Make your next essay a top grade!
1he bas|cs, |n a "nutshe||"
Wlth luck, your essay tltle wlll have been glven to you ln the form of a µoestloo (e.g. ºPow does McLwan create a sense of
tenslon and excltement ln the openlng chapter of Atonement?"), or, at least, lt'll be ln a form that you'll easlly be able to
mentally ºconvert" lt lnto a questlon, (e.g. ºln the openlng chapter of Atonement, McLwan relles on several key narratlve
technlques to create a sense of tenslon and excltement. ulscuss.").
lt´s osoolly posslble to ´testote" ooy essoy tltle os o kloJ of ´µoestloo". 1ty to Jo tbls meotolly wltb yoot owo.
5totloq oo essoy tltle lo tbe fotm of o µoestloo wlll ttoly belp wltb tbe ploooloq ooJ sttoctote of yoot essoy.
1bls ls becoose yoot essoy oeeJs to be, lo esseoce, ootbloq mote tboo your ottempt to orque your point of view
oo wbot you be/ieve tbe ´ooswet" to tbls ´essoy µoestloo" ls.
Of cootse - wbllst tbete ore wtooq ooswets, tbete ls N£v£k 4 5lN6L£ cOkk£c1 4N5w£k to ony £nq/ish essoy -
ooly o we//-supported point of view!
lf yoo stote yoot vlew cleotly ot tbe beqlooloq ooJ soppott wbot yoo soy coovlocloqly lo tbe essoy ltself, you wi//
do we//!
1bls meoos tbot yoo´ll oeeJ to cteote oo essoy tbot ls, ot beott, o c/eor/y stoted ooJ we//-supported orqument.
1bos, tty botJ to moke yoot opeoloq potoqtopb become oo oltto-soccloct ´ooswet" to tbe essoy ´µoestloo", tbeo
ose tbe test of tbe essoy to sbow wby yoot stoteJ ´ooswet" (teolly jost on informed opinion...) ls o qood one!
1o create an effectlve essay, therefore, you wlll need to form an ºln-a-nutshell style answer" to the essay questlon - one
that glves, ln [ust a sentence or so, your ºoverall concluslon", ºtake" or ºvlew" of the questlon. lt's called, technlcally, your
ºthes|s statement". lt's not so very dlfferent from saylng to Mum on lrlday, ºl thlnk lt would be really fun to go to Lmma's
for a sleepover..." - then maklng an ºessay" tbot soppotts yoot tbooqbts oo wby qoloq to ímmo´s ls socb o qooJ lJeo!
ln the above essay example on McLwan's novel Atonement, you mlght wrlte, º1he creatlon of tenslon ls a key narratlve
devlce that ls much used by McLwan. ln the flrst chapter of Atonement, thls ls frequently evldent, for example when... ...
...". now you add ln a very br|ef comment to explaln ln a generallsed skeleton form how you are go|ng to answer the essay
quest|on. 1hus:
Your essoy becomes nothinq more thon o series of poroqrophs in which you try to persuode your teocher or the
exominer why your interpretotion is o foir one to ho/d.
£och poroqroph is used to exp/oin ond exp/ore o new persuosive point - one thot supports your openinq "in o
nutshe//" super-condensed "onswer".
£och poroqroph wi// need to be bui/t oround evidence from the text, usuo//y o quototion {but in o dromo, it
miqht be o description of stoqe directions, costume, etc.).
In more deta||:
1he Cpen|ng Þaragraph
llnd a way of maklng your openlng sentence short, |nterest|ng and memorab|e.
o AvolJ tbe mloJ-oombloq boteJom of stottloq wltb ´lo my essoy l om qoloq to be lookloq ot tbe..." (¥owo...).
losteoJ stott wltb sometbloq llke ´1eosloo ooJ excltemeot oboooJ lo tbe opeoloq lloes of Mcíwoo´s
Atooemeot ooJ wltb qooJ teosoo. be woots bls teoJet to teoJ oo..."
o 5o be btove, be bolJ! 8e Jlffeteot! Above oll, wtlte lo o /ive/y ooJ interestinq style by beinq yourse/f. uoo´t
jolo tbe tooks of stoJeots wbo lttltote exomloets ooJ lose motks by ttyloq to emolote tbe ovetly-fotmol style
of oo lmoqloeJ stoffy ptofessot.
o 1OP 1lP! cteote o koowleJqeoble ooJ ootbotltotlve tooe by incorporotinq o word or phrose from the text
direct/y into your own openinq sentence (see below fot mote oo tbe key tecbolµoe of ´embedded
next, lmmedlately show you have a good grasp of the essay t|t|e or quest|on. Lngllsh Llt essay questlons allow a good
deal of leeway so you'll need to make lt clear exactly what your take on the quest|on |s.
o lo some types of lltetotote essoys (cbeck tbls wltb yoot teocbet), yoo´ll oeeJ to sbow owoteoess of other woys
of interpretinq the text tboo yoot owo. lf tbls ls o pott of tbe motk scbeme yoo´ll be tolJ. lo tbls cose, lo yoot
opeoloq potoqtopb, wtlte sometbloq llke tbls opeoloq of oo essoy oo tbe ploy ´A 5tteetcot NomeJ ueslte".
´Mooy teoJets mlqbt toke o Jlffeteot vlew of 8loocbe uobols ooJ cooslJet wlllloms´ ploy ooytbloq bot o
ttoqeJy, bot l belleve tbot tbe eveots of tbe ploy soqqest foltly cleotly tbot. ...".
o keep lo mloJ ot oll tlmes tbot yoot essoy ls olwoys ootbloq mote tboo oo ottempt to support yoot otlqloolly
stoteJ vlew. lt ls o persuosive/y mode orqument for whot you be/ieve. nete ls oo exomple of o tbesls
stotemeot. ´5ome commeototots soqqest tbot tbe poet lblllp lotklo ls oll-bot o mlsetoble pesslmlst, bot l feel
tbot tbete ls mocb evlJeoce to tbe coottoty, tbot be ls, lo foct, oo ooosoolly cleot-slqbteJ teollst. 1btooqb oo
ooolysls of two of bls poems, ´nlqb wloJows" ooJ ´1be íxplosloo", l sboll otqoe wby l belleve tbls to be tbe
o lo otbet kloJs of essoy, tbe motk scbeme loslsts tbot yoo sbow o c/ose oworeness of context. 8ot... olwoys
ooJ olwoys, Jo tty to temembet tbot this is not o nistory essoy. lt ls oo essoy fot £nq/ish Literoture.
o wbot tbls meoos ls tbot yoot motks ooly evet come ftom your interpretotion ond ono/ysis of the text, tbey
wi// never come from mere exp/onotions of context. 5o... uON´1 wtlte looq exploootloos of tbe ootbot´s
blstotlcol ot lltetoty cootext bot, uO tty to floJ µoototloos tbot ollow yoo to derive re/evont ospects of both
historico/ ond /iterory context, i.e. derivinq context from the text itse/f.
o 1bos, os well os tbe oeeJ to Jlscoss tbe lloqolstlc ot lltetoty metlts of o µoototloo, lo oo essoy wbete cootext ls
lmpottoot, olso extend your comment to cover on importont contextuo/ point os reveo/ed by the quototion.
o 1bls wlll ofteo be posslble becoose tbete ote osoolly cootextool ospects lotkloq - moybe o llttle botleJ -
wltblo tbe µoototloo ltself somewbete lf yoo look ooJ tblok botJ eoooqb (ooJ cboose µoototloos
opptoptlotely). 8ot... lf yoo floJ tbls Jlfflcolt - ooJ lt coo be - osk yoot teocbet fot mote belp. lt´s o teol motk
o 5ome essoy µoestloos ote boseJ oo o stotemeot moJe by oo emloeot petsoo socb os o lltetoty ctltlc. lf tbls ls
tbe cose, do not fee/ thot you ore ob/iqed to oqree with it - os obove, tbete ls totely jost ooe lotetptetotloo
of oo ootbot´s wotk.
ln oll cases, lt's lmportant to open your essay by glvlng your overa|| po|nt of v|ew concernlng the essay questlon. 1hls
wlll be your ºtake" on the questlon, your ºoverall concluslon": a klnd of super-condensed ºanswer". 1hls statement ls
often the key to a successful essay - a key that unlocks the door to the hlghest marks and glves you, the essay wrlter,
the greatest satlsfactlon. See the Lngllshblz gulde to ºbetter essays" for more on thls lmportant technlque:
1CÞ 1IÞ! lor exam wrltlng, lt's lmportant to remember that you on|y have th|s one chance to make a favourab|e f|rst
|mpress|on. ?our alm, therefore, needs to be to |mpress the exam|ner w|th a show of c|ar|ty, conf|dence and
prec|s|on. Cne especlally effectlve way to do thls ls to use an ºembedded quotat|on" ln your lntroductlon - a word or
phrase from the text (always stlll ln quotatlon marks) that flts Jltectly loto yoot owo seoteoce. 1hls suggests a deep
knowledge of the text ltself, creates an authorltatlve tone and a confldent approach. Pere ls an example: º8lanche
uubols mlght clalm she wants ºmaglc" rather than ºreallsm" but ln hls play ºA Streetcar named ueslre" Wllllams
provldes hls audlence wlth an extra large helplng of reallty".
1he '8ody' Þaragraphs
uo you worry about [ust how many maln polnts you need to make to support your argument? Well, lf you explore each
polnt tbotooqbly and lo Jeptb uslng the ºÞo|nt ÷ Çuotat|on ÷ Comment" strategy, you wlll only have space for half a
dozen or so. 8emember also that glven the tlme pressure ln an exam, you need to be sure to avo|d waff|e!
lor each and every polnt you make, be sure lt helps to answer the essay quest|on and thus relate to your lnltlally
stated polnt of vlew (l.e. ºthesls statement"). Ask yourself, ºAm l exp|or|ng and |nterpret|ng the sobtle layers and
shades of meanlng of the text?"
o Moke lt o boblt Nívík to opeo o potoqtopb wltb ooy seoteoce tbot Joes oot clíAkl¥ uívílOl yoot ovetoll
otqomeot ooJ so belp ´ooswet" tbe essoy µoestloo ot tltle.
Þlan your answer - a rough sketch of the maln polnts you lntend to make. 1hls wlll help you to make your polnts flow
loglcally from one to the next (try to use ºdlscourse markers" to help: cooseµoeotly., tbetefote., os o tesolt., lt
follows ftom tbls tbot., lo cooclosloo..., and so on). 1he development of your argument should be clear and
understandable at all tlmes. 1hls ls a real mark wlnner.
Always support each po|nt of your argument w|th examp|es - usually o brief quototion - from your text(s). lf you
have the text ln the exam thls ls easler, lf you don't you should be prepared wlth a small bank of learned quotatlons
([ust llnes or phrases rather than whole chunks are needed). Avold uslng an excesslve number of (or excesslvely long...)
quotatlons. use apt and br|ef quotatlons that cleotly work to soppott tbelt polot.
o 1bls polot wlll be ooe tbot supports, exp/oins, deve/ops ot exp/ores yoot ´tbesls". kemembet wbot tbot ls?
lt´s tbe sloqle seoteoce tbot exploloeJ yoot super-condensed-overo//-point-of-view coocetoloq tbe essoy
µoestloo tbot yoo wtote ot tbe beqlooloq of yoot essoy!
o lf o µoototloo ls jost o few wotJs lo leoqtb, set lt off loslJe µoototloo motks, bot keep it in the some /ine. lf
tbe µoototloo ls looqet, set lt off, oqoin inside quototion morks, bot oow oo o oew lloe - llke o oew
potoqtopb, indented from the morqin by obout 2cm.
lt's not often a good technlque to open a paragraph wlth a quotatlon. Cf course, every rule ls made to be broken but
unless you are a skllled essay wrlter, lt's always better to begln eocb new body paragraph wlth a sentence that
contalns a new po|nt - one that helps answer your essay questlon. 1hls prevents waff|e and keeps the structure of
your essay |ntact.
1CÞ 1IÞ!! Avo|d "rete|||ng the story", l.e. glvlng lengthy descrlptlons about WPA1 PAÞÞLnS ln the text, lnstead,
IN1LkÞkL1 the text ln ways that help answer the essay questlon. 8etelllng ls o woste of tlme and LCSLS MAkkS!!
lf the essay requlres you to allude to there belng other ways of lnterpretlng the text, try to show thls os yoo wtlte.
1here ls no need to labour lt - [ust show your awareness that others mlght see thlngs dlfferently.
ALWA¥S SÇULL2L ¥CUk ÇUC1A1ICNS 1ILL 1nL¥ SÇULAL! Wrlng every drop of lnterpretatlon and comment out of
them for thls ls where the marks lle. Look super-hard at each quotatlon and ask yourself:
o wbot effectlve oses of /onquoqe ot /iterory devices Joes lt cootolo?
o now Joes lt belp structuro//y?
o now Joes lt coottlbote to tbe text when ond where it occurs? uoes lt Jevelop cbotoctet, plot ot mooJ, fot
o now Joes lt, bowevet sobtly, coottlbote to on overo// ospect of the text, perhops to o theme?
NLVLk bot NLVLk mlss the opportunlty to use your quotatlons to dlscuss how the wr|ter has used |anguage,
||terary]poet|c]dramat|c dev|ces or structure ln effectlve ways. 1hls ls a golden opportunlty to galn extra marks!
1he Lssay's Conc|us|on
1hls ls the last thlng your teacher or examlner wlll read - |t w||| hover |n the|r m|nd as your mark |s be|ng dec|ded. So...
make lt good!
use your concluslon as a summ|ng up of your argument (you dld wrlte the essay as an argument dldn't you?!?)
o kestote tbe mojot polots of yoot otqomeot - ttyloq to exptess tbem soccloctly ooJ o llttle Jlffeteotly.
o 5bow bow tbe lssoes tolseJ by yoot essoy opply mote qeoetolly - most texts bove wlJely opplyloq tbemes ooJ
oow ls tbe cbooce to sbow bow tbls ls tbe cose.
o Clve o petsoool vlew oo tbe text.
As w|th the f|rst sentence of your essay, make the |ast one |nterest|ng and memorab|e!

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