The argument should develop through the language you use and therefore in a short essay sub-headings are unnecessary. Several stages are involved in essay preparation, choosing which points are to be considered, deciding how you will deal with them, and the actual writing. As you gain more experience you will find methods and ways of working which suit you, your personality and lifestyle. Generally, however, the process will involve the following.
You should examine carefully the statements made in the essay question , making sure you understand each word and what is being asked, as misreading and misunderstanding at this stage can be fatal. Essay questions can be very general, very specific and sometimes deliberately provocative, and an understanding of them is essential. Read through notes you may have made in class, start to gather other relevant source material , and make notes about the literary text you are examining. Ask yourself questions concerning style, content, and imagery etc. Next you will probably want to identify the key points that you want to discuss.
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There may be many points you find generally interesting, but ask yourself if they are relevant to the essay in question. To do this it can be useful to try to think of a title for your essay.
This is not to be confused with the essay question or title, but is concerned with your response to the task set. What title would best give the reader an overview of your approach and analysis, and highlight the main points you examine and the conclusions you reach? Suggestions concerning conclusions will be given later. You should not assume that an essay has to include and cover all the possible points an interpretation may offer up.
A short, well organised and structured essay focusing on some of the main points is far better than an over-long and unwieldy attempt to say a little about everything. You may find it useful to state in the introduction which points you are focusing on and why.
Keep your reader informed of the development of your argument. Let her or him know which direction is being taken and the reasons why. Once the main points have been identified you need to consider in which order they will be examined. Students often do not make the most of the good ideas they have because they get lost if the argument does not develop coherently. Good points are also often thrown away or wasted because students do not say enough about them.
Make sure the relevance of each point to the main argument is clearly stated and demonstrated.
WRITING TECHNIQUES FOR ESSAYS
You should dwell and linger on the points: often this requires no more than two or three extra sentences, particularly if your writing is concise and focused. A good essay takes time to prepare and write, so start to think about it and do the groundwork well ahead of the essay deadline even in timed conditions, such as exams, it is important to take the time to organise and structure the essay before starting to write. You will probably find that you need to work out your ideas on paper before writing the essay, and are encouraged to prepare an outline of the essay: a point by point series of key words, phrases and ideas.
This will help you to organise the structure and to recognise what is relevant and irrelevant to the essay as a whole. Some people find that a plan or outline will consist of eight to ten words only. Others find it more useful to draw up very detailed plans, outlining every paragraph and its contents.
Again you will discover which method works for you as you go along. Some students find it easier to think and plan the essay point by point before beginning to write, whilst others find that after some initial preparation, reading, organisation and thinking they can only develop their ideas through writing. Both these approaches take time, if the essays are to be done well.
It should be stressed here that the first plan does not have to be binding and may change as the work begins and develops. The main point here is that essays involve a certain amount of planning and preparation even before the actual writing begins. Having emphasised that essays are hard work and take time it should also be stressed that it can be very stimulating and rewarding to work through a number of ideas in depth and detail.
Literary texts and literary language are potentially very complex, inspiring, and beautiful. The ideas and images often demand careful thought and attention. Computers are essential in terms of using the time you spend on an essay efficiently and productively. As stated earlier, good essay writing demands time spent on every stage of the process: reading and research, making an outline, ordering and structuring your ideas, writing and changing various drafts, and final editing and presentation. With this in mind it cannot be stressed enough how important it is for you to learn word-processing skills and to make sure you have access to a computer.
Use the university resources.
How do I structure paragraphs?
Admittedly the space available is limited at times but this is no excuse not to learn the skills, if you do not already possess them, and to find out where there are available computer terminals. Of course if you use university resources it is even more important to start your essay early in order to avoid the last minute rush as most students, not only from this department, search for terminals in a panic on the Friday before a Monday deadline. It is appreciated that students are very busy and do have a lot of work, but it is a mistake to claim, as some students have been heard, that they are too busy to learn word-processing skills.
Ultimately word-processing will save you a lot of time. It is far easier to add and delete material, and to restructure and reorganise essays by moving material around, on a computer than if you are writing by hand. Software has become really user-friendly; 'Word', for instance, will tell you what to do in explicit English or French, and typing skills can be learned whilst typing. Your essay will be the representation of an argument on a given subject or subjects.
It will include only points which are relevant to the subject, so be careful to get rid of material that is not directly relevant. Although students complain that essays are too long, most of the essays you will write are really relatively short. Part of the skill of writing is to write concisely and economically , without wasting material or 'padding' the work with irrelevant diversions and repetition. Once the points have been chosen they should be presented logically and coherently , so do not leap about from point to point.
Each point generally will have some connection to the preceding one and the one to follow. If you do leave one area of the essay to move into another, but intend later to go back to the point you have left and show, for example, how the points may be connected or related, then it can be useful to say so by 'signposting', e.
Essay Writing Technique
After each draft of the essay check that each point is presented in a logical and coherent order. Read each draft carefully and critically. Is there a significant idea you have not included in the essay? Do you need to expand some of the points you have chosen to write about? Are some of the points, after due consideration, not really relevant? Have you been too long-winded or repetitive? Does your argument need to be clearer, and do the links between some of the main points need more emphasis? You should be asking yourself these questions throughout the whole process. A particularly distressing weakness in the past, but hopefully not the future, has been the absence of serious discussion of imagery and literary language.
Some students have merely stated that the author uses imagery, illustrated this with an example, and then moved on to the next point on the list. If you discuss images, metaphors and other literary devices, then say how and why they are being used in the piece of fiction, and maybe if you think the imagery works or not. If you do not say how and why an image is being used then don't mention it.
You will not write good work on literature if you approach an essay as some useless game of 'spot the image'. These quotations can obviously add much to the texture and quality of your work, but they are often handled very badly by students.
5 Ways to Quickly Improve Your Academic Essay Writing Skills
Do not assume that a good quotation will do all the work you want by itself. Poor essays are often merely a patchwork of quotations stitched together by the briefest of comments, and it is a mistake to leave quotations hanging in mid-air, as it were, without comment or explanation. Quotations need to be framed.
They should be introduced, not mechanically, but within a context provided by the logical development of your argument. See Example 1 at the end of this guide. This is often likely to be the case as there is really little point in including 'bland' quotations in your essay. You may want to gloss, explain, qualify or modify the quoted words, or you may have included quotations whose assumptions or arguments you strongly disagree with. The latter case can be useful, if handled well.
Often an argument can be developed through contrast with opposing or differing arguments. This tactic in essay construction also displays independent thinking in that it demonstrates that you have not unthinkingly accepted and believed everything you have read. One final point on quotations: do not plagiarise. Using other people's work without saying so is a serious crime. Tutors have read widely on the subjects you will be writing on and are very likely to recognise when you are plagiarising.
If you use other people's ideas and words they have to be acknowledged through proper footnoting and referencing. See Example 2 at the end of this guide. Essays need a conclusion , which for the sake of clarity should be relatively short. It is generally best not to include new ideas or new material in your concluding comments, particularly since many people think that a conclusion should be a synthesis of the prior arguments. You may, however, point to alternative conclusions or arguments, or briefly suggest areas of interest that have not been dealt with directly by the essay.
People often get the wrong idea about conclusions and believe that this is the place to state firm convictions, and that a conclusion has to make a stand and come down on the side of one argument or another. This can be the case but it is not necessarily so.
If an essay title comes in the form of a question, for example 'Is James Joyce seeking to distance himself from traditional forms of Irish culture? It is as much a sign of intelligence to state that you cannot decide as it is to sift through the evidence and decide one way or the other. Think about why you cannot decide. Perhaps the evidence is conflicting. Analyse a particular circumstance? Evaluate the usefulness of a particular concept? These are some of the common phrases found in essay questions, and each indicates a different set of expectations. If you are asked to critically evaluate a particular theoretical approach, for instance, you have to gain an understanding not only of said theory, but also other common approaches.
They must all be weighed against each other, highlighting the relative strengths and weaknesses of each theory and, importantly, you must come to a well-justified and confident conclusion. Is the theory good? What are its flaws?
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