Before you start writing your essay, you need to reflect on what the question and plan ahead. Here are four important steps in essay preparation:
Step 1. Deciding what the question means
define the topic - re-phrasing the question may be helpful;
think about issues and arguments in answering essay questions;
write a list of questions the reader might ask and that you will answer.
Step 2. Crystallising ideas
make rough notes in any order on separate sheets of paper or index cards;
select information only on the basis of its contribution to answering the question. If irrelevant then leave it out.
Step 3. Organising an argument
sort notes into groups and put in order, eg for or against a particular opinion;
think about flow of argument;
use relevant ideas and examples;
related points should be linked. The reader should not have to infer ideas or connections;
think about words, phrases, sentences - avoid clichés, padding, waffle.
Step 4. Final Checklist
ask yourself: is the essay to the point?
are all reader questions answered?
check arguments and themes. Has every aspect been covered?
is there sufficient evidence and information in the essay?
II. Writing Your Essay
Once you have done the necesary preparation you need to start writing it. Here are some key concepts you should bear in mind:
The function of an essay is to demonstrate knowledge of a given subject. This may be demonstrated only through effective communication which entails clear organisation. Write a plan before beginning your essay in which you outline the approach you intend to adopt and the issues you intend to discuss. You may wish to hand this in on a separate sheet attached to the back of your essay.
ii. Direction of Information to the Question
It is important at all times to address yourself to the terms of the question. The amount of information you may have about a given topic is irrelevant: it is how it is used. You will also need to distinguish between 'describe', 'assess', 'account for' when it comes to addressing your information to the precise terms of the question. Writing an essay is as much about 'leaving out' as 'putting in'. A good essay is more than a collection of good ideas strung together. Ideally, there should be an argument, it should have a direction leading to a conclusion. The development of your argument should flow logically and seamlessly to this end.
iii. Ease of Reading
Ask yourself if your essay would be comprehensible to an intelligent layperson. Attempt to make your sentences as succinct as possible. Separate your essay into short - but not too short - and well-organized paragraphs.
When you make a point in your essay it is advisable to substantiate it with a quotation from, or reference to, either the work(s) in question or any secondary source(s) you may have used. When you quote directly from a text, albeit just one letter, you must use quotation marks. Pay attention to dates, names and page numbers. When you refer to the title of a poem remember to put it in inverted commas.
v. Use of Secondary Sources
Be honest about the extent to which your argument has been informed by the critical works you have read - this includes materials on the Internet as well as books and articles. Remember plagiarism is penalized. Be sensitive to both the strengths and weaknesses of critical works. You may wish to quote from a critical work to substantiate a point you make in the course of your essay at the same time as acknowledging its influence on your argument. Conversely, you can cite a critical work with which you disagree, using it a contrarioto help define your own argument.
Like all good stories your essay should have a beginning, a middle and an end - preferably in that order! Recapitulate the main points of your argument, summarizing the question and the route by which you have reached your conclusions.
This should come at the end and should list all the works you have used and which have contributed to your argument. It should contain the following information: initials and surname of author(s) or editor(s); title of the work in full; place of publication; name of the publisher; and date of publication. Here is an example of one possible format:
R. Gildea, (1997) France since 1945 Oxford, Oxford University Press.If you wish to include an article from a journal, you will need to provide the following information: the initials and surname of the author(s); the title of the article; the title of the journal; the volume or issue number; the year (in brackets) and the page numbers. Here is an example:
Rothenberg, J. (1988) 'Les Petits Enfants du siècle, Rochefort's Angry Comedy' in Modern Languages, 68 241-261.If in doubt refer to critical works, journals, Chemins du savoir textemes and papers on Communiqué for examples of academic writing practices.
1. Introduction and Context1. Introduction and Context
2. Thought Structure
3. Detailed Analysis of Content, Form and Style
This section must be no more than half a page and must:
a) State briefly the source of the passage.It is essential that this section should be short and not degenerate into a rambling essay on all you know about the author. Only comments strictly relevant to the passage should be included.
b) Give the author, date and title of the work, together with any relevant biographical notes.
c) Describe any contextual information necessary to the understanding of the passage.
d) Characterize the passage in general terms.
2. Thought Structure
This section should take up about a page and no more and is one of the hardest sections to write. It is neither a précis nor a general account of the passage but an analysis of how the passage is put together. The purpose of this section is to describe the ideas and themes of the passage and trace their development. If the passage has sections your task will probably be made easier. If not, you will have to distinguish for yourself the various parts of the passage and work out how they are related. You must be sensitive to the different possible ways of developing an idea or theme. In a prose passage it is possible to discern sub-sections which have their own unity; in a poem it is often convenient to proceed strophe by strophe, although divisions may not necessarily coincide with them. Do not paraphrase the passage. Refer precisely to line numbers where possible.
3. Detailed Analysis of Content, Form and Style
This section should take up around two and a half pages and should be detailed in its analysis of the content, form and style of the text. Content is essentially an analysis of the statements made by the author examined in close detail. Any enlightening comparisons with similar ideas from other works by the same author - or indeed by other writers - may be included. Form describes the way in which the passage is set out. Style is broadly the way in which the author uses literary effects to present his/her statements.
In most cases, the division between the three sub-sections described above is so blurred that it would be pedantic to attempt an artificial separation. Try to integrate your discussion of content, form and style without using clumsy linking phrases like `and now I intend to discuss style'. It is important, when analysing the passage, to examine closely the vocabulary and stylistic devices employed. Examine the tone of the passage: is it consistent throughout or is there a change? Is the vocabulary abstract, concrete, metaphorical? Does the passage contain any images (simile, metaphor, allegory, symbol etc.) and what is their function? Explain any allusions and difficult or archaic expressions. Avoid vague terms like `this line is very effective' and describe precisely what is observed.
One essential point to remember is that your discussion of form and style should always be related to your understanding of the content of the passage. It is not enough, for example, to say that such and such a poem is written in classical alexandrines or is a sonnet. Description of formal and stylistic features for its own sake is meaningless unless you can precisely identify the specific effect such features are attempting to achieve and can relate these effects to your understanding of the passage's content.
This section should be no more then half a page and should recapitulate the main points of your interpretation of the passage and the route by which you have reached your conclusion.