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Formal essays are characterized by "serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length," whereas the informal essay is characterized by "the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme," etc.Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author.In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning.
The defining features of a "cause and effect" essay are causal chains that connect from a cause to an effect, careful language, and chronological or emphatic order.
A writer using this rhetorical method must consider the subject, determine the purpose, consider the audience, think critically about different causes or consequences, consider a thesis statement, arrange the parts, consider the language, and decide on a conclusion.
Inspired in particular by the works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Œuvres Morales (Moral works) into French had just been published by Jacques Amyot, Montaigne began to compose his essays in 1572; the first edition, entitled Essais, was published in two volumes in 1580.
For the rest of his life, he continued revising previously published essays and composing new ones.
The concept of an "essay" has been extended to other media beyond writing.
A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles and focuses more on the evolution of a theme or idea.
During the Age of Enlightenment, essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical literature, as seen in the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote essays for the general public.
The early 19th century, in particular, saw a proliferation of great essayists in English – William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey all penned numerous essays on diverse subjects. Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, and Charles du Bos wrote literary criticism essays.
In the 20th century, a number of essayists tried to explain the new movements in art and culture by using essays (e.g., T. As with the novel, essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in Europe with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu — loosely connected essays and fragmented ideas.