Essay guidelines Seminal readings in Ecology (biol 953) Essay assignment

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Essay guidelines

Seminal readings in Ecology (BIOL 953)

Essay assignment

Each of you have spent considerable time preparing for your seminars, developing an interesting focal seminar question, and doing background reading around your seminar’s core concept. You will have learnt a substantial amount in the process of preparing your seminar, in the interactions with the rest of the group (including the questions they presented to you), and in your own post-seminar reflections. For the essay, I want you to take that work to the next step so as to further advance your learning. I want you to write an interesting and informative short essay that addresses the concept you chose for your seminar. The exercise is designed to be an opportunity to further develop your ability for critical and original thinking, and for its presentation in concise written form.

Learning objectives

1. Devise a stimulating and innovative argument relating to a fundamental concept in ecology.

2. Defend or refute that argument by critically assessing and synthesizing evidence from a body of ecological literature.

3. Develop writing skills by presenting your ideas in a concise, focused, and easily readable format.

4. To advance your knowledge of many other core concepts in ecology by reading and assessing the essays of your peers.

Essay exercise

Devise an interesting argument that will be addressed by the evidence you can cite from relevant papers associated with your seminar preparation reading, or from others that you have read since. The argument should be original, thought-provoking, challenging and novel. The argument is the core of the essay. Just as it takes considerable effort to develop a good seminar question, it also takes time and careful thought to develop a good argument that you can sufficiently address with the evidence you have. Note that the argument does not need to link directly to your seminar question. Either it will take quite a different perspective, or it will be based on your question - but will be fundamentally advanced from the latter. Discussing it with class mates may really help you to develop your perspectives and your argument on your chosen core ecological concept. Do you agree or disagree? Why? On what evidence? Generate your own original perspective on the argument utilizing your understanding of the course material, background reading, and relevant material from other courses. Be original and creative. Demonstrate your capacity for independent critical thinking.

The chosen paper(s) for your seminar should be one component of the evidence, but you are expected to synthesize critical assessments and understanding derived from other readings. Formulation of the argument and evaluation of those papers as evidence is a cyclical process that once completed should lead to a stimulating, logically structured, and concise essay.
Write a short focussed essay paper (1500-2000 words – i.e. less than seven pages of double spaced text) addressing an argument related to your seminar concept, and perhaps including ideas, comments and questions arising during the discussion within your seminar as well your post-seminar reflections. The essay should be suitable for an interested public audience, and should include the following components:
a) Introduction to the argument. Outline necessary background information on the concept, the particular relevance of the argument, and why it is novel/interesting. This section should lead up to, and conclude with, a precise articulation of the argument (or thesis) that the essay addresses as follows: “In this essay, I will argue that….”

b) Evaluation of the evidence. Describe and evaluate a body of ecological literature (including your seminar paper) to support or refute the argument.

c) Conclusions. Indicate whether the argument has been supported or refuted, any major assumptions that have been included, and implications/future directions that arise from your conclusion.

Final essays will be graded (by the rest of the group) according to the following criteria:

  1. Evidence of original, critical thinking (quality of the argument and other ideas presented)

  2. Development of argument (logical flow of evidence and ideas to address the argument)

  3. Background reading (evidence of relevant reading, and its intelligent use in developing the argument)

  4. Synthesis of ideas (evidence of bringing together related ideas and evidence to developing unifying original perspectives)

  5. Writing quality (overall evaluation of how stimulating and accessible the text is for the reader)


Please submit outline essays to me by 9 am on Monday March 19th at the latest. Include your statement of argument, and bullet points or draft text for each of the three sections above, as well as any queries you may have on which you want feedback from me. Please make all text double-spaced etcetera as required of your final submission (format details below). I will work through these drafts and provide feedback. These initial drafts will be worth 20% of your course grade. I will return these by March 22nd.

Final essays should be submitted to me as PDFs by 3 pm at the latest on Friday March 30th. After that I will circulate them to all of you and ask you each to rank the essays on the basis of the marking criteria above. On the basis of the group’s rankings of the final essays, I will award a mark (also worth 20% of your overall course grade).
Please type your draft outline and essay in Times New Roman font size 12 and double space the text with 2 cm margins. As indicated above the complete text of the final essay should be no longer than 7 pages.
All references cited in your essay should be listed in a bibliography at the end as an appendix. The bibliographic style used in the journal Ecology would be very appropriate.
Section and subsection headings within the essay are strongly encouraged.
Figures and graphs should only be included where they provide essential background information or evidence to the argument. They should be incorporated as appendices.
There are lots of useful resources to help with essay writing available at the Queen’s Writing Centre ( and include:

In addition, the following guidebooks on writing skills are particularly good:

Strunk, W. Jr. 2000. The Elements of Style (4th Edition)

Williams, J.M. and Colomb, G.G. 2010. Lessons in style and grace in writing (10th edition)
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