Why do you have to pay close attention to the essay question?

Sometimes when presented with the horrific task of writing an essay, a student's response will be to just write about something-sort-of-uh-in-uh-the-area-uh- of-the-uh-stupid-topic. Even worse, sometimes a student will just write about "something they're interested in". Unless the assignment calls for exactly that, writing in the aforementioned ways will quickly lead you down the road to F-town. Why? You will know from experience: an essay is a long form answer to a question. You have to answer the actual question - not just write about something or anything. Why do we have to write a whole essay to do that? We have to write a whole essay because the question needs exploration and an in-depth answer.

As you will also know from experience: every teacher asks questions differently. Before you can write an essay, you need to know what you're actually being asked. What does the question really mean? What do you want to say in reply? What other things will you have to say to complete the assignment? (Will you have do and show research etc.) The type of question will govern the type of answer you give: personal, narrative, expository etc. The question itself will also give you a frame to work within: what are all of the parts of it? What are the hidden implications? What are all of the different things you will have to consider and address in order to really write a full response to it? Interpreting the question correctly will put you on the road to a good strong essay. Misinterpreting it can lead to terrible consequences... a failing paper. Ignoring the question (as mentioned above) is just asking for trouble. Big trouble. Big big trouble. Trouble with a capital F. Remember - an essay is an answer to a question. If, in the end, you don't answer that question, you cannot receive a passing grade (however pretty or clever the paper might be...)