Posts tagged with: essay analysis

I find myself giving this bit of quick advice to students all the time, but realized today that I’d never written it down for y’all.

You might not have time for this, and that’s OK, but if you finish your essay early, there are a few productive things you can do that don’t involve wholesale changes (which are not realistically advisable given the fact that you’re writing in pencil). The minute you write the last period on your conclusion, go back to the beginning and scour your essay for two things:

  1. Grammar errors (especially in the introduction, where they’ll really make a bad first impression)
  2. Opportunities to erase one word and replace it with a better vocabulary word

You’ll never know for sure, of course, but the tiny changes you make here might improve how your Essay Star looks on 2 of its 5 points, and therefore might tip the scales in your favor if a grader is on the fence about your score.

[With the 2nd edition of the Math Guide all done, I’m again turning my attention to my Essay Guide, which I’ve been quietly working on for some time. It’s really starting to take shape now, but I need sample essays to fill it out. If you’re interested in writing some practice essays for me, in exchange for scores, commentary, and access to the Beta, fill out this form.]
© Copyright C P Smith and licensed for reuse
under this Creative Commons Licence.

My grad school semester is winding down, and I’m starting to think about all the fun Essay Guide work I’m going to be doing the minute I had in my last paper. To that end, I wanted to invite you to write an essay in response to the prompt below. If you do, I’ll grant you access to the Essay Guide Beta, and I might choose to use your essay in the book. Details below.

Physically, morally, and emotionally we are woven into the web of life with old-growth redwoods and rainforests and dying lakes and polluted rivers. We need them, not simply as a matter of intelligent resource management, but for the good of our souls. The same toxins that kill them run in our blood, the ugliness of their suffering afflicts our eye, for all we know images of their dire fate haunt our dreams. And surely children who grow into life without knowing wild nature will be less than fully human.

Adapted from Theodore Roszak, “Sanity, the psyche, and the spotted owl”

Assignment: Does one’s emotional well-being partially depend on one’s environment? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

The details

I’m looking for clear, concise writing in SAT essay format. Which means I need to be able to believe that what you submit could fit on 2 pages, hand-written, and that you did it in 25 minutes. I will score the first 10 submissions I get and I will dissect some in great detail in my Essay Guide. To gain access to the guide, submit your essay as a comment below. Once you’ve done that, use this form to tell me your GMail address, ignoring all the bits about Facebook (that’s for a different contest). For more details on why you need a GMail address, read up on the Beta here. Please note: By entering this contest, you are giving me permission to reprint and comment on your essay in a book that I might sell someday. I will not use your name.. In exchange for this, I am giving you early access to that book as I draft it. If that doesn’t sound like a good deal to you, do not enter this contest.

This is Part 4 of a multi-part essay series. Check out those other parts first, if you haven’t already.
[part 1, part 2, part 3]

Deep analysis avoids claim and summary as much as possible. If you make a claim, you back it up with examples and reasoning. If you give a summary, you also explain the purpose of telling us that summary.

If you make a claim, then you have to tell us why you believe that, then you have to tell us so what if it’s true (in other words, why should we care?) If you make a summary, you have to tell us the purpose or role of that summary in your overall argument.

One of the telltale signs of weak writing is the repetition of the same claim in different words. Take, for example, an essay trying to argue for placing stricter regulations on factory pollution output to save our planet.

This weak writer might say something like:

Pollution is bad. Not only does it hinder our breathing, but it also hurts the world. We will not have a place for our children at the current rate of pollution, so pollution is a serious concern. We must pass laws to ensure that factories, cars, and other pollutant-producing agents do not continue to harm our planet. If we stop pollution, then we can have a clean, safe earth to enjoy. 

Think long and hard about what that paragraph actually said. In a nutshell, it told us in no less than five ways that pollution is bad and that we need to stop it. Every sentence is a claim. Not once did this writer explain WHY he feels pollution is bad or HOW it is hurting our world.

Sure, he claims that we will not have a place for our children with such high levels of pollution, but did he explain why not? No. He expects the reader to make the connection himself that pollution leads to ecosystem death which leads to an impoverished earth with little natural resources left for our children. This writer completely omitted that crucial link, that critical middle step that connects his claim to true analysis.

He is betting on his readers already agreeing with him that pollution is damaging the world, so he is in effect, singing to the choir. But what happens if his reader is the pro-factory businessman who argues that if we stop pollution, then you can kiss your iPhones and fancy laptops goodbye? Maybe the truth is we need some pollution in order to advance our world technologically.

Here’s how I would go about fixing things:

Pollution is a serious concern to the future well-being of our planet because pollution is throwing our ecosystem out of balance. As factories pump out millions of pounds of toxic gases each year, the natural protective ozone lining in our atmosphere has eroded, which allows damaging radiation waves to infiltrate our world. While the radiation may feel subtle and slow, just looking at the last ten years will reveal a much different story. In South America, the radiation caused as a direct result of pollution has killed off thousands of acres of natural forests. Without sustainable vegetation for the herbivores to consume, the population of these animals has dwindled tremendously. As a result of these diminished numbers, the carnivores are also left scrambling for food (the herbivores). Ultimately, pollution has caused many forms of life that depend upon one another to die out.

Furthermore, pollution has adversely impacted natural processes that living organisms need to survive. Normally, plants are able to convert sun energy into energy for themselves to grow, but the increased radiation has actually stopped photosynthesis from occurring altogether in some species of plants. This leads to widespread plant death, which not only affects the plants, but also the animals that depend on them. Not only this, but the loss of such tremendous amounts of plants means there are fewer plants to filter out the toxic CO2 gases that animals breathe out. There are also fewer plants to give off life-sustaining oxygen. Clearly, pollution creates a long chain effect of damage, so we must place safeguards in place to curb such damage to our world.

Notice the difference here. I actually explain HOW pollution damages our world by describing how pollution ripped a hole in the ozone layer, which allowed radiation to enter our atmosphere, which in turn destroyed vegetation and animals. I explain that because of pollution, the entire ecosystem has lost its balance. I even describe how radiation caused by pollution stops photosynthesis from happening, but I didn’t stop there. Because so what if photosynthesis stops? I actually take it all the way home by saying that photosynthesis failure means the death of animals, loss of CO2 filters, and decrease of oxygen production. Only after all of that do I make a final summary claim, but even this final summary claim explains HOW pollution hurts us (it creates a long chain effect of damage).

Deep analysis follows a simple structure:
   Claim  How/Why?        →        So What/Who Cares?
 Summary         →          So What/Who Cares?

  • Claim: Pollution is bad.
  • How/Why (is it bad?): It created hole in ozone layer, which allowed radiation to enter and kill off plants, which killed off animals. Radiation caused by pollution also hindered photosynthesis, which stopped CO2/O2 exchange.
  • So What/Who Cares?: So if we don’t stop pollution, our world is going to crap.

Remember, the summary is where you simply describe what happened. A summary does not tell us why this detail or event is important. Therefore, you MUST tell us the reason you wanted us to know about this detail or event, this summary. You must tell us the role/purpose of your summary. In other words, the so what/who cares.

TRY IT OUT – Deep Analysis

Classify the following as 1) claim, 2) summary, or 3) analysis.

  1. Parents who shelter their children are doing a service by protecting these kids from harsh experiences that may permanently emotionally scar them.
  2. The most successful people in life are those who can identify and leverage the skills of others rather than those who learn to possess such skills themselves.
  3. Sharing knowledge and working as a team is more effective than working as an individual.
  4. The bee colony exhibits a remarkable team effort in which no individual bee survives alone; each bee is part of a hive mind.
  5. This hive mind allows individuals of the colony to share experiences, skills, and knowledge, thereby creating a stronger unit.
  6. Competition with rivals incentivizes people to work faster and harder.

Write your own analysis for the following claims on another sheet of paper:

  1. It is important to obey authority.
  2. Competition rather than collaboration is a more effective motivator and results producer.
  3. The journey to achieving a result is more important than the accomplishment itself.

Good luck, friends!

Peter Peng is a SAT/ACT tutor and college admissions essay consultant based in the greater Los Angeles area. He is currently working on a book entitled The SAT Decoded and can be reached at