A guide to essay writing


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A guide to essay writing

  1. 1. A Guide to Essay Writing Institute of Lifelong Learning
  2. 2. Why write essays? Essay writing can help you to: • Organise your thinking • Develop your own point of view on an issue • Get to grips with new information, ideas and experiences • Practise expressing your own ideas and arguments • Get feedback from your tutor/supervisor about how much you have understood and how well you are able to communicate this
  3. 3. Course requirements Read your course handbook carefully and follow instructions regarding written work. Check out any particular requirements such as: • Length or word limit • Whether scripts must be typed • How references should be presented • Format  
  4. 4. 1 Thinking about the essay question or title • Should you use your own experiences and opinions as well as referring to the work/theories of others? Consider the appropriate balance. • How many parts are there to the question? How much weight should you give to each part? • Underline the key words • Check that you understand the main Directive words, e.g. Criticise, Discuss, Justify, Review. • Define the key concepts. • Examine the precise wording of the title so that you can decide exactly what you are being asked to do. Identify the key words. • Consider the assumptions behind the question and the implications that arise. • Does the topic require general treatment or specific reference to certain aspects? • What sort of evidence or illustrations/examples will you need to back up your argument?
  5. 5. 2 Collecting the material • Make notes under separate headings - adding your own views about how theories can be complementary - or opposite approaches. • Follow up further sources and make use of journals, research papers, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, etc. • Record all the sources at the time you use them, including page numbers, ready for your List of References. (Researchers and postgraduates may find a PC bibliography package, such as Papyrus, useful.) • Brainstorm. Having examined the title thoroughly, write down all the thoughts and ideas that come into your mind at this stage. Decide what information you need. • Start researching early to take advantage of relevant and useful ideas that come up in lectures, seminars, discussions or general reading. • Start focussed reading. On some courses you will be given booklists which will provide the main source of ideas and information - otherwise access the Library catalogue for relevant material. • Read selectively and purposefully. (You don't have to read books from cover to cover.) As you read, begin to formulate questions. How will this be relevant to the essay? Will this support my argument - or cause me to change my views?
  6. 6. 3 Thinking creatively • Consider why you are writing this essay and why you are taking this approach. • What is your personal angle or "spin"? • Keeping this in mind, from reading and notes choose your main themes and arguments. • Put them into order - so that they will flow. • Sort out the evidence - references, examples, illustrations to back up your specific points. • Try to argue from the opposite point of view. Is there evidence for this? • Find the balance and some new conclusions. • Can this be developed further?
  7. 7. 4 Planning the essay All essays should conform to the basic structure of : • Introduction • Main body of essay • Conclusion
  8. 8. Introduction • Open up the subject and prepare the ground. • Explain how you understand the title. • Say why you have chosen this topic and this (these) particular aspect(s). • Define parameters. (Say what areas you will include and, if appropriate, acknowledge the limits.) • Include definitions where necessary. • Give an outline of how you will be dealing with the topic and what you will be discussing.
  9. 9. Main body • Develop your ideas and arguments. • Each paragraph should have one main point, backed up by evidence e.g. references, examples, illustrations, quotations, etc. • Keep in touch with the title by referring back from time to time.
  10. 10. Conclusion • Should not contain new material. • Summarise main ideas and arguments. • State conclusions or balance of argument. • Suggest wider implications or future trends and research. • Before writing, check that the planned essay will: Answer the question that was set Cover the main aspects
  11. 11. 5 Writing the essay • Each paragraph should link naturally with preceding and following paragraphs. • Leave the first draft for a day so that when you return you will look at it more objectively. Make sure that your plan is coherent. Change paragraph order where necessary. Add what is missing and delete the irrelevant. • Edit the paragraphs, checking for ambiguity. Change wording; correct grammar and spelling. • Make sure that you have acknowledged all sources in the Bibliography/List of References. • Write a first draft just as the ideas come. Don't worry about precise wording. • You don't have to start writing at the beginning. Begin with the section that you feel will be the easiest. • Write in as clear a style as possible so that your reader can understand you. Avoid abbreviations and slang. • Write in paragraphs. The first sentence will introduce the topic or theme - as a sign-post of what is to follow. Then develop the idea or argument and back it up with the evidence. The final sentence in a paragraph may summarise the point and/or refer back to the essay title - unless the following paragraph is continuing on to develop the same ideas.
  12. 12. Final checklist • Have I answered the question that was set? • Have I covered the main aspects? • Is the content relevant and accurate? • Is the material arranged logically? • Does the essay move smoothly from paragraph to paragraph? • Is each main point supported by examples and argument? • Have I acknowledged all sources and references?
  13. 13. Institute of Lifelong Learning