Thursday, June 23, 2011 - page 1 of 7
How to write an A-grade college essay
Know your essay subject
You must learn to write essays from an excess of knowledge. Go to lectures, read up on the subject in the library, look up the latest academic papers and thoroughly immerse yourself in the essay subject before writing. Without this work to find out the information, you cannot write an essay with authority and command of your essay subject matter. Here are some tips to help you when you gather this information.
Collect more information than you will use
Although your research will give you a mass of information, you must use only the information that answers the question set. You will probably collect a hundred facts, read a dozen opinions and review three or four of the most recent academic discussions of the subject. However, to answer the question set, you must cut this information down to the key facts, most pertinent opinions and perhaps refer to only the most relevant discussion papers.
Read primary sources first
If you were writing an essay on the Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, you could not write a good one without first reading the play. Too often, students ignore the primary source of material. If you are writing an essay on Rousseau’s philosophy, there’s no excuse for not reading the original source contract rather than a critique of Rousseau’s writings. Studying the primary sources of information let you assess other information written on the subject.
Use a systematic way of taking notes
You need to have a method of note-taking. No matter how you record the information, cards, notebook or in a computer database, bear the following in mind.
- Use a one-word or two-word key to each note. This lets you sort them later and group related information together.
- Distinguish between primary and secondary sources. An example of a primary source would by Karl
- Marx’s Das Kapital. A secondary source would be a critique of Das Kapital by another author.
- Distinguish between facts and opinions. You must base your essay around facts. Without key facts you cannot present your arguments or assess other people’s opinions.
- Look out for the ten key facts that are the backbone to your essay. What information documents the subject and develops the ideas and arguments you are going to use?
- Look for quotable quotes. Too often, lazy students quote chunks of text from documents, rather than selecting the most important thought or view in fewer words.
- Don’t write out extracts word for word. Your notes are notes — not a copy of the words in the reference books.
- Keep a record of all information sources. A record of each information source:
- Lets you find your source research material quickly.
- Helps you write up footnotes and reference lists.
Structure your essay to help your reader
All documents need a start, a middle and an end. Traditionally, we think of the Introduction, Body and Conclusion as the key parts of an essay. Logically, this helps us set the context for the essay (introduction), present the facts and develop the arguments (body) and summarize the main points or the answer to the question set (conclusion).
Writing an essay Introduction
This introduces the main idea of your essay and draws the reader into the subject. A good introduction gets to the heart of the subject and captures the interest of the reader. It should:
- Summarize the issues to show an understanding of the question.
- Look at the issues raised by the question.
- Outline the main issues you intend presenting.
- Present the method of research or experiment.
- Summarize the essay.
- Answer the question set.
Most students write poor introductions that needlessly repeat information and turn off the reader with too much background information. If you want to gain a top grade for your essay, you have to start strongly and gain your reader’s attention immediately. This means concentrating on either writing a powerful summary of the essay or directly answering the question set.
In trying to gain the reader’s attention, you do not need to say anything controversial or mind-blowing. All you need to do is concentrate on writing the most relevant information.
Don’t write a mystery novel
Putting a powerful summary or directly answering the question set at the start of the essay lets your reader assess the information and arguments as you present them. The standard student essay presents information, opinions and arguments, but does not tell the reader what they mean until the end. This turns an essay into a mystery novel with the illuminating conclusion only apparent as the reader turns the last page. Avoid this temptation and spill the beans. By letting your reader know your conclusions at the beginning of the essay, he or she can assess and evaluate the evidence as you present it.
Make your introduction factual
Too often, students write a warm-up first paragraph. Phrases such as: The purpose of the essay is to examine the various contributory factors leading to... or In this essay I shall examine the methodology used to assess... usually give little information. Such phrases could introduce any essay and do not present any information. For example:
Weak opening paragraph
The purpose of this essay is to examine the effect of Einstein’s theories in the historical context of accepted propositions and laws of motion and the effect these theories had on current thinking in the field of physics. In so doing, the author will show that despite opposition to Einstein’s theories when first published, these were indeed special works that reshaped current thinking to replace the ideas propounded by Galileo and Newton.
Stronger opening paragraph
Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity and Theory of General Relativity reshaped the world of physics by contradicting the existing laws of motion proposed by Galileo and developed by Newton. Although Einstein faced great opposition when proposing his theories, his work reshaped the thinking of future generations of physicists.
Use the journalistic technique of basing your information around the Five-Ws in writing: Who, What, When, Where and Why. These will help you keep to solid information.
Remember, don’t use your introduction as a warm-up — make it direct, relevant and impressive so it sets the tone for the rest of the essay.
Writing an essay Body
This consists of supporting paragraphs, logically arranged to develop your main ideas. List the points you wish to develop, place each point in its own paragraph, and expand on each point with supporting facts, details and examples. Each paragraph should:
- clearly present the relevant information,
- discuss and evaluate information and opinions, and
- develop an argument based on the information and a review of opinions.
This is 80-90 percent of the essay and must satisfy the reader’s appetite. To do this, the body of the essay must reflect solid research, show a clear understanding of the subject, and develop your points logically.
Writing an essay Conclusion
The conclusion draws together the ideas and information presented in the essay. It summarizes or restates the main idea, argument or findings.
The conclusion often:
- gives a clear answer or restatement of the answer to the central question,
- summarizes the main points in the essay,
- repeats the key information and arguments, and
- points out what the evidence suggests.
The conclusion is vital. It is the last impression the reader has of the essay. Use it well, making sure your essay doesn’t fizzle out. Make it a strong statement, confidently answering the question, summarizing the position, and reviewing the topic. If you are in doubt what to put in the conclusion, think about the key information or argument the essay has presented and repeat it in a short, direct form.
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