Your gifted, you write well and I’m taking some time to offer my opinion.

Perhaps a teacher should volunteer to look at this essay. Teachers are used to grading essays according to established criteria. Personally, I would hope to get feedback from a professional who could measure your work against a tried and tested marking guide or at least put your work into a useful context related to assessment.
Perhaps you could ask for a forum moderator to help put you in touch with a teacher.

For examples of good writing related to casual or fun topics, read the editorials of a first-rate newspaper on the Internet. You come across, as an above-average student I think though your style in this essay is self-defeating if you want to be treated seriously: the style of your first paragraph is too casual.

“You know what sucks? Kicking around ideas for an essay and finding out that a fellow classmate has a similar idea for a topic. This particular topic is
one that I am acutely interested in and have spent a lot of time over the years reading about it – what makes a good weight-loss program? So, I'm going
to run with it anyways. Besides, it makes for a most non-heinous comparison: dieting versus exercising – which is a better weight-loss tool?
Before we let the heavyweights go toe-to-toe (pun most definitely intended) let's list the characteristics of a good weight-loss program. These characteristics
should include losing weight, keeping the weight off for the long haul, and improving overall health. These three criteria are the foundation for any good”

In an exam or even where a marker is grading piles of essays, you can’t afford to waste the first paragraph with anything but relevant and substantial work. You could have use the first paragraph to introduce the framework for your essay. Though I’m not a teacher, if I wanted to comment on your style, I would have to say that your first paragraph was entertaining but insubstantial. Perhaps you could have used valuable space to describe the framework for your comparisons. It’s more about describing logical connections than demonstrating verbal facility. In the same way, the information about weight is not as important as the way that you connect ideas and analyse your subject matter.
*** Flattery will get you everywhere. Thanks for the compliments.

You are correct - my opening paragraph is extremely casual. Purpose for it? To be different from the norm. The instructor really doesn't care too much about the actual substance of the essay - his main emphasis (according to him) is to follow the 'nuts-and-bolts' layout that he has specified and to use our own voice.

Unfortunately, his layout that he has presented in class is still a concept that my classmates and I are struggling to grasp. So far, I am the only one who has received an "A-" on any of the essays that have been turned in.

So, my casual voice is an attempt to be different from the norm. To stand out from the rest. Perhaps I should reword it to be less casual... but when I met with him to discuss my essay revision he didn't mention it as an issue, so perhaps I might leave it. Decisions, decisions!

I'll post my first essay (a Definition Essay) below to let you get a feel for my style and to see what he considers to be a decent paper:

--- Begin Definition Essay ---

“Educated” - More Than a Diploma on the Wall

The definition of “educated” is such an elusive term. The reason for this is that it means different things to different people. Bearing that in mind, my intent is to address the younger generation with what I feel constitutes the definition of being “educated” and will endeavor to explain my viewpoint on what being educated means. An “educated” person has more than just a diploma on the wall or a bunch of letters after their name. To be truly considered as educated, one must have social skills and moral intelligence as well as a formal education. If one pursues a course of action to expand themselves in all three of these areas then one can increase their likelihood of being considered “educated” by most, if not all, people that they associate with.
Van Sloan, the inventor of Social Quotient, has devoted an entire website to the concept of social skills and social intelligence. Throughout his website he repeatedly underscores the importance of social skills in our society. (Sloan) So what are social skills? Does it mean that an individual should be striving to be popular? To know all the funniest jokes or the latest gossip? Should one become the life of the party – to be a social butterfly – flitting around the room? Developing social skills is not a popularity contest, although individuals with good social skills often find themselves well-liked by others. The most common traits related to successful social skills include having a positive personality and showing a genuine interest in others.
When one has a positive personality they tend to draw others to them. Positive attitudes can be contagious and people are generally drawn to those with a strong, healthy outlook on life and an interest in others. As a result, friends, neighbors, associates and others have more opportunities to be exposed to one with a positive attitude – and this exposure can give people a better look at their moral and intellectual levels. This additional exposure increases one's chance of being considered 'educated'. Assuming that there really is something up there to hold one's ears apart.
What does a moral background have to do with being considered 'educated'? Isn't one's morals simply a personal thing between oneself and their god? Yes and no – morals make up the very fiber of one's being. Morals define the direction that one takes in life. Dr. Michele Borba tells us that “moral intelligence is the capacity to understand right from wrong; it means to have strong ethical convictions and act on them so that one behaves in the right and honorable way.” (Borba) In addition, Dr. Robert Coles states “moral intelligence means how we behave. It's moral behavior tested by life, lived out in the course of our everyday experience.” (Coles)
While moral decisions are personal ones, the result of those decisions effect how one thinks and acts. These thoughts and actions will have an impact on those around us. One who has a strong moral intelligence often will seek to develop their full potential. Thus realizing this potential means to develop oneself in ways such as getting a good education and developing social skills in order to be a positive, contributing member of society.
Formal education is the final key to rounding out the “educated” person. Of the three areas, formal education is probably the least understood and has the most
misconceptions. The essence of a formal education is to attend school with the intent to broaden one's horizons and expand one's understanding of what is presented; to learn new things and even to learn more about what one already knows.
Unfortunately, to some, attending school is little more than trying to get good grades. Individuals with this mindset often will go to great lengths to ensure good grades at the expense of getting a quality education. Paul Goodman goes so far as to state “the naive teacher points to the beauty of the subject and the ingenuity of the research; the shrewd student asks if he is responsible for that on the final exam.” (Goodman) Indeed, I myself have been in classrooms where students have sat in disinterest upon learning that information being presented by the teacher will not be on any tests.
Learning, just for the sake of learning, can be a rarity at schools all over. Jacob Neusner voices his own thoughts on the subject telling us that “we have prepared you for a world that does not exist, indeed, that cannot exist. You have spent four years supposing that failure leaves no record. You have learned at Brown [University] that when when your work goes poorly, the painless solution is to drop out.” (Neusner) Neusner goes on to berate students and teachers alike for creating and living in a world where, upon graduation, students are ill prepared for the real world because many students do just enough to get by and quit if the going gets tough while their teachers, perhaps jaded by this attitude of the students, simply let them slip through the system.
Fortunately this view is not shared by all. This world is filled with students and teachers who thrive on learning new things. In the immortal words of Henry David
Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the
essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (Thoreau) This is truly the heart of education – to put aside those things that are non-essential and to learn what life has to teach us.
Perhaps, as one learns and gains an education, they also come to the understanding that 'book-learning' is only but a part of what makes one “educated.” As one branches out to include social skills and moral intelligence they increase the likelihood that those around them will look up to them and elevate them to the status of being an “educated” person.
In researching the topic of what it means to be “educated” I have learned many new things that have not only reinforced my claims as to what it means, but have learned that many others with much more knowledge and experience than I, have determined that being “educated” involves much more than having a high IQ and a loaded pocket protector. Social skills, moral intelligence, and formal education are but the tip of a multi-faceted and fascinating iceberg.
As researchers and experts continue to probe deeper into this subject it is reasonable to expect that the future will hold an entirely different world for us. Education will no longer simply be limited to attending school, taking tests, and trying to score high marks. Perhaps traditional schools will branch out to encompass the broadening understanding of what “educated” is, or perhaps new schools will spring up that embrace these concepts and open their doors to all who truly want to journey down that never-ending road of learning, growing and expanding our minds; of creating strong morals; and of developing the skills necessary to have a positive impact on those around us. I, for one, am looking forward to such a day.

--- End Definition Essay ---

The only issue my teacher had with this essay is that he felt I didn't 'flesh out' my references enough.

You gave me a good laugh Rob; now it's my quote for the week. Congratulations on a great result darlin'

[positive attitude] … This additional exposure increases one's chance of being considered 'educated'. Assuming that there really is something up there to hold one's ears apart.

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Rob’s comment:
The only issue my teacher had with this essay is that he felt I didn't 'flesh out' my references enough.

This brief section from a book about postgraduate dissertations explains clearly how an essay needs to ‘connect’ with professional literature (your references).

“faculty advisors want your project not only to display your ability to answer the particular question on which your research will focus, but also to demonstrate how skilfully you (a) situated your chosen topic within a relevant body of knowledge, (b) found in the literature a significant quantity of other studies that bear on your topic, (c) evaluated the quality of those studies (their strengths and limitations), (d) identified the linkages between your project and previous studies, and (e) showed what contribution your project can make to the field in which your work is located.

There are also various other functions that the literature review can serve. Hence, it is useful to consider what those functions are and where material bearing on them can suitably be placed. Here are ten such functions. A survey of the literature can…

R. Murray Thomas and Dale L. Brubaker, Theses and Dissertations A Guide to Planning, Research, and Writing (Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 2000) 33.

From another posting, I gather that you may have just completed your first year at university? Murray’s information is aimed at masters & doctoral students preparing a formal dissertation. Obviously the information doesn’t suit your situation completely but perhaps you can see where you are heading?

We mentioned before that you have a gift for writing. The moderator took special care to supply a suitable framework for most undergraduate essays. This last piece of advice from Murray may help give you perspective on academic writing as a whole.

Where do you wish to take your studies? You write well and perhaps you should keep searching for ways to extend your talent.
Guest -

Thanks for the feedback! To answer your questions:

Good guess. I'm actually a 'sophomore' that is slated to get my A.S. after this fall semester is over - enroute to getting my B.S. - hopefully by fall of 2005. After that, it's on to my Masters and eventually a Ph.D.

Where am I taking my studies? Here are the following degrees I am pursuing or intending to pursue:

A.S. - Sign Language Studies
B.S. - Educational Interpreting
MA - Education of the Deaf
Ph.D. - American Sign Language Linguistics

While taking classes enroute towards these degrees I'm also working as an adjunct sign language teacher at a local college. I have been pursuing a degree off and on since 1990. Unfortunately one thing or another has gotten in the way of that pursuit. Now I'm determined to accelerate this process and get all 4 degrees before I die of old age. ***

Thanks for the advice from Murray. It will definitely come in handy when I have to write my 30 page thesis for my Masters.

For this particular class 'fleshing out' my sources meant giving a little bit of background behind them. Example - "Dr John Doe who is a professor in the ABC Dept at XYZ University." That's pretty much the extent of it for his class.

Thanks for the compliment on my writing. I actually enjoy writing when I'm not doing it for a grade. *** I've had a little bit of experience with writing. I first cut my teeth writing for a small newspaper for about a year and a half. Then 'graduated' to starting up my own newspaper. It was quite well received until my partner and co-founder let it all go to his head - more interested in the money and power (or corruption of power to be exact). The media can be a force for good and/or evil in the world. After nine months of that I sold my interest in the paper to him and after a while his own employees turned on him and started a paper of their own. Needless to say, the paper I started died an abrupt death (which was a good thing).

Aside from two English writing classes and the two small-time newspapers, I haven't had any formal education or experience with writing. I just shoot from the hip. Sometimes I hit, sometimes I miss. ***

Aileen -

Thanks for the laugh! Glad you got a new 'quote of the week.'

Not meaning to be rude. Your gifted should read you are gifted. You're gifted.
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your eassy is excellent. you know, i am trying to give a speech on "how to maintain a healthy weight", and by reading your eassy, i now know where to start off with my speech.