How to Write a Situational Essay

An important situation makes a fine essay topic.
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A formal essay in an academic setting is not only a chance to demonstrate your expert writing skills but it’s designed to see how well you’re able to find, analyze and present data and research. A situational essay focuses on one specific situation, but you can observe and interpret any situation in various ways. By analyzing the core elements of a situational essay, you’ll gain insight into how to write a proper one.

1 Situation Description

Before your readers are able to follow along with your expert research and analysis, they must have a basic understanding of the focus situation of your essay. Whether you’re focusing on the United States subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 or the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007, provide background information about your focus situation. Your introductory paragraph is a fine place to summarize the basic but essential elements of your focus so your readers have their bearings when your analysis begins.

2 Central Issue

At the heart of a great situational essay is a focus situation consumed with conflict. Within any significant situation plagued with conflict there are often opposing groups, sects or organizations fighting over one main issue. Once the central issue is identified, explain and analyze it well. The cause of the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 contains many layers ranging from the Federal Reserve lowering rates, to the misuse of asset-backed securities, and others. Presenting your readers with intricate and detailed angles about the situation with research and data is essential.

3 Outcome

Your readers want to know the outcome of the major conflict that defines your focus situation. Whether you go into detail about how your focus situation led to a larger problem, like the complete collapse of a country’s economy, or if government intervention resolved it, a portion of the body of your situational essay must include the outcome or outcomes of the central issue. For ongoing problems, your readers will want to know what is different about your focus situation now than when it started, and where you and others predict the situation will go in the future.

4 Overall Evaluation

Even though a good portion of your situational essay focuses on describing and researching your focus situation, your readers are concerned with your evaluation of the situation. Your entire situational essay will be directed by your own expert opinion, and it’s important to align all research, justification and evidence with your own view of the situation. The more evidence you have in support of your view the more successful your situational essay is.

Jake Shore is an award-winning Brooklyn-based playwright, published short story writer and professor at Wagner College. His short fiction has appeared in many publications including Litro Magazine, one of London's leading literary magazines. Shore earned his MFA in creative writing from Goddard College.