ESSAY GUIDELINES

Maghiel van Crevel, Leiden University 15 October 2009
ESSAY GUIDELINES
Choose a topic and set a submission date, in consultation with your supervisor
[to be specified as appropriate for each assignment]
Write a [....] -word essay, in [language], proceeding from the following points
■ How will you address your topic? What is your perspective, and which research question(s) do
you wish to address? How do they relate to scholarship to date?
■ Have you settled on theoretical and methodological frameworks that are suitable and
proportionate to your project, and will help to make your research questions operational?
■ Have you identified your primary and secondary materials, located them, tentatively assessed
their significance, and thought about where and how they will feed into your work?
■ How will you structure your essay? Think top-down: from (1) your research questions to (2) a
logical, productive and efficient division into chapters/ sections etc to (3) the level of single
paragraphs. Using keywords or minimal sentences, draw up a synopsis or a flow chart that
reflects 1-2-3. You may wish to do this in several, progressively detailed stages.
■ What did you say you would do, and are you doing it? Keep a close watch on your research
question(s) throughout the process of research and writing, and make sure that you actually
address them. Work toward palpable, explicit results that are obvious from your conclusions.
NB: if you are unable to answer your question(s) in their current form, this need not invalidate
your essay. The demonstrated unanswerability of particular questions can make important
contributions to scholarship.
■ Consult your supervisor, when there is still ample time to incorporate their comments before
you start fleshing out the structure to write the essay in its final form.
■ Write the essay in its final form.
The order of the above points is conceptual rather than strictly chronological. As you go along, you will find yourself revisiting research questions, theoretical and methodological orientations, the order of sentences, paragraph or entire sections and so on, to refine, adjust or indeed change them - going around in (hermeneutical) circles, if you will. This is part and parcel of scholarly research, and in many instances essential to the development of original thought.
THINK BEFORE YOU WRITE AND YOU WILL SAVE TIME AND WRITE A BETTER ESSAY
Some general advice
■ Keep in mind that you are making a scholarly presentation. State your questions clearly, define
your terms where necessary and develop a well-founded, focused and structured argument.
■ Who is your intended audience, and how should that inform your writing? Are they
(1) specialists, (2) broadly part of your professional peer group - say, Chinese studies - or (3) non-specialists?
■ Provide evidence for your claims. If objectivity is difficult to attain, make your views
intersubjective, that is: understandable, plausible and hopefully convincing to others.
■ Do more than report what others have said. Highlight your original contribution; there is no
taboo on the use of the first person in scholarly work. Find a balance of old and new
information, and of description on the one hand, and analysis & interpretation, on the other. If
possible, offer suggestions for further research.
■ Pay attention to the language of your essay: spelling, grammar, style. Write clearly and
concisely. Be precise, but do not make your sentences too long and complicated. Use the
passive voice only when especially effective.
■ Acknowledge your sources and make clear which words are theirs and which yours (see below).
Plagiarism is a professional offence, potentially with the gravest of consequences.
■ If you plan to include much translation in your essay, first clear this with your supervisor.
Technicalities
■ Write your essay on a computer, to facilitate revision and ensure quality presentation. Be sure
to make regular back-ups.
■ The title page should list the name of your essay, your name and contact details, the name of
the course, the date of actual submission, the name of your supervisor and a word count.
■ Use 1.5 line spacing, indent new paragaphs and number the pages of your essay.
■ For citation and asides to the main text, and for the use of Chinese characters and transcription,
employ your supervisor's preferred formats.
■ Append a list of works cited to the text of your essay. Do not include this in your word count.
■ Verify the submission date and any regulations on extensions with your supervisor.

Maghiel van Crevel, Leiden University 15 October 2009
Quoting and paraphrasing others
When you refer to other texts - in the broad sense, including audio-visual material and so on - you should acknowledge this, to give others credit for their work and to facilitate further research. Your readers should have no trouble identifying the works you cite. Because of the changeable and transient nature of electronic resources, you may wish to download or print relevant pages, and you should note the date you consulted them. You need not provide sources for claims that can reasonably be called common knowledge within the framework of the assignment.
If you quote the exact words used in the orginal, you should use quotation marks. If you report that Mary Jackson calls writing essays "a challenging and enjoyable activity",1 you should insert a footnote or endnote number after that quote, or an in-text citation in square brackets: [Jackson 1987: 16], containing the author's family name, the year of publication of the work cited, and the relevant page numbers, and provide full bibliographical detail in the list of works cited.
Paraphrasing a source means reporting what it says in your own words, in order to summarize or for stylistic reasons. You could paraphrase Mary Jackson's words by saying that in the late 1980s, she took a favorable view of essay-writing2 - again, followed by a note or in-text citation.
For readability, you may set long quotations apart from the rest of your text, without quotation marks. Square brackets mean you have changed the text, for instance by substituting a noun for a pronoun, or by skipping a few words to ensure direct relevance. For example:
[Essay-writing] is a challenging and enjoyable activity that hones in its practitioner a range of skills useful in various work and study environments. Not only does it force one to structure one's thinking, it also requires written presentation of the results of such an exercise. [...] Essays range from the rigorously academic to the semi-popular.3
The list of works cited
As do other features of scholarly writing, bibliographies come in different styles, and supervisors and publishers may ask you to use their preferred style. If they do not, designing sensible formats will still pay off. Your list of works cited should make unambiguously clear which texts - in the broad sense - you have used and where they can be found. Generally, you should supply:
■ authors' and editors' names: they can be persons or institutions
■ titles of books, journals, films, websites etc (italicized)
■ "titles" of journal articles, book chapters and website chapters etc (in quotation marks)
■ for journals: volume and issue numbers, the year of publication and the relevant page numbers
■ for books containing chapters by multiple individual authors (often called edited volumes): the
editor's name, place, the publisher's name, the year of publication and relevant page numbers
■ for websites: URL + route directions as appropriate, and the date of access
■ translations, in square brackets, of titles in other languages than that of your essay.
Bei Dao 1978: Bei Dao, three poems, in Jintian [Today] # 1, Beijing: unofficial publication: 31-35 Hsia 1963: T A Hsia, "Heroes and Hero-worship in Chinese Communist Fiction", in: Cyril Birch (ed),
Chinese Communist Literature, New York / London: Frederick A Praeger Hong & Liu 2005: Hong Zicheng & Liu Denghan, Zhongguo dangdai xinshi shi [A History of
Contemporary Chinese Poetry], revised edition, Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe Huang 2001: Huang Xiang, "Nine Poems", translated by Andrew Emerson, MCLC resource center
(online), http://mclc.osu.edu/ -» Publications -» 2001, consulted on 11 November 2005 Jackson 1987: Mary Jackson, The Art of Essay-Writing, New York: Smith & Jones Shangwu yinshu guan 1981: Shangwu yinshu guan tushu mulu, 1879-1949 [Catalogue of
Publications by the Commercial Press], Beijing: Shangwu yinshu guan Yeh 1992: Michelle Yeh, "Light a Lamp in a Rock: Experimental Poetry in Contemporary China", in:
Modern China vol 18 # 4: 379-409 Zhang 1987: Zhang Yimou (dir), Hong gaoliang [Red Sorghum], Xi'an: Xi'an Film Studios
Chinese names
Unless your essay is in Chinese, you should provide personal names in Chinese characters either at first mention in the main text or in a glossary appended to it, but only if these names "function in Chinese" in your essay. If you cite a Chinese-language publication by Wang Dewei 3EtSiE, you need to provide the characters; but if you cite an English-language publication by David Der-wei Wang (the same person!), you don't.
1 Jackson 1987: 16.
2 Jackson 1987: 16-18.
3 Jackson 1987: 16-17.
This article originally appeared on media.leidenuniv.nl/legacy/essay-guidelines.pdf

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