6 junio, 2024

Essay: what it is, characteristics, function, structure, types

We explain what an essay is, its characteristics, function, types that exist, and how it is done.

What is an essay?

A rehearsal It is a type of text on a specific topic, approached from a subjective point of view and without the rigor or support of a treatise or an academic or scientific work. It is written in prose, with a simple style and its function is to give an opinion, inform or explore the topic it deals with.

The essay as a genre arose in the 16th century and its name derives from the title of a work by Michel de Montaigne, the Essais (1597). Epistles, speeches and other texts dating back to Greco-Roman antiquity are also considered precursors of the essay, and would include authors such as Seneca, Plutarch or Marcus Aurelius.

Precursors of this genre could be the texts written in Japan in the eleventh century, such as the pillow bookby the author Sei Shōnagon, precursor in turn of a properly Japanese genre, the zuhitsuthe digressive and short essay, which literally means “running from the brush”.

Characteristics of a trial


Although there may be large trials, they are generally short. Some authors compare it with another genre in this regard: the short story, which must be read in one session or sitting down.

Simple language

The language is usually entertaining and simple, even when dealing with specialized topics or around scientific disciplines. Try to reach a wide audience.


It is an argumentative and analytical text that expresses the author’s opinion, through a development that is not always linear (hypothesis type, development, discussion and conclusions).

The author’s style is almost as important as the content, almost always biased by a personal vision.

free theme

The subject is usually free, the personal approach pointing more to the details than to generalities. The essay does not try to exhaust the subject but to address or highlight an aspect.

The essay can be interdisciplinary: starting from a scientific topic to derive a humanistic one, for example. It is not usually accompanied by a bibliography or supporting sources, and its structure is flexible and free of academic ties.

Function: the purpose of an essay

The function of the essay is to provide a subjective opinion on literary, scientific or world issues in general, usually intended to inform and influence a non-specialist audience.

An essay can be said to have four functions or purposes:

Presentation of arguments or opinions.
At an academic level, demonstrate that you know a specific topic.

Parts of an essay (structure)

It must be emphasized that the essay does not have a rigid structure, and its form depends on the personal style and prose of each author. However, it is possible to break down an essay into four elements:


It is important because it often indicates where the author intends to go on a certain topic.


In the introduction, the author explains what the essay will be about, without going into it in depth but exposing the importance of the subject matter or the reasons that led him to write it.

Body of the text or development

In the development of the essay, the author delves deeply into the main theme, exposing his ideas, facts, events or whatever he deems appropriate to defend his opinion. This is the longest part of the essay.


Normally in essays the author presents a conclusion in which he summarizes the main idea, proposes new related topics to deal with or strengthens his argument.

Test Types

The most common types of essay are:

confessional or autobiographical essay

It is the essay that revolves around facts and personal reflections of an author, they are ethical or sentimental approaches to various aspects of life. In this mode, authors such as Michel de Montaigne, Blaise Pascal, François de La Rochefoucauld or Emil Cioran stand out.

philosophical essay

It revolves around philosophical ideas without the rigor of treatises or academic monographs. In this modality, and in Spanish, we can mention the outstanding voices of José Ortega y Gasset, Miguel de Unamuno, José Vasconcelos, María Zambrano, Fernando Savater and José Enrique Rodó, among others.

Literary essay

It addresses literature from various aspects, and in Spanish it is one of the most cultivated types of essays. Some names of authors of this type of essay are: Azorín, Alfonso Reyes, José Lezama Lima, Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges, Arturo Uslar Pietri, Pedro Henríquez Ureña, followed by a long etcetera.

historical essay

The purpose of this type of essay is to reinterpret various moments in history, generally to explain contemporary situations. Familiar examples of this kind of test are the biography of the caribbeanby German Arciniegas The buried mirrorby Carlos Fuentes or The Indian Travelersby Francisco Herrera Luque.

Political and sociological essay

They are essays that deal with society from a political point of view, and it is also a highly cultivated prose in Latin America and the world. In Spanish, authors such as Miguel de Unamuno, Octavio Paz, Mario Vargas Llosa, José Carlos Mariátegui, José Pablo Feinmann, etc. stand out.

scientific essay

They are those essays that address the world of science from different perspectives. The most recent concerns addressed by essayists have dealt with ecological issues and the ethical limits of scientific development.

A classic of this type is Icarus or the future of scienceby Bertrand Russell, also Cosmosby Carl Sagan or brief history of timeby Stephen Hawking.

Steps to write an essay

The following will explain how to write an essay, step by step, and with an example of an essay on COVID-19.

In 2020, for reasons that we all know, social networks and digital publications have been invaded by essays on the COVID-19 pandemic and on the effects of quarantine on a personal, local and global level, from different perspectives: historical, socioeconomic, political, scientific, psychological, artistic, etc.

1- Previous steps: research and choose a style

Before starting to write an essay, the author must document himself and define the way in which he will write it.

If we are going to talk about COVID-19, it is convenient to review the publications on the subject as exhaustively as possible, especially those that are close to the aspect that we want to deal with.

For example, if we want to focus on the effects of the pandemic on personal relationships, it would be advisable to search for and read sociological and psychological articles and essays, as well as testimonials on the networks about how love, family, and friendship relationships have changed.

We can approach the subject in two ways: inductively –starting from an anecdote or a particular situation and develop it until reaching general conclusions–; or start from general statements and see how they affect particular situations, that is, deductively.

Considering the chosen topic (personal relationships), an inductive approach may be convenient for us, for example:

Francisco, a resident of a neighborhood in Madrid, prepares to visit his girlfriend after being isolated for several months and convalescing due to COVID-19.

Or you can narrate your own experience and how your relationships have changed during the quarantine.

The style will depend, apart from the author’s preference, on what media or public the essay is directed to. It can be humorous, confessional, literary, journalistic. Usually the author has his own style and this aspect is not raised.

It is important that the writing is entertaining and maintains the interest of the reader.

2- Choose a title

The title must be eye-catching, and can be accompanied by an explanatory subtitle. There are essays that we all remember because of the sonority of the title, such as The tragic sense of lifeof Unamuno, or The Labyrinth of Solitude, of peace. In our case it could be something like this:

«A kiss before dying: COVID-19 and new personal relationships at a distance»; either «noli tangere me! Personal relationships after the pandemic” (noli tangere me is a Latin locution that means «don’t touch me»).

We will avoid titles that are too academic, unless it is an essay to be presented at an educational or trade institution.

3- Write the content of the essay

As we said above, the essay does not have a formal structure, such as a thesis or a treatise, but even so, it must comply with certain steps to achieve its goal. It must consist of an opening or introduction, a development and a conclusion or closure, even if these divisions are not seen or indicated in the body of the text.

The opening or introduction, in the case of our essay on COVID-19, could begin with the story of a personal meeting with a friend or partner, keeping our distance and with the presence of masks and the use of alcohol gel.

The author may wonder if contacts such as kisses or hugs will be restricted to couples after passing medical evaluations, or if we are about to enter into some kind of health dictatorship.

The initial anecdote or story can give way to more general information, scientific studies, journalistic reports, statements by political or intellectual figures; the social effects of the current pandemic can be compared with similar situations in the history of humanity, such as the Spanish flu of 1918, or the plague in the fourteenth century.

The author can suggest where the COVD-19 pandemic may be taking us, arguing his point of view.

An elegant way to close the essay would be to take up the anecdote of the personal encounter with which the article opened and end it with a twist that highlights the author’s position, say, for or against returning to physical contact in public.

Or express your bewilderment about what the world will be like after the pandemic.

Themes of interest

Literary essay

Argumentative essay

expository essay


Test theory. Taken from academia.edu.
The essay: between gender and discourse. Taken from academia.edu
Rehearsal. Taken from es.wikipedia.org.

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