If left unplanned, the reading stage can swallow up huge amounts of time. While a certain level of efficiency is desirable, it is also important to remain flexible enough to identify relevant and interesting ideas that you had not anticipated.
As with teaching, it is often not until you try to communicate an argument and its evidence that you find where the gaps are in your knowledge or argument. Writing is an active and constructive process; it is not merely a neutral recording of your thoughts.
It is therefore useful to go into the writing process expecting to make revisions. The first words you write do not have to be part of the final version. Editing your writing as you develop your ideas is a positive not a negative process: the more you cross out, re-write, and re-order, the better your essay should become. Establishing a relevant structure to support your argument All essays need structure.
The structure may be strong and clear, or it may be unobtrusive and minimal but, in a good essay, it will be there. Again this may be strong and obvious, or it may be almost invisible, but it needs to be there.
However, even in those essays that appear to be highly creative, unscientific, or personal, an argument of some kind is being made. It is the argument, and how you decide to present and back up your argument, that will influence your decision on how to structure your essay.
The essay structure is not an end in itself, but a means to an end: the end is the quality of the argument. By creating a relevant structure, you make it much easier for yourself to present an effective argument. There are several generic structures that can help you start to think about your essay structure e. These can be useful starting points, but you will probably decide to work with a more complicated structure e.
In addition to these macro-structures you will probably need to establish a micro-structure relating to the particular elements you need to focus on e. Fluid structures You may feel that, for your particular essay, structures like these feel too rigid.
You may wish to create a more flexible or fluid structure. An analogy could be that of symphony writing. This set out a pattern for the numbers of movements within the symphony, and for the general structure of writing within each movement. The continued popularity of their work today shows that they clearly managed to achieve plenty of interest and variety within that basic structure. Later composers moved away from strict symphonic form. Some retained a loose link to it while others abandoned it completely, in favour of more fluid patterns.
It would be rare, however, to find a symphony that was without structure or pattern of any kind; it would probably not be satisfactory either to play or to listen to. Similarly, a structure of some kind is probably essential for every essay, however revolutionary. Your decisions on structure will be based on a combination of: the requirements of your department; the potential of the essay title; and your own preferences and skills.
An iterative, not necessarily a linear process The process of essay planning and writing does not need to be a linear process, where each stage is done only once. It is often an iterative process i.
A possible iterative process is: analyse the title read around the title, making relevant notes prepare a first draft critically review your first draft in the light of this further analysis read further to fill in gaps prepare final draft critically edit the final draft submit the finished essay. They will be reading and marking many, many student essays.
If you make your argument hard to follow, so that they need to re-read a paragraph or more to try to make sense of what you have written, you will cause irritation, and make their job slower. Realistically, it is possible that they may even decide not to make that effort. Your tutors will not necessarily be looking for the perfect, revolutionary, unique, special essay; they would be very happy to read a reasonably well-planned, well-argued and well-written essay.
They will not want to pull your essay to pieces. They would much rather enjoy reading it, and be satisfied by the thread of your argument. It can engage your readers, and can give them confidence that you have thought carefully about the title, and about how you are going to address it.
A useful generic structure is to: begin with a general point about the central issue; show your understanding of the task that has been set; show how you plan to address the title in your essay structure; make a link to the first point. It may be possible to use only one paragraph for your introduction, but it may fall more easily into two or more. You will need to adapt and extend this basic structure to fit with your own discipline and the precise task set.
Here is an example of an introduction for an essay entitled: Examine and compare the nature and development of the tragic figures of Macbeth and Dr Faustus in their respective plays. Begin with a general point Dr Faustus and Macbeth are both plays that show their respective playwrights at the pinnacle of their careers. The heart of the essay The middle part of the essay must fulfil the promises made in your introduction, and must support your final conclusions.
Your main statement Everything that you write after this is connected to this main point. Context for the main statement The first part of the introduction sets the context or background for your main point. Context This sets the context for your main point.
It should have enough detail so that the reader understands your main point. More explanation of the main statement After your main statement, there is often a breakdown of reasons or smaller points further explaining your statement. More explanation These are the main reasons why you wrote your main point. These reasons will be very connected to your paragraphs. The road map for the essay Your final sentence can also act as a road map for the rest of your essay.
Each point that follows the main statement will be the main idea of a particular paragraph in the body of your essay. The table below shows how our introduction connects to the first sentences of the paragraphs of the essay: Introduction The recent Leveson inquiry has renewed debate on the freedoms of the British Press, with some advocates suggesting that a 'fundamental shift' Judd , p56 in the rights of the Press is needed.
Please note that S3 is now called Skills Hub. Check the title, idea or plan with your tutor. He or she might have expectations you haven't realised and may spot a problem with the basic idea. As soon as you have done some reading and thinking, you can begin planning the content of your essay.
Of course, these are general points, and there may be some occasions, or some subject areas, where long paragraphs are appropriate. Planning your essay will make the writing process quicker and easier Adopt a strategy Planning your essay will make the writing process quicker and easier. It helps you to commit yourself to sticking to the point! See the Developing an argument guide in Paragraphing for more on this.
You need to work out what to include, and what can be left out. More from the RLF on introductions: what they do Main body The body of your essay contains the evidence you have worked so hard to find. Why essays?
Have I got enough evidence? It may be possible to use only one paragraph for your introduction, but it may fall more easily into two or more. Michael says that one of the biggest problems students face when it comes to essays is squarely addressing the topic.
It should have enough detail so that the reader understands your main point. Failure to meet either or both of these requirements will irritate your reader, and will demonstrate a lack of self-critique and of editing. In these early stages of your thinking you may not be sure which of your ideas you want to follow up and which you will be discarding. Michael Shields, academic skills tutor at Leeds Beckett University, argues that there are numerous different planning strategies - though key stages generally include evaluating the topic, doing your research around it and formulating an argument. It is worth attending to all of the suggestions and comments you receive, and trying to act on them.
If you include brief details of authors and page nos. Another useful tool to support critical writing is the paragraph!
He or she might have expectations you haven't realised and may spot a problem with the basic idea. Again, a spider diagram can help with this. An iterative, not necessarily a linear process The process of essay planning and writing does not need to be a linear process, where each stage is done only once. A useful generic structure is to: begin with a general point about the central issue; show your understanding of the task that has been set; show how you plan to address the title in your essay structure; make a link to the first point.
Bringing together the key points from your reading helps clarify what you have found out, and helps you find a pathway through all the ideas and issues you have encountered. Breaking it down then building it up Essentially, this is what you are doing within the essay process: breaking ideas down, then building them up again.