In his article, Zeiger describes and promotes a form of essay writing that can be identified as exploratory. Regardless of whether the student is selecting their own topic or having to focus on a specific one, the key to the exploratory essay is to enhance the student’s ability to manipulate and inquire about an idea, develop their own arguments with the ability to prove a demonstrative example. Zeiger notes that “the unity of the essay resides in the writer’s personality,” indicating that there is a common theme unifying the different ideas and episodes present in any given essay (462). The use of tone also significantly matters. Zeiger suggests avoiding using overly analytical tone or one that is persuasive, as a good essay flows with ease and is in agreement with the audience, helping to enrich the reader’s perception. Overall, Zeiger promotes an approach to essay writing that embraces creativity and open form, exploration through contradictions and confidence of expression and opinions (464). The spirit of inquiry and exploration does not have to be burdened in proofs, but in free communication.
The above approach differs significantly from what I have been taught at all levels of education. Zeigar indicates that at some point the modern essay composition became a dull and systemic methodology of the “thesis and support” model (456). As the article later notes, the idea must be “workable” and there is a structured approach which must have elements such as exposition, a direct conclusion – factors which the exploratory essay does not support. This type of essay is known as expository, it is logically exclusive, following a linear progression, and refutes counterarguments (Zeigar 456).
I think that is the way that I have always been taught to write essays, that they must follow the specific structure based on the type of essay. There has always been emphasis on using the academic tone, staying close to the topic, and being concise. It must follow a “preferred line of thought” and any variance was generally looked down upon. The exposition provides a thesis which must be supported by key outlined arguments, regardless of if the topic is complex and not necessarily binary in nature. One of the main criteria by which essays in school and college have always been graded is the strength of one’s arguments, how well can the essay prove the thesis. Therefore, unlike the exploratory essay which suggests an answer and then seeks to explore it with available evidence, using proof to demonstrate if it is tenable similar to the scientific method; the expository essay simply asserts the answer giving little freedom of thought variation to either the writer or the audience.
A majority of my essays have been using the expository approach. For both humanitarian subjects such as history as well as empirical sciences, the essay was expected to adhere to a structured approach. Last semester, for a history course, I had to write a comprehensive paper on a historical event, for which I chose the Cuban Missile Crisis as my topic. Despite the rather relative complexity of the topic which would have warranted a deep examination of ideologies, geopolitics, and intentions, I was faced with a word limit of 8 pages and had to give a structured, one-sided perspective, that I felt did not give justice to the historical scholarship. In fact, I felt that the instructor guided me towards staying with the one perspective that is accepted in the West, and any attempts to perceive other positions were discouraged.
Zeiger, William. “The Exploratory Essay: Enfranchising the Spirit of Inquiry in College Composition.” College English, vol. 47, no. 5, 1985, p. 454-466, 10.2307/376877.