In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning.
The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as "attempts" to put his thoughts into writing, and his essays grew out of his commonplacing.
Inspired in particular by the works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Œuvres Morales (Moral works) into French had just been published by Jacques Amyot, Montaigne began to compose his essays in 1572; the first edition, entitled Essais, was published in two volumes in 1580.
For the rest of his life, he continued revising previously published essays and composing new ones.
Francis Bacon's essays, published in book form in 1597, 1612, and 1625, were the first works in English that described themselves as essays.
Ben Jonson first used the word essayist in English in 1609, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
English essayists included Robert Burton (1577–1641) and Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682).
In France, Michel de Montaigne's three volume Essais in the mid 1500s contain over 100 examples widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern essay.
In Italy, Baldassare Castiglione wrote about courtly manners in his essay Il Libro del oregano.
In the 17th century, the Jesuit Baltasar Gracián wrote about the theme of wisdom.
Once the comparison and the basis of the argument have been defined, then you need to organize the sequence of paragraphs in the main body of the argument.
An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author's own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of an article, a pamphlet, and a short story.
Essays have traditionally been sub-classified as formal and informal.
Formal essays are characterized by "serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length," whereas the informal essay is characterized by "the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme," etc.
Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author.
During the Age of Enlightenment, essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical literature, as seen in the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote essays for the general public.
The early 19th century, in particular, saw a proliferation of great essayists in English – William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey all penned numerous essays on diverse subjects. Whereas some essayists used essays for strident political themes, Robert Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather wrote lighter essays.
In the 20th century, a number of essayists tried to explain the new movements in art and culture by using essays (e.g., T. Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, and Charles du Bos wrote literary criticism essays.
As with the novel, essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in Europe with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu — loosely connected essays and fragmented ideas.
Many essay prompts require a comparison or contrast between two elements (e.g., two characters in a story, two different political theories, two different religious doctrines or scientific explanations, two different historical events, and so forth).
Comparison essays tend to focus on similarities, while contrast essays focus on differences.
Realistically, either type of essay will usually address both similarities and differences.
The key principles to remember in a comparative essay are that you must: 1. Narrow your focus and define what you are looking at and what you are not looking at 3.
Keep the comparison alive throughout the essay The thesis of a comparative essay can either state a preference for one of the two things being compared or make an interpretative assertion about the differences or similarities between the two.
A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles, and focuses more on the evolution of a theme or idea.
A photographic essay covers a topic with a linked series of photographs that may have accompanying text or captions.
He notes that "the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything", and adds that "by tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece".
Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference".
These three poles (or worlds in which the essay may exist) are: Huxley adds that the most satisfying essays "..the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist." The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt".
Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays (e.g., Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man).
While brevity usually defines an essay, voluminous works like John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population are counterexamples.
In some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada), essays have become a major part of formal education.
Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills; admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants, and in the humanities and social sciences essays are often used as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.