While I share Karen Harris’ concerns abut the formulaic pattern of the essay and its one-size-fits-all framework, I strongly disagree with the implication that the essay structure is “potentially anti-intellectual” or of no use for critical thinking (“The 1,000-word bore”, Opinion, 3 September).
In fact, despite an essay’s formulaic pattern, it is still possible for students to discuss different points of view for the obvious reason that any good essay is based on research, which is about questioning and probing various perspectives. The “essay” is a literary genre with its own conventions and mastering formal writing is useful in many professional contexts. Also, the ability to use formal language must coexist with other contemporary styles of writing.
So let us consider different methods of assessment that make use of both textual and multimedia material, including electronic essays and e-dissertations, but let us also remember that in today’s complex media ecology there might still be something to learn from the traditional practice of good essay writing.