The formal essay is a Model T in a world of Jaguars and Corvettes. Formal essays are an
extinct form of communication. Perhaps more accurately stated, formal essays should be an
extinct form of communication. They stifle a writer’s ability to create and manipulate and
then they ease the minds of readers into laziness or a state of consciousness between sleep
and comatose. Do not be mistaken, formal essays had their time and place. Unfortunately,
that time and place passed with powdered wigs and wooden teeth.
Part of the purpose of an essay is to express your opinion on a topic. This opinion is
meant to be conveyed not only with clarity and directness but also with a voice. Demanding
a formal essay is like placing a muzzle on an author. The style expected in a formal essay is
so rigid and stark-white that it stifles, if not suffocates, what is commonly referred to as
poetic license. Almost every acclaimed writer I can conger up by memory was not prisoner
to formal essays; Shakespeare employed humor and wit, Salinger was not stingy with
obscene or graphic content, and Warren frequents the cardinal sin of using incomplete
sentences. Surely no one would tell any of these writers that their styles needed to be tamed
whether the piece’s occasion was a call for formality or not. From an early age it was learned
that writing is a form of “expression.” By forcing ourselves to conform, what expression do
we truly have? The answer is none.
Formal essays are not only a burden to authors, they are a burden to the readers.
Modern society, as Postman informs us, has lulled itself (or perhaps been lulled) into a state
where no one can be attentive simply for the sake of learning or bettering his or herself but
only for entertainment. Although considered advanced in our technology and our thinking,
we, as a society, have an inveterate need to be entertained and if we do not have this need
met then we deem it useless and lay it by the wayside. This need must be reflected in our
writings, otherwise, our opinions will not be read and therefore not known. A motivational
speaker with a very good message visits Southwest High School. He cannot simply stand
behind a podium, clear his throat, and then, no matter how clearly or coherently he does it,
simply tell the student body that it needs to choose life over existence. He must be a
one-man circus, jaunting back and forth, telling jokes, describing romance, making absurd
gestures, even more absurd voices, and still more absurd references to infants and mirrors
simply to gather our attention long enough to tell the students to share not compare. No, it
is not good that we have trapped ourselves in a world where fifty-nine minute dissertations
amount to a minute and a half of knowledge but it is a fact of life. To accommodate for
society’s attention span, or lack thereof, we must make our writings entertaining. We must
give them zing, give them zip, give them zest. Formal essays are without any of those three
Z’s and without any of those three Z’s any paper is ineffective in the modern world.
When a horse breaks its leg, the farmer shoots it because it is no longer useful to him
as a horse. Formal essays have broken a leg. Hand me the rifle.