Essays - Clear expression

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Advice Leaflets

Advice leaflets originally produced for the Study Advice Service in the University of Hull, which holds the copyright:

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Writing is not easy, even for those with experience, but it is only by practising a given skill that we become better at it. Motivation is the key. In theory, if the preparation has been done properly, the writing is relatively easy providing you have a good command of the (English) language. If you find this stage difficult you may need to:

  1. • read more (go out less!)
  2. • think more (switch off the music, television, mobile phone)
  3. • motivate yourself (starting is often the most difficult part).

In today’s word-processed world, things can be changed, added, deleted etc, very easily, but do remember to save frequently and make a back up – work can sometimes go astray. So, you might adopt one of these procedures:

  1. • write the introduction and conclusion, so you know where you are heading, then the main body of the essay; the introduction and/or conclusion can always be altered later, if necessary;
  2. • start with the introduction and go on to the finish, editing and proofing as you go;
  3. • as above but edit and proof afterwards;
  4. • as above with breaks of from ¼ hour to one day between writing sessions;
  5. • write the main body, then add the introduction and conclusion;
  6. • divide your essay into ’chunks’ of ideas or topics, according to a mind map, if you have made one, before or after writing the introduction and conclusion.

In all cases, try to write in an academic style, avoiding the use of ’I’ or ’we’ (academic works and the editorials of quality newspapers are good examples of this technique) and ensure that both the argument and the expression are clear. If you are not confident about this, use short sentences. In most essays, except for the simple expository (descriptive) ones, you will gain credit for showing an ability to discuss and analyse the facts and argument you have presented. This involves a personal evaluation, arguing the pros and cons, illustrating advantages and disadvantages, taking an argument apart and looking at each point, or following it through and extrapolating i.e. continuing the same line of argument (perhaps into other areas) to see where it would lead, or giving counter arguments. After answering the low-level questions (Who? What? When? Where?) which invoke only factual and descriptive responses, try to pose the higher-level ones (Why? How? To what extent…?) since an attempt to answer these provokes the kind of discussion which puts you in line for the higher grades. You might prefer to write for 15 – 20 minutes before having a break, then to continue, or you may prefer to finish once you have started. This will depend on:

  1. • the length of essay required,
  2. • your concentration span and
  3. • your preferred style of work.

Stop every 2 or 3 pages. Look at the question again and consider what you have just written. Is it still relevant? Is it still answering the question? Am I wandering off the point? Remember, your first draft is exactly that, so be prepared to amend, add, expand or adjust parts of it once or even twice more until you are satisfied with the presentation and/or the argument used.