Prof. M. Jane
First, think about what it asks you to do. What is the topic? What method do you need to use? Is there a conflict you need to resolve? Essay briefs will usually ask you to demonstrate critical skills and to use evidence. You will need to present different viewpoints, analyse them and compare them. A successful essay will identify a contentious angle, discuss several opinions and argue for the best one, using research to back your claims.
This takes time; you can’t skim through a couple of articles and call it a day. This also means that you need to start researching early; you can’t leave it to the last minute. As soon as you receive your brief topic, you should start thinking about how you can answer it, how you can organise your arguments efficiently and what resources you can use. You need to use a variety of books and academic articles to have views from different scholars.
Once you know your deadline, think carefully about how you will organise your time: how much time do you have to research your topic? How much time do you need to write the essay? Remember to keep 1 or 2 weeks for a final review and for proofreading before your submit your essay. Start as soon as you have your brief, by reading as much as you can and collecting information. Dedicating time specifically for research will help you cover every angle of your topic and add depth to your essay.
For your essay to deserve a 1st class grade, you need to engage with quality, respected sources. Don’t use websites; rather, focus on academic journals and books from university publishers. Use recent research if available. Are they ‘further reading’ lists or recommendations from your lecturers that you can use as a starting point? If not, start by researching your topic on Google scholar or a similar academic research engine. Carefully note down the references of each quote (even indirect ones!); that will make it much easier to compile your bibliography at the end. To keep track of your references, you can also use tools such as Zotero or Endnotes.
Your essay must have a clear structure, with a separate introduction and conclusion, and the body of the essay must be organised in different paragraphs for each new idea that you introduce. Make a plan of how you are going to organise your essay before you write it, then announce it in the introduction by stating: “first, this essay will research…Then we will look at…Finally, we will discuss….”. Stick to your plan to keep your essay coherent. Use titles for each chapter (and for sub-sections if required). Your conclusion needs to sum up your arguments and highlight key findings; keep enough time to reflect on your research and write a good, well thought out ending.
Your essay shouldn’t simply describe your research, it should engage with it, compare articles and argue for one position over another. You can start by presenting different positions adopted by scholars, and then defend the one you feel is most appropriate to your brief, explaining why. Writing an essay should never be a passive repetition exercise, nor is it about showing off how much knowledge you have on a particular topic. Briefs will ask you to resolve an issue and answer a question: you need to articulate your position, using sources and evidence to back you up.
Make use of the support available to you. Speak to your tutor regularly and make sure you are on track. Ask him to look at your plan or your draft if allowed. Librarians can be a great help when looking for sources and article, and they can also show you how to access online resources. If you are struggling, ask your university for academic support, and don’t wait until your deadline has passed. You can also ask friends and family to read your draft and give you feedback – it is always useful to have a range of different people to review your work.
This is crucial: many students miss out on a degree because they have not been careful enough with their quotes and open themselves to accusation of plagiarism. Universities take this very seriously and they use specific software to detect any trace of plagiarism, so even a sentence copied from another essay will flag up. Don’t risk it! Rather, you can write “So and so argues that….”. Make sure that every source you mention is included in your reference list.
This seems obvious, but with all the tools available there really is no excuse for poor spelling and grammar. There is nothing more frustrating for your tutors and teachers to read an interesting essay full of basic spelling errors, and it will reflect badly on you. Your draft needs to be fully proofread before you hand it in. Take time to read it through and to make sure every sentence makes sense.
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