What is a Concept?
Concepts can include principles and ideals, such as Democracy. The American Dream. The Ideal Man. The Ideal Woman. The Global Citizen.
It can be an idea: The collective consciousness. The Hero’s Journey. The Emersonian Oversoul.
A theory is also a concept: The theory of Relativity. Intelligent Design. Chaos Theory. Gaia Theory. Brain-mind duality. What is Gnosticism? What is Existentialism?
If you love analyzing movies or literature, you could do something like: What is Postmodernism? Violence in the films of Martin Scorsese. Familial Dysfunction as a Recurring Motif in the films of Wes Anderson.
Just always remember that a concept is not a physical thing. You cannot hold it. You cannot see it. There might be physical evidence of it, there might be physical activities associated with it, but the concept itself is intangible. It has no physical presence.
So, where do you start?
Start with your own passions. What is your major field of interest? Science, art, dance, literature, music, philosophy, business?
Then think of the different concepts within that field that you’ve encountered so far.
Narrow it down to the ones the average person is probably not well-informed about. You don’t want to tell the reader what most educated people already know, right? You want to explain a concept in ways that most of your peers haven’t yet considered.
In fact, when you come up with a concept that you yourself do not yet fully understand, but you would like to--that’s a fairly strong indication that your peers aren’t well-informed on that subject yet either. And therefore, that might make a good topic for your paper.
So, that’s what a concept essay is.
What is its purpose?
1. The purpose of a concept essay is to inform and educate. To do this, you must know your subject thoroughly. You must make yourself an expert. This means that through your research you must make yourself so knowledgeable about your subject that you are confident you know more about it than the average reader. Only then will you be able to estimate how much most people know. This is important, because only then will you know what information will be new, and therefore meaningful, for your reader.
Remember, all writing has an obligation to the reader. You must inform, entertain, educate, or illuminate. To be successful, a piece of writing must affect a subtle change in the reader emotionally or intellectually. Most of the essays you’ve done so far have sought to move the reader emotionally, and through that change to bring about a changed state of awareness.
The concept essay, on the other hand, seeks primarily to change the reader intellectually by presenting information they haven’t yet considered or been exposed to. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use a bit of emotion in a concept essay. Humor is always effective in holding a reader’s attention. Pathos can be effective to, but too much emotional appeal is out of place in a concept essay.
2. Style should be confident and authoritative (avoid weasel words such as “I think,” “in my opinion” or “it seems to me.” Expressions like those tend to undermine the writer’s authority rather than to enhance it. In fact most explanatory writing is written in 3rd person and makes no reference to the author. 3. Relies almost entirely on established information from experts in the field. Often includes quotes from these experts to add credibility to the piece. Such quotes must always be cited. 4. The information is presented as objectively as possible, with no overt attempt to dissuade the reader from an opposing viewpoint. This isn’t an argumentative essay. Your job is to present the evidence and facts as they are known and currently accepted, so that someone unfamiliar with the concept can better understand it.
Remember: This is an Explaining a Concept essay. In other words you are not explaining how an internal combustion engine works: