Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference".
These three poles (or worlds in which the essay may exist) are: Huxley adds that the most satisfying essays "..the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist." The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt".
The comparison highlights the similarities between two or more similar objects while contrasting highlights the differences between two or more objects.
When writing a compare/contrast essay, writers need to determine their purpose, consider their audience, consider the basis and points of comparison, consider their thesis statement, arrange and develop the comparison, and reach a conclusion. Expository essay is used to inform, describe or explain a topic, using important facts and teaching reader about the topic.
Formal essays are characterized by "serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length," whereas the informal essay is characterized by "the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme," etc.
Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author.
During the Age of Enlightenment, essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical literature, as seen in the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote essays for the general public.
Inspired in particular by the works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Œuvres Morales (Moral works) into French had just been published by Jacques Amyot, Montaigne began to compose his essays in 1572; the first edition, entitled Essais, was published in two volumes in 1580.
For the rest of his life, he continued revising previously published essays and composing new ones.