About Us  |  Contact Us  |  Agreement and Privacy Policy    
Sample Essay with Commentary
Sample Essay with Commentary
[Sample Assignment]
"Even a failure can still be valuable."
Discuss the statement above using an example or examples from literature, the arts, history, current events, politics, science and technology, sports, or your experience or observation.

Before reading the commentary on this essay, remember that this is certainly not the only way that the writer could have answered the question successfully. The writer could have used examples from the arts or sciences, or personal experience; he/she could have written the whole thing in two paragraphs, or as many as five. This is just one good example that we can study to figure out what was done correctly. But feel free to find your own ways to apply what you learn here.

Now let's take a look at this essay piece by piece and see what makes it a 6-level essay. To do so, we need to turn to three important categories:
  1. Attention to the writing task (i.e., Does it answer the question?)
  2. Organization and support
  3. Language (including usage, diction, sentence variety)
First of all, let's see if the essay successfully addresses the writing task, which is to discuss the statement "even a failure can still be valuable." Does this essay address that statement? Yes, and it does so in the thesis statement, which comes at the end of the short introduction: "However, examples from politics, both past and present, prove that even seemingly unproductive actions can yield valuable results." The reader knows that the writer is going to prove the statement using examples from politics. So we can check "Attention to the writing task" off our list.

Secondly, let's examine the organization and support. We can do this by breaking down the essay into its separate parts: a short introduction, two body paragraphs, and a short conclusion. (Remember, it's better to have a good intro and solid body paragraphs WITHOUT a conclusion, rather than a sloppy essay you try to tie together at the very end WITH a conclusion.)
Sample Essay Commentary
[Introduction]

Living in America, where efficiency is rewarded and mistakes are penalized or seen as a waste of time, it might be difficult to see how an unsuccessful action could be worthwhile. However, examples from politics, both past and present, prove that even seemingly unproductive actions can yield valuable results.
The introduction is clear and direct, as it should be. It quickly gets to the point, and ends with a strong, simple thesis statement. This thesis statement lays out a clear map for the rest of the essay, and enables the writer to remain focused while he/she writes the body paragraphs. Don't worry if you can't think of a snappy first sentence or "attention grabber"; as long as the intro is clear and sticks to the writing task, you needn't waste valuable time trying to come up with a clever hook. (Save that for your English class!)
[1st Body Paragraph]

A perfect example of a valuable failure is Woodrow Wilson's doomed League of Nations. Conceived by President Wilson after the end of World War I, the League of Nations was formed to prevent such massive warfare and destruction from happening again; the ultimate goal was to secure long-lasting peace around the world. As honorable as the goal was, the League of Nations dissolved in the mid-1940s due to inefficiencies and disorganization. But if it weren't for the pattern that Wilson's League of Nations provided, the United Nations might not be the successful organization it is today. Learning directly from the successes and failures of the League of Nations, the U.N. has established itself as a valuable international organization that sends its troops on peacekeeping missions around the world.
Read the topic sentence - "A perfect example of a valuable failure is Woodrow Wilson's doomed League of Nations" - and ask yourself whether it relates to the thesis. Since Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations is a political example of a failure that was worthwhile, it does in fact connect well with the thesis.

The paragraph goes on to give a short description of what the League of Nations is, and why it failed. But then, and very importantly, it also describes WHY the "unsuccessful action" that Woodrow Wilson took was worthwhile: it provided a template for the current United Nations. All the sentences in the paragraph help support the topic sentence. But this paragraph not only relates to the thesis - it also relates to the original writing prompt. That's why it's a successful paragraph. Doesn't seem too hard, does it?
[2nd Body Paragraph]

Not only can unsuccessful actions bear fruit later, they can also be worthwhile at the time. For example, recently the United States waged war on Iraq in order to find weapons of mass destruction. Months afterward, inspectors have yet to find these weapons that Saddam Hussein had supposedly been hiding, and in that respect the war was a failure. However, even critics of the war have admitted that this war has had some worthwhile aspects, since it ended Saddam's brutal regime. Hospitals and schools have been built, and many no longer have to live in fear of government oppression. While we have failed to find the weapons, and while the work of reconstruction will be long, expensive, and perhaps dangerous, the war has been valuable at least in that it resulted in the end of a cruel dictatorship.
The second body paragraph, as promised in the thesis statement, examines a current political situation to illustrate the writing prompt. As in the first body paragraph, the topic sentence - "Not only can unsuccessful actions bear fruit later, they can also be worthwhile at the time" - clearly applies to the thesis statement, as well as to the original writing prompt. This time the writer uses the war in Iraq as an example of an unsuccessful yet worthwhile action: he/she clearly states how it was a failure (not being able to find the weapons of mass destruction) and how it was worthwhile (ending a brutal dictatorship). Note how all the sentences support the topic sentence.

There are a few important things you should pay attention to in this particular paragraph. First of all, the writer has taken a risk by writing about a controversial topic. It might have been safer to stick with a more neutral topic, and in your own writing you should be very careful not to offend your readers or present ideas that your readers might strongly disagree with. Other risky topics might include strong political or religious opinions. While we're not saying that you should NEVER write about those things - especially if you can write about those topics well - we ARE saying that you should be very careful if you do.

Secondly, notice how the writer does not use extreme language - and that's the main reason that this writer was successful with a possibly controversial topic. The writer does not say, "Even though we didn't find the weapons, the war was totally worthwhile." Instead, he/she says that there have been "SOME worthwhile aspects" of the war. The word "some" is very important. Instead of saying, "No one has to be afraid anymore," the writer says that "MANY no longer have to live in fear of government oppression," probably remembering that some Iraqis may still feel oppressed by American troops. At the end, by writing that the war has been worthwhile "AT LEAST in that it resulted in the end of a cruel dictatorship," the writer acknowledges that not everyone may agree that the war was worthwhile overall. By maintaining a balanced tone and steering away from extreme statements, the writer succeeds in supporting his/her point. (There's more about language in the next section.)
[Conclusion]

As American history itself proves, we should not be too quick to fear mistakes as long as we have noble goals in mind. Even those actions that seem unsuccessful at first may in some cases prove worthwhile.
As conclusions go, this is a basic one. But that's okay, because the writer has written a very solid essay that makes its point. This conclusion basically touches upon the main idea of the essay and then brings it back to the writing prompt. The only thing you should not do in a conclusion is repeat, word for word, any other sentence in the essay. Otherwise, just try to tie your ideas together at the end, but don't rush through the body paragraphs in order to write a conclusion at the end. It's better to be sure that your body paragraphs are solid.

All in all, this writer's organization and support are very clear and direct, as they should be. Now let's see what's good about the language of the essay.

TRANSITIONS

Transitions smooth out the breaks between paragraphs and can also make sentences connect better. "However," "Not only," and "for example" are some good transitional phrases that this writer uses. Go back and read the topic sentences, and you'll see that these words do a good job of effectively connecting the paragraphs. Once you have the basics of organization and support down, be sure to practice smoothing out your transitions - your tutor can help.

GOOD SENTENCE VARIETY

If you read the essay again, you will notice that the writer uses many different types of sentence structures. The following is an example of the first body paragraph rewritten WITHOUT sentence variety:

A perfect example of a valuable failure is Woodrow Wilson's doomed League of Nations. President Wilson formed the League of Nations after the end of World War I. He formed it to prevent such massive warfare and destruction from happening again. The ultimate goal was to secure long-lasting peace around the world. It was a noble goal. But the League of Nations dissolved in the mid-1940s. It collapsed due to inefficiencies and disorganization. However, Wilson's League of Nations provided a pattern for the United Nations. The United Nations might not be the successful organization it is today if it weren't for the League of Nations. The United Nations learned directly from the successes and failures of the League of Nations. It has become a valuable international organization that sends its troops on peacekeeping missions around the world.

As you can see, even though the wording and the information are the same, this version of the paragraph is a LOT more tedious to read than the original. While the original paragraph combines sentences so that they become complex, this version uses only simple sentence structures. Although you shouldn't use ONLY complex sentences, it's always a good idea to vary the types of sentences you use; try to include appositives whenever you can. (If you don't know what an appositive is, ask your tutor about it.)

AVOIDANCE OF REPETITION

Repetition weakens the quality of your writing. Try to think of synonyms when you find yourself repeating words. In the sample essay, for example, the writer switches between "unsuccessful action" and "failure," and also "valuable" and "worthwhile." He/she writes about "Saddam's brutal regime" and later calls it a "cruel dictatorship." Try to be creative with your vocabulary when writing your own essay.

VOCABULARY

Vocabulary is an aspect of language that you cannot "cram" for; you should read as often as you can, whether it's mystery novels, historical books, magazines, or newspapers. Good vocabulary can enliven any piece of writing. Note how the author of the sample essay uses vibrant language - here are a few examples:

1st paragraph: Instead of "Thought up by," the author uses "Conceived by…" 2nd paragraph: Instead of "become useful later," the author uses "bear fruit later…" Instead of "Saddam's government," the author uses "Saddam's brutal regime."

As you can see, good vocabulary is not always about using huge, complicated words; it can also be about having a large body of words that you can draw from while writing your essay. The more you read, the easier this will become.