GETTING STARTED Before you start writing your essay it is important to have some idea of what the lecturers are looking for and to avoid some pitfalls and mistakes. CHECKLIST OF DO’S AND DON’T FOR ESSAY WRITING DO:
Understand the question before you start writing
Demonstrate your understanding by answering the question asked (this is one of the key reasons for getting poor marks in an essay, assignment or exam.)
Plan your essay outline and structure before writing the first draft
Gather sufficient factual information and evidence rather than relying too heavily on one source.
Acknowledge any sources of information that you use (e.g. book, article, internet etc)
Communicate your ideas clearly and coherently so the reader can follow your train of argument and see that you have a command and understanding of the main issues.
Hand in your work without proof reading it thoroughly
Plan your tasks to ensure you submit your assignment on time and to the highest standard.
Start from your submission date and work backwards to schedule in time estimates and deadlines for the following activities:
Date to be completed
Understanding the question
Brainstorming your ideas
Clarifying what information you need
Gathering your information
Creating an outline structure
Writing your first and subsequent drafts
Writing up references
Proof reading your final draft
Submitting your assignment
INFORMATION What information do I have? ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What information do I need?
Sample questions adapted from Junior Freshman Examination papers TCD. Analyse – break an issue down onto distinct components and show how effectively the parts relate to each other. E.g. Analyse the Causes of the Thirty Years War Assess – look at the positive and negative aspects of something to determine its value or importance. E.g. Assess the effect of globalisation on the roles of states and nations. Compare – look for similarities and differences between.
Contrast – set in opposition in order to bring out differences.
E.g. Compare and contrast the differences between quantitative and qualitative social research methods.
Define – give a clear description and detailed account of a word, term or phrase to illustrate what it means. E.g. Define the concepts of multiculturalism and citizenship. Describe – give a detailed and accurate account. E.g. Describe the middle ear. Discuss – investigate and examine by argument, sift and debate giving reasons for and against. E.g. Discuss the influence of the Irish Poor Law (1838) on the development of Irish Social Policy. Explain – tell how things work or how they came to be the way they are. E.g. Explain the nature and operation of the forces of co-operation and competition in modern organisations.
Outline – show the main features of a topic or sequence of events showing how they relate to each other. E.g. Outline the principle ways in which babies under the age of 12 months communicate with people in their environment. Summarise- give a concise account of an issue stating key points rather than in-depth detail. E.g. Summarise the main macroeconomic problems that the Irish economy is currently experiencing.
APPLY THIS TO YOUR EXAM QUESTION Write your exam question again in the box below
Now using the key verbs above, break the question down into the necessary parts to answer:
BRAIN STORMING AND GENERATING IDEAS
BRAINSTORMING AND GENERATING IDEAS
A useful tool for generating ideas and brainstorming is the Mind map, which was developed by Tony Buzan.
A Mind map usually has a central idea and a series of associated ideas which radiate out from this main point.
The purpose of a Mind map is to organise thoughts by showing the connection between facts, topics or ideas.
Using bright colours, clear images, and connecting words and concepts can turn your Mind map into a useful tool for memorising, problem solving and note-taking.
For further information on Mind Mapping see www.buzanworld.com and for free mind-map software see www.freemind.org
METHODS OF NOTE TAKING
Outline or skeleton – very effective for creating main points and relationships
Mind maps (As detailed in the previous section)
Using one side (e.g. left hand side) to write down key words and using the
right side of the page to elaborate and give more detail on the key words (this
method is also known as the Cornell method (Pauk, 1962)
Main points within Essay 1.
Further notes and detail
TIPS FOR NOTE TAKING
Keep notes brief and aim to capture main concepts and ideas.
Aim to understand the information rather than just transcribing or translating.
Keep your essay or assignment question in mind as you are taking notes to help you to stay to the point and ensure the information you are gathering is relevant.
As you go along take note of any important references, quotes and page numbers of material you are using to make it easier to write up references and cite sources at the end of your essay.
CREATING AN OUTLINE ESSAY STRUCTURE
Use this blank assignment template to start creating an outline for your essay. General Introduction/thesis __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ First Argument
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Conclusion (review of thesis, general findings and implications)
It is important to show evidence of critical thinking and a depth of understanding of the key issues when writing an essay or assignment.
It helps to ask questions about a particular topic to understand the main points and develop the direction of your arguments and line of reasoning.
Examples of prompt questions to help you to think critically about a topic: WHO?
Who is my audience for this essay (e.g. lecturer, fellow students etc)?
Who wrote this book or evidence that I am using to support my arguments and could there be any bias in their evidence or findings?
Who else cites this source?
What am I aiming for (e.g. the outcome I would like from writing this essay?)
What are the key issues and points in relation to this issue?
What is the context for this discussion or issue?
Where are the strengths within this argument?
Where are the flaws within this argument?
Where am I going with my own arguments/opinions?
When was this book published? (e.g. is it current or relevant today?)
When does the author draw a conclusion?
When do I get to my main arguments/evidence in the essay?
Why is this topic important?
Why does this theory draw these conclusions?
Why does the researcher use this approach?
How does this article differ from other articles on this subject?
How did the researcher/writer come to their conclusions?
How can I apply this information to my topic?
Write down any other questions you have in relation to your essay topic or reading material.
TIPS FOR DRAFTING AND REDRAFTING YOUR ESSAY EARLY STAGES OF WRITING
Freewriting is a technique (developed by Peter Elbow) to help you to just start the writing process which can help you to overcome writer’s block. You can write for short timed periods (e.g. 5-10 minutes) to a prompt, a topic of your choice or for example your essay question. You write in full sentences without editing or crossing out what you have written and you read it over at the end. Students we have worked with have found this technique very effective for generating ideas and getting started without worrying about what the final version will be like.
Here is a blank paragraph for you to start practicing freewriting
Labelling drafts of your essay - it is a good idea to label different draft versions of your essay and print each on different colour paper to help you keep track of which is the most recent version you are working on.
Using a Word Processor -try to save time by getting used to writing your essays or assignments on a word processer.
Getting feedback -ask someone else (e.g. a friend in your class) to read you essay to help you to get a fresh perspective on it.
Questions to ask about your essay
Does my essay address the question in the title?
Does my essay address the main arguments in relation to this issue?
Have I given a strong conclusion and evidence to support my arguments?
Have I mentioned the main references and cited any references of importance mentioned in my lecture notes?
Have I used the correct format and referencing system?
Is my essay written in language that is easy to understand?
Does my essay address the main arguments in relation to this issue?
The purpose of citing references is so that a reader of your essay or paper will be able to look up the material based on the information you provided
References are also an important way of acknowledging ideas, information and quotations that are not your own. By not acknowledging the work of others you may seem to be presenting the work as your own and thereby committing plagiarism. For more information and examples of plagiarism check out http://www.depts.drew.edu/composition/Avoiding_Plagiarism.html
Record the complete publication details of any reference, e.g. book, journal article, video or website etc
Year of publication
City of publication
Recording information and references on index cards and filing them alphabetically can help you to keep your source information in order
Make sure to record the exact page number when you are writing down a quotation
If it is a generally accepted idea within your field it probably doesn’t need to be cited but always reference if you are using it to back up criticism or evaluation, e.g. Smith (1980) states that……
Here is an example of citing in the written text:
“Referring to an item in your text is known as citing. You then need a list of references at the end of your work to indicate where the citation can be found.” (Drew & Bingham, 1997, p.47)
The full reference is then listed in a bibliography (sometimes called a reference list) at the end of the assignment in alphabetical order as follows:
Drew, S, and Bingham R. (1997) The Student Skills Guide. Aldershot: Gower Publishing Ltd.
This is referred to as the Harvard System of citing references. Please check what style of referencing your department uses as some prefer footnotes or endnotes rather than citing in the text. Also punctuation and other details may vary from departmental guidelines.
For further information on referencing please refer to your course handbook and check Trinity Library on http://www.tcd.ie/library
METHOD FOR GATHERING FEEDBACK TO IMPROVE YOUR ESSAY WRITING SKILLS
Keep a file on each assignment noting any feedback and comments (both positive and negative) to help you improve your essay writing skills.
If you don’t know how you can improve your essay writing techniques go to your lecturer for clarity on feedback.
Comments and feedback from lecturers
Further learning and actions for future assignments and essays.
SOME FINAL TIPS ON ESSAY WRITING
Record any feedback you have received on essays you have submitted as this will help you to incorporate improvements into your future essays.
Setting goals for submitting an essay on time and make a conscious effort to improve your essay writing skills can help keep you motivated.
Pick specific weaknesses from to work on and improve your essay writing skills
Switch between information gathering and reading with writing and note taking when preparing an essay for submission
Avoid leaving the writing process until the last minute as this can cause you stress and result in you handing in poor quality work.
Reward yourself for work done well as again this can provide an incentive for developing your writing skills and improving your grades!
My reward for completing and submitting an essay to the best of my ability is: (please complete)
REFERENCES Buzan, T. (2009) Mind maps, The Buzan Organisation: http://www.Buzanworld.com Elbow, P. (1981, 1998) Writing with Power; Oxford University Press.
Pauk, W. (1962) How to Study for College, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
http://www.freemind.org – Mind mapping software
http://www.depts.drew.edu/composition/Avoiding_Plagiarism.html - examples of plagiarism and how to avoid it.
http://www.tcd.library.ie – information on referencing and further resources from Trinity College Dublin library.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON ESSAY WRITING: Guides on Writing Crème, P., and Lea, M.R., (1997) Writing at University; A Guide for Students. Buckingham: Open University Press
Cottrell, S. (2003) The Study Skills Handbook. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Young, P. (1996) The Art and Science of Writing: A Handbook for Health Science Students: London: Chapman & Hall.
Web sites: http://www.learnhigher.ac.uk – information on all study/academic skills areas
http://www.cite.auckland.ac.nz – guide on referencing and citation
For further information on essay and assignment writing and other activities relating to study skills and academic development please contact Student Learning Development Services.
For details of our group and online workshops and podcasts in the area of study skills and related resources (e.g. time management, revision and examination strategies and presentation skills) see our website: http://student-learning.tcd.ie To contact us with your learning development queries contact us by email on firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact us to make an appointment please telephone us on 01 896 1407.