The three types of essay most commonly assigned in school — the narrative essay, the persuasive essay, and the expository essay — conveniently correspond to those writing forms most frequently published online and in print. Your experience with these prose forms is ideal preparation for writing for publication.
1. The Narrative Essay
This form, employed when reporting about an event or an incident, describing an experience, or telling a story, is the basic mode in journalistic writing.
Practice in relating what happened when you witnessed an occurrence, or writing about what you were told by someone who witnessed it, is good training for becoming a newspaper reporter. Writing your recollections of something that happened to you is the basis of travel writing and similar content.
Meanwhile, effective storytelling is an essential skill for feature writing, which — as opposed to reporting, which is event driven — focuses on a person, a place, or a thing, such as a company or an organization. (Travel writing, actually, is a hybrid of all three forms of essay writing.) Many magazine articles, for example, and a number of nonfiction books, are basically profiles of one of these types of entities, and fiction writing, of course, is a form of narrative, albeit one that is invented or based on a real-life subject.
2. The Persuasive Essay
In this type of essay, the writer attempts to convince readers to agree with an opinion. In a traditional persuasive essay, the writer states the essay’s topic and organizational scheme clearly and concisely, then emphasizes and clarifies the topic’s significance by briefly mentioning the current event or recent publication, for example, that prompted the writer to discuss the topic. The rest of the piece consists of the writer’s argument in favor or in criticism of a position.
This persuasion can take the form of a scholarly critique or a review of a creative effort such as a live or recorded performance (for example, a music album) or a work in some medium (a film, for instance). In either case, the writer begins with a thesis, or statement to be proven, summarizes the position (or the plot or theme of a work of art), and provides further detail as necessary to amplify the essay’s points.
An essential component of a formal persuasive essay is a balanced discussion of an opposing viewpoint, while an informal review might include a mention of what an artist was attempting to accomplish by performing or creating and, for the sake of courtesy, could refer to how the artist succeeded in part even if the reviewer believes that the work is ultimately unsatisfactory.
Persuasive essays, like narrative essays, can be submitted for publication. Guest editorials in newspapers and magazines, reviews in the art sections of periodicals or on entertainment-oriented Web sites, or position statements for nonprofit organizations or political lobbying groups are all forms of persuasive writing that publishers of this content will pay for.
3. The Expository Essay
Expository writing can take the form of a how-to manual or other form of instruction, an explanation of a natural or technological process (an outline of the evaporation cycle, for example, or how to rebuild a car engine), a comparison of two similar subjects — though this form overlaps with the persuasive essay — or a discursion on a historical event or on future possibilities.
This last variation also has elements in common with narrative or persuasive writing, and in a sense, none of these types of writing is entirely exclusive. Therefore, if you, like almost all current or former students, have had experience with these forms of essay writing, you’ve already been trained (and, hopefully, coached) in how to write professionally.
And if you already do so, be confident that you can easily apply your skill in one form to taking on another: If you write position papers, you have no excuse not to move into instructional writing, if that’s what you want to do. Similarly, if you make a living explaining things in writing, don’t hesitate to explore fiction or nonfiction narrative writing if it appeals to you.