Virtually every week, as part of our Monday Morning Essay Tip, we offer a “how to” and a “how not to” example. This week, we cannot offer a simple illustration, because we are focusing on the issue of humor, which is nuanced and can be deemed appropriate only with a full understanding of the context in which it is presented. So, instead of a hard rule, we offer a strong suggestion: be very careful when using humor in your essays. The line between being funny and coming across as immature, inappropriate or even careless is a very fine one.
In our view, writers who use humor best are those who possess the skill to appear clever or witty and are not striving to reveal themselves as stand-up comics. Your essays are not the proper venue in which to showcase your latest routine, though they can help reveal your personality through a mildly self-deprecating anecdote with humorous undertones. Remember, humor itself is not the goal of your essay, but part of a broader story and message to your reader. If you have a strong voice and can use humor with subtlety, then proceed, but even then, do so with caution and ensure that you get a solid critique before you submit your final draft.