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October 29, 2000 - Listener Questions: Essay Writing - 2002-02-01

INTRO: Today, Wordmasters Avi Arditti and Rosanne Skirble answer some listener mail.

AA: First out of the mailbag today is a question about the correct form for writing an essay. A listener in Manipur, India, heard us discuss that subject with Sharon Bode from the Intensive English Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

RS: "I had been trying to write some passages and letters to friends," L. Shantikumar writes by postal mail. But what came out was "neither introduction [nor] body, nor conclusion. I felt deranged. Still I am unclear what these five paragraphs should contain."

AA: So we went back to Sharon Bode.

RS: Here now is her recipe -- at least it sounds like a recipe -- for composing a standard, five-paragraph essay:


"One introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs that are directly related to your thesis statement and then a concluding paragraph that restates the main point."

AA: Suppose, for example, you want to write about a time when you showed courage.


"If you start by making a list of possible times in your life when you did that, and then from that list choose one particular experience, and then on that experience, one or two or three main ideas that are related to that -- each of those main ideas then becomes a paragraph."

RS: Now let's say the most courageous thing you ever did was to protect your little brother from a ferocious dog.


"Then you might want to introduce the topic of dogs before you talk about yourself as being courageous. Like, 'Many people in most countries like animals, but sometimes dogs are not as fun as they might seem. In my neighborhood, there was a particularly angry dog one day and that dog started to attack me and my little brother. I think when I protected my little brother, that was the most courageous day of my life."

AA: "And then the next paragraph might begin ... "

BODE: "And then the next paragraph would give more detail abut the dog, and the next paragraph would maybe give more detail about the specific moment of protecting the brother. And then the summary would be to relate the reader and the writer, perhaps to say that not everyone could protect their little brother; I didn't think I could do that either. However, in the moment, I was able to find the courage to do that.'"

AA: Sharon Bode says the same information can be expanded to a longer essay or condensed to a single paragraph.


"But the main idea is that there is a thesis that is unifying the entire essay in the first paragraph, that there are supporting statements and examples in the others and that the conclusion tries to make a more general point, or some -- not like a moral statement, but something that makes it larger than the incident itself, or larger than the individual experience."

RS: Our next question comes from a listener in Vietnam by the e-mail name of Harry Potter -- Harry Potter? The protagonist of the best-selling children's books? Anyway, here's the question: "What is the difference between 'what about you' and 'how about you'?"

AA: Well, Harry, there's not a lot of difference. If I said, Rosanne, I just took my daughter to a pumpkin patch for Halloween, I could then say either "what about you?" or "how about you?" Either way, it's casual and avoids having to say, have you taken your kids to a pumpkin patch, too?

RS: But "what about you?" can sound a little stuffier than "how 'bout you?" -- which is how people usually say it.

AA: We move on now to a longtime listener in Baku, Azerbaijan,. Elkhan Tahirov says he needs to keep up on English, especially now in his new job as an English and Russian language consultant ... in the president's office!

RS: He says that in the Azeri language, "There is a huge amount of English words in informal speech (not to mention the slang) especially popular with teenagers and especially from computer technology."

TAPE: CUT SIX - Elkhan Tahirov/Arditti

TAHIROV: "The most prominent, of course, is the Internet, and e-mail, and then, for example, online, hacker, log in."

AA: "Hacker, as in someone who breaks into computers."

TAHIROV: "Yes (laughs)."

RS: But, he says, "there are some English terms the usage of which in my own language still sounds a little bit quaint, such as the interjection "Oops!"

MUSIC: "Oops!...I Did It Again"/Britney Spears

AA: If you're saying "oops" a lot because you're having trouble learning American English, let us know! We'll try to answer your question on the air.

RS: Write us at VOA Wordmaster, Washingon, DC 20237 USA, or send e-mail to With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.