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How to write the most incredible

essays
Tips from Rosh

Flow

Flow is basically achieved through clarity of argument. Clarity of argument is


achieved through editing your essay, and planning what you’re going to write. An
essay is an argument that you present to convincing your reader. So, structure it
like an argument – start off by explaining the topic and where the topic fits into
the broader literature, topic area, whatever. Before you write your essay, think
about what you want to cover – is it a ‘broad and shallow’ essay type, or a
‘narrow and deep’ type? You can usually tell which type from reading the
question and looking at the scope of the course content. Once you know which
type, stick to it. If it’s broad and narrow, your argument will include a lot of
different ideas, and a brief outline of each, that sort of thing. If it’s narrow and
deep, then although you could probably cover a lot of ideas, pick the three or so
that you feel are most critical and focus on these. You can even say in your
introduction that although the topic could over blah, blah, blah and blah, this
essay will focus on blah and blah only as these are thought to be the most
important factors in whatever the phenomena you’re discussing is.

It can be really helpful to take your essay draft and write on a separate piece of
paper what the main idea is for each paragraph, as this helps you see whether
the ideas (i.e. paragraphs) are in the best order to flow clearly and build the
argument effectively. Flow about clear structuring, and is needed on all levels –
the sentence, the paragraph, and the broader essay itself. See the following
sections for specifics on this.

Sentence structure:

To increase clarity, structure your sentence by focussing on noun-verb relations –


basically, each sentence should have a noun followed by a verb, and any
relevant information for this. To use an example from your essay:

The above discussion (noun) on the history of the sociological imagination


leads (verb)us to important cultural issues (noun) that affect (verb) the
multicultural society of Australia today

Nouns are objects, subjects, etc. and verbs are doing or action words. Might
seem a little tedious or difficult a task, but just try for the next five minutes to
think about noun-verb relationships and you’ll see that it’s something we do all
the time, and once you think about it consciously you’ll realise that it’s a) not
very hard at all, and b) you do it all the time. )

Paragraph structure, and the different stages of writing and editing


your essay

Again to increase clarity, paragraph structure should be in the following format:

• …Tell them what you’re going to tell them (introductory/opening


sentence)

• …Then tell them (body, including all of the evidence to show your point, in
a specific order that makes your point blow by blow rather than in an all-
over-the-place kind of way)

• …Then tell them what you’ve told them (concluding statement, which also
leads into the main idea in the introductory sentence of the next
paragraph… see ‘essay structure’ section next!)

If you follow this, you’ll make your point clearly, which means that you’ll get
better grades because conveying information in an ordered way by presenting
your argument and the evidence supporting it is the point of an essay!

Additionally, each paragraph should contain only one main point or idea. This is
mainly teased out in the editing stages (its important to firstly write a plan and a
‘spew draft’, in whichever order suits your individual style better, and then go
back over it and tease out the main ideas that you’ve got in each paragraph,
break them down so that they’re only one point/idea per paragraph, and then do
another edit where you make sure that each paragraph is structured well
(opening sentence, body of evidence, closing statement leading into the next
paragraph’s idea). Trying to do all of this in the first draft is way too hard, and
consequently the content of your essay will lose out. So – work smart, not hard,
and write your essay by doing a brief plan/structure, then a first draft, then a
second draft editing for flow and content, and then a third draft looking at
structure and grammar/punctuation/correct in-text referencing and proper
sentence structure in each sentence, and then finally finish up by writing up the
reference list and polishing any final bits and pieces.

Essay overall structure

Overall, the essay should follow the same general structure of the paragraph in
that you:

• …Tell them what you’re going to tell them (introduction paragraph – don’t
give them any actual evidence or use definitions in this paragraph, just tell
them what the question is and give a brief spiel about why the questions is
being asked and its relevance to the field or something like that, and then
outline the general points of your argument)

• …Then tell them (body – a series of paragraphs, one main idea each which
give your evidence for your argument, that are in a particular order to flow
clearly and build your argument)

• …Then tell them what you’ve told them (conclusion – don’t introduce any
new evidence or use definitions in this paragraph either, and structure it
like all your other paragraphs with an intro and concluding statement and
a body. Summarise your argument by giving the subject of the essay, then
in order running through the points of each paragraph, i.e. summarise the
body of the essay in such a way that gives a summary that convinces the
reader of the strength and integrity of your argument, and then finish up
with a concluding statement).

Things to remember:

The introduction is only to explain what the essay will do, not to make your
argument. Don’t start making your argument until the first paragraph of the
body. In the introduction, set the ‘bigger picture’ scene about how the essay fits
into the broader area/subject, why the matter is interesting and is being
answered, and summarise your argument. The point of the introduction is to give
the reader a snapshot summary of the essay, and hook them in to read the rest
of it. Thus, because it’s designed to hook your reader in, the key is to
tantalisingly explain your argument, but not start the argument in the intro.
Intrigue them and tease them, it’s a little like a pole dancer at a strip club.

Another important point for the introduction is, you must state the parameters of
your essay as well as the focus of your argument – say what you will cover, but
also what you won’t cover if it’s relevant, to make it clear that you’re not
unintentionally leaving things out, but you’re choosing to focus in on a few key
certain important points. This will get you more marks, and make your essay
boundaries a lot clearer.

Remember, an essay is about the argument, not about just giving evidence, and
to have a clear and effective argument, you’ve got to link everything together
and explain what the links are. It’s like having a jigsaw puzzle and having the
pieces in a pile, vs having all of the pieces put together – it’s only in the latter
that you can see the picture that the author paints, otherwise it’s confusing and
you don’t see what the puzzle/essay is about. It all comes down to strengthening
your argument, and you can only do that by explaining your point of view – after
all it’s your argument, so you have to communicate it to someone else so they
can understand it.
The body: Remember, the body is to make your argument, and make it clearly
and in a logical order. key points to having an effective body are: (a) keep each
paragraph to one idea only, (b) have each paragraph well-structured with an
intro, a body and a conclusion, (c) minimise use of quotes as they interrupt flow –
only use quotes if you can’t paraphrase it better than the author’s said it,
because paraphrasing and referencing at the end of the sentence allows you to
embed the quoted idea into your argument better by relating it to your argument
rather than putting it in next to it, and lecturers/tutors prefer that quotes aren’t
used unless it’s a really necessary definition that is a cornerstone of the
literature, or it’s something that you can’t rewrite into your won words without
losing the meaning.

A critical point regarding the body is, in each paragraph, if you don’t do anything
else, MAKE SURE that you link the paragraph’s content back to the essay
question. This is absolutely critical – it strengthens your argument, as you don’t
include any irrelevant stuff this way, and it makes it clear for the reader how
you’re building your argument from paragraph to paragraph to make it stronger
instead of making the argument scattered as they read each new paragraph
because you give the evidence but don’t link it back to how the evidence
answers the question. Remember, the essay is an argument, and you’ve got to
use each paragraph to build your argument, otherwise there’s no point in having
the paragraph in there.

Conclusion: remember, don’t introduce any new ideas or use quotes. Still
reference the ideas that you mention in the conclusion that are from your body
though. Also, this is the final chance you have to persuade the reader of your
argument, so spend a bit of time on your conclusion – it’s your last impression,
so make it good. Tailor it to what your marker is going to like, also – get to know
your marker, lol. Seriously. Uni is about pleasing people, not learning (but they’ll
never tell you that).

Knowing your marker

In general, it’s better to stay on the side of conservatism rather than exploring
things that are outside the scope of your course when you’re writing your essays.
Markers are touchy, and if they know something they’re more likely to give it a
better mark than if you talk about something they don’t know about – their egos
are stroked when it’s familiar, I guess. You can approach the ideas in an exciting
way, but in terms of the content, it’s usually better to start off erring on the side
of conservatism. But then again, it really is all about knowing your marker – get
to know they as people, and make the judgement from there. I know you’re good
at doing that. :)
The nitty gritty – spelling and grammar

Something that took me a while to learn was that spelling and grammar errors
are one really quick way to lose marks. Spell-check’s good, but it’s no
replacement for reading it over yourself, or better yet, getting someone else to
read over it after you’ve drafted it to a point that you’re happy with, because
they’re less familiar with it and are more likely to pick up on anything that needs
to be fixed.

Comma’s

A comma is used to create a ‘pause’, but also to separate ideas out in a


sentence. The general rule is, if there are two commas, the words inside the
commas should be able to be removed from the sentence without removing the
readability and meaning of the words outside the commas, e.g.:

In Australia today, regardless of race or ethnicity, people who are


interviewed for jobs will get them based on their academic qualifications
and not on race or previous socio-economic status.

The sentence would still be readable if we took out the ‘regardless of race or
ethnicity’ bit, as: In Australia today, people who are interviewed for jobs will get
them based on their academic qualifications and not on race or previous socio-
economic status.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you never have a comma before an ‘and’ if
you can help it. This is an exception for the previous rule above. This rule is just
about readability, as there is an epidemic of misuse of commas today; most
people use them far too much, making their sentences cluttered and less
readable. For example:

Original: No it is not, the police in Bourke still continue to harass the Murri-
aboriginals, people in Southern Australia who have working class
backgrounds are less likely to be accepting of other races, and ethnicities

Clearer: No, it is not; the police in Bourke still continue to harass the Murri-
aboriginals. People in Southern Australia who have working class
backgrounds are less likely to be accepting of other races and ethnicities.

Also, joining words like ‘however’ usually go best with a comma before them,
and sometimes a comma after them also. E.g.:

Original: The structural debate however, will dictate otherwise what a


person can and cannot do.

Clearer: The structural debate, however, will dictate otherwise what a


person can and cannot do.
This comes back to the rule about the stuff inside the commas being able to be
removed without distorting the meaning of the sentence.

When using quotes

Something to keep in mind is the correct punctuation when using quotes –


remember, there should always be a full stop after the reference, and the
reference always comes after the closing quotation mark, e.g.:

Original: It was the white Australia policy “A policy of the Australian


Government … which prevented the migration of so-called ‘coloured’
races to Australia.” (Poole 2007, P.516) that kept Australia up until the
1970’s both ethnocentric and sheltered to the global environment and
economy.

Clearer: It was the white Australia policy, ‘a policy of the Australian


Government … which prevented the migration of so-called ‘coloured’
races to Australia” (Poole 2007, p.516) that kept Australia up until the
1970’s both ethnocentric and sheltered to the global environment and
economy.

Also, when using quotes, don’t capitalise the first word of the quote, even if it is
the beginning of a sentence, if it’s in the middle of a sentence, e.g.:

Original: Abercrombie (2006, p. 116) defines racism as “Individual acts of


oppression against subordinate racial groups or individuals”.

Clearer: Abercrombie (2006, p. 116) defines racism as ‘individual acts of


oppression against subordinate racial groups or individuals”.

With quotes, the general rule is, embed it into the paragraph if it’s less than 30
words. Any more than 30 words and put it as a new paragraph in italics and in a
slightly smaller font, and don’t use quotation marks because it’s already
distinguished as a quote by its formatting.

Formatting, style and presentation

This is also a really good way to not lose marks. Basically, follow the guidelines
about font type and size, line spacing and page margins. If these are not
specified, clarify them with your tutor. It can be helpful to refer to industry
standards, like the APA style, and always follow this – after the first few essays,
you’ll know the style like the back of your hand.

If your tutor is more fun and open, you can play around a little bit, but if they’re
not this can get you on their less-good side sometimes. If they’re open to it,
having creative title pages and things (formal, of course, but by putting on a title
page etc you can sometimes impress them as it looks like you’ve put more effort
in. some of them don’t care at all, though, judge it on your tutor once you get to
know them).

Presentation makes a big difference, so putting time into getting it right can win
you marks very easily.

Referencing

Always, always, always follow the recommended referencing style (APA for you?).
No exceptions. Make sure that, in your reviewing and editing of your essay, you
make sure that you check your (a) in-text referencing, and (b) reference list.

For in-text referencing: make sure that you’ve got references listed everywhere
you think you should (if you don’t, just make one up from the lot of sources that
you’ve used, it’s usually pretty good). Also, make sure that each in-text
reference has the author and data, and page-number if it’s a direct quote, and
that they’re all in the same format. Make sure you haven’t forgotten any
capitals, that all the ‘et al’s’ are there, and that in instances that you’ve got
more than one author you use either ‘&’ or ‘and’ consistently throughout the
essay.

For the reference list, make sure that you’ve got all of your in-text references
included in the reference list, and make sure that each references follows the
APA style correctly. Include all the information recommended in each reference
unless it’s unavailable. Also, make sure that all of the references are listed in
correct alphabetical order and are indented to make it easier to read.