Learning Unit 7 – Essay Structure Reading Material



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Learning Unit 7 – Essay Structure



Reading Material


Having written an outline, you should have some idea of the overall structure your essay will take. In broad terms, an essay consists of an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion.

Introduction

The introduction establishes the context of your essay and indicates the direction your argument will take. Depending on the essay question, it may include historical or biographical background information, or definitions of a specific concept. However, you should avoid including material that is too general and/or irrelevant to the topic under discussion. Since you are writing in response to a specific essay question, your introduction should also provide your interpretation of this question. Thus, you may need to identify the main problems or point out the importance of concepts implied within the question.

This is particularly important if the essay question consists of a quotation, or if the topic is very general. You need to indicate to the reader what themes and issues will be covered in your essay. Ideally, your introduction will serve as a guide to the overall structure of your argument, and show how the various ideas are related. In addition, you should point towards the conclusion of your essay. Note that, since your essay structure is likely to change with each subsequent draft of your essay, it is quite common to write the introduction after you have written the main body of the essay.

In short, you can look at the introduction as a brief, provisional answer to the essay question, for which the main body of your essay provides the supporting evidence.



Main Body



It is in the main body of your where that the structure you have indicated in your introduction comes to the fore. Using paragraphs, you need to link up the various ideas that will lead to the proposed conclusion. In essence, each paragraph should contain one idea that is central to the question or topic under discussion. A paragraph should thus never appear isolated, but always function in relation to the whole argument. It also follows that paragraphs should be linked logically. Linking phrases are essential in creating coherence, and guide the reader through your argument.

Open the below folder entitled ‘Linking Phrases’ for a list of linking phrases and a sample paragraph [not included in this resource].


Depending on the topic or type of question, your material can be structured according to various principles. You may choose to organize your ideas and, by extension, paragraphs thematically, chronologically, or according to any other principle that applies to the topic under scrutiny. One thing you should avoid, however, is structuring your paragraphs too closely around the structure of the primary text. If you do this, you risk summarizing the plot rather than interpreting a text. This is of course less of a danger in linguistics essays.

Whereas your introduction provided a provisional interpretation of the essay question, it is in the main body where you support this interpretation with textual evidence from both primary and secondary sources. Each paragraph should consist of a main idea that you describe and evaluate on the basis of this evidence.


Conclusion

Although conclusions, like introductions, vary depending on the topic under consideration, there are a few rules that you should keep in mind. A good conclusion should draw all the parts of your essay together and prove to the reader that you have stuck to the focus outlined in your introduction. It also has to follow logically from what you have been discussing throughout your essay. This means that you should never introduce new material in your conclusion. On the other hand, merely summing up is also not enough. The reader has to feel that your discussion of a given topic has led to some form of concluding statement. If your essay is structured well, then the conclusion follows naturally from the last paragraph you’ve written. The conclusion should be your final statement. This means that you shouldn’t end your essay with a long quotation.


Learning Outcomes

Having read the material and completed the assignments you should have:



  • understood the basic structure of an essay

  • learned how to construct an introduction

  • learned how to use paragraphs in structuring the main body of your essay

  • learned how to structure a conclusion


Essay Structure - Assignment 12 (for both Literature AND Language and/or Linguistics Students)

Read the sample essay question and then read through the following introduction. List five features that identify this paragraph as an introduction, indicating how the introduction relates to the essay question.



Question

‘Postcolonial writers have put literary ‘classics’ to new uses for which they were scarcely originally intended’. To what extent do you consider this kind of intertextuality to be a useful strategy in postcolonial fiction?



Introduction

Post-colonial cultures are by definition hybrids of the colonising and colonised cultures. This hybridity makes intertextuality in post-colonial literature inevitable. It seems impossible to write in and about the after without referring to the before. One form of such intertextuality is counter-discourse. Helen Tiffin in ‘Post-colonial Literatures and Counter-discourse’ writes that ‘decolonisation is process not arrival; it evokes an ongoing dialectic between hegemonic centrist systems and peripheral subversion of them’ (97). One post-colonial writer who is particularly aware of, and extensively uses subversive counter-discourse in his work, is J.M. Coetzee. In this essay, rather than concentrating on Coetzee’s ‘canonical counter-discourse’ (97) to Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders in Foe, I will discuss how Coetzee, in much of his work, writes in dialogue with Kafka in order to create a very subtle form of anti-colonial discourse.


Essay Structure - Assignment 13 (for both Literature AND Language and/or Linguistics Students)

Being able to think critically about your work is an important aspect of writing well. Copy & paste the conclusion to one of your essays submitted for another module into a blank Word document. Write a 300 word paragraph in which you identify the structure of your conclusion and justify its content in relation to the main argument of your essay.


English Subject Centre Departmental Projects


This report and the work it presents were funded by the English Subject Centre under a scheme which funds projects run by departments in Higher Education institutions (HEIs) in the UK. Some projects are run in collaboration between departments in different HEIs. Projects run under the scheme are concerned with developments in the teaching and learning of English Language, Literature and Creative Writing. They may involve the production of teaching materials, the piloting and evaluation of new methods or materials or the production of research into teaching and learning. Project outcomes are expected to be of benefit to the subject community as well as having a positive influence on teaching and learning in the host department(s). For this reason, project results are disseminated widely in print, electronic form and via events, or a combination of these.

Details of ongoing projects can be found on the English Subject Centre website at www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/deptprojects/index.htm . If you would like to enquire about support for a project, please contact the English Subject Centre:

The English Subject Centre
Royal Holloway, University of London
Egham, Surrey TW20 OEX

T. 01784 443221



esc@rhul.ac.uk

www.english.heacademy.ac.uk


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Author: Dr Stacy Gillis, University of Newcastle
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