Deconstructing an essay The most obvious but most important part of writing a successful essay/report is…to answer the question you have been asked!
1: Know the parameters of the task2: Identify and understand the key terms3: Paraphrase the assignment4: Establish ‘working definitions’
Deconstruct the question• Essay titles typically contain key words that will help you with your interpretation and analysis of the question. You need to break the question topic down and look for these key words:• COMMAND TERMS tell you what you have to do with the topic: for example, analyse [Break down in order to bring out the essential elements, structure, any underlying assumptions and any interrelationships involved. ], discuss [Offer a considered and balanced review of a particular topic. Opinions or conclusions should be presented clearly and supported by empirical evidence and sound argument]. CIRCLE THESE.• CONTENT WORDS: tell you what areas of the subject you will need to address in your essay/report, and which ideas will form the base of the assignment. UNDERLINE THESE.• LIMITING WORDS: define the scope and focus of your essay; they limit the subject matter so that you know what should and should not be included in your writing. HIGHLIGHT THESE.
Read the question AGAIN and ask yourself the following questions:What is the essential subject matter of thisessay/report — what information is required?How does the question link to what I amcovering in class / lectures ?What do I know about the topic?How much research do I need to do?What are the important or controversial issuesto include?
Critically Assess the QuestionIn this example, “Should participation in organized school social activities bemandatory?”, the words “should” and “mandatory” carry a strong meaning ofobligation.When analyzing the question and thinking critically about it, we ask ourselves:What does the word obligation mean to me? Do I think of school socialactivities as something that should be obligatory? What are the pros ofobligatory participation in school social activities ? What are the cons?We use various techniques to generate ideas:– Brainstorming– Mind mapping– BranchingWhen we have thought of all ideas we can, then we use questioning to ensurewe have consider all the possibilities.
Generate Ideas: BrainstormingLet your ideas come without editing them in any way.List them as they occur to you. Just write them down asquickly as possible.Later you can critique your ideas, rearrange them, clusterthem under categories, delete some, add others, and soon.Initially, just ensure you list the ideas as they come toyou.
Generate Ideas: Mind mappingOrganic structure that puts thoughts and ideasinto categories.Great for the visual learner and random thinker.Cluster supporting ideas around the main idea.
Generate Ideas: BranchingGreat for the linear thinker who prefers structure.List main ideas down the left side of the page, leaving lot of white space.List supporting ideas to the right of the main idea.List the examples for each supporting idea to the right.Connect each main idea to its supporting ideas with straight lines (branches), asshown.Connect each supporting idea to its examples with lines, as well.
QuestioningWhen you run out of ideas, apply the 5 W’s of journalism:who, what, when, where, and why…Sometimes it helps to also ask “how”.Using our example:Imagine you are in favor of mandatory participation in school socialactivities. You list all the ideas you can think of: builds friendships,relieves stress, promotes health, improves attitude, etc.Then you apply the 5 W’s:Who is affected? Who else might care? Who might object?What objections might be raised? What benefits might be seen?When might it happen?Where could it happenWhy might it be implemented ?How might students feel about mandatory participation?
MISTAKES TO AVOIDEssay writing is a fine art demanding a careful management of skills, in order to communicate ideas effectively and efficiently. There are numerouspotential errors to avoid and mistakes to pass by in the process of successful essay construction.• Failing to answer all or part of the question is the most common and fundamental mistake and error. This is unforgivable. It comes about as a result of students attempting to regurgitate copied or learnt responses, rather than learn how to deconstruct an essay question.• The second most common mistake in essay writing is the composed answer which departs from the question and wanders off in a different direction. The result may be a narrative recount, rather than an evaluation, lacking evidence to support viewpoints expressed.• Thirdly, essays suffer from employing the wrong level of language. Overly casual and informal expressions have no place in an essay, unless they are an extract from a text being studied, used to support a viewpoint.• Fourth, the essay writer must avoid writing essays which have no paragraph divisions. The paragraph helps to give shape and structure to an essay and thereby encourage a logical flow of thought, moving clearly from one idea to the next.• Fifth, an essay writer must avoid the use of paragraphs which have no central or easily recognisable main idea. With no central idea, there is no essay, as there is no thesis and therefore nothing to prove.• Sixth, the essay writer must avoid composing paragraphs which do not distinguish between a thesis statement, explanation, illustration and summary statement. Ignoring proper paragraph construction results in a lack of clear argument and diminishes the informative and persuasive communication of ideas.• Seventh, it is a major mistake to ignore the instructions or requirements about which essay text type is expected. A discursive essay demands a different arrangement of ideas, as well as different choices about language selection, to an evaluative essay.• The eighth essay writing mistake is to misuse jargon or technical terminology. While jargon may demonstrate expertise in a given academic field or discipline when correctly understood, the misuse of technical terms will obscure meaning and will leave a reader frustrated rather than reaching for their dictionary. Accurately used jargon engenders precision, yet poorly used jargon breeds confusion.• The ninth mistake is the mishandling of quotations in the body of an essay. Direct extracts must be purposefully used and their original context must be determined and conveyed as they are reused. Direct extracts used properly should enhance and empower the writer’s viewpoints. When quotations are placed at the start of paragraphs, they usually obscure the thesis statement, and block the use of explanation and illustration, ultimately disrupting the flow of the essay.• The tenth mistake is the over reliance upon the use of the words of others. In this case, one’s own argument is hidden or over-shadowed by the words of others, taken from other sources.•
MISTAKES TO AVOID• The eleventh mistake of essay writing is the failure to admit that you are using someone else’s words in your own essay. This prevents the right person receiving the credit and it prevents a reader of your work knowing how you arrived at the viewpoint you expressed in the essay. This error is essential to overcome, as it will be detected when repeated, causing the writer and error maker to lose grades, and even further enrolments or employment opportunities.• The twelfth mistake is to be so opinionated within the essay that you lose the sympathetic ear of the reader, right from the start of the essay. While strong thesis statements are welcomed, the ability to support strong views is equally important, for the views to gain traction among readers.• The thirteenth essay writing mistake is to fail to engage with the prescribed text and instead, write general statements about the topic and little or nothing in particular about a nominated text. This error can also be made by relying upon the use of rhetorical questions too much, such that few if any stated assertions are tabled.• The fourteenth mistake of essay writing is to fail to annotate texts which the essay must address. Facing an un- annotated text makes the construction of an argument all the more challenging, without a sense of direction flowing from an earlier reading and engagement with the text.• The fifteenth mistake of essay writing is to have disorganised notes, making the drafting of ideas very difficult, without a sense of thoughts had at time of a previous reading. This is made worse when the reader or researcher fails to have a central and systematic location and method of recording or preserving relevant notes.• The sixteenth mistake in essay writing is cluttering the essay with verbose language. While its’ use may be designed to impress examiners, it fails if it fails to communicate.• The seventeenth mistake is to fail to use a referencing and citation system as instructed or to use one inconsistently. This makes it very difficult to determine which parts of the essay are original thought and which sections are the words and thinking of other people.• The eighteenth mistake is to fail to plan time management effectively, so that there is no time to edit the essay prior to its submission.• The nineteenth mistake is another result of poor time management, where one is forced to complete an essay in one sitting, due to not foreseeing the need or benefit of forward planning and breaking up the essay into smaller segments.• The twentieth mistake of essay writing is to ignore mandated word limits, either falling short or exceeding length, creating either an unfair advantage over other students, giving an instructor more words to read than they care for, or failing to develop the skill of conciseness.
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