Humour. It's a wonderful weapon that a skillful essayist can use to his or her advantage. But writer beware: use this tool carefully, as it can be both friend and foe.
Here, we'll take a quick gander at a few ways that humour can help you in your essay writing process.
For Irony…Jonathon Swift was known for his use of the ironic (he didn't really want to feed orphans to the populace), and he embedded humour into his pieces in order to make his points. You can do the same (and might even raise some eyebrows, as did Swift, much to his delight.)
For instance, if you are writing a commentary piece on the irony of mothers working outside the home but spending all their earnings on childcare costs, you might want to inject some witty observations. Otherwise, your writing could be seen as an attack on working mums, which may not be your intention at all.
For Controversial Commentary Pieces…As in the case of humour being used for ironic purposes, readers often find controversial essays more palatable if they have some form of humour contained within their sentences. A well-placed witticism is like a drizzle of water thrown onto a fire; it'll cool the embers, but not extinguish the flame entirely.
Thus, if you have something to say and you feel that people might stop reading due to the inflammatory nature of your "take" on the topic, try peppering your essay with a little humour to give your readers a slight chuckle.
For Laughs…If you're lucky enough to be paid to be funny or to make people smile, humour is an essential tool for you to use. However, there's one enormous caveat - true humour writers don't try to be amusing; they just are.
If you're not a person who can make people laugh when you talk with them, you might have trouble writing a piece that's humourous. And even if you do have a good sense of humour, it might not translate well to the written word. Thus, ask a trusted friend or editor to read your humour essay before sending it out for public critiques.
For Kids…Children adore humour and crave comic phrases and silly situations. If you like to write in a humourous style and can find the "goofiness" in even the most mundane experiences, you may want to try your hand at writing an essay that's geared toward the younger population. (And if you want to know how funny it really is, ask a kid to read it; you'll know instantly if you hit the mark!)
For Reviews…If you write critical essays about music, plays, or other writers' works, you may want to engage in some well-placed humour throughout your pieces. It can be high-brow (a.k.a., only a few people might get your "joke") or base (as in "toilet humour") depending on the publication where the essay will appear, what the essay is about, and who will read the essay. Again, don't go crazy with the witticisms; a little will go a long way.
Humour has a use in many kinds of essays; try your hand at the technique today and see what happens. The worst case scenario? You're not that funny. So laugh it off and move on to your next project!