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by Johnson, S. — last modified 25 June 2007 15:42 Study guide Essays are a particular form of writing, with their own structure and conventions. This guide explains the conventions of the essay and shows you how to write clear, well structured essays that communicate effectively with the reader. Other useful guides: Planning Essays; Referencing & Bibliographies; Avoiding Plagiarism.
The key elements
A good essay takes the reader into account by clearly presenting material in a way that is logical, coherent and easy to follow. Before you begin to write your essay, you need to select and order your material in the form of an essay plan. Refer to the guide Planning Essays for information on preparation and planning. When you have an effective essay plan you are free to concentrate on the expression of your ideas and information. You can learn to guide your reader by being aware of how to use the key elements of an essay. This guide shows you how to make the best use of:
• • • •
the introduction; paragraphs; evidence; the conclusion.
This guide uses the following essay question as an example:
Examine and compare the nature and development of the tragic figures of Macbeth and Dr Faustus in their respective plays.
The introduction is a signpost for your reader, showing how you intend to answer the question. You will need to show your understanding of the key issues and indicate the main areas your essay will cover. One possible structure for an introduction is shown below.
Begin with a general point about the central issue Dr Faustus and Macbeth are both plays which show their respective playwrights at the pinnacle of their careers. Use the words of the title to show your understanding of the question When comparing the nature of the two plays' respective heroes, both parallels and contrasts can be found. Show what your essay structure will be In the first section of this essay, the role of the tragic hero will be considered
... The second section of this essay will examine the ... Finally, a comparison will be made of the development of the two ... Make a link to the first point In examining the characters' tragic qualities, a useful starting point is Aristotle’s definition of tragedy...
The use of paragraphs
Your essay plan should show clearly what the main sections of your essay will be and which points will be including in each section. Ordering your points in each section should also take place at the planning stage. You now need to use paragraphs to take your reader step by step through each section. Each paragraph you write should express clearly one point or one aspect of a point. Your paragraphs should link together to provide the reader with a sense of logical progression. The example below shows how a paragraph can have its own internal structure which:
• • •
introduces the paragraph's point; presents and comments on evidence; makes a link to the next paragraph.
Figure 1: Sample paragraph
The use of evidence and/or examples
You should use evidence to illustrate and support your points. Evidence may be the opinion of an expert or the results of a study or experiment. It may be written or in diagram format. Use the evidence to:
• • •
add authority to your point; add credibility to your argument; add interest to your discussion.
Whenever you refer to someone else's ideas or opinion you must acknowledge your source through referencing. It may be in the form of a quotation:
Gardner believes that Faustus' inability to change is, "a human representation of the inability of the fallen angels to turn back from their damnation." ²
or you may paraphrase or summarise an opinion or idea:
Faustus' inability to change can be seen as the same inability that the fallen angels have, but represented in human terms (Gardner, 1982).
There are two main ways of referencing your evidence:
the use of a number referring to a note at the end of the essay or bottom of the page (as in the first example); the inclusion of the author and date of publication in the body of the essay with the full details included in your bibliography (as in the second example).
At the end of your essay you must include a bibliography which lists all the books you have consulted in writing your essay, whether or not you have referred to them in your essay. A bibliography should include the details of author, title, date, place or publication, publisher and edition for each book.
Gardner, H. (1982) The Tragedy of Damnation. New York: Oxford University Press.
Most departments have their own preferred style of referencing and bibliographies. Check your department handbook for details. For further guidance, refer to the
The conclusion is another signpost to your reader. It gives you the opportunity to:
• • • •
use the words of the title to show you have answered the question; remind the reader of what has been covered; show the overall significance of the material; provide an overall assessment of theories or arguments, summarising your own view point.
An example of an effective concluding paragraph is shown below.
The characters of Macbeth and Faustus are very similar in many respects; they both willingly follow a path that leads to their damnation, for example.
Reference to the larger issue
The differences lie in the development of the characters in what are essentially two different types of plays.
Evaluation of the main arguments
As has been shown, the character of Macbeth has a nadir from which he ascends at the conclusion of the play. This is in keeping with Aristotle's definition of tragedy. For Faustus however, there is no such ascension. This fits the style of the morality play: the erring Faustus must be seen to be humbled at his end for the morality to be effective.
Highlighting the most important aspects
It is this strong element of morality in Dr Faustus which ultimately divides the two plays.
Drafting your essay
Planning your material before you begin writing should reduce the need for drafting. Whether or not your department requires all essays to be word processed, learning to write essays on a computer has many advantages. It enables you to easily make amendments and changes to your work without the need to rewrite whole parts of the essay. If you find it necessary to make a first draft by hand, then write each section on a separate piece of paper, so that changes can be made easily. Don't try to make significant changes to the sequence of your material through redrafting. Go right back to the planning stages and revise your original essay plan or make a new one. Remember that just as the essay question should be your focus in the planning stages, you can regularly refer to the question in the writing of your essay. Use the essay question to check that you are keeping to the point and that all your material is relevant to answering the question.
Editing your essay
It is often difficult to edit your own writing. Read your work aloud, carefully adhering to the pauses of the punctuation you have used. This will help you identify problems with clarity of expression or sentence structure. Spell checks on computers are useful, but be aware that they don't identify an inappropriate use of a correctly spelt word. Have a break from your essay (preferably overnight) to make the final check more effective.
Your department will have its own guidelines for the presentation of essays which may include word-processing. Check your departmental handbook for details. The Computer Centre and the University book shop have written guides on using the University's word-processing packages.
The feedback and comments you receive with your marked work are an invaluable aid to identifying the strengths and weaknesses in your written work. By rereading your essay in the light of this feedback you can see the areas you want to develop and then decide on a strategy for improvement. To develop your writing skills further you can:
• • •
discuss your essay with your tutor; share your experience with other students; attend a Student Learning Centre workshop or individual consultation.
• • • • • • • •
Select and order your material in an essay plan before you begin writing. Guide your reader by making the best use of the introduction and conclusion. Use paragraphs to present your points in a clear, linked sequence. Use evidence to support and illustrate your points. Be sure to acknowledge all your sources. Make use of essay plans to reduce the need for redrafting. Check your handbook or ask your tutor for the department's guidelines to referencing, bibliographies and presentation. Take a break before checking your essay and read your work aloud to check your expression and sentence structure. Make the most of feedback to plan your strategy for improving your writing skills.
by Johnson, S. — last modified 08 October 2007 10:06 Study guide A good essay plan makes the most of your essay material by helping you to organise the content of the essay before you begin writing. This guide shows you the key steps in preparing and planning an essay effectively. Other useful guides: Writing Essays; Thought Mapping; Referencing and Bibliographies.
Using essay plans
Being organised before you begin writing your essay will make the writing process quicker and easier. Good preparation and planning gives you a clear overview of your material so you can see the best way to organise your points. This guide presents four main steps to planning your essay:
• • • •
planning ahead; analysing the question; selecting material; organising your material.
Why an essay?
Essay writing gives you a chance to:
• • • • •
explore a specific subject area in depth; select relevant material; explain theories and concepts; evaluate arguments; express and support your own views and opinions.
Before you begin
Check your department's guidelines. There may be information about:
• • • •
how long the essay should be; what the deadline is; relevant assessment criteria; requirements for presentation, referencing and bibliographies.
Choose your title as soon a possible. The availability of journals, books and other resources may affect your choice of title. Plan ahead to ensure you can use the resources you need in time. Make an action plan or 'to do list' for:
• • • •
finding relevant resources; reading and making notes from articles on short loan; obtaining items through inter-library loan; using computer facilities.
Look at how much time you have before the deadline so you can see what can be realistically done. Refer to the Guide Organising your time for more information on action planning.
Analysing the question
Before you can begin to select material for your essay, you need to make sure that you understand the exact requirements of the question. The following method of title analysis encourages you to break the question down into clearly identifiable elements so that you can accurately see what the question requires.
Analysing an essay title
Selecting the material
Use your analysis of the question as a focus for the selection of materials. Begin with the basic reading:
• • •
lecture notes; handouts; relevant chapters in core texts.
When you understand the basics you can then select more detailed and specific texts. This may be in the form of journal articles or texts referred to by your lecturer. You can also follow up useful references in handouts or core texts to widen your reading.
• • •
Be selective, use the techniques described in Improving your reading skills to identify relevant material for your essay. Use the essay question as a focus for note taking. Be sure to record only information that is directly relevant to your essay question. This will save you time and make your notes easier to organise in an essay plan.
Organising your material
All essays need a structure that is logical and coherent. An essay plan gives you a quick way of trying out different structures. One way of making an essay plan is to list your main points in keywords and phrases and organise them under main headings. This gives you an overview of your points so you can decide which should be included and what is the most logical sequence for them.
An example of a linear essay plan using key words and phrases Index cards can be useful in essay planning. Write the keyword or phrase for each point on a separate index card. Use the cards to group and order the points. Number the cards sequentially when you are happy with the order of your points. You may wish to use diagrams for essay planning. This method is described in the guide: Thought Mapping.
An example of a non-linear essay plan using key words and phrases
Find your preferred style
Experiment with different styles of planning essays and use the method that you find most useful. Make as many essay plans as you need to find the best sequence for your material. By separating the planning stage from the writing stage you will be better able to write an essay that is well organised and clearly expressed. The guide Writing essays explores the key elements of an essay and shows you how to use these elements effectively.
• • • • •
Make an action plan or 'to do list' as early as possible. Analyse the essay question before you begin making notes. Be selective in your reading. Record only information that is directly relevant to your essay question. Use essay plans to create a clear and logical sequence for your material before you begin to write.
by Johnson, S. — last modified 22 August 2007 14:29 Study guide This guide aims to help you to understand what plagiarism is in the context of academic work and offers guidance on how to avoid it. Other useful guides: References & Bibliographies; Effective Note Making. Or view the interactive tutorial.
What is plagiarism?
In all aspects of academic study and research, thoughts and ideas inevitably build on those of other writers or researchers - this is a legitimate and indeed essential part of the academic process. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines plagiarism as the taking and using as one's own ... the thoughts, writings, or inventions of another. In an academic context, plagiarism implies a deliberate act on the part of the writer or researcher to use the work, ideas or expressions of others as if they were his or her own. Deliberate plagiarism, therefore, is academic cheating, and the university has a very firm view on this: anyone found to have deliberately copied or plagiarised the work of others is severely penalised. The University regulation concerning academic dishonesty is included in the Undergraduate (p.11) and Postgraduate (section A:14) Regulations; most departmental handbooks also include a statement of the University's policy in respect of academic dishonesty. Deliberate plagiarism with a clear intention to cheat is, however, far less common than plagiarism committed through misunderstanding or even carelessness. These latter types of plagiarism may occur if:
• • •
you fail to acknowledge fully the sources of knowledge and ideas that you use in your work; you incorporate the words of others into your writing as if they were your own; you 'string together' ideas or facts taken from others without presenting your own viewpoint.
Many students, particularly those at the beginning of their courses, are unclear about how to use the work of others in a way that does not constitute plagiarism. This leaflet has been written to give guidance on how to avoid plagiarism and at the same time produce work of better quality.
Fully reference and acknowledge the work of others
Understanding how to use and appropriately acknowledge your debt to the work of others is an essential step in learning how to avoid plagiarism. Make sure that when you are reading or researching for any written work or presentation, you include in your notes, or on any photocopies, the full reference details (see the Student Learning Centre guide: Referencing & Bibliographies) of each source that you use. This will ensure that you have all the information you need to acknowledge your sources fully when you come to use this material in your own work. When you write down the precise words of a writer, or even of a lecturer, make sure that you mark clearly in your notes that you have included an exact quotation, and add the relevant page number to the other reference details (this includes the citation of sources on the Web, and online discussion lists/mail bases/databases). This will ensure that when you go back to your notes at a later date you will be able distinguish your own words from those of your sources. An appropriate sentence or phrase quoted from an expert in the field can be used with great effect within an essay or dissertation, but it needs to be fully referenced and clearly distinguished from your own words. The paragraph below is taken word for word, fully referenced, from an article by Peter Scott in a book on the future of higher education and is used here as a source for a hypothetical essay on the topic of Higher Education in the 1990s.
Widening access to higher education is no longer conceived... as a crusade to help the educationally and socially deprived, to reach out into the depths of Britain's democracy (and, incidentally, to save departments and institutions from threatened closure!). Instead it is seen in much less heroic terms, as the careful management of burgeoning demand mainly, but not exclusively, from standard school leavers and other conventional sources (Scott 1991 p.57). Scott, P. 1991: Access: an overview. In T. Schuller (ed.) The Future of Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE & Open University Press, pp. 5560.
The paragraph below, from the essay returned by student A, has clearly been plagiarised. Although the wording has been changed slightly, the words are essentially those of Scott and not of the student writer; there is no reference to the original source.
A The driving force behind Britain's move towards a mass higher education system is no longer conceived as a crusade to help the educationally and socially deprived. It has become a way of meeting the demand from standard level student leavers and other conventional sources.
Student A's plagiarism may not have been deliberate but the result of poor note taking which did not distinguish between the student's own words and ideas and those of
other writers. Such plagiarism would nonetheless be taken very seriously. The paragraph below from student B's essay is not plagiarised.
B The early 1990s saw considerable changes in the organisation of Higher Education in Britain, as it moved from an elite to a mass education system. At this time, the Editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement was Peter Scott, whose job placed him in a unique position to take a broad, and well informed, overview of these changes. He viewed the move to mass education as 'the careful management of burgeoning demand mainly, but not exclusively, from standard school leavers and other conventional sources' and not, as others might have seen it ' as a crusade to help the educationally and socially deprived, and to reach out into the depths of British democracy' (Scott 1991 p.57).
Student B chose to include quotations to make a particular point, but these have been fully referenced. The quotations are included within a paragraph, which clearly shows the personal stamp and contribution of the student writer. This is seen in, for example, the comment on the background to Scott's viewpoint (as editor of the Times Higher) and the suggestion that his view is not universally held ('and not as others might have characterised it'). Student B might then go on to discuss, and give his opinion of, these other views, making sure that appropriate references were included. For more information on note taking and on referencing your sources in written work, read the Student Learning Centre guides: Effective Note Making and Referencing & Bibliographies.
Use your own words and develop your own writing style
Many students, particularly when they first start writing, find it difficult to develop their own writing style. When you are reading and researching for a piece of written work, try to use your own words in your notes to summarise your reading, and include your own ideas and comments on each text that you read. As you practise and establish your writing style, you will become more confident about expressing your thoughts and ideas in your own way. If your first language is not English, and you are not yet completely fluent, it can be very tempting to borrow a well expressed sentence or even a paragraph from another writer. However, this is plagiarism, and lecturers would much prefer to receive a piece of work in your own, if imperfect, style than to read chunks of text in perfect English that are clearly taken from another writer.
Organise and structure your work in your own way
Taking notes that paraphrase the views and opinions of the authors that you read is often the first stage of the research undertaken for any piece of written work.
However, if your own writing consists largely of a string of paraphrases from a number of different writers, or an almost exact copy of the sequence of another writer's ideas and the logic of his/her argument, you may be seen to be plagiarising, even if you acknowledge the sources of your information. This type of plagiarism is probably the most common that is found in undergraduate work.
Two further 'extracts' from hypothetical essays illustrate this point. In this example the essay topic is about the value of different types of assessment procedures. Student C has read a number of books on his topic, and in the paragraphs below he has quoted some of them in his discussion of examinations. In these examples the sources quoted have been invented for illustrative purposes, and so reference details have not been included.
C An experiment carried out by Smith (1997) showed that students do better in exams that contribute to their final grade than in those that are merely 'pass and proceed'; this showed that motivation is an important factor in improving students' examination performance. Patel (1995) believes that students should be given past papers to increase their confidence, but Jones (1998) thinks that this can lead to students revising only those topics that come up regularly. Essay-type questions are better than short-answer questions because they test creative thinking and not just memory (McPherson, 1997)
Student C's writing is essentially a string of facts, ideas and opinions from others and there is very little evidence of his own contribution to the topic. He seems only to be passing on the views of others without any critical analysis of the arguments or evidence presented by his sources. Although he has referenced his sources, he has effectively plagiarised their ideas. This type of plagiarism though not at all desirable, is not deliberate academic cheating, as there is no attempt here to claim the ideas as his own. However, Student C would not get a very good grade for his essay. Now consider the extract from Student D's essay:
D Recent published research on the effectiveness of examinations as an assessment technique has highlighted the importance of motivation as a driving force (for example, Patel, 1995; Smith, 1997; Jones 1998). Patel and Jones disagree about whether or not past papers can be useful in helping students, but I would agree with Patel that without some clear examples of at least the types of questions that are likely to be asked, students are not able to plan an effective revision strategy. What is important, though, is not just the context in which examinations are used, but the format of the examinations themselves. McPherson (1997) argued against short-answer questions, which he saw as only capable of testing memory and not creative thinking. In his criticism of this type of
examination, he has failed to acknowledge the importance of providing opportunities for students to develop a wider range of written communication skills than those developed by essay writing. The ability to write briefly and effectively is a very valuable skill for future employment; discursive essays are a form of writing that is very rarely used in the world of work.
Student D has used the same sources, but has provided a much more sophisticated analysis, and, while building on the work of her sources, has taken the ideas and discussion forward. Her own contribution to the topic is very clear in this piece. Student D will undoubtedly have gained a much higher grade for her work than Student C.
Don't be afraid to express your own views
Many students are hesitant about expressing their own opinion, particularly if it contradicts the views of 'experts'. Work that is published and printed in books and learned journals is not necessarily always right nor the very last word on a topic. In the humanities and social sciences in particular, much academic writing is based on informed opinion rather than indisputable fact. Do not be afraid to have your own views on a subject. What is important is that your views should be informed, clearly expressed and based on careful consideration and knowledge of both the relevant facts and of the views of those who are acknowledged to have expertise on the topic. It may be much more difficult for science students to have new ideas or make original contributions to their subject in the early stages of their scientific education. What you can show in your writing is that you are aware of all the relevant information, and have a full knowledge and understanding of the scientific principles that underpin the experiments that you write up or the reports that you complete. When you carry out an experiment, the method you use is perhaps unlikely to be your own, and you may well need to acknowledge the source of the particular methodology you employ. However, the results that you obtain when you carry out the experiment are your own, and in their analysis and interpretation you can make your own contribution.
Other forms of plagiarism
Don't forget that plagiarism can occur not only in your use of text but also in accompanying illustrations, maps and tables. Make sure that in the captions to these you fully reference and acknowledge any material or ideas taken from a source that is not your own. Minor changes, rewording or redrawing may be enough to avoid infringing copyright, but not to avoid the charge of plagiarism. Remember that you also need to take steps to avoid plagiarism in an oral presentation by making appropriate acknowledgements to the authors you quote, either in your talk or in the OHPs that you use.
If you are still unclear about what is and isn't plagiarism, you can talk to your lecturer or personal tutor, or visit the Student Learning Centre in College House. Your departmental student handbook may also give you further guidance.
Referencing & bibliographies
by Johnson, S. — last modified 21 August 2007 12:25 Study guide This brief study guide aims to help you to understand why you should include references to the information sources that you use to underpin your writing. It explains the main principles of accurately referencing such sources in your work. Other useful guides: Effective Note Making, Avoiding Plagiarism.
When you are writing an essay, report, dissertation or any other form of academic writing, your own thoughts and ideas inevitably build on those of other writers, researchers or teachers. It is essential that you acknowledge your debt to the sources of data, research and ideas on which you have drawn by including references to, and full details of, these sources in your work. Referencing your work allows the reader:
to distinguish your own ideas and findings from those you have drawn from the work of others; to follow up in more detail the ideas or facts that you have referred to.
Before you write
Whenever you read or research material for your writing, make sure that you include in your notes, or on any photocopied material, the full publication details of each relevant text that you read. These details should include:
• • • • • •
surname(s) and initial(s) of the author(s); the date of publication; the title of the text; if it is a paper, the title of the journal and volume number; if it is a chapter of an edited book, the book's title and editor(s) the publisher and place of publication*; the first and last page numbers if it is a journal article or a chapter in an edited book.
For particularly important points, or for parts of texts that you might wish to quote word for word, also include in your notes the specific page reference. * Please note that the publisher of a book should not be confused with the printer. The publisher's name is normally on a book's main title page, and often on the book's spine too.
When to use references
Your source should be acknowledged every time the point that you make, or the data or other information that you use, is substantially that of another writer and not your own. As a very rough guide, while the introduction and the conclusions to your writing might be largely based on your own ideas, within the main body of your report, essay or dissertation, you would expect to be drawing on, and thus referencing your debt to, the work of others in each main section or paragraph. Look at the ways in which your sources use references in their own work, and for further guidance consult the companion guide Avoiding Plagiarism.
There are many different referencing conventions in common use. Each department will have its own preferred format, and every journal or book editor has a set of 'house rules'. This guide aims to explain the general principles by giving details of the two most commonly used formats, the 'author, date' system and footnotes or endnotes. Once you have understood the principles common to all referencing systems you should be able to apply the specific rules set by your own department.
How to reference using the 'author, date' system
In the 'author, date' system (often referred to as the 'Harvard' system) very brief details of the source from which a discussion point or piece of factual information is drawn are included in the text. Full details of the source are then given in a reference list or bibliography at the end of the text. This allows the writer to fully acknowledge her/his sources, without significantly interrupting the flow of the writing.
1. Citing your source within the text
As the name suggests, the citation in the text normally includes the name(s) (surname only) of the author(s) and the date of the publication. This information is usually included in brackets at the most appropriate point in the text.
The seminars that are often a part of humanities courses can provide opportunities for students to develop the communication and interpersonal skills that are valued by employers (Lyon, 1992).
The text reference above indicates to the reader that the point being made draws on a work by Lyon, published in 1992. An alternative format is shown in the example below.
Knapper and Cropley (1991: p. 44) believe that the willingness of adults to learn is affected by their attitudes, values and self-image and that their capacity to learn depends greatly on their study skills.
Note that in this example reference has been made to a specific point within a very long text (in this instance a book) and so a page number has been added. This gives the reader the opportunity to find the particular place in the text where the point referred to is made. You should always include the page number when you include a passage of direct quotation from another writer's work.
When a publication has several authors, it is usual to give the surname of the first author followed by et al. (an abbreviation of the Latin for 'and the others') although for works with just two authors both names may be given, as in the example above. Do not forget that you should also include reference to the source of any tables of data, diagrams or maps that you include in your work. If you have included a straight copy of a table or figure, then it is usual to add a reference to the table or figure caption thus:
Figure 1: The continuum of influences on learning (from Knapper and Cropley, 1991: p. 43).
Even if you have reorganised a table of data, or redrawn a figure, you should still acknowledge its source:
Table 1: Type of work entered by humanities graduates (data from Lyon, 1992: Table 8.5).
You may need to cite an unpublished idea or discussion point from an oral presentation, such as a lecture. The format for the text citation is normally exactly the same as for a published work and should give the speaker's name and the date of the presentation.
Recent research on the origins of early man has challenged the views expressed in many of the standard textbooks (Barker, 1996).
If the idea or information that you wish to cite has been told to you personally, perhaps in a discussion with a lecturer or a tutor, it is normal to reference the point as shown in the example below.
The experience of the Student Learning Centre at Leicester is that many students are anxious to improve their writing skills, and are keen to seek help and guidance (Maria Lorenzini, pers. comm.).
'Pers. comm.' stands for personal communication; no further information is usually required.
2. Reference lists/ bibliographies
When using the 'author, date' system, the brief references included in the text must be followed up with full publication details, usually as an alphabetical reference list or bibliography at the end of your piece of work. The examples given below are used to indicate the main principles.
The simplest format, for a book reference, is given first; it is the full reference for one of the works quoted in the examples above.
Knapper, C.K. and Cropley, A. 1991: Lifelong Learning and Higher Education. London: Croom Helm.
The reference above includes:
• • • • •
the surnames and forenames or initials of both the authors; the date of publication; the book title; the place of publication; the name of the publisher.
The title of the book should be formatted to distinguish it from the other details; in the example above it is italicised, but it could be in bold, underlined or in inverted commas. When multi-authored works have been quoted, it is important to include the names of all the authors, even when the text reference used was et al.
Papers or articles within an edited book
A reference to a paper or article within an edited book should in addition include:
the editor and the title of the book; the first and last page numbers of the article or paper.
Lyon, E.S. 1992: Humanities graduates in the labour market. In H. Eggins (ed.), Arts Graduates, their Skills and their Employment. London: The Falmer Press, pp. 123-143.
Journal articles must also include:
the name and volume number of the journal; the first and last page numbers of the article.
The publisher and place of publication are not normally required for journals.
Pask, G. 1979: Styles and strategies of learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 46, pp. 128-148.
Note that in the last two references above, it is the book title and the journal name that are italicised, not the title of the paper or article. The name highlighted should always be the name under which the work will have been filed on the library shelves or referenced in any indexing system. It is often the name which is written on the spine of the volume, and if you remember this it may be easier for you to remember which is the appropriate title to highlight.
Other types of publications
The three examples above cover the most common publication types. You may also wish to refer to other types of publications, including PhD dissertations, translated works, newspaper articles, dictionary or encyclopaedia entries or legal or historical texts. The same general principles apply to the referencing of all published sources, but for specific conventions consult your departmental handbook or your tutor, or look at the more detailed reference books listed in the Further reading section of this guide.
Referencing web pages
The internet is increasingly used as a source of information and it is just as important to reference internet sources as it is to reference printed sources. Information on the internet changes rapidly and web pages move or are sometimes inaccessible meaning it can often be difficult to validate or even find information cited from the internet. When referencing web pages it is helpful to include details that will help other people check or follow up the information. A suggested format is to include the author of the information (this may be an individual, group or organisation), the date the page was put on the internet (most web pages have a date at the bottom of the page), the title, the http:// address, and the date you accessed the web page (in case the information has been subsequently modified). A format for referencing web pages is given below.
University of Leicester Standing Committee of Deans (6/8/2002) Internet code of practice and guide to legislation. Accessed 8/8/02 http://www.le.ac.uk/committees/deans/codecode.html
Full references to unpublished oral presentations, such as lectures, usually include the speaker's name, the date of the lecture, the name of the lecture or of the lecture series, and the location:
Barker, G. 1996 (7 October): The Archaeology of Europe, Lecture 1. University of Leicester.
Please note that in contrast to the format used for the published sources given in the first three examples above, the formatting of references for unpublished sources does not include italics, as there is no publication title to highlight.
If you look carefully at all the examples of full references given above, you will see that there is a consistency in the ways in which punctuation and capitalisation have been used. There are many other ways in which references can be formatted - look at the books and articles you read for other examples and at any guidelines in your course handbooks. The only rule governing formatting is the rule of consistency.
How to reference using footnotes or endnotes
Some academic disciplines prefer to use footnotes (notes at the foot of the page) or endnotes (notes at the end of the work) to reference their writing. Although this method differs in style from the 'author, date' system, its purpose - to acknowledge the source of ideas, data or quotations without undue interruption to the flow of the writing - is the same. Footnote or endnote markers, usually a sequential series of numbers either in brackets or slightly above the line of writing or printing (superscript), are placed at the appropriate point in the text. This is normally where you would insert the author and date if you were using the 'author, date' system described above.
Employers are not just looking for high academic achievement and have identified competencies that distinguish the high performers from the average graduate.¹ This view has been supported by an early study that demonstrated that graduates employed in the industrial and commercial sectors were as likely to have lower second and third class degrees as firsts and upper seconds.²
Full details of the reference are then given at the bottom of the relevant page or, if endnotes are preferred, in numerical order at the end of the writing. Rules for the formatting of the detailed references follow the same principles as for the reference lists for the 'author, date' system.
1. Moore, K. 1992: National Westminster Bank plc. In H. Eggins (ed.), Arts Graduates, their Skills and their Employment. London: The Falmer Press, pp. 24-26. 2. Kelsall, R.K., Poole, A. and Kuhn, A. 1970: Six Years After. Sheffield: Higher Education Research Unit, Sheffield University, p. 40.
NB. The reference to 'p.40' at the end of note 2 above implies that the specific point referred to is to be found on page 40 of the book referenced. If the same source needs to be referred to several times, on second or subsequent occasions, a shortened reference may be used.
Studies of women's employment patterns have demonstrated the relationship between marital status and employment sector. ³ ------------------------3. Kelsall et al. 1970 (as n.2 above).
In this example, the footnote refers the reader to the full reference to be found in footnote 2. In some academic disciplines, footnotes and endnotes are not only used for references, but also to contain elaborations or explanations of points made in the main text. If you
are unsure about how to use footnotes or endnotes in your work, consult your departmental guidelines or personal tutor.
Whichever referencing system you use, you should check carefully to make sure that:
you have included in your reference list/bibliography, footnotes or endnotes full details of all the sources referred to in your text; you have used punctuation and text formatting, such as italics, capitals, and bold text, in a consistent manner in your reference lists or footnotes.
More detailed discussion of referencing conventions is to be found in the following publications:
• • • •
Berry, R. 2004: The Research Project: How to Write It. London and New York: Routledge. Gash, S. 1999: Effective Literature Searching for Students (second edition). Aldershot: Gower. Gibaldi, J. 2004: MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (sixth edition). New York: The Modern Language Association of America. Watson, G. 1987: Writing a Thesis: a Guide to Long Essays and Dissertations. London: Longman.
There are also software programs, for example, Endnote and Refworks that are designed to manage references. They include the facility to incorporate 'author, date' insertions within your text, and to format reference lists automatically.
by Johnson, S. — last modified 21 August 2007 15:31 Study guide This guide explains how to make effective use of paragraphs in your writing. The function and features of a paragraph are explained, together with guidelines for using paragraphs to create a clear and coherent written structure. Other useful guides: Using the Comma, Sentence Structure.
What is a paragraph?
Writing of any length requires subdivision into a number of points or stages, and these stages are expressed in a paragraph. Paragraphs, whether denoted by a new line and an indentation or a line break, provide a structure for your writing. The end of a paragraph represents a significant pause in the flow of the writing. This pause is a signpost to the reader, indicating that the writing is about to move on to a different stage. Each paragraph should deal with one idea or aspect of an idea, and it should be clear to the reader what this main idea is.
How long should a paragraph be?
There is no absolute rule: very short or long paragraphs can work when used by an experienced writer. However, as a guideline, paragraphs should usually be no less that 2 or 3 sentences long and there should be 2 or 3 paragraphs per page of A4. The length of a paragraph depends on the idea being treated, but if a paragraph is shorter than 2 or 3 sentences, check to see if it is not really part of the previous or next paragraph. If your paragraph is longer than half a page, check to see if the idea would be better explained in two or more paragraphs.
When do I start a new paragraph?
Start a new paragraph for each new point or stage in your writing. When you begin a paragraph you should always be aware of the main idea being expressed in that paragraph. Be alert to digressions or details that belong either in a different paragraph or need a paragraph of their own.
How do I write a paragraph?
A paragraph can have an internal structure with an introduction, main body and conclusion in the same way as an essay The example below shows a paragraph which:
introduces the paragraph's main point; develops and supports the point;
shows the significance of the point made.
The previous example showed one style of paragraph. It is a useful rule always to have three stages in a paragraph: introduction, development and conclusion.
The introduction makes the purpose of the paragraph clear so the reader can read the paragraph with this purpose in mind. It is usually necessary to show the place the paragraph has in the structure of the piece as a whole. This can be done with just a word (Nevertheless, However, Furthermore) or it may need a phrase (Another point to consider is....). In an essay, this might mean showing how the main idea of the paragraph answers the essay question. In some cases when the paragraph begins a new section, it may be necessary to write a separate paragraph which explains how the following section relates to the piece as a whole.
The body of the paragraph should develop the idea that has been introduced at the beginning of the paragraph. This can be done by:
• • • • •
redefining the idea; giving examples; commenting on evidence; showing implications or consequences; examining opposing ideas.
The end of the paragraph can show the significance of the point, link back to the beginning of the paragraph, comment on the implications of the point as a whole, or make a link to the next paragraph. It is important not to end the paragraph with a digression or irrelevant detail. Each sentence in the paragraph should be part of the internal structure. Another example of a paragraph using this three part structure is given below.
Paragraphs provide a structure for your writing which enables the reader to identify and follow the developing stages in your treatment of the material. Remember that paragraphs should have their own internal structure whilst fitting into the larger structure of the whole piece of writing. Be clear what the main idea for each paragraph is, deal with it as fully as is necessary for your purpose, but be alert to digression or irrelevancies. Check your own use of paragraphs by reading the first sentence to see if it outlines the paragraph's main idea. The effective use of paragraphs can be seen in writing when the reader can gain an overview of the content by reading the first sentence of each paragraph.
Critical analysis “Be more critical! More analysis needed! That’s what my tutors say about my essays. I’m not really sure what they mean.” “I thought I had written a really good assignment this time. I did so much reading and preparation for it, but my tutor’s feedback is ‘not enough argument.’ I’m not sure what to do now. I mean, I’m not an argumentative person - and I don’t really want to be.”
One of the most important skills you will need to learn as a student, whatever your discipline is the ability to think critically and objectively about an issue and to present a well-constructed argument. Critical and analytical-thinking skills such as these will be essential to most aspects of your study, whether you are listening to lectures, contributing to seminars, or reading about your subject. Here, we will be focusing mainly on critical analysis for written work, as nothing gains or loses marks more for most student assignments than the quality of your written argument. Argument here doesn’t mean disagreement or unpleasantness. It simply means presenting a strong case to support a point of view. You don’t have to be an argumentative person to do this: on the contrary, good critical writing means using reasons and evidence to support your stand point. The first rule is: Identify the focus of the assignment Good critical analysis isn’t simply about writing. Before you start any assignment, you need to be clear about your focus. At university, this usually means thinking critically about the requirements of the essay, report, or of the seminar or workshop topic. “I always ask myself why the lecturers have set this particular essay? Why this particular wording? What is it that they are expecting us to read? Usually,
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there is an underlying set of ideas or theories or problems or texts that they expect us to cover as part of our background reading for the essay.”
The essay title or assignment brief will have been written with certain expectations in mind. You can try asking your lecturers about these expectations- and they may even give you some clues. However, at this level of study, you are usually expected to demonstrate that you can think these through for yourself. “For me, critical analysis begins with the essay title. I try to work out which key debates or conflicts of opinion it refers to. I check through the main journals for my subject for any relevant academic debates that have been running over the last few years. That way I know I am up to date.” The second rule is: Identify your own point of view The second consideration for critical analysis, and which is especially important for preparing student assignments, is to be clear about your own perspective. What exactly is your own position on the subject? This may change as you work through the assignment, but you should keep asking yourself this question as you study for the assignment, to help clarify your thinking and direct your research. It may take some time to arrive at your final position. Along the way, it may seem that there is good evidence to support many alternative points of view. You may feel that everything you read sounds right – or that nothing sounds right. However, at some point, you have to decide what position you are going to take up for yourself. If this isn’t clear in your mind, then your writing will lack clarity and direction. “I imagine I have only fifteen seconds to state my argument for a radio audience. If I can’t say it clearly without rambling, then I’m not ready to start writing.”
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“The best trick for me is to sum up my main argument in a single sentence. I find this clears my head. I print out the sentence and tape it to the front of my computer where I can see it all the time I am writing that assignment. If I can’t sum up what I want to say clearly and simply, it usually means I haven’t really worked out my position clearly enough.” “I always used to sit on the fence and concluded my essays by saying that there were ‘some positive and some negative points about each school of thought’. My essays ended up being vague because I wouldn’t make a decision one way or the other. Now, I imagine I’m like a lawyer– I decide which theory or point of view I would prefer to defend in court, and why, and take that as my own position for the purpose of the essay.” The third rule is: Consider how you’ll persuade other people of your point of view From the point of view of critical thinking, the aim of an argument is to persuade your reader of your position, your conclusion. Your point of view needs to be presented as a well-reasoned argument that leads to a conclusion based on evidence. Critical writing is really a line of reasoning, a set of reasons, presented in the most convincing and logical order, to support a conclusion. The third consideration in producing an assignment based on good critical analysis is to identify convincing reasons to support your conclusion – reasons that would persuade your readers or listeners- whether these are your tutors, fellow students or other people. “I tend to work out my reasons in writing. It’s like arguing with myself. Before I start my final draft, I go back over what I have written, and draw up a list of the reasons that support my conclusion, and those that undermine it. Then I mull it all over for a while, seeing whether the reasons are good enough. Do they really support my conclusion? Would they convince anyone else but me?”
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The fourth rule? Find the proof You may be able to list lots of reasons that support your conclusion - but are those reasons well founded? A good argument is based on solid evidence. So the fourth consideration is to identify and evaluate the available evidence to see if it really does support your point of view. Although it is good to start out with an idea of what you want to say, you will not be able to finalise your position until you have done some research. You will need to read around the subject, using reputable sources, such as articles from the bestknown journals for your subject. Don’t just use general textbooks - make sure the authors you read are the leading ones for your field of study. Find out what they think about the subject- what are their theories? Whose views are they attacking? What research has been done on the subject? Are there different schools of thought about this subject? If so, what makes any of these convincing? You need to make sure that you have evidence that supports your conclusion. You also need to know of any arguments against your point of view. What evidence are these based on? Why are these alternative arguments less convincing? Clearly, good critical writing also depends upon good critical reading skills. Even if an author presents an argument that seems compelling, it is important not to accept what is said without making a few checks first. Don’t take the results of research at face value. “When I’m reading for my college work, it’s as if I’m having a discussion with someone – I’m always asking questions: - how do I know that’s true - isn’t that just an opinion? Or: that’s interesting. I wonder if this would still be true if the survey was bigger? Or: what if he’d used a different sample of people? Or even: so what?”
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“I’ve always enjoyed looking for where there may be gaps in the evidence, a bit like trying to work out the plot in a crime thriller, but for some reason, I always did this in my head, as you would if you were just reading a novel. When it came to writing the essay, I just described what each theorist said, or what was in each book, to prove I’d read them, I suppose. Now I realise I had missed out all the best bits! My lecturers didn’t want to know much about what other theorists said, they wanted to know what I thought of them – in other words, all the evaluation I had done in my head.”
This evaluation of the evidence is exactly the kind of thing your tutor will be looking for as part of your critical analysis - so don’t just do it in your head - write it down. For example, if you think that a piece of research is based on interviews with too narrow a range of people, write that down. If you think the results of a piece of research might have been very different if they had taken a broader range of conditions into consideration, note down a few examples of what you mean. The fifth rule is: Engage in debate The fifth consideration for critical analysis is to engage actively in debate with different points of view- both those that adopt a similar to your position to yours and those that are different. Most essays, reports, and seminar sessions are designed to enable you to engage in such a dialogue – or debate - with well-known schools of thought, major theories or leading pieces of research in your subject. These are opportunities for you to read, reflect, question, and evaluate; to weigh up the arguments and identify their strengths and weaknesses. The books and articles you are recommended are likely to point out some of the major issues to help you, and you can refer to these within your own argument. “By the time I’ve read three or four articles, I can be totally confused. I might think the first thing I read is absolutely spot on; then I read an article that says the first article was flawed, and I agree with the reasons they give. Then the
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third article argues that the second person was wrong in the way they criticised the first – and that sounds convincing too, and so on. In the end, I’m not sure what I think.”
Many students say they find that it is hard to decide between conflicting theories, arguments and evidence, and that they don’t have a clear conclusion for their own essay. It is important to remember that academic debates aren’t usually clear-cut about right or wrong, and that new research leads to a continually changing picture. As a student, you need to weigh up the evidence to date – and make a decision about which seems the most convincing for now – or the circumstances in which a particular argument would be true. It may seem frustrating when there are many points of view and when these are based on different types of evidence. However, it is often easier to produce a better assignment when there is an opportunity to address complex issues or subjects that are hotly disputed. “I like it when we are given subjects that are contentious, because then you can really sound out different ways of looking at the issues, and show how you have evaluated one person’s views against another. If the subject is too easy, there is nothing to get your teeth into.” The sixth rule is: Structure your argument “Apparently, I had all the right arguments and evidence, but the way I presented it, hopping from point to point, nobody could tell.” “If you organise your argument clearly for seminars, people listen. If it jumps about and sounds muddled, then people just switch off.”
Once you have engaged in critical debate with the issues, you have finalised your position, you’ve identified good reasons based to support your conclusion, then the next step is to consider how you will organise your reasons and evidence into a clear
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structure. You want your argument to persuade your reader or listener. The aim is to do this through the strength of your argument, by the way you present your position, your reasons, your evidence, in a clear and logical way, and not through resorting to forceful or emotive language. Student assignments usually include critical analysis of complex material at some depth- so some thought needs to be given about how to present that material in a way that helps the reader to see the point and to follow the argument. You need to think through your argument from the point of view of your reader or listener – what order will make most sense for them? Is each point clearly linked to the one that came before? Does everything you are saying build towards your final conclusion, helping your reader or listener to understand the position you have adopted for the assignment? “I usually sort out my ideas by writing them out first. When I am sure of the key argument, I cut and paste my text until I think I have a logical order. Then I print it out and highlight all the key reasons in yellow, and my conclusion in red. If I can’t find the key reasons to highlight, which does happen (!) then I know I need to write these out more clearly.”
The assignment you hand in will be the last stage of a process of critical analysis. Remember that your tutor will be looking for evidence of your active engagement with the topic. Make sure that your final version captures something of your process of critical dialogue with the subject.
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