which is basically all essays, all the time – my friends and I would wonder exactly that all the time, especially when we were struggling with a thesis or feeling bitter over a bad grade.
When it comes to school essays, here’s the first thing you need to keep in mind: school isn’t just about helping you get a job. I know that’s a hard pill to swallow, especially when post-secondary costs as much as it does. But an education is so much more than years of getting ready to join the workforce.
But this post isn’t about school. We’re here to talk about how learning to write a good essay will equip you with important skills that will help no matter you end up doing after you graduate.
Let’s break it down. Writing essays teaches you to…
1) Communicate clearly
The entire point of an essay is to tell the reader something. You’re not just trying to teach the reader about your topic, you’re also supposed to convince them of your perspective.
A good essay is clear about what it intends to do. As one professor I used to work with put it, “tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em, and then tell ’em again” (which is a memorable way of summing up the introduction, body, and conclusion structure essays follow). A good essay is direct and makes clear connections between ideas: no spin, no purple prose, and no bullshit.
2) Think critically
You hear the term “critical thinking” a lot in school, but I don’t think a lot of students really understand what that means.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, critical thinking is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form judgement”. I also like this definition from Dictionary.com that states critical thinking is “clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.”
Critical thinking – and therefore critical writing – asks smart questions and considers the broader implications and impacts of specific subject matter. And being able to think critically is an invaluable skill in life, no matter what you end up doing for a living. Critical thinkers come up with sound solutions to complex problems, can consider multiple perspectives, and are better able to identify bias.
3) Present strong arguments
An argument without evidence is just an opinion, and everybody has those, but that doesn’t make them right. There are plenty of times in both life and your career when you’ll need to make arguments. If you want to win them, you’d better come prepared. Providing sound, reliable, and relevant evidence and examples to back up your thesis (which is to say, the whole point of your argument) is how you’re going to do that.
Let’s be honest: essay assignments are almost never fun. I mean, I certainly didn’t enjoy them when I was in school. But they’re still valuable teaching tools, and hopefully now you see why.
So, the next time you find yourself banging your head off your keyboard over an essay, just remember: it’s about so much more than getting a job. By the time you’re finished with all those school papers you’re going to be a stronger communicator, a critical thinker, and you’ll have a significantly better chance of winning your next argument too 😉