So You Want to Write an Essay (That Someone Already Wrote) by Greg Cannioto

posted Jan 30, 2017, 9:35 AM by Writing Center
Let me play out a scenario for you, one you might have experienced before. So you’ve just finished reading a great book for an English class and you know exactly what you want to write about for the final paper. You’re so prepared that you already have a thesis, you know what each paragraph will cover, and you’re jumping headfirst into research to make your claims even better. “Hey, this looks like a good source. The author is making the point I’m trying to make here, and here, and—hmm… This is exactly what my essay was going to be!” you despair. At this point, you may be tempted to give up on all the work you’ve done thus far. Maybe you’ll even read another book, you think, and begin to start over…

“Not so fast!” this blog yells to you like a narrator from an after-school special. There’s no need to despair, because even if you can’t (and shouldn’t) write the exact same essay as the one you just found, you don’t have to throw away what you’ve considered so far. There’s so many options available.

You could…

·         Find a contrary article and compare and contrast it with the one you’ve found.

·         Find several similar articles and synthesize the information into one combined summary.

·         Channel that desperation into a critique of the author, it may not feel great, but you could always flip sides and write an essay critical of the existing perspective.

·         Write a similar essay, using the same idea, but approach it from a different perspective. If the existing article focused your thesis through a Marxist lens, maybe look at things from a Feminist perspective. You may have the same initial reactions as the existing essay, but your interpretation may provide something very different.

“But I really like the perspective I had already! Why was everything I want to write about already written years ago?” you pout, already starting to give in to utter despair. Well there might be a few options for that too.

Quick, let’s…

·         Look at the date on that article. Is it from 1980? That means you have 37 more years of new information that the author didn’t. Use the author as a resource, and make sure to give the author all the proper credit they require as the published author, but if they haven’t followed up the article after all that time, that gives you the opportunity to continue working within the same framework. Academia is built upon adding to existing discussion.

·         Flip the timeline. Okay, so you’ve read the author’s essay and they’re hitting every point that you were. People love this essay; it’s completely revolutionized the subject in the years since it’s been published. So then, what were things like before? If this article from 1980 changed the field forever, then there probably was a field to change. If you read some articles published before this one, you may be able to write an in-depth analysis of the field before and after this essay was published, especially since you had such a similar idea to the author’s.

So don’t despair. If you already have an interest in something, and especially if you have started your research, it’s wasteful to just throw away what you’ve prepared so far. Don’t give up on what could be an A paper, or an invigorating new addition to your field, just because you weren’t the first one to type your ideas. There’s nothing wrong with starting over, but make sure you’ve examined the other possibilities available to you.