How to Write the Perfect Essay Dr Colin Tyler Contents Summary

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Department of Politics and International Studies

University of Hull

How to Write the Perfect Essay

Dr Colin Tyler



Introduction: (a) How long should it take to write an essay?

(b) What is an essay?

(c) Essay writing is both a craft and an art

(d) Marking criteria

(e) There are no right answers, only well argued ones

Stage 1: How to pick and interpret your question

(a) Pick your question carefully

(b) Interpreting the question

Stage 2: How to start your research

(a) Why do research at all?

(b) Be selective

(c) Research materials

Stage 3: Note taking

Stage 4: Construct your plan

Stage 5: The body of the essay

  1. Draft a very brief introduction

  2. Start to write the body

  3. Quotations

  4. Now review what you have written

Stage 6: Draft the conclusion

Stage 7: Check your work

Stage 8: Rewrite the introduction

Stage 9: Bibliography

Stage 10: Proof-read the essay

Appendix A: Marking criteria

Appendix B: Legibility, layout and word-processing

Appendix C: Apparatus of scholarship

Appendix D: Plagiarism

Appendix E: Seminar preparation and presentation

Appendix F: Essay feedback form


Tell them what you’ll tell them (introduction),

tell them it (body), tell them what you’ve told them (conclusion)

Stage 1: Pick and interpret your question

  1. Pick your question very carefully:

  1. don’t just go for topics you know something about already.

(ii) pick a manageable topic.

  1. Interpret the question very carefully – irrelevant answers get no marks:

  1. be honest with yourself about what the question is asking.

  2. think carefully about each phrase and each word.

  3. make a written note of what the question is asking.

Stage 2: Start your research

(a) Put a lot of effort into your research, you must reach a reasoned and defensible position.

(b) Be selective: at Level 1 read between 4 & 7 substantial articles, book chapters, and so on.

(c) Research materials: use a range of sources, including the books, journals and the Internet

Stage 3: Take notes

  1. be precise, concise and accurate in your note taking.

  2. be selective – think about the question, don’t just write out everything you read.

Now stop reading. Leave it a day or so before you move on to stage 4.
Stage 4: Construct your plan

  1. Re-read the question

  2. Brainstorm

  3. Structure your ideas into a coherent plan for an answer to the question

  4. Check against your notes.

  5. ‘is this answer coherent and complete?’, ‘is there a better way to approach the question?’

  6. Be honest with yourself.

Once you have a detailed plan, put it to one side for an hour or so.
Stage 5: The body of the essay

  1. Draft a very brief introduction

  2. Start to write the body: be focused on the question and concise in your expression.

  3. Quotations: be very careful: plagiarism = zero mark, or expulsion from your degree

  4. Now review carefully what you have written

Stage 6: Draft the conclusion: should be a mirror of the introduction (Stage 8 below)
Put the essay to one side for twenty-four hours, and don’t think about it during that time.
Stage 7: Check your work

  1. Make sure that you say everything needed to make your argument

  2. Write in a style that is clear, precise lucid and engaging

  3. Cut out all the irrelevant material

  4. Cut out all the waffle

  5. Cut out all polemic and pretension

Stage 8: Rewrite the introduction

  1. Say why the question is important.

  2. List the different stages of your argument.

  3. Set out the conclusion you are going to reach

Stage 9: Write the bibliography – a poor bibliography will cost you marks.

Stage 10: Proof-read your essaycheck for typos, poor expression, missing references.

How to Write the Perfect Essay

Here are a few suggestions about how to write an essay. It can seem a relatively long and demanding task. Don’t worry! - it will get better. If you have any problems, then you can talk to your tutors, or to the University’s new Study Advice Centre which is located in the Brynmor Jones Library (BJL) – just ask at the Enquiries Desk.

It is the individual student’s responsibility to know the University regulations on layout, plagiarism, and so on. Do not rely on this document – the University regulations, combined with the Department regulations, give the definitive position.


  1. How long does it take to write an essay?

Meet all of your deadlines: tutors cannot give extensions on essays, although there are procedures for the Department to consider very special cases. So make sure that you hand all of your work in on time.
Plan your timetable carefully: allow absolutely no less than 7 full days to write each 1,500 word essay. Bearing in mind that you will have a number of pieces of work to hand in each semester as well as a number of presentations to do, you should not bank on having more than a fortnight for each essay.
  1. What is an essay?

An essay is a specific type of written, reasoned answer to a specific question which aims to communicate that answer to intelligent readers who do not necessarily know anything about the issues involved. All essays have three main sections (an introduction, a body, and a conclusion), as well as a bibliography and a comprehensive referencing system for its sources. For the moment, I want to concentrate on the three main sections of every essay.

  1. Introduction: Approximately the first ten percent of your essay. It sets the scene by making clear what you take the question to be asking and why is it important to answer it; it tells the reader what your answer will be (your ‘thesis’); and highlights the key claims that you will defend to justify that thesis.

  2. Body: This accounts for about the next eighty percent of the essay. The body is where you develop your argument. It starts with the simplest matters (such as definitions and the clarification of basic concepts), and builds in clear and yet increasingly more complex stages until you arrive at your answer (thesis).

  3. Conclusion: The remainder of the essay. A ‘mirror image’ of the Introduction, in that it too restates the question, reviews the key stages of your argument, and shows that you have argued logically and convincingly for your thesis.

In short: tell them what you are going to tell them (introduction), tell them it (body), and tell them what you told them (conclusion).
The most important thing to grasp about an essay is that it makes a logical case for your answer to the question. Hence there are certain things that an essay is not:

  1. It is not merely the repetition of other people arguments or interpretations. You must take a stand and develop your own position. While you must show a good knowledge of the literature, other commentators should be argued for and against, as appropriate.

  2. It is not a polemic. You must make a logical, reasoned argument, and not produce merely a knee-jerk or simplistic outburst. A logical argument can be just as passionate as a polemic.

(c) Essay writing is both a craft and an art

The next point to appreciate is that writing the perfect essay is in part a craft – it requires you to develop certain skills, and to get into the habit of using them whenever you write. To learn this craft, you must understand the purpose of all these recurring facets (the three sections, bibliography and referencing), as well as master the techniques for producing them in specific contexts.
Writing the perfect essay is in part an art as well. The best essays show flair, insight, imagination and reasoned enthusiasm for the subject. They are creations, rather than the result of simply applying certain techniques. Yet you must learn the techniques before you can express your intellectual creativity in an essay.
That all sounds a bit pretentious. Yet there is an important element of truth in it. The more flair and insight shown in your essay, the better your mark will tend to be. A First must show an exceptional level of both, as well as executing the ‘craft’ elements immaculately. Usually a 2i will execute the craft elements, although with less evidence of an unusual level of insight.
Before developing this last point, one very common worry should be faced. Every year a number of students go their tutors worried that they will never be able to show flair or insight, because as soon as they think of a good idea they find out that someone else has already had the same thought (and probably written a book on it!). Don’t panic! Bear in mind the difference between an ‘original’ piece of work and an ‘independent’ one. Very few people (either commentators or students) write anything truly ‘original’ (distinctive – an idea no one has ever had before). Yet it is enough to have an ‘independent’ idea (an idea that you have thought up for yourself). It is enough to have good ‘independent’ ideas which you string together to make a convincing case. Where you find other people have had the same idea already, acknowledge this in a footnote or endnote, pointing out that you thought of it independently.
(d) Marking criteria
A good place to start when thinking about how to approach your essay is with the criteria against which your finished product will be marked. These are given at the back of this booklet, in Appendix A.
As you can see from the appendix, the marker looks for a great many things: critical awareness, sticking to the point, structuring your argument well, clear expression, correct use of ‘the apparatus of scholarship’ (references, citations and bibliographies).
You should study these marking criteria very carefully. What they mean in practice will become clear as you get more experience of writing essays at degree level. For the moment, you must feel your way with the guidance of your tutors and your own (developing) critical facilities.
(e) There are no right answers, only well argued ones

In spite of the fact that every essay has the basic features outlined above, there is no magic formula for writing a perfect essay. The approach that you take in your research (your research methodology), the resources you use, the way you structure the essay, and so on, may all vary very considerably depending on how you interpret the question and the case you want to make. In fact there are usually a number of quite different ways in which you can approach any one question, all of which are equally good.

The second point to think about is that there are no ‘objectively’ right answers. Does this mean that anything goes? Not really, because some arguments are made in a better way than others: they are clearer, show a deeper understanding of the issues raised by the question and the problems that arise when trying to answer it, as well as making a more convincing case.
The crucial thing is to show the reader that you have a good argument, which means that you must show you have good reasons for arriving at your answer.
This is one reason why it is vital that you structure your essay well, and make each stage of your argument clear to the reader as you go along (don’t just assume that they know what the ‘missing’ stages of the argument are).
Even from these brief comments, you can see that you have a lot of freedom when writing your essay. Nevertheless, freedom is not always a blessing. One danger is that you go off at tangents, eventually leaving the question so far behind that you reach the end of the essay and have not really developed an answer to the question that was asked in the first place. This is one reason why you must plan your essay before you start to write it.
Another danger of having such freedom when writing your essay is that you don’t know what other people have said on what is initially such a vast subject. The library contains a huge number of possible opinions on a great many possible questions. The situation gets even more disorientating when you think about all the other resources that are available, such as bookshops and of course the Internet. You should know how to make efficient use all of these research tools by the time you complete your degree.


How to Pick and Interpret Your Question

(a) Pick your question carefully

  1. Do not just pick a particular question because you ‘already know a bit about that’. The questions that at first seem to ask you about unfamiliar subjects may turn out to be more interesting. Moreover, take this opportunity to expand your knowledge. You may well gain a better background and higher marks in other subjects as well!

  2. Make sure that the topic is manageable. Do not pick a question that is very wide-ranging. You can’t solve the world’s problems in one essay.

Take the time to interpret the questions on offer before you make your final decision. You may well save a lot of time in the long run, and will probably get a better mark.

(b) Interpreting the question
In every batch of essays, there are a number where it is clear the student has spent a long time thinking about what to write, has carried out a great deal of excellent research, and has even produced some real insights, but still fails to get a good mark. Often this is because they have not answered the question that has been asked.
Remember: The marker is not just assessing whether you have put in a lot of work, or even whether you have written an intelligent essay. Certainly they are doing both of these things, but foremost in their mind is, ‘does the essay answer the question?’ There are quite a few points to bear in mind here:

  • Do not try to twist the question into one that you wished you’d been asked, rather than the one which you actually have been asked.


  • Do be honest with yourself – deep down, most people know when they are twisting the question, or including digressions, or padding out the essay. The marker will not fall for any of it.

  • Do think very carefully about each phrase in the question.

  • Do think very carefully about each of the key words. Think particularly carefully about words and phrases such as:

‘Assess’: for example, ‘Assess the coherence of the UK’s defence policy between 1979 and 1983.’ ‘Assess’ always means critically assess’. You should set out and analyse the main features of the UK defence policy clearly and without bias, then evaluate the key relationships between them.

‘Discuss’: for example, ‘Discuss the role of pressure groups in the constitutional reform of Scotland in the 1990s.’ ‘Discuss’ is a dangerously vague word, in that you have to decide what the key features are of the topic, then analyse them. Often it is included after a quotation.

‘To what extent’: for example, ‘To what extent does Hobbes develop an authoritarian theory of sovereignty?’ This phrase implies that there are a number of competing factors involved, which you must weigh carefully against one another.

‘Compare and contrast’: For example, ‘Compare and contrast the critiques of the state developed by Hayek and Marx.’ Here you should present the key features of one theory, then bring out the similarities of the second, before then assessing their differences. The conclusion weighs the relative importance of the similarities and differences, which usually leads to a dull essay!
Think about the following essay question:

‘Is liberal democracy the best form of government?’

  1. Get clear in your own mind what is meant by ‘liberal democracy’, ‘best’, and ‘government’.

  1. Take particular care with vague words like ‘best’. (The inclusion of the word ‘best’ makes this a hard question to answer well.) In this context, it could mean ‘most likely to produce a stable government’, or ‘most likely to respect people’s rights’, or ‘most likely maximise personal freedom’, or ‘most legitimate’. Remember: define/explain those words which help you to make a clear and precise argument.

  2. Then ask yourself what, e.g. ‘legitimate’ means, and so on

  3. Names like ‘liberal democracy’ can be explained by a list: e.g. in a liberal democracy the rulers are elected by the people, on the basis of ‘one person, one vote’, for a limited period of time, after which there must be another election; the state must respect the fundamental rights of the individual (give examples of such rights), and so on.

  4. You can say enough about some words with a short definition – but make sure that you explain the definition if the question requires you to do so.

  5. Other words are most clearly explained through examples – but make sure that straightaway you make clear what general point comes out of these examples.

  6. Always ask yourself: ‘which particular techniques will give me the clearest and deepest understanding of each particular key words?’

  7. Look at Appendix F, which reproduces a blank essay feedback form: what would you write about your own essay?

Finally: having taken such care, do not lose sight of the question when you start your research. It is easy to be led astray when you start reading around the topic. Make a written note of what you take the question to be asking and refer to it repeatedly when writing your essay.

Stage 2:

How to Start Your Research

(a) Why do research at all?

Some people try to ‘wing it’ by reading through their lecture notes and handouts, thinking about what was said in the seminars, and then just writing down their own opinions. Such people rarely do well. This way of approaching an essay is little better than writing down what ‘fat bloke down the pub’ thinks. You must read around the subject, and think critically about what you have read.
‘Critical distance’ is vital. You must show the reader that you have taken a step back from the commentators and critics, and judged them intelligently. Do you agree with commentator X that Blair’s economic policy was the best we could have hoped for in the circumstances? If you do (not), say why - show the reader that you have reasons for (dis)agreeing with X.
You will not get a good mark if your essay is simply a précis what other people have said, or if you do not give good reasons for supporting or disagreeing with a particular position. You must present the reader with a carefully reasoned and clear argument of your own.
So, confronting what previous commentators have written on a topic serves a number of different functions:

  1. It forces you to consider other approaches to the question.

  2. It is a source of ideas about issues and arguments that you have missed.

  3. It enables you to clarify your position in both your own mind and that of your readers by contrasting it with what other people have said.

In short, reading the literature forces you to refine and clarify your own ideas, as well as the way you present those ideas.

  1. Be selective

Wide reading is essential, but do not try to read everything you can find on the subject. If you do:

  1. You will probably become confused:

  1. Different commentators will take very different approaches. Even though this is the main reason for reading widely, you must keep your reading within some limits. The more you read the more difficult it is to see how the different approaches relate to one another. Stretch yourself without giving yourself an impossible task.

  2. Different people define/use words differently. Again you need to know of some such differences, but you must be sensible about how many you try to marshal into an essay.

  1. You will spend too much time reading, and not enough time thinking critically. For every essay, there are some students who come to the tutor as the deadline is approaching, saying that they have been reading a lot, but ‘just need a few more days to bring it all together.’ Such students show poor time management, which outweighs their admirable erudition. (Furthermore, it looks like they are afraid to take a stand on the issue.) Remember: you get marks for making a reasoned independent argument – not simply for regurgitating the opinions of people you have read.

For a 1,500 word essay at Level One, aim to read no less than 4 substantial pieces (full length articles, book chapters, and so on), and probably no more than 7 substantial pieces. (The number of words changes with your level of study, as does the number of substantial pieces you should read.)

(c) Research materials

The following are the key places to look for research materials, in rough order of importance for first-year undergraduates:

  1. The module outline/reading list. All module reading lists make some recommendations about what to read. This can come under many different categories.

  1. Essential reading: For some modules, everyone is required to read exactly the same book chapters or articles for each seminar. Of course you will have done this reading before you choose your essay. Go back to this reading when you start your research, and make careful notes once again – you may see things in the reading that you missed the first time.

  2. Wider, or further, reading: The outline will give other readings for each seminar. You should use this list as the starting point of your ‘fresh’ research. But think carefully about which of these readings is the most useful – some of it will be more specialised than others, and so may not be relevant to your particular essay question. Other further reading may be directly on your essay topic. Given that probably you will not have a clear idea about what you want to argue before you start your research, it is best to begin with articles and chapters that take a wider focus, then hone it down to more specialised reading as you become clear about the ‘shape’ of your answer to the question.

  1. Pay attention to the library shelves near the recommended books. Can you see anything else that looks relevant?

  2. Bibliographies. Most books will include suggestions for further reading, located either at the end of the whole book, or at the end of the particular chapter. Make good use of these suggestions.

  3. References. When you find a good article or book, you can look at the references they cite. Which ones look most relevant to your own topic?

  4. Library catalogue. A keyword search on the library catalogue may well bring up a number of books that are relevant to your essay.

  • Be sensible but imaginative when choosing keywords. Look at the books on your module outline and bibliographies for recurring keywords.

  • Aim to be on the cutting edge of scholarship! As a very rough rule of thumb, look first at the books that have been published most recently.

  1. Standard’ journals. Look at the key journals. Your seminar tutor will be able to suggest ones that are especially relevant to your particular subject. Important journals covering most of the discipline are Political Studies (Periodicals floor, JA 1 P77), and Politics (Periodicals floor, JA 8 P74).

  2. Standard reference works. Locate and use the standard reference works for your subject, especially the relevant dictionaries and encyclopaedias.

  3. Newspapers, magazines, and so on. The ‘quality press’ can be very useful, as can magazines such as ‘The Economist’, ‘New Statesman’, ‘Spectator’, and ‘Prospect’.

  4. The Internet. Can be very useful, but it can be difficult to assess the quality of the material. Module reading lists make increasing reference to websites as your studies advance.

  5. Athens’ catalogue. A catalogue of journal articles which is indispensable for more advanced research. Available through the BJL.

  • Go to the Enquiry Desk to register for Athens, and use the BIDS sub-catalogue within Athens.

  • Be aware that you will have to pay if you want works that our library does not keep on site. Again, ask at the Enquiries Desk in the BJL for prices and procedures for getting these ‘inter-library loans’.

  1. Your tutor. One of the skills of essay writing is being able to find sources for yourself. Check all of the relevant sources thoroughly. Sometimes you will hit a brick wall, and it is at that point that you should turn to your seminar tutor for suggestions.

Stage 3:

Note Taking

NEVER write in library books. These are scarce resources and anyone found defacing books in this way (even in pencil) can be disciplined by the University. Only write in your own books.

  1. Good note taking is a vital skill: think carefully about the question as you read the book. Make a careful note of anything that may be of use to you.

  2. You should aim to produce notes which are precise, concise and accurate.

  1. Precise: (1) from the very beginning of the note making process make a complete note of everything you will need if you have to find the information again or need to reference the idea and including it in your bibliography – that means the author’s full name, the full title of the book (including any subtitle), the publisher’s name, the place of publication, the date of publication, and the specific page number.

(2) vague notes lead to vague ideas, and then to a vague essay.

  1. (b) Concise: the shorter your paraphrasing, the easier and quicker your notes will be to read. You do not have to write down everything they say – the important thing is that you can find the relevant passages again when you come to write your essay.

(c) Accurate: (1) be sure that you are paraphrasing the author’s ideas accurately.

(2) be sure that you are quoting the author’s exact words, including her punctuation.

(iii) To reiterate: Be selective when making your notes – some people seem to think that the more they write down, the more useful the resulting notes will be. This is not the case.
Now stop reading. Leave it a day or so before you move on to stage 4.

Stage 4:

Construct your plan

In many ways, constructing your detailed plan is the most important stage of writing the whole essay – and the reader will never see it!

It is imperative that you concentrate solely on the question, and are completely honest with yourself about what you have actually written on the page.
You should now have a great deal of material from several different sources. The problem is how to organise it.

  1. Look at the question once again: Remind yourself precisely what it is you are being asked.

  2. Brain storming:

  • Sit down with only a blank piece of paper and pen, and write out everything you can remember from your notes that you think is relevant to the answer.

  • You may find it helpful to construct a ‘scatter diagram’.

  • You need to let your mind sort the material it has absorbed while you were taking notes, so don’t refer to your notes when brain storming. The pieces from which the notes were made had their own purpose and so their own structure, whereas your essay will have a different purpose, and so you should use and rearrange (only some of) the ideas found in the notes, and do so in a different order (one that is appropriate to the question).

  1. From this brainstorming session, write down as headings the key points that must be addressed when answering the question. These become the individual stages of your overall argument (your ‘thesis’).

  2. Arrange these headings into the order that makes your case most effectively.

  3. What particular elements are needed to establish these stages of argument? Put these elements under your headings.

  4. Now look back at your notes, and look back the question. Then ask yourself:

  1. are any stages missing?

  2. are any elements missing?

  3. have I explained all of the concepts and presented each stage of my argument in the correct order? In other words, could an intelligent reader who knew nothing about the subject understand my answer as it is planned here?

  4. Is my argument coherent?

  5. Does my argument examine the essential issues in sufficient depth?

  6. Have I included too many points? You do not have to include everything you have learnt about the subject. Only include the ideas and arguments that are needed to make your argument, but make sure that you have included all of the necessary points.

This is one of the most important and difficult parts of the essay writing process. Be brutally honest with yourself. Such detailed analysis and brutal self-criticism may be difficult at first, but it will raise your final mark.
By the end of this process you should have a very detailed plan for the body of your essay.
Now put your plan to one side for an hour or so.

Stage 5:
The Body of the essay

NB: this is the longest single part of the essay writing process

give yourself plenty of time, at least 4 or 5 days.

(a) Draft a very brief introduction:

  1. Re-read your plan – does it answer the question well? what improvements could be made?

  2. On a fresh copy of your plan, relate the different elements of your argument to the relevant parts of your notes.

  3. Write one rough introductory paragraph, setting out:

  1. why the question is important

  2. the different stages of your argument (the broad outline of your argument)

  3. the conclusion you are going to reach.

Don’t worry too much about your style here. You are writing this version of the introduction to bring things together in your own mind, immediately before you start writing the body.

(b) Start to write the body:

  1. Now start to write the body of your essay.

  2. Be detailed, clear and concise.

  3. Some technical terms will be unavoidable, but do not use unnecessary jargon.

  4. Similarly, don’t write in a pompous, polemical or ‘pretend academic’ style: you’ll just sound arrogant.

  5. Keep focused: always bear in mind how your plan relates to the essay question, and don’t allow yourself to digress into areas that are ‘almost’ relevant, no matter how interesting you find these other areas.

  6. Remember that each paragraph should make only one point, and each point should follow on from the previous paragraph, and should lead naturally into the subsequent paragraph.

  7. This can be a long and laborious process. Certainly if you have put enough time and effort into constructing your plan (stage 4), then you will write this first draft of the body of your essay relatively quickly. Nonetheless it is not until you actually try to write the essay that you will be able to spot certain gaps in your research and certain problems with your plan. Yet: It is vital that you plan effectively, otherwise you will find it nearly impossible to construct a clear and effective argument with no digressions.

Now review what you have written:

  1. Re-read the question, then read the rough introduction and first draft of the body, asking yourself:

  1. is the essay well structured?

  2. are any stages, or elements missing?

  3. have you answered all of the potential objections to your argument?

  4. do I make every stage of your argument clearly and in detail?

  5. do you make the structure stunningly obvious to your reader?

Realistically, you will find significant problems at this stage – you may not be clear about central and peripheral terms, the argument may not flow as it should, and it may contain gaps in the argument.


  1. Make all of the necessary improvements, then review what you have written again, and again …

N.B.:: It is vital to include all your references and citations as you write the body of the essay. If you do this well now, you will save yourself a time-consuming job when you come to complete your essay.

  1. Read Appendix B carefully. It tells you how to layout quotations.

  2. Remember: plagiarism can earn you a zero mark for your essay, and in extreme cases can get you expelled from the University. See Appendix D for more details.

  3. Most essays benefit from the intelligent use of direct quotations from your reading. That is fine: often you can only attack or defend a position if you quote the person directly.

  4. But be careful. Do not use quotations in an attempt to avoid thinking issues through.

  5. Ask yourself: ‘Can I précis (or paraphrase) this material, rather than quote it?’ If the answer is yes, then do. Paraphrasing intelligently is often more difficult than it seems, and so can get you marks, especially if you use it as the basis of your subsequent critical analysis.

  6. Remember: Quotations count towards your word-total, but you do not receive any marks for them. You get marks only for the accuracy with which you paraphrase of the author, and for the depth at which you analyse and critique his position. Don’t just produce what is effectively a patchwork of quotations.

Stage 6:

Draft the conclusion

  1. With the essay still fresh in your mind, draft the conclusion.

  2. The conclusion should be one paragraph long, and should be the ‘mirror’ of the introduction: restate the question, then restate the main stages of your argument, showing that you have fully justified your answer.

  1. Put the essay to one side for twenty-four hours, and don’t think about it at all.

Stage 7:

Check Your Work

  1. Re-read the essay completely, critically and thoroughly at least twice

  2. Ask yourself (and, once again, be honest with your answers):

  1. Re-read the question carefully.

  2. Does the introduction state the problem clearly, does it make clear what my conclusion will be, does it make clear what will be the major stages of my argument?

  3. Does the structure of your argument reflect what I say in the introduction?

  4. Is my style of writing clear and precise, avoiding colloquialisms, vague terminology and pretension?

  5. Which issues, definitions, or concepts have I fudged? How can I fix them?

  6. Is every sentence necessary? If not, then eliminate the unnecessary waffle.

  7. Are there any digressions? If there are, cut them out.

  8. Do the paragraphs make only one point? Do they make it clearly?

  9. Do I make precisely the point I need to make at this stage in my argument?

  10. Does the conclusion bring my argument together effectively?

  11. In particular, does the conclusion show that I have answered the question?

  12. Are all of the references and cites complete? Remember: plagiarism can earn you a zero mark or get you expelled from your degree or even from the university as a whole.

  13. Is the layout correct? (see Appendix B)

In Essence:

  1. Make sure that you say everything needed to make your argument

  2. Write in a style that is clear, precise lucid and engaging

  3. Cut out all the irrelevant material

  4. Cut out all the waffle

  5. Cut out all polemic and pretension

Stage 8:

Rewrite the Introduction

  1. Re-write the introduction

  2. Make an impression: write in a punchy and clear style.

(ii) Make sure that you have attention-grabbing first line.

  1. Remember that the introduction must show clearly:

  1. why the question is important

  2. the different stages of your argument (the broad outline of your argument)

  3. the conclusion you are going to reach.

Stage 9:


You will remember from the introduction to this guide that writing an essay is, in part, a craft. Part of that craft is writing a good bibliography. See Appendix C for the full rules on how to set out the bibliography. You will lose marks for including a bad bibliography or not including a bibliography at all.
Stage 10:

Proof-read the Essay

Again, you can lose marks if you hand in an essay with bad typing, poor spelling, bad grammar, or unclear or otherwise poor expression. Furthermore you must make sure that you lay out the essay correctly and construct a full apparatus of scholarship. All of this is detailed in Appendices B and C below.
Now submit 2 copies on time to the Departmental Office – and GOOD LUCK!

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