Essay Formulas


Tolley's answer to the "controlling ideas" question -- and his "planning your writing" advice on his web page -- got me to thinking about my own writing. While the various essay formulas -- OATS, RACE -- are excellent for teaching tools for young writers, there comes a time and place when the academic formulas are just too rigid or are inappropriate. I too learned to write following such formulas, but now (40 years later) I find my writing to be unduly constrained by the formulas.


I find myself drawn to the writing of Michael Lewis (see his article in the October Vanity Fair)Lewis is a great "storyteller" and while his writing does not appear (at first) to follow a formula, it truly does. In many ways, I believe that Michael's ability to "obscure" the formula contributes to his success. To put it another way, the "what" of Michael's writing is very clear and interesting. You just don't see the "how."


My cultural landscape manuscript is based around 800-1200 word essays, three to five related essays per chapter. I am currently trying to enliven some of the more matter-of-fact essays, but I feel like I'm being held back by some of my early training.


Any thoughts or inspiration?

asked Sep 21 '12 at 18:27 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

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