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I go to a CEGEP, which is basically pre-university in Montreal. In my Introduction to English class, I had a teacher who allowed us to go around the typical essay writing conventions. Conventions like outlining three points in your thesis and summing up those points in different words in your conclusion were thrown out. Instead, our essays consisted of logical points of progression; if I could prove point A, then I can prove point B, and then C, and therefore I've proven my thesis.

This sort of progressive method allowed me to write some of the best essays I've written so far, and my favourites too. But when I took my second English class in my second semester, I was forced to go back to these conventions, which weren't horrible, but I didn't see too much use in them, as I never felt as though I required them to prove my point in a literary essay.

I wanted to ask, are there strict rules about essay writing format in a university, other than the need for a thesis and 5 paragraphs? Or is the format irrelevant, so long as the essay does its job, which is proving the thesis?

Much Thanks,


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You might keep in mind that certain formats are specified, and you have to follow the directions. I suppose this goes without saying. The Medical College Admission Test, Law School Admission Test, among others, require a standardized format. Being an artist is awesome, but some teachers and assignments just aren't into it. – Stu W Mar 4 at 2:54
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Speaking as someone who's gotten As on essays through the entirety of an American education, I would say that the answer is-- yes and no.

That conventional scheme works very well, which is why it's so common. But a good writer can pull off almost any kind of format for an essay: the sky is the limit. In fact, the definition of what an essay even is is a very loose thing. Essays come in a million shapes and sizes; sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a short story and a reflective essay.

If you can pull it off, it's perfectly permitted. If it's just not working no matter how you tweak it, maybe try accepting that the format you've chosen is not right for that particular essay.

In sum: there are not strict rules. Do a good job, make sure the reader understands exactly what you're saying and never feels lost, never loses sight of the essay's overall purpose, and you're set.

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That's just what I plan to do. Much thanks :) – Zolani13 Apr 7 '12 at 5:38

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