Essays writing

Introduction: Why Essays?
An essay should not be viewed just as a 'chore' or an assessment item - it is a learning opportunity. In a University course your main aim is to achieve understanding. One of the best ways of learning and truly understanding something is to have to explain it to someone else. Writing an essay gives you a chance to investigate a topic, organise your thoughts and present them clearly. It is an exercise in conveying your understanding of a topic.

What is required?
The purposes of and requirements for university essays differ considerably across faculties and departments. You could be asked to write a discussion essay; a scientific report; a case study; a literature review; a tutorial paper. The structure for a writing task may be specified, or you may have to devise your own structure. You may even have to choose your own topic. A good essay will demonstrate that you have read widely, that you understand the subject, and that you can follow a theme consistently. There are some common features that academic staff generally look for in an essay. These include:
• a relevant and inclusive discussion (answering the question);
• an analytical and critical approach;
• effective use of evidence;
• a logical structure;
• good persuasive writing.
Time management
It is most important to allow yourself sufficient time to complete the essay. Don't put it off just because it's not due for 8 weeks. Give yourself time to read enough to really get into the subject. Don't put off writing until the last minute. Work out how many weeks you have, and plan to get each of the tasks done with plenty of time to spare. Keep in mind the required length of the essay. If you have been asked to write 1000 words, it will be a challenge to limit yourself to this. You may be penalised if you write too much.
Getting started: What needs to be done?
Getting started can be the hardest part of essay writing. Sometimes it is better simply to take the plunge and start writing on an aspect of your essay topic, rather than spend more and more time gathering material, reading, and putting off the evil moment. The main tasks involved in essay-writing are:
• Establish the purpose of the essay: Clarify your thoughts
• Get the necessary materials
• Do the research (Critical analysis of materials and development of an argument)
• Plan a structure for the essay
• Write a first draft (aiming at appropriate content and style)
• Review, rewrite, and edit
• Present your essay well
1. Establish the purpose of the essay: Clarify your thoughts
What is this essay about? What are you meant to do? Look for directive words (like 'discuss' or 'compare') which tell you what you should do. Then identify the key words in the essay topic and paraphrase the question into one or more short questions. Try to identify the main question. How much do you know about this topic? If it is new to you, then look for a general introduction or overview - perhaps from a textbook, or a relevant encyclopedia. If the instructions for the essay don't fully explain what is required you may need to ask for clarification. There is no point in trying to write an essay if you are not clear about its purpose.
'Brainstorm' the topic (take a few minutes to write down anything the topic suggests to you). Then try to establish groupings of the points which have come up. This analytical approach could indicate a basis for your essay plan.
Once you have some idea of the scope of the essay, you may be ready to establish your main argument (your 'thesis') . If so, be prepared to modify it as you go. Don't worry if your argument is still vague or unformed at this stage - it will emerge as you read, analyse, synthesise and write. The purpose of an essay should not be to sound impressive (the assessor does not want you to "blind him/her with science") but to convey a message in clear and precise terms; to provide a reasoned case, supported with evidence, in a highly readable and logically structured format.
2. Get the necessary materials
These could include readings (from printed and/or electronic sources); experimental data; advice from experts or organisations. Searching for published information can be very time-consuming. If you are not familiar with the library and its resources, you may need to join one of the library orientation sessions before trying to gather your material. Don't hesitate to ask a reference librarian for help.
3. Do the research (Critical analysis of materials and development of an argument)
Review the papers and data you have collected and analyse the relevant material. Make notes thoughtfully, in the light of the topic of the essay. Try to organise your notes systematically.
Critical analysis is your original contribution. You have read widely and looked at the data. Now you present your case. It is not enough simply to present a series of facts or statements. Look critically at your various sources. What do they seem to be saying? Which arguments are most convincing? What is the consensus from the various sources? Can you use particular examples to support a general introduction or? Determine the main points you will make from what you have read and gathered. This is a continuous process and is not limited to the research stage. As you think and write, your thoughts may develop and change. Keep referring to the original question. Developing an argument means exploring a topic, using evidence from readings and data, and providing a clear and consistent thread that holds your essay together.
4. Plan a structure for the essay
The essay will have a logical structure, including
• an introduction
• a body - a series of main points in logical order
• a conclusion
• a list of references
The introduction says what the essay is about, and shows that you have understood the question. It can be brief. It might set the scene with a little background information, it should introduce your theme, or argument, and it generally explains the structure of the essay.

The body of the essay consists of a series of main points in logical order. Write up each point in a paragraph (or a series of paragraphs). A good paragraph has a topic sentence - often the paragraph's first sentence -which states the main idea of the paragraph. Subsequent sentences in the paragraph usually provide elaboration, explanation, evidence and examples illustrating the key point. The final sentence may provide a link to what is coming. Your structure may include two or three main sections, with several key points within each section.

The conclusion is your final word on the topic. It can provide a brief summary of what you have said in your essay - perhaps an amended version of your introductory argument, or thesis, and the conclusions you have drawn from the evidence. It is not a place to introduce new points - if important new ideas occur to you as you write the conclusion, insert them into a relevant section in the body of the essay. The conclusion reiterates your main theme and provides impact for your essay.

The format of your list of references is prescribed by the school. The important things are (a) to be consistent in reference style, and (b) to provide full references for sources you have consulted.
5. Write a first draft
Whether you have carefully planned your first draft, or whether you are shaping it as you go, there are important considerations to keep in mind.
Keep reminding yourself of the main question you are addressing in this essay. Is what you are writing relevant? Have you shown why you think it is relevant? The reader should not be forced to guess why you have included this section.
You need to have a 'sense of audience'. This is true of any writing - whether you are drafting a 'for sale' advertisement for the newspaper, or a report for your supervisor at work, you need to put yourself in the place of the reader. Will readers understand what you mean? Will they enjoy reading this? Help your audience to comprehend your theme, your argument, the case you are putting. Even if the audience is only one academic staff member, you still have to convince that audience. If you imagine your audience to be an intelligent and interested fellow student (academics are learners as well as teachers - they continue to be 'students' of their subjects throughout their careers) you may form a better idea of how to write clearly for your audience. Academic writing should be factual, concise and clear - not "chatty", and not verbose. Don't assume that the reader, who (possibly) knows more about the topic than you do, doesn't need you to define technical terms or clarify points. Try to make your essay interesting, but in general, an academic essay is not an exercise in creative writing. Don't make claims without evidence, and be careful not to make sweeping statements (modify your statements with words like "often"; "usually"; "It could be argued..." and provide references to support your statements).
Concise writing
Be as succinct and to-the-point as you can. You need to explain things fully, but also economically. No-one wants to read more words than necessary, and that includes the marker of your essay. You probably will have been given a word limit. While this may be flexible, it's better not to exceed it. Certainly, there's nothing to be gained by padding your essay with waffle in order to achieve a recommended number of words - you will just annoy the reader.
Persuasive writing
Although academic writing is not about 'taking sides', and you are expected to be impartial in your critical analysis of material and your examination of issues, your argument will be stronger if you write persuasively. It may be that you have found some of the evidence to be quite strong, or some writers' propositions, to be more persuasive than others. In this case, you could take the opportunity to use phrases like "A more convincing argument..."; "While it can be shown that there are disadvantages, these are minimal..."; "The weight of this evidence is compelling...". Of course, in some cases there may be strong arguments on each side, in which case it may be possible to write persuasively to convince your audience that the arguments are evenly balanced.
6. Review, rewrite and edit
Very few people can get an essay right first time. Reviewing and editing your work is an essential part of writing. You need to reflect on what you have written and see whether there might be a better way of expressing your ideas. Even the best ways of to do this. Writing is not just inspiration - it involves a good deal of hard, concentrated work. Something you have dashed off at the last minute is never going to be as good as a thoughtfully reviewed and edited essay. Give yourself time to leave your essay for a day or two, before coming back to it and looking at it afresh.
Check your introduction. Does it make promises that you haven't really fulfilled? Does it introduce your theme? Read your conclusion again. Does it bring out the main points you have made, and does it make your argument clear? Make any necessary amendments.
If your paragraphs don't seem to follow logically, move them around until you find a better sequence. If you find that a paragraph doesn't fit anywhere very naturally, then you could consider deleting it. You may have to reject some of your first draft. Perhaps a problem paragraph contains an idea that you want to keep - in which case the relevant sentence(s) possibly could be moved into another paragraph (but don't be afraid of cutting it; if it does not fit, it may be because it is not relevant to your main theme).
Spelling and grammar
Spelling and grammar are important (a spell-checker is useful for eliminating typographical errors - but it won't tell you whether you have used the appropriate word). You may not be sure whether your grammar is correct, but you can check to see whether your sentences have verbs, and whether they make sense. Have you used appropriate punctuation and connective words? Beware of long, complex sentences. If you try to encompass too many points into one sentence, your meaning may become difficult to follow. It is a good idea to vary the length of your sentences. Check that each sentence has a verb, and is complete. Use of the third person is appropriate for most academic essays unless you have been advised that you may write in first person. Be consistent in your use of tense and number.
7. Present your essay well
Presentation is important. Remember, you are trying to convince your audience. Meet any school requirements (cover page; referencing style, etc). Your essay should:
• Be word processed
• Have a cover page (with student name, course code, title of essay, etc)
• Give clear references (note School requirements for referencing)
Evaluating your essay
When you submit your assignment, it is not a matter of waiting (in the dark) for judgement to be passed. You can go a good way towards evaluating your own work. You know what is required, so your result need not be a surprise. You can judge whether you have: answered the question; followed a theme; provided evidence for what you have said; critically analysed the work of others; made your own contribution; presented logical arguments. Put yourself in the place of the reader of your essay, and ask yourself:
• Have I defined the terms I have used?
• Have I been analytical and critical?
• Have I used evidence to support my arguments?
• Is my case persuasive? Have I presented it in a convincing way?
• Does this sentence or this paragraph explain the problem clearly? (Try reading your essay aloud, or getting a friend to read your work).
• Is the essay too long? (or long enough?) - there could be a penalty if it is not within the specified limits.
Remember, writing essays is part of your learning, and one of the essentials of successful learning is self-awareness (thinking about your learning performance, and being aware of how you are performing). Reviewing, editing and evaluating what you have written is part of this self-awareness.
Evaluate, but don't agonise
As with most activities, there is a "law of diminishing returns" here. Absolute perfection is not attainable. Do yourself justice, but there comes a time when further editing will not significantly improve your essay and it would be better to move on to your next task.
The source

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