TIPS FOR WRITING AN EXCELLENT UNIVERSITY ESSAY
What does an academic Essay mean?
An academic essay is a piece of writing, usually from an author’s personal point of view. Essays are non-fictional but often subjective; while expository, they can also include narrative. Essays can be literary political manifestos, criticism, and learned arguments, recollections, observations of daily life and reflections of the author.
The definition of an essay is vague, overlapping with those of an article and a short story. Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays (A very good example is Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man).
While brevity usually defines an essay, voluminous works like John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population provide counterexamples.
1) Interpreting Essay Questions
So, you’ve been given an essay question and you’re not sure where to begin?
These guides will essential aid you understand how to gain a better understanding of your essay question.
The first step with an essay question is to identify what exactly you are being asked to do. Most essay questions contain directives as to what is required, and the most common ones are defined below:
Common essay questions:
- Account for: Clarify, explain and give reasons.
- Assess: Determine the value of, weigh up (similar to evaluate).
- Analyse: Resolve into component parts. Examine minutely and critically.
- Criticise: Make judgments (backed by the discussion of the evidence or reasoning involved).
- Compare: Look for differences and similarities between, perhaps reach conclusions about which is preferable Contrast Set in opposition in order to bring out the differences.
- Describe: Give a detailed or graphic account.
- Define: State the exact meaning of a word or phrase. Sometimes it could be desirable or necessary to study different possible meanings or often used definitions.
- Discuss: Explain, and then give two or more sides of the question and any implications.
- Explain: Make plain, interpret and account for, give reasons.
- Evaluate: Make an appraisal of the validity or worth or effectiveness of something in the light of its truth or usefulness (similar to assess).
- How far.?: Determine to what extent – usually this requires looking at arguments for or evidence or against, and weighing them up.
- Interpret: Explain the meaning of, make clear and explicit, and usually giving judgment.
- Illustrate: Make clear and explicit. Use distinctively chosen examples.
- Justify: Show adequate grounds for decisions or conclusions, answer the main objection likely to be made about them.
- Outline: Give the main features or general principles of the subject, omitting minor details and emphasising structure and argument (similar to summarise).
- Summarise: Give a concise, clear explanation or account of – present the chief factors and omit minor details and examples (similar to outline).
- State: Present in a brief, clear form.
(Source: Open University: Assessment Guide 1, W100)
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THE FIVE-PARAGRAPH ESSAY
A lot of students’ first exposure to the genre is the five paragraph essay, a highly structured form requiring an introduction presenting the thesis statement; three body paragraphs, each of which presents an idea to support the thesis together with supporting evidence and quotations; and a conclusion, which restates the thesis and summarizes the supporting points.
Lengthier academic essay (often with a word limit of between 2,000 to 6,000 words) are often more discursive. They sometimes begin with a short summary analysis of what has previously been written on a topic, which is often called a literature review.
Lengthier essay may also be composed of an introductory page in which words and phrases from the title are closely defined. Most academic institutions will require that all substantial facts, quotations, and other supporting material used in an essay be referenced in a bibliography at the end of the text. This scholarly convention allows others (whether teachers or fellow scholars) to understand the basis of the facts and quotations used to support the essay’s argument, and thereby help to evaluate to what extent the argument is supported by evidence, and to evaluate the quality of that evidence. The academic essay tests the student’s ability to present their thoughts in an organised way and tests their intellectual capabilities. Some types of essays are: