What Does it Take to Write a Great Essay? What is an Essay? The word ‘essay’ is derived from the word meaning ‘to weigh up, test, try and examine’. All essays require you to: -Think about the importance of facts and ideas -Exercise judgement -Consider facts, ideas, people, places critically -Develop a point of view before you write -Consider evidence -Be analytical -Express yourself in a structured, logical, organised fashion. Regardless of form, a good essay: -has a clear structure and is well organised -presents and/or deals with material relevant to the question -gives an impression of completeness -sustains its focus is logical in the way in which it presents its ideas – is concisely expressed -signposts the development of its proposition -follows the basics of effective essay writing: strong introduction, inter-locking subsequent paragraphs, effective conclusion -demonstrates careful, considered and, preferably, original thought? has sincerity – evidences a genuine encounter with the subject A good essay is not: – a mere collection of facts – a mere listing of examples -an attempt to say absolutely everything that there is to say on a topic -wordy -affected or pretentious in style Unpacking the Question! Understanding the Purpose
Before you can write an effective essay, you must understand why you are doing it. Effective essay writing therefore requires you to understand the topic. The topic defines the purpose of your writing. There is more to understanding what a question topic requires of you than just underlining the key words. You need to understand the different things to which these key words relate and the different processes of thought and written expression they require you to attempt. There are three types of key words to identify: – the task or instruction words – the topic or subject words -the limiting words The Task or Instruction Words
These words tell you: – how to approach the topic -what your level of thinking you are to adopt -what focus you are to adopt -what it is exactly, that you are to do The meanings of common task words are set out below: analyse: identify the divisions or parts of a subject, define the relationship between these, look at cause and effect, motivation for action, development of effect, consequences argue: present a case for or against a proposition; provide evidence for your stance assess: measure the relative importance or significance of, the value of, consider the worth or extent of the effect of in a particular context.
Compare: identify the similarities (but also note the distinguishing differences) Contrast: identify the (large and small) differences between (but also note any similarities). In this kind of question, the devil is often in the detail. Define: give a precise meaning of, description of, illustration of. This requires you to analyse material and present its uniqueness objectively. Describe: provide an objective factual account. In this kind of question you need to consider both the large and the obvious facts and the smaller less obvious detail. Discuss: describe and evaluate, draw conclusions from facts
Evaluate: present a measured assessment of, assess (good and bad) effects, the worth of Explain: give reasons for or about illustrate: give an example or examples review: decide on and set out the main points Summarise: give the essential facts of a broader subject. The Topic Words Topic words are the words that define the subject of the topic. They can be nouns, verbs or adjectives, and phrases containing these words, for example: Discuss the causes of Macbeth’s downfall. `Multiculturalism in Australia is a myth. ‘ Discuss ‘Laughter is the best medicine. ‘ Discuss. Other topic words define the kind of information sought.
These are: When? These questions require accuracy with time references, and may require you to refer to dates, times of day, seasons, parts of a sequence of action, a particular change in a character’s thought pattern. Where? These questions ask you to focus on a place or places. This place may be a turning point within the progress of an argument, a specific setting or a geographical region. In any event, detail and a specific focus will be represented in the better answers. Who? These questions focus on individuals and/or groups. What? These questions focus on objects, events and ideas. How?
These questions focus on actions (which can be developments in thought as well as events) and processes. Why? These questions focus on causes of reactions, motivation/s and behaviour of individuals and groups. The Limiting Words There is no room in any essay for a totally comprehensive and all-encompassing evaluation of a subject. The broader the topic, the more your focus on it has to be defined. Limiting words achieve this. They define the parameters of your answer and are overlooked at great cost! Common limiting words (and phrases) are: from … from … to … the most important the most significant he most influential the first time the last time in Act … scene … in the last scene at the first encounter … during the … since … up until Exploring the question Once you have decided what the question asks you to do, you have a focus for writing. Before you can start to put pen to paper, however, you need to explore the various possibilities for dealing effectively with the question. You then need to clarify and narrow down your thinking so that you have an identifiable approach, and so that you have reduced the material you are going to use in your essay to a manageable form and amount.
All of this can be achieved in three stages, by establishing direction in your thinking, brainstorming, and organising and structuring your notes. Establishing direction in your thinking What are the facts? To what degree must you evaluate opinion/s of other/s or develop one of your own? What element of description will be involved in answering the question? Is there a need for definition of facts, ideas or concepts? Are value judgments required? Are there particular demands made by the task words, the topic words, the limiting words?
Do you need to select exclusive categories or points of time or characters or events in your answer? Identify the key words in the topic We will use an example from Looking for Alibrandi to address this: ‘Josephine’s search for identity is the central issue in Lookingfor Alibrandi. ‘Discuss. Key words are obviously ‘search… identity… central issue’ . You may like to circle these, or highlight them. Picking them out is a very important first step. Now try and do this in the question you have been given as an assessment task. What are the key words? Define the key words search’ – looking for, seeking to understand, trying to find out, quest ‘identity who she is, how she should behave, whose model she should follow, what her goals are ‘central issue’ – the main theme, principal idea, key to The definition doesn’t have to be from a dictionary (though with some highly technical topics that might help), but it does need to be as specific as you can makeit . The ideas of the topic are what you have to deal with in your essay, and these have to be pinned down as soon as possible, preferably in your own words. Now try this for your current question. Define the key words of the question.
Paraphrase the topic It helps to restate the topic in other words – yours. Josephine’s attempt to find out who she is and what she wants is the principal subject of thenovel. Josephine is looking for a sense of herself, and that is the main focus of, Looking for Alibrandi. If you can find your own words for the topic, you have understood it, and this is the key to success. Try this for your question. Analyse the issues identified You now know what the topic is getting at. It’s time to break down the key ideas into their component parts, and lay them out so you can see what needs iscussing. This process is the real analysis. It can be done two ways: 1. Concept map analysis Here the main ideas are represented in a diagram, with branching (or related )ideas sketched in as they come to mind. This method allows you to get down as many ideas as possible in a comfortably visual way, without worrying about how it looks or even where it might lead. This approach appeals to many students. 2. Question and answer analysis This approach consists simply of thinking about the ideas and words in the topic, and asking as many questions about them as possible. The Structure…
By this stage, believe it or not, you have a plan! You have now analysed the topic at considerable length, and have detailed notes about what you need to discuss. The concept map or question/answer notes are your plan. Only two jobs remain. 1. Ordering the material The way you thought through the topic at the planning stage may not be the best final order for the essay. Go over your concept map or notes carefully, finding a good place to begin, a natural series of discussion points, and a good place to end. Remember that each paragraph should be about one issue or point. 2. Opening and closing paragraphs
The beginning of an essay is terribly important. Your opening paragraph should do the following things: *show that you understand the topic is best done by repeating it in your own- words *take a stand on the topic-either agreeing with its view of the text(the typical response)or disagreeing. Don’t bother to go into details-that’s what the rest of the essay is for. But do show what you think. Function of each part: Introduction -Base it on an analysis of the question posed. -Commit yourself to a line of argument, thesis or overall point of view -Present the main idea of your essay here Use general ideas and omit details, quotes and examples -Use the language and key words of the essay question to organise your essay. -Keep it quite short- 4 to 6 sentences. Body -Develop your line of argument -Give relevant evidence for you main points -Each main point of your essay should be discussed in a separate paragraph and be supported with evidence -Evidence may be quotes, examples and detailed explanation -If your essay is about literature make sure you choose the most relevant examples from the text. -Use the language and key words of the essay question in your topic sentences and concluding sentences.
This helps to sustain your line of argument to give your essay coherence. -Your thesis should be discussed throughout the body in relation to key aspects of the text. Remember the thread- don’t let it break! Conclusion -Summarise the main points of your argument -Create a lasting impression by making a prediction or stating further implication. -Don’t add any new points of information -Conclude strongly An effective concluding paragraph will: – be connected to the penultimate paragraph (the previous paragraph)? -sound finished -be a paragraph and not a single sentence – link back to the introduction and to the topic use synonyms to restate/ remind the reader of the thesis. -summarise the essential points of the body of the essay -give a final evaluation of the subject in the light of the topic? -be confident -conclude in a strong and interesting fashion -It is often effective to use a quote either from the text or from a critic that is acknowledged or respected. Avoid overuse of this… Developing the thesis Paragraphs in an essay need to be sequenced logically so that they create a line of argument. The main idea of the essay together with the main points contained in each paragraph of the body of the essay develops the line of argument.
It is then summarised in the essay’s conclusion. Relevance to the topic Examiners expect you to deal with the topic they have set. Here are some of the common faults relating to this criterion: *retelling the story, with brief mention of the topic *mention of the topic in the first and last paragraph ,and personal waffle about the book in between *misreading the topic ,and either dealing with only part of it, or misunderstanding a key term *starting off on the topic, then getting lost, and’ raving on’ about other aspects of the text. Textual evidence
Examiners expect you to refer in detail to the novel, play or film to back up what you are arguing about the text. This means at least talking about particular characters and scenes in some depth, and preferably dropping in illustrative quotes a few times. The wonderful thing about quotes is that they simultaneously demonstrate a point you want to make in the discussion and show how well you know the text! Structure and coherence Examiners expect you to structure the essay in a clear, controlled fashion. This really means a traditional introductory paragraph, a series of paragraphs dealing with individual issues or points, and a traditional oncluding paragraph. Every paragraph in the body of the essay should have a topic sentence, which expresses its main idea ,followed by a set of sentences explaining or illustrating that idea. Language,clarity Examiners expect you to write in’ good English’. This means correct spelling, proper punctuation, consistency of tense, and the other matters–already referred to. Brilliant insight is not enough in English: you need to show that you can write well too. Preparing for Paragraph Writing Constructing paragraphs Paragraphs are the major building blocks of writing.
As long as it holds together, a paragraph may be of any length – a single, short sentence or a passage of considerable length. As a rule, however, single sentences should not be used except to indicate the transition in parts of an argument. An effective paragraph will contain: -a topic sentence. A topic sentence is the main idea of the paragraph. It acts as a kind of heading which defines the focus of the paragraph. It is usually the first sentence. – subsequent sentences. The topic sentence (if it is the first sentence of the paragraph) is followed by sentences that explain, illustrate and develop the main idea of the paragraph.
These sentences are sometimes called developing sentences because they expand this main idea. They provide the supporting argument for the thesis of the paragraph. -Unity of ideas. The central idea of the paragraph must be developed in an ordered and organised manner. Each good paragraph has its own internal structure. This structure will underlie the logical and sequential development of ideas. Each idea will be linked to the next. The paragraph will not merely consist of a collection of loose statements or a list of examples. Each paragraph is therefore a mini argument. -a strong terminating sentence .
Each paragraph should end as strongly as it began. The last sentence of the paragraph should round off the argument developed within that paragraph. Study how the writer of this paragraph has pieced together his ideas: Heracles, whom the Romans called Hercules, was Zeus’ son by Alcmene, a princess of Thebes. Hera, who was angry that Zeus continued to betray her by marrying yet another mortal woman, sent two gigantic serpents to kill Hercules whilst he was still a baby. Hercules and his twin brother, Iphicles, were lying asleep in their cradle, when the serpents crawled hissing towards them.
Iphicles screamed. But Hercules did not. Being an incredibly strong child, he caught each of the snakes by its throat and, holding one in each hand, squeezed the life out of both of them. Choose one of the paragraphs from your paper and see if you have done all of the above things. Make changes if you have not! PARAGRAPH CONSTRUCTION 1. Construct a topic sentence: gives the main idea and signals what the paragraph is about. It is often the first sentence in the paragraph. Highlight key words in the topic sentence and list synonyms. rejected defiedrelinquish
Negrodeclineddisobeyed Rosa Parks, who was a black seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up fatigued exhausted her seat on the bus because she was tired. 2. Plan elaboration by posing questions which may be in the reader’s mind after reading the topic sentence. Answer. Sequence Who? What? 3What happened when she refused? Police called, charged – broke ‘whites first’ law When? 1When did this happen? 1955 – blacks discriminated against Where? 1Where is Montgomery, Alabama? Southern state – slavery past – whites thought superior How? Why? 2Why did she have to give up seat? whites before blacks’ – relinquish seat on full bus 3Why did she refuse? fatigued OR in the case of a synthesis or analysis task: -Topic sentence -Technique -Effect -Example -Link to thesis and the question -Concluding sentence 3. Plan concluding sentence: So what happened because of the main idea: what happened because she refused to give up her seat? demand for equal rights OR in the case of a synthesis task, so what did the composer achieve by using the technique in question? (usually a link to the question or concept required in a concluding sentence) Connecting your paragraphs
Your essay will require two, three, four or even more middle paragraphs, each paragraph developing, illustrating or evidencing one aspect of your argument. It is important that each of these paragraphs works together in a logical fashion so that your argument has both precision and coherence. Each paragraph will therefore need to be linked to the one before it and lead into the paragraph that follows it. In order to develop both coherence and fluency between your paragraphs so that they form an interlocking pattern of developed ideas, you will need to use connectives.
Connectives are adverbs and adverbial phrases which allow you to connect two independent clauses. Commonly used single adverb connectives include the following: OtherwiselikewiseOn the other hand ThereforemoreoverAlternatively HoweverratherContradictory to… Accordinglysimilarly Besidesuntil Hencewhen Afterwardsthen Alsothus Furthermorewhenever Laterbecause 1. Varying your sentence beginnings. You have been learning to write sentences that all start the same way: Who or what did something. However, if all the sentences in a paragraph start with a noun or a pronoun, the paragraph lacks fluency.
My closest friend is Kelly. She is seventeen years old. Kelly is tall, with long, curly black hair and big blue eyes. She is an outgoing, energetic person who likes camping and going to the movies. She adds excitement to my life and encourages me to do things I have never done before. In this paragraph each sentence reads as a separate piece of information. When you vary your sentence beginnings and include complex sentences, the individual sentences relate to one another. Kelly, who is seventeen years old, is my closest friend.
Tall, with long, curly black hair and big, blue eyes, she is an outgoing, energetic person. Camping and going to the movies with her has added excitement to my life because she encourages me to do things I have never done before. Here are some ways to vary your sentence beginnings: •Begin with an adjective :Anxious relatives waited outside the operating room. Application: Write a sentence that begins with an adjective about an event in your class text. •Begin with an adverb: Foolishly he dived into the stream. Application: Write a sentence that begins with an adverb about an event in your class text. Begin with an abstract noun: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Application: Write a sentence that begins with an adverb about an event in your class text. •Begin with a participle: Groaning with pain, the player clutched her ankle. Distracted by the noise, he accidentally cut off his thumb. Application :Write a sentence that begins with a present participle about an event in your class text. Write a sentence that begins with a past participle about an event in your class text. •Begin with an infinitive: To repay Androcles for his kindness, the starving lion spared his life.
Application: Write a sentence that begins with an infinitive about an event in your class text. •Begin with a phrase: Around the next bend we came across a platypus. Application: Write a sentence that begins with a phrase about an event in your class text. •Begin with a clause: As noon approached, the heat became unbearable. Application: Write a sentence that begins with a clause about an event in your class text. Overall application: Take ONE paragraph from a practise paper you have written and apply so of the above to it.