How to Write an Illustration Essay
An illustrative essay is probably one of the easiest types of essays to write; and once you have mastered this type of writing, just about all other types of essays will become easier as well. That's because no matter what type of writing you're doing, if you're trying to make a point, illustrations make it much easier to accomplish your goal.
Definition of an illustration essay
The first step in mastering the writing of an illustration essay is to understand exactly how this type of essay is most effectively used. Simply put, an illustration essay uses a variety of examples to support or prove your thesis. For example, if your thesis statement is:
“The winter months cause most residents to hibernate.”
Your essay would contain descriptions of several facts that support this thesis, such as:
- The roads are nearly empty with just 2 or 3 cars passing every hour compared to 100s of cars during the warmer months of the year.
- The social activities in town are poorly attended when the weather is foul.
The illustrative essay is nothing more than providing facts that back up your thesis. However, it's a descriptive and even colorful style of writing that makes the essay interesting to read.
Creating a paper that's interesting to read
Obviously, a statement of facts such as those above is a boring way to prove a point. You'll better engage your reader by taking the concept of illustration to heart. When you think of an illustration an image comes to mind that is drawn to help the viewer understand something. A word illustration is much the same. The writer uses words to paint a picture for the reader so that the reader can visualize what the author is trying to say.
While an illustration essay is among the easiest to tackle, beware of it being too easy. It does require some thought to make it work. A few things to keep in mind while coming up with examples to prove your thesis include:
- Make sure your example makes a clear point. A long narrative about your personal feelings about winter may seem relevant to the topic, but it doesn't prove that most people hibernate.
- Before crafting your essay, spend some time brainstorming some good examples and then pick your top three - four examples. Once you have your strongest points, spend the time to carefully “illustrate” each example so that it's crystal clear to the reader that this helps prove your main point.
- Make sure that your thesis statement for this type of essay is not about arguing a position; rather it's about a phenomenon that exists.
- Transitioning between your examples takes some practice so that the essay doesn't read like a list of examples, because you start each new point with the phrase, “for example?‚?¦” Instead, find other words that help transition from point to point.
The two examples listed for the winter weather thesis above could be tied together by correlating the lack of participation in social events to the lack of travel. These are like cause and effect example:
“?‚?¦the lack of participation in social events is further illustrated by the lack of traffic on the roads. People just don't like to drive in bad weather, which is why there are so few cars on the road in winter as compared to summer. ?‚?¦”
Structuring and writing the essay
As with all essays, the format of an illustrative includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction states your thesis, the body provides examples of why the thesis is true, and the conclusion restates the thesis and draws a conclusion to the paper. With the winter weather example we've been using here, a conclusion might be that the winter months are not good for planning a major event that you want a lot of people to attend.
Ever hear the phrase “for illustration purposes only”?
An illustration is a picture or drawing, but in this case, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with actual images. “For illustration purposes only” means that examples are being presented to highlight or explain a topic.
The same is true for an illustration essay. Its purpose is to use evidence to demonstrate a point or prove that a phenomenon exists.
Let’s take a closer look at that definition and learn how to write a good illustration essay.
What Is an Illustration Essay?
At the core of an illustration essay are examples—and plenty of them. The goal of the essay is to use various examples to prove a point or phenomenon.
Don’t confuse the illustration essay with an argument essay.
Although an argument essay uses examples (just as an illustration essay does), the goal of an argument essay is to convince readers. It takes a stance on a subject and attempts to persuade readers of the writer’s opinion.
The illustration essay, on the other hand, should avoid taking a stance and avoid personal opinion. It should remain objective and provide examples to illustrate.
With this definition of an illustration essay in mind, let’s move on to actually writing one.
How to Write a Good Illustration Essay
One of the key steps in writing any good essay is planning. You’ll need to do things like prewrite, research, and outline to focus your ideas.
Here are four steps to help you plan your illustration essay.
Step 1: Find an appropriate topic
Remember, you’re not writing an argument essay, so don’t choose something like abortion or gun control as the focus of your paper.
Instead, choose something like one of the following:
- College freshmen often become overwhelmed during their first semester.
- People who live in cold climates are likely to become depressed in winter.
- Children are influenced by the type of television programs they watch.
These topics don’t present an argument. They present a topic that requires you to incorporate examples to help illustrate the point or phenomenon.
Step 2: Brainstorm a list of examples
You’re going to need a fair amount of examples to support your thesis. Of course, the longer your paper, the more examples you’ll need.
Make sure you list more examples than you think you’ll ultimately include. Chances are, not all of your examples will fit into your paper, so it’s better to be able to leave out a few ideas than to struggle to find more.
Let’s say you’re writing about college freshmen becoming overwhelmed during their first semester.
Your list might include the following examples of what overwhelms students:
- Classes and the corresponding workload.
- Balancing work, school, and family obligations.
- Sorority or fraternity obligations.
- Extracurricular activities, such as games, practices, and performances.
- Pressure to maintain grades or to maintain sports or scholarship eligibility.
- Learning how to do certain tasks for themselves for the first time, such as cooking and laundry.
Your list might need to be longer than this to ultimately find the best three or four key examples, but a short list is a solid start to finding the best examples for your paper.
Step 3: Do research
There are certainly times when your prof won’t require you to include any research. If that’s the case, you’ll simply use your own experiences and ideas as examples.
If you need to incorporate research, however, you will want to find appropriate examples from your sources.
For instance, one example might be a student who almost dropped out of college because he was overwhelmed with coursework. Another example could be a student who sought treatment for panic attacks because she felt pressured to maintain a high GPA in order to keep her scholarship.
Don’t forget to cite your sources in proper format, such as APA or MLA.
Read 5 Best Resources to Help With Writing a Research Paper if you’re looking for a little help with finding sources. (And always make sure they pass the CRAAP test!)
Step #4: Make an outline
The outline is your chance to pull all your information together and sketch out your ideas.
When outlining, you’ll decide which examples you’ll include in your paper and what types of information you’ll provide to illustrate those examples.
You’ll also decide in what order you’ll discuss the examples. It’s often a smart idea to include your strongest example last. That’s what readers will remember.
Don’t forget to include a strong thesis statement in your outline too. That will ensure you have a clear direction for your paper.
2 Tips to Remember
Before you begin drafting your illustration essay, keep these two important tips in mind.
Tip #1: Know the assigned point of view
By point of view, I don’t mean your opinion on the topic. (Remember, your opinion won’t be included in an illustration essay.) I mean the point of view from which you write—you know, first person (I, we, our, us), second person (you, your, you’re), or third person (he, she, it, they).
Third person is preferred in academic writing, so even if you don’t have to include research in your essay, don’t assume that you can write in first person. Check the assignment guidelines to make sure you’re writing from the assigned point of view.
Tip #2: Include enough examples
Your prof probably won’t tell you how many examples you’ll need to include in order to write a successful illustration essay. I don’t have the magic number, either.
What I can tell you, though, is that you should definitely include more than one example to support each key point.
In a shorter essay, two to three examples will generally suffice. If you’re writing an essay longer than four to five pages, you’ll probably need more than three examples to support each main idea.
Check out these sample illustration essays to see how other students incorporate examples into their essays.
Give Yourself a Hand!
You’ve put a lot of time and effort into planning and drafting your paper. Good work!
At this point, I suggest you take a break. Take a walk. Get a snack. Let your mind focus on something else before you return to your paper to revise. If you have the time, set your paper aside for a day or two, then make any necessary revisions.
At Kibin, we’re always ready to lend a hand with revision too, so let us provide some constructive feedback while you take that walk.
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