Many students have a pretty hazy understanding of what constitutes a composition and hardly know where to turn to when they receive an assignment to write one. However, there is nothing particularly complicated about it – if you have to write a composition essay, it simply means that you have a bit more freedom than usual in the choice of the direction your work will take. A composition is a broad definition of any relatively short piece of writing, mostly including the four most common types of essays: narrative, expository, argumentative and descriptive.
Writing a composition in leadership studies means choosing one of these four modes of writing and expressing your thoughts on the subject matter through them. In addition, do not forget that truly good and impressive writing often incorporates aspects of multiple modes of writing: you may compose an argumentative essay and include narrative elements (e.g., describing your personal experience with a particular type of leader) to make a stronger impression on the reader.
In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know to write a top-notch composition essay on your own, from pre-writing work to adding finishing touches to an already completed text.
A composition may belong to any of the four types of writing (narrative, expository, argumentative and descriptive) or incorporate elements of two or more of these types. Before you choose a topic, you should decide what kind of a composition you want to write. Will you try to prove a point? Tell a story from your personal leadership experience? Explain some little-understood term or theory in leadership studies?
The first rule of choosing a topic for any kind of academic assignment is to focus on narrowing it down. Most academic texts are very limited in their scope and prefer to get deep into the subject matter rather than superficially cover a broad concept. Composition essays are even more characteristic in this respect because they are simply too short to cover anything in great detail. Therefore, when you come up with any topic, you should first of all ask yourself if it is narrow enough to sufficiently cover it in 2,000-2,500 words. In addition:
As for the actual source for an idea for the composition, you can find them everywhere. Ask your instructor; talk to friends and relatives (they may have had interesting experience related to leadership at work or in other environments); talk to experts; study the literature on a general area that interests you and look for gaps in the existing research.
Eventually, you should end up with something like this:
An outline is a plan or a scheme of your future essay, usually in the form of a list with headings and subheadings indicating the essay sections and the main points to mention. Many word processors have dedicated outline features allowing you to write one almost automatically.
Outlines can be formal and informal. Formal ones are a part of the assignment – you have to submit them either along with the essay or beforehand, to get an approval of your plan. An informal outline is your private affair, you can write it in as little or as much detail as you need.
Two most common types of outlines are topic and sentence outlines. The former are short – you indicate the contents of a paragraph or a section with a few words denoting its topic. Sentence outlines are more elaborate – to write one, you first have to complete a topic outline, and then expand it to include the most important statements to make, books to quote, facts and statistics to mention, examples to bring up.
A thesis statement is the central assertion around which you build the rest of your composition. Usually, it consists of one or two mid-sized sentences, defining the topic and offering a clear, specific, definite answer to the question you try to answer in your paper.
In composition writing, it pays to be consistent and stick to the same logical approach throughout your assignment. Choose which one you are going to use.
The deductive method of organization (also known as general-to-specific) means that throughout your composition (both in the general structure and in the structure of individual paragraphs) you move from generalizations to specifics. You may start with describing a specific type of leadership, move on to singling out its particular characteristics and finish with offering real-life examples of leaders using this approach.
The inductive method (specific-to-general) is less often used, but when done right, can be very effective. You start with the specifics and draw out conclusions from them. For example, you can mention a situation you faced during your internship, and use it to draw the bigger picture of leadership structure and tradition in the company you speak about.
The best way to free yourself from doubts and misgivings when writing is to look at your composition as something changeable and malleable. Do not try to make every sentence perfect the first time around – if something looks silly, let it be so. Nobody will force you to submit it as it is now – your job is to complete the essay; you will have plenty of time to edit it later. It is especially true for the first paragraph – students have the most trouble writing it, and usually have to rewrite it from scratch after the essay is finished anyway.
Do not pay much attention to the introduction when you start writing – later you will have to revise it at the very least. You may even skip over it and start writing with the body paragraph, if you feel comfortable doing it. However, once the rest of the composition is done, you have to pay special attention to this part.
Your primary purpose here is to pique the reader’s interest and lead up to the general topic of your essay. An introduction usually ends with a thesis statement – in fact, it is built around it, so make sure you write one beforehand.
You do not have to use any specific approach to writing the introductory paragraph – anything that engages your reader works. However, there are some typical approaches that may give you an idea:
If what you state is not common knowledge, you have to support your statement with something beyond your own arguments. Any information received from independent and reliable sources will do: statistics, quotations and paraphrases from sources (properly credited, of course), interviews with experts, examples and so on.
Padding is the practice of adding unnecessary or repetitive content to your essay, usually to reach the minimal word count when you cannot think of anything meaningful to add to your argument. While it may look like a smart idea, padding (also called ‘filler’) is usually obvious to an experienced reader – and your instructor is likely to be one. Instead of deftly concealing that you have little to say, you make it painfully obvious and annoy the reader on top of it. What is worse, many students are so used to adding filler that it turns into a habit. They do it unconsciously, even when there is no need for it.
Therefore, go through your essay and eliminate the redundancies. Do not use three words where you can do with one. Do not use a long word where a short one will do. Do not say anything at all if it does not help to move your argument forward.
Students often feel too much attached to their words, especially if they happened to use a particularly lucky turn of phrase. However, once the composition is finished, you may discover that this or that part of it does not really fit in, or does not move your argument forward. Do not try to save it or justify its presence – you will achieve better results faster if you remove it without mercy.
Imagine yourself reading the composition for the first time and ask yourself the following questions:
Look for any spelling and grammar mistakes you might have made. If you know yourself to be prone to particular types of mistakes, make a list of them and go through the composition several times, focusing on one or two types at a time. You may try using online grammar checking tools like GrammarCheck or Ginger Software, but keep it in mind that their capabilities are limited. They may help you notice mistakes you missed, but are not very good at analyzing complex sentences. If you have real problems with grammar and spelling, better hire a professional proofreader.
Do not look at the revision as a perfunctory step to deal with as quickly as possible. Instead, use it as the last opportunity to reconsider: your topic, your audience, the purpose of your paper, the arrangement of sections, the relative weight you put on each supporting point. You do not have to stick to the original plan or the way you ended up writing your composition. If you see ways to improve your writing, do not hesitate to rewrite, rearrange, replace and remove.
Writing about leadership is always challenging because it involves combining both your own subjective views on the topic and objective information received from independent sources. We hope that this guide will make it easier for you to work this out.