An essay is a well researched and logically structured answer to a particular question, or questions, usually presented as an argument. It is a point of view formulated by critically assessing the information or ideas relevant to the essay topic. It is presented in the form of a series of main points which support your direct answer to the question. Each of these points is addressed in a separate paragraph and is supported with evidence, explanation and/or examples. The argument presented in an essay should be supported by referencing authorities in the relevant field. The argument should also form a cohesive whole: this means the paragraphs need to be logically ordered and connections made between the points presented in those paragraphs.
Essays are used as an assessment tool to evaluate your ability to research a topic and construct an argument, as well as your understanding of subject content. This does not mean that essays are a 'regurgitation' of everything your lecturer has said throughout the course. Essays are your opportunity to explore in greater depth aspects of the course - theories, issues, texts, etc. - and in some cases relate these aspects to a particular context. It is your opportunity to articulate your ideas, but in a certain way: using formal academic style.
In any type of writing or presentation you need to consider the institutional context (the university), and your audience (who will be reading your essay). These elements influence the style and tone of your writing. In most instances your writing should be formal and typically objective. This means everyday language and slang as well as unsubstantiated opinion is unsuitable in the context of an academic essay. Furthermore, students write essays for their tutors and lecturers: in other words, as a student you are in the uncomfortable position of writing about a topic for someone who most likely knows more about it than you do! You are writing for someone who is familiar with the content, as well as the conventions and practices of the discipline, and in your own writing it is expected that you adapt your writing to suit this context.
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The assessment of student learning in general education courses is of critical importance in higher education. This study examines the utility of a writing assignment (application essays) in a basic communication course as an effective assessment tool. The authors conducted a content analysis of student portfolios to determine the extent to which application essays provide evidence of student learning in the basic course. The present study extends the findings from recent assessment efforts (Jones, Simonds, & Hunt, 2005) to explore types of mass media events students address in application essays and assess the revisions made to the assignment based on findings from Jones et al. (2005). Results reveal (a) the various communication events that students write about in application essays, (b) the communication concepts that students address, (c) that students typically, but not always, make appropriate connections when they write application essays, and (d) after revising the assignment based upon data from recent assessment efforts, more students made appropriate connections between the communication event and concept. Implications for classroom pedagogy and course management are discussed.