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About this book

This indispensable guide takes students through each step of the essay writing process, enabling them to tackle written assignments with confidence. Students will develop their ability to analyse complex concepts, evaluate and critically engage with arguments, communicate their ideas clearly and concisely and generate more ideas of their own.

Chapters are short and succinct and cover topics such as reading purposefully, note-taking, essay writing in exams and avoiding plagiarism. Packed with practical activities and handy hints which students can apply to their own writing, this is an ideal resource for students looking to improve the quality and clarity of their academic writing.

This book will be a source of guidance and inspiration for students of all disciplines and levels who need to write essays as part of their course.

Table of Contents

Interpretation of the Question

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Revealing the Structure

Abstract
Obviously it’s important to realise that you’re not embarking on a piece of open-ended research. You’re answering a particular question that raises particular sharply focused issues. You must, therefore, be rigorously selective in collecting your material in the research stage, and in planning and writing the essay. You should use only material that is relevant to answering this question. There are times in the research of every essay when you find yourself collecting material that is interesting and so closely argued that you find it difficult not to take notes from all of it, particularly when it’s relevant to the wider implications of the topic. But if it’s not relevant to the problems raised in this essay, ditch it! File it away for other essays, by all means, but don’t let it tempt you in this essay. Otherwise your writing will lose focus and the reader will fail to understand what you’re doing and why. With these warnings in mind, it’s essential to pin down two things: how many parts there are to the question and what weight you will need to give to each part. With many questions these structural problems can be solved by analysing the key concepts used in the question. Indeed, in most, if you fail to do this, the examiners will deduct marks: they will expect to see you show that you can analyse difficult abstract concepts and allow this to influence, if not determine, the structure of the essay.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 2. A Practical Example

Abstract
Despite what we said in the previous chapter, there will still be those who ask, ‘But why can’t we just look up the meaning of these words in a dictionary, rather than go through the process of analysis?’ And, of course, they’re right: with some words this is all you need to do. What you might describe as ‘closed concepts’ usually have an unchanging, unambiguous meaning. Words like ‘bicycle’, ‘bachelor’ and ‘triangle’ each have a structure to their meaning, which is bound by logical necessity. We all agree to abide by certain conventions that rule the meaning of these words. So, if you were to say ‘this is a bicycle with one wheel’, or ‘this triangle has four sides’, no one would be in any doubt that you had made a logical mistake. When we use these words according to their conventions we are, in effect, allowing our understanding of the world to be structured in a particular way. But with ‘open concepts’ it tends to be the reverse: our experience of the world shapes our concepts. As a result, such words cannot be pinned down just by looking them up in a dictionary. Their meaning responds to and reflects our changing experience: they change through time and from one culture to another. A dictionary definition, then, can only ever be a single snapshot taken in a constantly moving reel of images.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 3. Learning to Analyse

Abstract
Of course, not all the questions you tackle will offer up their concepts so easily as the authority/power question. In many of them the concept will hide, lurking behind the most innocent word. And in some questions it will be difficult to decide whether it’s worth analysing the concept at all – it may not be central to the issues the question raises, taking you in a direction that’s irrelevant. In these cases you just have to take the concept and analyse it carefully to see what’s there. In most questions you’ll find that by doing this you will open up a treasure house of all sorts of ideas you can use. The question just seems to unfold before your eyes and you know exactly the arguments to pursue and the research you need to do. But, obviously, the key to this is to learn to analyse the concepts well. Of all the thinking skills we use this is the most neglected, even though it’s probably the most useful. Without it we have no means of seeing a problem clearly, so that we can use our creative abilities to fashion a solution. Similarly, we have no means of seeing what it is about an argument that we dislike, so we can go on to criticise and improve it. In fact almost every intellectual activity begins with some form of analysis to make it clear what we’re trying to tackle. It gives direction and purpose to our work.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 4. The Three-Step Technique – Steps 1 and 2

Abstract
In Step 1 of the three-step technique for analysing concepts we gather the evidence: the examples of the concept we want to analyse. Then, in Step 2, we analyse these examples to extract a common pattern of characteristics. First, spend some time gathering the evidence. With the idea of ‘advertisement’ clearly in your mind, list what you think might be five or six of the most typical examples. Try to make them as different as possible. Avoid those for the same type of product or service, the same producer, and the same medium through which they are advertised. In this way you’ll be able to strip away their differences to reveal more clearly their essential similarities. Now, using these examples, create your concept. In other words, analyse the common characteristics in each of your examples, isolating them so that you can then put them together to form the concept. This is one of those things we all know how to do, but most of us would be hard pressed to explain just how we do it. In effect it’s simple pattern recognition. By recognising the common pattern of characteristics that each example possesses, we visualise what the concept might look like that underlies all the examples. It’s always surprising how many people are willing to argue that they don’t know how to do this, and that they’ve never done it in their lives, even though it’s something they do every day, almost without thinking. When it comes to the advertising question there are always a sizeable number of students who claim they know nothing about advertising – certainly not enough to analyse the concept into its essential characteristics.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 5. Creating Your Own Concept

Abstract
Most students have no difficulty creating the concept of an ‘olic’ as we did in the previous chapter, yet when they come to create a concept in their academic work it seems altogether more difficult and technical, requiring skills that only a few possess. This is simply not the case. So, before we move on to Step 3 in the three-step technique, let’s examine exactly what we do to gather our typical examples and then analyse their common characteristics to create the concept. You should then be able to use the same process confidently in your academic work. Imagine meeting up with a friend for coffee. She arrives late looking quite flustered, so you ask her what’s wrong. She tells you that a tragedy has just occurred: she has broken the heel on one of her new shoes. To put this into some perspective you might argue that, if she thinks about it carefully, she’ll find it’s hardly a ‘tragedy’. You might then define what you think a tragedy is by thinking up examples and pointing out their common characteristics. We do exactly the same in our academic work. In fact the concept of ‘tragedy’ itself could arise in essay questions in a range of disciplines from English literature, history and philosophy to psychology, social work, economics and politics: As we’ve already seen, the key to questions like these is to analyse the implications of the concept and for this we need to think of examples in the same way. So, how do we think of examples? If you find this difficult, start by asking yourself three questions.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 6. Step 3 – Test Your Concept

Abstract
Now that you have your concept clearly analysed in a structure, it’s time to test it. You may have the overall structure broadly right, but there may be details that are wrong, or subtle distinctions you haven’t seen. By testing your concept you will shake out those characteristics that are essential and ditch those that are only accidental to it. In the process you will have sharpened up your understanding of the core characteristics. As a result you will have a fairly well-defined structure to catch the relevant ideas and evidence as you research the topic, and for most questions you will probably find that you already have the broad structure on which you will be able to build the plan of your essay. To test your concept of advertising in this way you need only take some simple, but quite deliberate, steps. Using the structure below you can follow what we are doing in each of these tests as we work through them. First, with the structure of your concept in front of you try to think of a borderline case, an example of advertising that doesn’t fit comfortably within it, because either it doesn’t have features that are in your structure, or it has others that are absent from it. Our objective is to identify all those features in our structure that are merely accidental. In the previous chapter we found that a number of our examples could be corralled so that we could abstract the concept from them. This left others that were not such a good fit. In these you are likely to find the examples you need for borderline, contrasting and doubtful cases.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 7. Brainstorming

Abstract
Over the previous six chapters we have seen how important it is to interpret carefully the meaning and implications of questions. Learning to do this well means we’re better able to see the structure our essays should adopt in order to produce a full and relevant answer to the question. What’s more, we’re less likely to overlook the significant, though subtle, issues that might be hidden in the question. Almost inevitably, when we overlook the importance of doing this well, we end up with essays that not only are confusing and poorly organised, but miss the point. In this lies the importance of the three-step technique. It develops those skills you need in order to use your analytical abilities effectively. Once you’ve used it two or three times, you’ll be confident that you can interpret any question whose meaning and implications depend upon a perceptive analysis of its concepts. But, as we saw, there are other reasons why these skills and abilities are so important. If we overlook them we’re likely to disqualify ourselves from the highest marks on offer. Those who mark our essays are likely to assume that we simply haven’t developed that thoughtful, reflective ability to question the assumptions we make when we use language.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 8. Using the Right Ability: Instructional Verbs

Abstract
So far we have seen how important it is to interpret the question carefully, because it tells us the structure our essay should adopt for us to deal relevantly with all the issues it raises. With this clear in our mind we can avoid taking masses of irrelevant notes, which are likely to find their way into our essays, making them irrelevant, shapeless and confusing. This is normally made clear through what are known as ‘instructional verbs’. Given below is a list of short definitions of those most frequently found in questions, which should help you avoid the common problems that arise when you overlook or misinterpret them. However, although we can pin down fairly clearly what each instructional verb means in terms of what we must do in response to the question, there are still some questions that have no obvious instructional verb in them at all. These are the direct or interrogative type of questions, which might ask, ‘Do you agree that …’, ‘To what extent is it true to say that …’, ‘How significant is the claim that …’ or ‘Comment on the view that …’ Clearly these questions are not just asking for a statement of our opinions or comments: they are asking us to discuss the issues and to analyse the different positions that are held on them.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 9. The Abilities Essays Assess

Abstract
It’s at this point that most of our problems in studying begin. Although we will talk about this again later when we come to the writing stage, it’s worth confronting it twice, so important is the problem. Most students at university are handicapped in one form or another by the restricted notion of education they bring with them. Unfortunately, we spend most of our time in schools believing that education is largely about ‘knowing things’ – that studying a subject involves just learning the facts dispensed by authorities, such as teachers and textbooks. A clever person, we’re led to believe, is one who can remember a vast number of isolated facts. This perception of education is reinforced not just by the syllabuses we study, the examinations we take and the teaching styles of some of our teachers, but by a whole range of social and cultural conventions, not least the ever popular TV quiz show, in which contestants are asked to recall isolated items of information. The result is that we all assume a passive style of learning. We sit silently in class absorbing the truths, the right answers that we come to believe should be our paramount concern. The teacher dictates while we silently note. The best students, then, are those who are quiet, who patiently and uncritically record word for word all that the teacher says.
Bryan Greetham

Research

Frontmatter

Chapter 10. Using our Study Skills Effectively

Abstract
In the previous chapter we examined the assumptions we need to adopt about the purpose of learning tasks like essay writing. In the light of these, it should be obvious that we now need a new pattern of study – we need to use our study skills differently, in a more effective way for the tasks we’re set. If we don’t, if we retain the assumption that education is exclusively about ‘knowing things’, then certain things will follow. When we start to research an essay, we will be cursed with the sort of problems of which most of us are all too aware. In our note-taking we will continue to argue, quite reasonably on these misplaced assumptions, that when we take notes in tutorials, seminars and lectures, or from the source material we use for research, we cannot leave anything out, because these are the facts, the right answers, and if we omit them we will not have all the facts we need to pass the examination. As a result we take vast quantities of verbatim notes. Even worse, they’re unstructured, because all we’re doing is recording them accurately – we’re not processing them in any way for fear of getting them wrong. Consequently, we’re left with masses of unusable notes, most of them irrelevant to the essays we are set and the questions we’re going to have to answer in the examination.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 11. Reading Purposefully

Abstract
Having got our own ideas down on paper, the concepts analysed and a clear idea of what we’re looking for, we are now in a position to begin our research, confident that we can identify what’s relevant and what’s not. But before you hit the books, a warning! It’s all too easy to pick up a pile of books that appear vaguely useful and browse among them. This might be enjoyable, and you might learn something, but it will hardly help you get your essay written. Now that you’ve interpreted the question and brainstormed the issues, you have a number of questions and topics you want to pursue. You are now in a position to ask clear questions as you read the books and the other materials you’ve decided to use in your research. Nevertheless, before you begin you need to pin down exactly the sections of each book that are relevant to your research. Very few of the books you use will you read from cover to cover. With this in mind, you need to consult the contents and index pages in order to locate those pages that deal with the questions and issues you’re interested in. For most books this is all you will need to do. However, there are those books that have very misleading chapter titles, which tell you little about the content of each chapter. The same books may also have a short and unhelpful index. In this case you’ll find it helpful to read the first paragraph of each chapter, where the authors explain what they will be doing in this chapter, and then the last paragraph, where they explain how they’ve done it.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 12. Processing the Ideas

Abstract
Ultimately, the quality of the work we produce will depend upon the quality of our internal processing of the ideas we read. There are ‘surface-level processors’, who read passively, that is without actively analysing and structuring what they read, and without criticising and evaluating the arguments, evidence and ideas the author presents. In most cases this sort of student will have poor recall of what they read, and in general they will be restricted to just ‘describing’ the ideas. If the question asks them to ‘evaluate’ or ‘assess critically’ a certain claim, they will, more often than not, find themselves answering the question irrelevantly, employing the lower ability range, in which they merely ‘describe’ an argument or ‘outline’ a particular case. As we have seen, this is a mistake that derives from overlooking the importance of the instructional verbs. But more often than not it has its origin in a reading habit that drives students into the lower ability range, when they least want to be there. To avoid this problem, and to ensure that you’re able to do ‘deep-level processing’, it may be necessary to accept that you need to do two or three readings of the text, particularly if it is technical and closely argued.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 13. Note-taking for Analysis and Structure

Abstract
By now, no doubt, you will have realised that for each of these different levels of processing (analysis/structure, and criticism/evaluation) there is the most effective note-taking strategy. Of course, this should come as no surprise. It endorses what we’ve said a number of times already, that flexibility and choosing the most effective strategy is the key to good essay writing. Nevertheless, there will always be a text or an article which seems to fall between the two strategies, neither of which alone seems to do the job we want to do. On these occasions I find myself taking the highly structured linear notes first, and then creating a set of pattern notes to give me a broad overview of the issues involved. In this way you can get around the problem of seeing nothing but detail – of not being able to see the wood for the trees. As we’ve already discovered, our aim here is to identify and extract the hierarchy of ideas, a process which involves selecting and rejecting material according to its relevance and importance. Although by now this sounds obvious, it’s surprising how many students neglect it or just do it badly. As with most study skills, few of us are ever shown how best to structure our thoughts on paper. Yet there are simple systems we can all learn.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 14. Remembering Your Notes

Abstract
The key to good note-taking is to make the structure clear. The mind remembers structures, not lists or paragraphs of continuous prose. So, keep it free and uncluttered. Don’t convince yourself that unless you include this one fact you’ll never remember it. You will. The structure will act as a net bringing to the surface of your mind more than you ever thought you could remember. But it has to be a good net – well constructed, with clear logical connections and free of all unnecessary material. Nevertheless, as your tutors have no doubt told you, although these abbreviations are indispensable in compiling clear, concise notes, they shouldn’t find their way into the final draft of your essay. If you’ve left sufficient time between reading the text the first time for comprehension, and then reading it for structure, you’re more likely to have a clear, uncluttered set of notes free from all unnecessary material. You’ll certainly be free of that most time-consuming of activities, taking notes on notes, which many of us are forced to do because our notes are not concise enough in the first place. Unfortunately, there are many students, even at university, who convince themselves that this is a valuable thing to do; that it’s a way of learning their notes if they rewrite them more concisely. They seem to believe that by committing their notes to paper they’re committing them to their minds, whereas, in fact, they’re doing anything but that.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 15. Note-taking for Criticism and Evaluation

Abstract
Obviously, our ability to discuss and criticise the implications of arguments depends first on the skills needed to lay bare their structure: to isolate clearly the points for and against, so that we can enter into the discussion more confidently. But we also need a note-taking strategy that will allow us to go one step further and record our own arguments and criticisms in the body of the notes. Unfortunately, many of us never get to the stage of being able to criticise and evaluate an author’s arguments, because we’re handicapped by note-taking skills which condemn us to many hours of patient toil, taking irrelevant, verbatim notes. In effect, by ignoring these questions we’ve failed to preview any passage we’re likely to read when we undertake our research. As a result we’re going in blind. We have little idea of the important issues raised by the question and, consequently, we don’t really know what we’re looking for.Equally important, because we haven’t declared what we know and think about the issues, we have no way of grafting onto our own understanding the ideas we’re about to read and consider. Not surprisingly, then, they will always appear to be somebody else’s.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 16. Thinking and Reading Critically

Abstract
We all make mistakes when we write, no matter who we are. We fail to apply elementary tests of logic to determine whether one idea does in fact lead to another. We rely on partial, untested evidence. And we use language in a misleading, inconsistent way without reflecting on its hidden implications. These three types of mistake cover virtually all of the points of criticism you need to identify as you read, so develop the habit of checking for them routinely. Qualifiers are the words we use to indicate the strength of our claims, words like ‘some’, ‘all’, ‘few’, ‘every’ and ‘never’. If an author claims that ‘most’ people agree about something, he cannot then conclude that ‘all’ people agree about it. In many cases the mistake is made more difficult to spot because authors hide their qualifiers. An author might report that researchers have found that older drivers are safer than younger ones. He might then argue that because Philip is older than Mark he is a safer driver. But the researchers might have meant that it is only true in ‘most’ cases, whereas the author has argued that it is ‘always’ true and, therefore, it must be true in the cases of Philip and Mark.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 17. Note-taking for Creativity

Abstract
As we have seen, all of these different strategies for note-taking and reading are designed to get the best out of our abilities. Indeed, most of us have abilities we have barely used before. In order to get at these, you’ve probably experimented with different ways of note-taking and planning your essays to find a method that suits you. But, as we’ve seen, the key to it is to be flexible. Choose note-taking, planning and reading strategies that are the most effective for the job you have to do. This way you will find the right key that will unlock your abilities. Don’t just stick to one strategy that you’ve always used even though you know it isn’t always as much help as you would like it to be. This is particularly the case with creative tasks: when we generate our own ideas as in brainstorming and when we plan our essays. One of the most effective note-taking methods for creative work is the method known as ‘pattern notes’, as shown in the examples on pp. 000–000. Rather than starting at the top of the page and working down in a linear form in sentences or lists, you start from the centre with the title of the essay and branch out with your analysis of concepts or other ideas as they form in your mind. The advantage of this method is that it leaves the mind as free as possible to analyse concepts, to make connections and contrasts, and to pursue trains of thought. As you’re restricted to using just single words or simple phrases, you’re not trapped in the unnecessary task of constructing complete sentences.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 18. Organising Your Retrieval System

Abstract
If we are to generate and use more of our own ideas and insights, we will have to spend some time organising an effective research strategy. The key to this is to have a retrieval system that is sufficiently adaptable to catch the material whenever and wherever it shows itself, and then provide us with a means of accessing it easily whenever we want it. Creating such a system isn’t difficult, but it calls for a little imagination and, above all, flexibility. As we’ve already seen with our reading and note-taking, inflexibility can force us into surface-level processing, leaving us dependent on the ideas that our tutors and texts can give us. The same goes for our retrieval system. Unless we choose and organise its various components thoughtfully, we’re likely to lose most of our best ideas, and produce work that is predictable and imitative of the ideas we’ve been given. To put it simply, our system should promote, not frustrate the quality of our work. This is not an unimportant part of our pattern of study, and its influence is never neutral. Get it right and we can find ourselves with an abundance of insightful ideas that are genuinely our own. Get it wrong and our work struggles to rise above the mundane and imitative.
Bryan Greetham

Planning

Frontmatter

Chapter 19. Planning: Getting the Highest Grades

Abstract
After completing the first two stages (interpretation and research), the plan of the essay should now be taking shape within your mind. In many cases it may not be very different from the original pattern notes you generated in the brainstorming session prior to the research. Nevertheless, careful thoughtful planning, in which you rehearse your arguments in as much detail as you can muster, is vital. It will not only improve the structure of your essay, making it more coherent and logical, but it will make the business of writing a lot easier. Indeed, it is always possible to tell the difference between an essay that has been planned and one that hasn’t. Reading somebody else’s work is like entering an unfamiliar city: you can get lost easily, you’re dependent upon others to give you directions and, even worse, you really don’t know why you’re there in the first place, unless somebody else tells you. The plan of the essay, therefore, represents the city map, and the introduction and the ‘topic sentence’ at the beginning of each paragraph (Stage 4) are the writer’s attempt to let readers know where they are being taken, which turnings they will be taking along the way and why.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 20. Editing and Ordering Your Material

Abstract
Planning your essays in this way involves routinely working through two quite distinct stages: editing and ordering your material. Neither of them can be rushed: you must work through them carefully and deliberately. Both call for what you might describe as the personality profile of a military planner: inexhaustible supplies of quiet patience matched by cool ruthlessness. There will be ideas, arguments and evidence with which you have developed a strong emotional bond, but you may have to cut them out and abandon them without a tear if the essay is to succeed. However painful it is to realise that some of the material you’ve worked hard to collect is irrelevant to this essay, you cannot shirk the responsibility. If you do, you will pass on problems to later stages and, if they’re not dealt with there, they will seriously weaken the clarity and logical structure of your essay. By the same token, try to avoid the exhaustive answer in which you try to impress your tutor by putting in everything you know. You’re being assessed on your abilities to interpret issues and make a judgement as to what’s relevant to them. Don’t sacrifice this ability for the chance to impress someone with how much you know.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 21. Revision: Planning for the Exam

Abstract
Prior to the fifteenth century everything had to be memorised: speeches, prayers, sermons, scholarly tracts and, of course, the Bible in its entirety. Then, in the fifteenth century, came the first printed book, the Gutenberg Bible. This was the first external memory. Since then millions of books have been published, including dictionaries and encyclopaedias, and now we have the internet and the various digital forms of external memory. Consequently, we no longer train our natural memories in the way that medieval scholars used to do. According to recent surveys a third of British people under 30 can’t remember their own land line number without consulting their smartphones and 30 per cent of adults can’t remember the birthdays of more than three immediate family members. All of our memories are bound together in webs of association, clear structures of interconnected ideas. We remember things in context as part of a structure: we are pattern thinkers. We struggle to remember isolated items, like those on a simple, unstructured list. Numerous psychological experiments have shown that, on average, the longest sequence of things a normal person can recall is about seven items. So, to recall information we need to create clear structures. The more tightly we can embed information in a familiar structure of ideas, the more likely we are to remember it.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 22. Exam Technique: Planning in the Exam

Abstract
By the time we get to the examination it’s not unreasonable to think that we have done everything we can do in terms of revision and preparation, and now it’s just a matter of performing well on the day. But that’s not exactly the case. Our approach to the exam and the way we organise ourselves to set about answering the questions will make a significant difference to our performance. At the heart of this, affecting everything we do, is the importance of planning each essay that we have to write. If planning is vital for the writing of an essay you complete in your own time, it is even more important for your performance under timed conditions. Some students claim they simply haven’t got sufficient time in the exam to plan for five to ten minutes for each essay. Yet if you observe their behaviour during the exam it becomes clear they still have to plan, but in the least effective way. They will head straight into the essay without much deliberation, then they will stop at the end of the first paragraph to think about what they will do in the next paragraph. One to two minutes might pass before they head off again into their work, only to stop again for more thought to decide what they will do next. This happens, say, seven or eight times for each essay, amounting to 12 to 15 minutes of planning on the run.
Bryan Greetham

Writing

Frontmatter

Chapter 23. Finding Your Own Voice

Abstract
Finding your own voice appears to be an act of deep introspection. In one sense, of course, it is. It involves reclaiming your mental space and the unique way in which you express your ideas from all those who pull you one way and another with their advice. It will bring a lightness of touch to your expression, a naturalness to your writing, nearer to the spoken word, that will help you to present your ideas and develop your arguments clearly, simply and economically. As all writers will tell you, once you have found it, never let it go. The simplest way of reclaiming this territory is to get into the routine of regularly writing to yourself in your journal. As you know that you are the only person who will read it, you can develop your ideas with fewer restraints and explore the writer that has always been there in the shadows. Here you are likely to discover a mind that is perceptive, witty and intelligent. And then, after a few weeks of doing this, your own voice will begin to find its way into your essays. This works because we know our audience; we can envisage our reader, whom we can trust as a friendly critic. By contrast, in academic writing our ideas are aimed at some unknown, anonymous reader, which encourages us to adopt a more universal, less personal form of communication.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 24. Suspending Your Judgement

Abstract
These are the abilities to analyse concepts and arguments, to play devil’s advocate and synthesise ideas and evidence from different sources to create new ways of looking at a problem, to construct consistent arguments, and to discuss and critically evaluate ideas and arguments. But to use these abilities we must have the opportunity to think and for this we must suspend our judgement: things must be up for grabs. As Paul Tillich once said, ‘The passion for truth is silenced by answers which have the weight of undisputed authority.’1 Once we accept something as true, there is nothing more to think about, nothing more to discuss. Therefore, there is no opportunity to use our higher cognitive abilities to analyse, synthesise and evaluate. The same is true if you assume that essays are simply about making up your mind before you start writing and then defending that point of view. You no longer suspend your judgement and, consequently, you stop thinking: you close down your higher cognitive abilities. Having to think about a proposition is to accept that there is doubt about it – that the discussion has not ended with one point of view prevailing. Instead, it is up for grabs and we must explore all the alternatives, critically evaluate all the competing evidence and arguments, and analyse the important concepts that shape the problem.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 25. Introductions

Abstract
There are very few students who wouldn’t list introductions as one of the most difficult aspects of writing an essay. Much of this is due to the fact that most of us are unsure about what we should be doing in the introduction. If we don’t know why we’re doing something, what we’re trying to achieve, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find that we’re not particularly good at it. But there’s another reason why most of us are not good at writing introductions: we neglect Stages 1 and 3 (Interpretation and Planning). If we have very little idea what we’re going to be writing, it’s difficult to do a good job of introducing it. However, even with a clear interpretation of the question and a well-structured plan it can be a problem, unless you set simple and clear objectives that you want your introduction to fulfil. The first question readers are going to ask themselves as soon as they begin to read your essay, before they even consider anything else, is ‘Has the writer seen the point of the question?’ In two or three sentences you need to outline the main issues raised by the question, which you will have uncovered in the interpretation stage.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 26. Paragraphs – Topic Sentences

Abstract
Most students struggle with the problem of how to build the structure of their arguments in their essay. Now that you have outlined the plan of your essay in the introduction with the broad map of what is to follow, you can begin to build the structure of your arguments more confidently. Yet still, this depends upon knowing how to construct each paragraph so that you develop in your essay the tautness of a well-planned, cohesive piece of reasoning. Often essays fail because they read like a loose list of isolated paragraphs each dependent upon itself, and not supported by those that preceded it. To avoid this, tie your paragraphs in with the major issues you identified in your introduction as being central to the question. You will be picking these issues up anyway as you follow the structure of your plan, but as you do so make it clear to the reader that you are following the map you outlined in your introduction. In this way you not only maintain relevance throughout, but by tying each paragraph in with the introduction you create a cohesive piece of work. Its structure will be taut, giving the essay the feel of being well organised and tightly reasoned.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 27. Paragraphs – Development and Evidence

Abstract
Once you’ve established in the topic sentence the relevance of the topic you’re going to be dealing with in the paragraph, tutors can get down to assessing the quality of your work. It is here, in the development, that you show your tutor that you are capable of the sort of intellectual processing that was called for in the question by the ‘instructional verb’ (see Chapter 8). At this point it’s worth reminding ourselves of the issues we raised when we first examined this. You’ll remember we pointed out that all syllabuses are written in the context of six ‘cognitive domains’ – six intellectual abilities, ranging from the simplest, ‘recall’, to the more complex abilities, such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Again, as we pointed out then, most of our problems, both in writing and in our study skills, begin here. We wrongly assume that education is exclusively concerned with the possession of knowledge, so we aim to produce evidence in our writing that we know a great deal, that we have good recall, the simplest ability, whereas we should be exercising the more complex abilities to analyse, to criticise, to synthesise ideas and evidence, and to evaluate arguments.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 28. Conclusions

Abstract
Although many people list introductions as the most difficult part of writing an essay, conclusions must come a close second, whereas, in fact, it should be the easiest of the three parts out of introductions, paragraphs and conclusions. Having got your readers safely to this point without losing them or confusing them as to the relevance of your arguments, there is little you can do now to weaken your work. Nevertheless, there are still problems we should avoid. As we’ve seen with other aspects of essay writing, the source of many of these problems is that we are simply unsure what we should do in a conclusion, and if we’re not clear what we’re doing we are unlikely to do it well. Some students are convinced they must finish on an upbeat note, with a clear, firm declaration of their opinion. If the question asks for your opinion, they argue, you must give it. The problem with this is that such a declaration of opinion may just come completely out of the blue. The essay may be full of the most skilful analysis and discussion of the problems, leaving you with no clear grounds for absolute certainty one way or the other. Therefore, to make a clear statement of your opinion, showing no doubt or uncertainty, would be inappropriate.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 29. Style – Simplicity 1: Sentences

Abstract
When some students reach this stage, all too often they’re ready just to shrug their shoulders and give up on their writing, dismissing it despairingly with the words, ‘I just haven’t got a very good style, that’s all!’, as if this was somehow God-given, encoded into our DNA. It probably comes from our early schooling when children were given prizes for their compositions, and from that moment on we came to believe the world is somehow divided between those who have writing talent and those who have not – and there’s not a thing we can do about it. But this is just not so. There is much we can do to improve our style. The simplest thing is just to read more: the more literature we read, the better our style. Like the process of photosynthesis it filters down through our consciousness, enriching our thought processes and sharpening our use of words without us being aware that anything significant is happening. Get into the habit of reading well-written novels, so that you’re always in the middle of reading one. Just 15 to 20 minutes a night before you go to sleep will in time have a marked impact on your writing.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 30. Style – Simplicity 2: Words

Abstract
The same problems that make sentences difficult reappear in our use of words. We believe that as we advance to higher levels of learning we will need to use more complex, even abstruse, language. And it’s true that as we graduate from one level to another we will be expected to use and explore more complex ideas and concepts, and these will demand a more subtle use of language and a more careful and deliberate choice of words and phrases. Clearly, words like ‘nice’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are inadequate vehicles for conveying subtle distinctions and for all but the crudest of meanings. But this doesn’t mean that we’re driven to using a plethora of multi-syllabled words or the most convoluted sentences that conceal more than they reveal. This can give rise to all sorts of problems, not least the use of jargon and other words that are empty of real meaning. The following sentences illustrate this. The first is taken from a student’s essay, and the second, ironically, is drawn from material for a course on talking and writing. Negative feedback brings about an opposite action as a consequence of having sampled the output through the feedback loop. Concepts and the language that infuses and implements them give power and strategy to cognitive activity.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 31. Style – Economy

Abstract
In the previous two chapters we examined the importance of simplicity in our writing, the first of the two elements of style. This brings us to the need for economy. Once you’ve thought your ideas through and planned them carefully, your major concern thereafter should be to express them clearly, concisely, with an economical use of words. In this lies the essence of what most of us understand by ‘style’ – what the Reverend Samuel Wesley once described as ‘the dress of thought; a modest dress, neat, but not gaudy’. Even so, many students still find it difficult to abandon the belief that somehow a good style is full of superfluous flourishes and ‘tasteful’ affectation. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the Reverend Wesley rightly points out, a good writing style is elegant, but not ostentatious. Each component of a sentence should have a reason for being there: it should have a clearly defined function. There should be no wasted effort: no unnecessary words or phrases that obscure the meaning of the sentence. Otherwise the clarity of your thought will be lost, leaving the reader wondering what it all means.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 32. Style – the Dos and Don’ts

Abstract
All of what we said in the last chapter makes sense in general terms – it gives us a clear idea of what we need to do throughout our work to avoid heavy, unreadable prose. But it still helps to have some simple practical rules by our side to help us produce work that is light, concise and interesting; work that grabs the reader’s attention and keeps it to the end of the essay. To help you do this, try using the list below as a simple practical guide. It may not be possible to apply each rule all at once; you might need to concentrate on two or three of them, until they become established. Then you can move on to the others, until you’re applying all of them in every piece of work. But you must try to keep your inner editor at bay as you write, so you can release your creativity. If you find the fluency of your writing begins to break up as you check on these things, remind yourself that you’ve still got the safety net of the revision stage. If the short simple word carries the same meaning as the long obscure one, use it, otherwise you’re in danger of producing prose that sounds unnecessarily pompous. But whatever word you choose, your primary concern should be to ensure the meaning is clear – avoid words that are vague, whether short, simple, long or obscure.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 33. Working with Evidence

Abstract
The last two of our seven practical rules for improving our style are concerned with the way we use evidence. Without doubt this is one of the most neglected aspects of our writing. We tend to assume that all we have to do is select our evidence and then insert it into our essay when our arguments need support. Yet the evidence we use serves to do much more than just support and illustrate our arguments. Used thoughtfully, it can help us change the pace of our writing, making our essay more readable. And there is no other component of our essays that can so effectively engage our readers’ empathetic responses. You will find, then, that by looking carefully at the way you use evidence, not only can you make your work more interesting, but you can give it real impact. Choose your words consciously and deliberately to convey accurately the strength of your ideas and the evidence that supports them. As we discovered in Chapter 16, the words that we use to do this are known as ‘Qualifiers’. In the next chapter you will find lists of these that you can use to convey just the right strength when you present your evidence. Often, when we fail to think through our ideas with sufficient care, we’re inclined to see issues in the form of simple absolutes: all/nothing, right/wrong, yes/no. But rarely is there sufficient evidence to support such claims.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 34. Choosing the Best Word

Abstract
In the previous few chapters we have seen how important it is to choose our words carefully. We have stressed the importance of economising our use of words and simplifying our writing to ensure that our arguments are clear and effective. We have also seen how the clarity of our writing improves, if we can avoid the overuse of adjectives and adverbs, relying instead on strong nouns and verbs, and how we can use transitions and qualifiers to create consistent arguments that readers can follow easily. But where can we find these words? Of course, you could always consult a good dictionary or thesaurus, but you need to have some idea what you’re looking for. You could simply copy the style and use of words you find in academic journals, but then you might find yourself reproducing the same problems we have already talked about with the overuse of jargon and the cluttered obscure sentences that are difficult to understand. To help you solve this problem, in this chapter you will learn how to de-clutter your sentences and you will find lists from which you can choose better words to develop your arguments clearly and effectively.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 35. Plagiarism

Abstract
By definition, the research we undertake to write an essay involves us in borrowing material in one form or another. So, before we pack away our notes, relieved that we’ve done most of the hard work, we need to remind ourselves that we have certain ethical responsibilities to meet. We have an obligation to acknowledge all those who have helped us by giving us material in the form of ideas, quotations, figures and anecdotes. Failure to do this will mean we have committed just about the worst form of academic dishonesty. To many students it seems strange to frown upon plagiarism when one of the central purposes of education is to get you to read, understand and then use in your own work the accumulated body of scholarship in your subject. But it is not so much using it that is the problem, but the way we use it. There are two main reasons why it is wrong to plagiarise. The first is ethical. We have a moral obligation to acknowledge anybody who has helped us, particularly when they have invested so much thought and care into their work, which we might otherwise have had to do ourselves.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 36. Referencing and Bibliographies

Abstract
There are a number of systems governing the way we cite references. All seem to insist on their own conventions with the strength of religious fervour. Some insist a comma be used in places where others use a semicolon. Many expect the date of publication to appear at different points and would be scandalised if it appeared elsewhere. So, check with your department to see if they have certain expectations, a system they would like you to use. You might refer to your course guide, or its equivalent. Failing that, ask your tutor. Most tutors won’t mind what system you use as long as it meets three cardinal objectives: it must be clear, accurate and consistent. Remind yourself why you’re doing this: first, to give credit to the author for the original ideas; and second, to give your readers clear and sufficient detail for them to locate the exact reference for themselves. To get the details consistently right, you may find it helpful to use referencing software, like RefWorks or EndNote. This is probably the most well-known system, certainly the most elegant. Each reference is cited in the text by a number, which refers to either a footnote at the bottom of the page, or a list of references at the end of your essay.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 37. Reflective Writing

Abstract
A growing number of courses are asking students to think and write reflectively about their studies and their experience on professional placements. In the past, our education and training led us to believe that useful knowledge comes from just one source: theoretical, academic research, which we then apply in our professional lives. But over recent years we have come to realise the importance of practical knowledge, represented in the patterns of ideas and behaviour that we create as we adapt what we have learnt to meet the demands of the task and circumstances we face. The point worth remembering is that our knowledge and expertise in anything is not just passive, a simple set of templates and rules that we apply; it is dynamic, continually adapting to the context in which it is used. To make the best use of this we need to reflect on what we have learnt. The most obvious characteristic that distinguishes this from the normal essay is that it is more personal.
Bryan Greetham

Revision

Frontmatter

Chapter 38. Preserving Your Best Ideas

Abstract
A surprising number of students still seem quite unaware of just how much the writing stage depends for its success on the revision stage. As we thump the page with our last emphatic full stop there are those of us who breathe a deep sigh of relief that the essay’s finally done, without a thought for revision, beyond a cursory check to see the spelling is all right. But, if nothing else, revision has the effect of freeing your hand, allowing you to write without the burden of knowing you have to produce the final polished version all in one go. Knowing that you can polish up your prose later, you can be more creative, allowing your ideas to flow and your mind to make the logical connections and comparisons that give your writing impact. In this lies an interesting parallel with the invention of the word processor. Before the modern home computer and the word-processing packages we now use, unless you were prepared to type the whole essay out again.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 39. Revising the Structure

Abstract
This is the lightest of all revisions. After we’ve finished writing an essay most of us are keen to read it through to see how it sounds. We like to be reassured that it reads well, so we can give ourselves a mental pat on the back. This may sound like aimless self-indulgence that we should train ourselves to do without, but, in fact, this sort of revision and the reassurance it brings does have a valuable point to it. It allows us to set down a marker: not only are we reassured that it reads well and it’s interesting, but we’re also clearer about those areas we need to work on to improve it. More often than not these may just involve a clumsy word or passage that needs tidying up, but they can be more serious. They may indicate that you haven’t thought through your arguments clearly enough, or your ideas have developed further since you wrote the passage and you now see the issues differently. This revision is not just about making sure what you’ve written is clear from the outside, but also about ensuring that your writing expresses clearly the ideas on the inside. If you were not entirely clear about them when you wrote the passage, then your writing is likely to be unclear, too. Either way, at this stage you just need to mark the passage so that you can come back to it later.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 40. Revising the Content

Abstract
In the third revision your concern is for the accuracy of your facts and quotations. Particular care needs to be taken in checking these. If you lose your readers’ trust over these details it may infect all of your work. They may conclude that they must be cautious about everything you say. In addition, you will also be checking your spelling and grammar. Don’t assume that such things are unimportant trifles. Making these simple mistakes will not only affect your grade, but might ultimately affect your chances of getting the job you most want. Details matter in all organisations. Not only does poor spelling and grammar strike at their credibility, but employers reasonably conclude that someone who makes fewer mistakes in this will make fewer mistakes doing other things. Karl Wiens,1 the founder of the software company Dozuki and the CEO of iFixit, makes it plain that ‘if job hopefuls can’t distinguish between “to” and “too”, their applications go into the bin … If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use “it’s”, then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with.
Bryan Greetham

Chapter 41. Learning from Feedback

Abstract
Now that you have worked through the five stages of essay writing you will know how to get the most from your abilities in every essay you write. But there is one more thing to do. At the beginning of this book we discussed the question ‘Why Write Essays?’ and one of the reasons I gave was that this provides your tutor with the opportunity to comment on your work and for you to use those comments to develop your understanding and your skills and abilities. Like most of us, at times you have no doubt just glanced at the grade on an essay that your tutor has returned and filed it away, either content with it or so fed up and disillusioned, because you didn’t understand why you should be getting such grades, that all you wanted to do was forget all about it. But your tutor’s feedback represents a challenge to make the changes that will bring the sort of grades that more fairly reflects your abilities and potential. This is your opportunity to reflect on your learning, to assess your skills and how you work, and to clarify the areas in which you need to improve.
Bryan Greetham
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