Essay Writing Strategies

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Provides time-saving and useful strategies for each stage of the essay writing process.


<ul><li><p>academic skills &amp; learning centre</p><p>essay writing strategies</p><p></p></li><li><p>the academic skills &amp; learning centreThe Academic Skills and Learning Centre provides free individual consultations, workshops and online materials to all ANU students with the purpose of developing student academic skills and strategies. The ASLC is located on the lower ground floor of the Pauline Griffin Building, adjacent to Melville Hall and across the lawn from the entrance to the Chifley Library. Appointments for individual consultations can be made in person or by telephone (02) 6125 2972. You can enrol in our range of workshops online through our website: Academic Skills Advisers will read your essay and provide feedback to assist you develop your research and writing skills. Essays can be submitted in person or online through our website: </p><p>strategies page</p><p>1 What do markers want? 2</p><p>2 How do you write an essay? 4</p><p>3 Analysing the question 7</p><p>4 Researching the essay finding sources 10</p><p>5 Researching the essay reading strategies 11</p><p>6 Writing your introduction 14</p><p> Example of essay structure and outline 16</p><p>7 Developing argument through paragraphs 18</p><p>8 Control of academic language 21</p><p>9 Using evidence 24</p><p>10 Writing your conclusion 26</p><p>11 Acknowledging sources 27</p><p>12 Beyond editing and proofreading 29</p><p>13 ANU Grading System 32</p><p>14 Marking criteria 33</p><p>All cartoons created by and used with the permission of Judy Horacek.</p><p> Copyright Judy Horacek.</p></li><li><p>1</p><p>introductionThis handbook is designed to take the bewilderment out of essay writing for undergraduates by providing targeted and timely strategies to move through each stage of the essay writing process. You can read it as a whole to gain an appreciation of what is expected of a university essay and how to craft the essay. You can also read it in part when the challenges of constructing an introduction or ordering an argument confront you. This material is grounded in our experience of providing advice for undergraduate students across the range of courses and disciplines at the ANU. A number of past and present colleagues have written books and materials over many years that have also been distilled in this stand-alone handbook. The Academic Skills and Learning Centre (ASLC) provides courses on essay writing for undergraduate students and this handbook provides the core material for our current essay writing workshops.</p><p>Over time, the way essay writing courses have been run has changed significantly as student demand has grown and changed. Essays are now set as assessment tasks across all ANU Colleges, in economics, business and accounting; in the sciences, engineering and computer science; in law; in medical science; in actuarial studies; as well as in the arts, humanities and Asian studies courses. There are many reasons for setting the essay as an assessment task, but one common to all areas is that the research and communication skills learnt through writing an essay are at the core of what it means to think critically, that is, to analyse, critique and evaluate a range of often competing academic ideas, work out where you stand on a particular question and explain why. These research and communication skills will be useful for you long after the content of a particular essay has been forgotten.</p><p>The ASLC also recognizes that students are more time poor than has been evident in the past because of the diversity of student backgrounds, access modes and financial needs. Therefore both Essay Writing Strategy Workshops (Workshop 1: Researching the Essay, and Workshop 2: Writing the Essay) are offered as two-hour sessions multiple times in each semester. Please check the ASLC website for session times: and enrol online.</p><p></p></li><li><p>2</p><p>1 what do markers want?</p><p>No matter what course you are doing, it is designed with two specific goals in mind:</p><p> to provide you with some knowledge of a particular subject.</p><p> to equip you with skills in thinking and communication.</p><p>The first point is about the subject matter: if you are studying commerce, you will learn the significance of a debt to equity ratio and how to read a companys financial statements. The second point is more complicated: these skills in thinking and communication are often not acknowledged explicitly in your courses, but improving these skills is the purpose of this handbook. In developing your knowledge about the subjectwhatever subject it isyou will need to: </p><p> develop a questioning and academically critical mind.</p><p> develop reading skills to order, test and evaluate ideas and evidence; assess the relationships of these ideas to other ideas and evidence; formulate questions about these ideas and evidence.</p><p> become an increasingly independent learner.</p><p> develop a nuanced, coherent position which can be substantiated with evidence.</p><p> learn writing and communication skills in order to express your position with clarity and precision.</p><p>With this list in mind, markers assess your ability as it is demonstrated in your assignment. This assessment can be considered as four areas of competence: focus; wide and critical reading; argument; and presentation.</p><p>1. Focus</p><p>In order to demonstrate your questioning and critical mind, it is expected that your essay focuses clearly on the issues of the question you have been given. This involves several tasks:</p><p> understanding the question(s) or task(s) you have been given: what knowledge or skill are you being required to demonstrate?</p><p> identifying relationships between ideas: are these ideas in opposition with each other, in support of each other, or somewhere in between?</p><p> what, in a nutshell, are the most significant elements that you need to explore to answer the question?</p><p>2. wide and critical reading</p><p>Of all the skills developed at university, reading is perhaps the most important. Reading involves a set of skills discussed in further detail throughout this handbook.</p><p>Reading widelyfrom a variety of sources, authors and points of viewenables you to understand the spectrum of points of view relevant to the topic. Whatever the topic, it is likely that there is a range of views which take different positions, contradict each other, support each other, use alternative evidence, refute the positions of others and so on. As you read widely, your ideas will be tested, your assumptions may be made clearer to you, and this will help you to develop a coherent argument for your essay.</p><p>marker commentThis is one of the best essays Ive read, and I have little in the way of criticism. You skilfully compare your various subjects, while offering some worthwhile insights on urban and rural experience. You usefully integrate additional research material (your bibliography indicates a wide reading, although it is not always clear how this is employed). Your writing style is clear and concise, need I go on? [This was a High Distinction essay.]</p></li><li><p>3</p><p>Reading critically means reading for strengths and weaknesses to gain a deeper understanding of a point of view rather than necessarily accepting the writers position. Ask yourself:</p><p> what is the writers argument? what evidence is used to substantiate the argument? what are the limitations to the argument? what are the assumptions used by the writer? what evidence might refute or question the writers argument? how does this writers argument relate to other arguments?</p><p>3. argument</p><p>The argument in this sense is not a dispute. Your argument is a combination of reason, analysis and evidence constructed coherently and logically, intended to persuade the reader to this position. The argument of your essay is your answer to the question and is a demonstration of your academic point of view. A reasoned argument requires:</p><p> coherence: its parts fit logically together; the argument announced in your introduction develops through your paragraphs and is confirmed in your conclusion.</p><p> explanation: background, theories, specialist terminology, evidence and conclusions are clearly identified and framed so that the reader gains a better understanding of the topic.</p><p> evidence: examples, source documents, the arguments of others and results of experiments from your wide and critical reading are explored so that they explain, support and develop your point of view, or refute the point of view of others.</p><p> reason: logical connections are made between actions or phenomena and results or implications, so that the reader better comprehends your argument.</p><p>Argument is the key to a successful essay, but it is important to realise that your argument relies on the focus of your essay, the wide and critical reading you demonstrate, and the presentation of your essay.</p><p>4. presentation</p><p>Presentation takes time and attention to detail. If your argument is not clearly articulated, concise, appropriately referenced, easy to comprehend, and does not follow the formatting requirements of your course, the attention of the marker will be drawn to your presentation and away from your argument.</p><p>You will be rewarded by the time you set aside for reading your essay. Ensure your essay uses appropriate academic language, and that your punctuation and spelling are correct; check that your referencing is consistent and accurate. These expectations are not simply an unnecessary burden: the elements of presentation are fundamental to articulating a clear and conciseand therefore more powerfulargument.</p><p>marker commentWe are not interested in your opinion but in a well-founded argument based on wide reading. Your bibliography shows that you have consulted only one major source apart from the main text: this is clearly insufficient.</p><p>marker commentStylistically and organisationally, this is much too incoherent to pass. Your problems with expression are serious. Too many of your sentences are grammatical fragments, like quickly jotted down notes rather than complete units, and you havent organised your materials effectively. Paragraphs seem to be conglomerations of only vaguely related ideas, not logically unified series of sentences... The raw material for a better essay is apparent. But it is unshaped, and the shaping process (i.e. organisation and expression) is an essential aspect of logical and critical thinking.</p><p></p></li><li><p>4</p><p>2 how do you write an essay?</p><p>Writing an essay is a messy, complex, often frustrating process that, nevertheless, can be ordered and managed in several stages. Remember that it is usually a circular rather than a linear process: your argument will help develop your writing, and the process of writing will develop your argument and your use of evidence.</p><p>1. analyse and define the topic or question While an essay question will always have </p><p>a topic, your first hurdle is to identify and then explore the underlying question/debate/problem within that topic that is central to your course. For example, a Political Science question such as: What were the causes of the Second World War? is not asking for a list of causes that you then describe. It is asking: in what way or to what extent did various factors contribute and how were they interrelated? Understanding how the task is situated within your discipline/ field/courses is crucial to developing a comprehensive answer.</p><p>2. identify some key ideas Remember that any essay question does not </p><p>stand alone: its purpose is to assess how well you understand some key concepts, theories or conflicts in your current course. Consider these concepts, theories or conflicts while you are preparing your essay. Look at course outlines, lecture notes, seminar readings to identify key themes of the course.</p><p> Use brainstorming or mind-mapping techniques to identify key ideas.</p><p>3. the first literature search Initially it is often difficult to find readings: </p><p>search library catalogues, abstracts and databases for material (do a course in the library to learn how). However, when you find sources the amount of reading is often overwhelming. Ask yourself: what is relevant?; what is more central and what is less important?</p><p>marker commentThis appears to be a mish-mash of facts, assembled for no obvious purpose... In effect this is not your work but that of the various authors you have photocopied. You have not developed an argument from the material. In future, organise your thoughts: think what the whole essay title means, and how the relevant facts fit together and in what order, to provide an answer to the problem.</p></li><li><p>5</p><p> Think strategically: who are the key writers in the field?; how can you identify these? Do the course readings contain useful articles? Start with the key writers in the field that your lecturer recommends, and then progress to articles, books and journals as you narrow your search for more specific or specialised material.</p><p>4. read Initially, one of the greatest challenges at university and in essay writing is learning how to read </p><p>academically. When you read, read for a specific purpose: what is the writers argument (in the research phase)?; how does this writer refute the position of another writer (later in the research phase)?; are the elements of grammar correct in my essay (in the later stages of editing)?</p><p> Consciously select and apply a reading strategy (see section 5). Read to obtain an overview of what people are writing on the topic: where are the debates within this topic? What are the key issues of these debates? Are there any key theorists writing on the topic? What evidence is being used to justify each position or interpretation of the topic?</p><p> Consciously select and apply a note taking strategy (see section 5).</p><p>5. work towards constructing an argument Try to express your argument or position in one clear sentence. Often called the thesis statement </p><p>this sentence is your answer to the question; it is the hook on which your argument hangs. See Writing an Introduction for further details.</p><p> Select, from your readings, evidence and ideas that might support your argument.</p><p> Next, consider what things you need to do to persuade the reader of your position. Will you need to define key terms, compare and contrast, critically evaluate the literature, provide background context, analyse a case study, and so on? Once you have thought of the things you will do, this is called the structure of your argument and it provides a potential outline of the main sections of the essay.</p><p>6. construct your argument around an outline The first division of your topic into parts represents your view of what is important in these debates: </p><p>this is your preliminary analysis. Remember this may change as you write, as you read more, and as your essay evolves.</p><p> Keeping the required length of the essay in mind, transfer key ideas and supporting ideas from the brainstorm session to a linear structure (outline). This outline is the bare bones of the essay.</p><p> Prepare a more detailed outline with a section and sub-section plan.</p><p> Expand or contract the outline to su...</p></li></ul>