Any experience or job in your life can make a great essay! This student wrote about interacting with various characters at her job at a drive-thru window and how that helped form portals to other peoples’ worlds outside of her own.
The drive-thru monitor on the wall quietly clicks whenever a person pulls up to the menu screen. It’s so subtle I didn’t notice it my first two months working at Freddy’s, the retro fast-food restaurant looming over Fairfax’s clogged stretch of Route 50. But, after months of giving out greasy burgers, I have become attuned to it. Now, from the cacophony of kitchen clangs I can easily pick out that click which transports me from my world of fry oil into the lives of those waiting in the drive-thru.
A languid male voice drifts into my ear. He orders tenders, with a side of cheese sauce. “How much cheese sauce is in a cup?” he frets, concerned over the associated 80 cent charge. The answer is two ounces, and he is right to worry. It’s a rip-off.
After I answer him, my headset goes quiet for a second. Finally, his voice crackles through.
“Do you sell cheese sauce by the gallon?”
A man orders two steakburgers and two pints of custard.
Minutes later, he reaches my window. I lean out to take his credit card, only to meet the warm tongue of a wizened dog.
The man apologizes: “She just loves your restaurant.”
I look at the dog, her nose stretching out of the car and resting on the window ledge, then look at the order he had given me.
Once I hand him his food, the dog sniffs one of the pints.
“No!” he reprimands. “Only after you eat your dinner.”
He sets a burger between her paws, then speeds away.
I can’t understand the order, but I know that whoever is speaking is from New Jersey. Tommy, pronounced “Tahmee”, apparently has high blood pressure. He orders fries.
“No!” the woman screeches. “No salt!”
They pull up to the window. The man, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, thrusts a crumpled wad of cash in my hand.
The women pushes him back. “Sorry!” she apologizes, “But we’re lost! Never been to Virginia before - we’re trying to find Lynchburg!”
It is 10:45 PM, and Lynchburg is three hours away. We give them an extra side of fries (no salt of course) and directions to a nearby hotel.
For these brief moments, I am part of their lives: in their cars, they are at home. They are surrounded by their trash and listening to their music, dancing with their friends and crying alone, oblivious to the stranger taking their order. On the surface, these people are wildly different; they range from babies clad in Dolphin’s jerseys (“Her first pre-game party!”) to grandmothers out for ladies’ night; college students looking for a cheese sauce fix to parents on a dieting kick (“Chicken sandwich on a lettuce wrap”). But, despite every contrasting characteristic, they all ended up in the same place: my drive-thru, my portal to their worlds.
*Click* It’s a family, squished into a little car. When I hand them their bags, they happily open them and devour the food. The mother asks me for extra napkins, forks, and knives.
“We just moved,” she explains. “And everything is still in boxes.”
I moved a lot as a child, so I know what they’re going through. I give them an entire pack of utensils.
As the car leaves, the kids in the backseat press their faces against the car window and wave. I wave back as the car slowly makes it way toward 50. New to the area, they have yet to adopt the hurried rush that comes with the proximity to DC.
Customers like these help me realize I am not just a passive traveller in this drive-thru - I do not just watch and observe. I laugh and I help and I talk with them, if only for a few moments. They tell me about their lives, and I mention stories from mine. Over my hundreds of hours behind the drive-thru window, thousands of different people have come through, sharing snippets of their diverse lives. All they have in common when they come in is the desire for greasy fast food. However, by the time they leave, they share something else: a nugget of my life.
The drive-thru portal takes me to disparate places; to Lynchburg, to the grocery store to buy cheese sauce, to a new home filled with opportunity and cardboard boxes. It transports me back to my room, where I hug my dog and feed her chicken and treats. It is a portal to the world, hidden in the corner of a fast-food kitchen.
With each click, that door opens. (764)
- Some essays in school require academic sources. These can sometimes be tricky to pick out because not everything is considered academic. For help in this area, you can refer to L. Lennie Irvin’s piece, “What Is ‘Academic’ Writing?” where he eases the student’s fear of the unknown and guides them to understand what academic writing is, how to pick it out, and discusses the benefits of using academic writing. 
- Conventions are methods used in writing to enhance the product and make it more readable and understandable. They also determine what category or genre the piece belongs in. Types of conventions include but are not limited to mechanics, format, sentence structure, and word usage. So consider the following questions as well: What genre is the work and what conventions are used? Why did the author pick that genre and include those specific conventions?
- Reading Mike Bunn’s “How to Read Like a Writer” will help you understand how this can be done. He discusses in his piece how to notice decisions the author makes and the conventions used in their work so you can make similar decisions in your own.
Take your stance and form your argument. While researching and your argument is forming, mark pieces of evidence in the research that could be useful pieces of evidence for your paper. Don’t be afraid to mark more than you need because it’ll give you more options later on when you finalize what evidence you’re using.
Free write. This is a part of brainstorming. At this point, a million different ideas and connections are forming in your head and it is important to get them all out. Don't pay attention to the format or flow. In fact, use a pen to keep yourself from erasing anything because everything that comes out is important. Just write and write for ten minutes straight and get everything in your head on paper. Later, you will shift through it all and pick out the most important points that fit together the best.
Construct your thesis. Synthesize your main points and argument of the paper into a coherent sentence or two. This doesn’t need to be permanent and is subject to change. It will serve as a guideline for the paper in the time being. Incorporate it into the introduction and when the essay is complete, it will inform the reader what you are writing about and what you are arguing.
- Go back through the evidence you marked earlier or flip through your research again to find additional evidence if it does not sufficiently back up your claims. After this is complete and your outline logically flows, you are ready to begin writing!
Write your introduction. Compose your introduction that starts with a hook to capture the reader’s attention. In the paragraph, include your sources, thesis, and a “road map” for your essay. The “road map” is to give the reader a sense of where you are taking the subject and how you are going to prove your point without specifically stating, “First, I will talk about this. Then, about that”, etc.
- Also, incorporate your evidence into appropriate places and ensure they flow. Evidence can be used in a quote but don’t forget that you can paraphrase too. Change it up so your essay doesn’t seem repetitive and make sure to use each of your sources equally.
Form your conclusion. Tie together your essay with a final conclusion of your argument. Give your reader something to walk away with after reading your essay. For example, have a call to action, leave them pondering a question or with something memorable, or maybe you’ll even end up blowing the reader's minds with something they’ve never thought of or considered. Just make sure they don’t finish your essay thinking “so what?” or “what was the point?”.
Cite your sources. Cite your sources in the appropriate format. Don’t forget this step- no plagiarizing! If you have any questions on citations, you can refer to Diana Hacker's "A Pocket Style Manual" which provide a plethora of information on citations, grammar, and formatting.
- If you have a peer to revise with, trading with them and getting their opinion can be very helpful. If there are multiple people to trade with, go for it! The more opinions the better. Then you can pick and choose what revisions you agree with. You can repeat this step a few times by stepping away from it and coming back to ensure you caught all your mistakes.
Take time to reflect. Reflect on your writing, the process of how you completed it, and how you feel about your work. This process identifies the positives and the negatives of the paper, which could help improve it. Write down what you consider to be the downfalls of your paper and you can even go back to the revision stage and fix these once they are identified.
Done! When you are satisfied with your paper and you have fixed everything that you possibly can, you have completed your essay!