Reading is a frustrating experience because writers are frustrating people who don’t have the reader’s best interest in mind when they write. Writers think about themselves. Instead, writers should think about the people who are going to read the essay and stop thinking about how many people are reading the essay that is barely readable (quantification is part of the problem but that’s for another essay).
Reading is hard and writers don’t make it essay. That’s why readers are more likely to be viewers, running to Youtube to see that video on how to unclog a sink instead of reading instructions on it. Watching a video takes five minutes, tops. Reading something takes double or triple that, especially when you have to re-read it because you don’t understand it. This issue has created the “listicle,” the article that is divided into bite-sized chunks that are easy to digest. It’s a list! A reader knows that the list will end and they can easily scroll down. Instead of becoming more creative, writers have dumbed down their essays because they think their readers are dumb. It’s the opposite. We should create more creative, interesting, better constructed content and trust that our readers crave it because, hey, guess what, they do.
Readers are reading crap because we aren’t writing anything else for them to read.
For example: The Lead. Why do we write a “lead” that barely matters and that any educated reader knows they can skip? And they do skip it. That lead you wrote that you found clever, tying your essay’s topic to that family trip you took or that lead you wrote that connects dating in the 21st Century to Instagram? No one read that bullshit. Most essays will start with something like this:
When I was a kid, writing essays was a fun experience. I was trying to write what was in my heart and I hoped other people would have fun reading it. Education ruined the fun when I realized that I had to write in a rigid structure in order to gain a good grade. Why couldn’t I experiment? And why didn’t school let me?
Ugh! Terrible! Horrible waste of time that gives the reader absolutely nothing.
Next is the “meat.” Why is the “meat” in the middle? It’s the most important part of the essay. All the cool, powerful, potent stuff you wrote in the middle of the essay? All that interesting stuff that people really need to read? Why is it stuffed in the middle like a fucking sandwich? Why can’ t the reader read that first?
And don’t even get me started on the conclusion paragraph. Why do you even write a conclusion paragraph that restates everything you’ve already written about? Why are you making readers read that shit twice?
Every essay, in some way or another, sounds the same.
An essay’s construction should facilitate the reading of the essay. I’m not saying it has to be boring. I’m saying that it should be interesting and relevant. It doesn’t have to be stereotypical or formulaic. Essay writers need to remember that writing can be, and should be, an art form. Art pushes boundaries and endeavors to try something new. This is a trait that essay writers sorely lack.
Here is the typical essay construction as it is taught in grade school and most freshmen composition classes:
-You start with an introduction that leads the reader down to your content. We do this because, for some reason, we think our readers are cats that follow the flashlight beam wherever we point it.
-Next, we have the body paragraphs. These paragraphs make our case and develop our ideas and try and convince the reader that what we are saying is right. These are important parts of our essay but they lack the creativity that is wasted on the lead.
-Usually, there is a rebuttal (or refutation) and the qualifier. These sections explain that we may be wrong, just in case we are wrong in the future, and attack the other side that thinks we are wrong when we aren’t. This is usually called the counterargument. We put these towards the end because we think our readers have to hear all our bullshit before they can understand someone else’s.
-Lastly, there is a conclusion that no one reads because it doesn’t matter.
Here is what I wish we would do, or at least try and do more often.
-Forget your stupid lead. Don’t write it. Start your essay at the meat and assume that your readers are educated people that can connect the dots without an extreme amount of handholding. You are writing a lead because you think you need one. You don’t. Instead, put that creativity into the boring body paragraphs. That cool metaphor tying your current relationship to “The Wire” season 2? Save it for when you have to use some data or charts. Don’t waste it at the beginning of the essay. By limiting or eliminating the lead introduction paragraphs, you’re saving yourself some creative energy and you’re saving your readers time.
-Your body paragraphs are important. They should go first or as early as possible. You should also make them fun to read. Pour as much creativity and energy into them as you can. Again: Don’t waste the readers time. Say what you have to say but don’t just say stuff and think the reader is going to hang around. This isn’t a party with an open bar. Reading is difficult. When you read, you are looking at symbols and translating them into meaning. We do this quickly because we’ve been trained to do it but don’t get it twisted: reading takes energy and it wears you down. Take this into consideration when you make a reader slug through your 5000 word piece about the relevance of “He-man and the Masters of the Universe” and it’s vague connections to the Obama administration.
-Your qualifier/rebuttal combo can be in the essay, but ask yourself: why are you writing it? Are you qualifying yourself because you honestly think there are holes in your argument? Or are you qualifying yourself because you think you should? Because essays you’ve read always do it? And why are you writing a rebuttal? And does your rebuttal start with, “some on the other side of this argument think blah blah blah however” because if your rebuttal starts like that do me a favor and throw your entire laptop in the garbage and then jump in the garbage with it and sit there and think about how horrible you are. Your rebuttal doesn’t have to be that way! There are good reasons for a qualifier and a rebuttal but there are also great reasons not to have a qualifier or a rebuttal. Structure your essay to do what it needs to do, not what you think it needs to do because of tradition.
-Don’t write the conclusion paragraph. Don’t write the conclusion paragraph. No one reads it. Don’t write the conclusion paragraph. End the essay. Just end it. Just end it. Just end it. Just end it. No one reads the conclusion paragraph. Just end it. Just end it. Stop it. Just don’t write it. Don’t write it.
I’m not saying that formulaic essays are bad. And I’m for sure not saying that essays written in a traditional format are always terrible. However, a case can be made for more originality and think-out-the-box efforts that would make reading a joy. Yes, that might mean that writing will be harder to do, but don’t you think that don’t write the conclusion paragraph. Don’t write the conclusion paragraph. No one reads it. Don’t write the conclusion paragraph. End the essay. Just end it. Just end it. Just end it. Just end it. No one reads the conclusion paragraph. Just end it. Just end it. Stop it. Just don’t write it. Don’t write it.