Archive for category Introductions

Redefining reality: an example of how to focus essay questions

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Image via Wikipedia

Last week we looked at redefining the question to make it easier to answer. Now, there is a danger if you take this advice out of context: you will lose many of your marks – maybe even all of them – if you change the substance of the question. Remember, analysing the question correctly is the basis of a good essay answer. Dreaming up your own essay question is not completing the required task. So remember this: narrow the question, don’t try to twist it into encouraging wild thoughts and tangents.

By the way, did you notice that the above clarification is a nuanced argument? Not only are they useful tactics to use when doing writing; they’re also useful when learning how to write!

To make the concept of ‘redefining the question’ clearer, below are some examples of what you should and shouldn’t do.

You should not do this:*

*Answers are not written in essay form. The tone is purposefully colloquial and facetious; this is not how you would write an actual academic essay.

1. Compare and contrast the two poems “Thistles” by Ted Hughes and “Tall Nettles” by Edward Thomas.

Thistles by Ted Hughes is about prickly thistles and the thistles grow in the wilderness and the thistles annoy people because they grow where they want to grow plants… [basically, only writing about one poem].

2. Discuss the theme of power and authority in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”.

“Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare is a play about betrayal, revenge, fate and justice… [never mentioning the given themes of power or authority, or only mentioning them briefly – probably at the end of the essay when you reread the question before writing your conclusion, when you suddenly realise you should say something about the given themes].

You should do this:

Here’s an example question that gets narrowed down in many ways. Let’s highlight then redefine parts of the question.

3. Discuss ethics in business organisations and how they can affect stakeholders.

Businesses today face a phenomenon of growing ethical concerns from groups on all sides: consumers, regulators, employees (Samson & Daft, 2005).

Some thinkers consider ethics to be a purely individual matter, and therefore focus on training responsible managers (MacLagan, 1998, cited in Knights & Willmott, 2007). However, this essay will focus on the ethical attributes of multi-national organisations themselves, as entities distinct from their constituent members, and the positive benefits with which multi-national businesses can endow society. Overall, this essay will argue that organisations have an ethical capacity in themselves and can pro-actively respond to the various ethical perspectives by being a source of positive transformation in modern society.


Notice how the coloured parts of the question are narrowed down to more specific sub-sets in the introduction of the essay? The concept of “multi-national organisations themselves” having “ethical attributes” is more specific than a general discussion of “ethics” which includes the idea that “ethics [is] a purely individual matter”. Similarly, “multi-national organisations” is a more specific focus than any size “business”, and so on. So the question hasn’t been changed, but the essay has been focused so that part of a broad topic can be covered in more depth.

So that’s what you can and can’t do when redefining the question. Use this technique correctly and it will make your essay-writing projects a lot easier. Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions or comments. See you again next week!

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The halo: a trick to tame essay questions.

Halo, 22-degree halo, Solar Halo, 22 degree so...

Image by mikebaird via Flickr

Success often involves jumping through hoops. However, if you use nuanced arguments wisely, as we discussed last week, you can be more flexible in what you do to get through those hoops. Another strategy that makes writing essays much easier is to cleverly redefine the question. You can mold the question to fit the essay you plan to produce.

Wait! Isn’t that cheating?

Or at least not answering the question? No, you have to stay within the broader confines of the question, but you can narrow the question.

As Ian Hunter explains in his book “Write That Essay!”, this technique is often used anyway, because it might be necessary to cut down the amount of content that you’d have to cover in your essay. For example, you can’t cover everything about Medieval European warfare in one essay. So, you could focus on, say, a few famous battles, or a few technologies, or the political aspect of warfare during that era.

The trick and a quick example

Here’s the trick: tell the marker what you’re doing. Tell them that you’re focusing on one aspect of the broad topic allocated by the question. This ‘qualifying sentence’,  as Ian Hunter calls it, might say something like “while Medieval European warfare was affected by many factors such as the political environment, social paradigms, and prominent personalities, this essay will discuss the effect of technological advancement which ultimately brought the Medieval Age to an end.” That one extra sentence in the introduction (it often becomes sentence 2 or 3 in the formulaic introduction) shows a broader understanding of the topic. So even though you haven’t covered them, the marker will assume you understand the other sub-topics too. In fact, if you write really well on one sub-topic, they will assume you know the other topics to the same standard. So write in detail on the aspect that you understand best, and you’ll score an instant kudos upgrade for no extra effort (the halo effect – the awesomeness rubs off on surrounding sub-topics).

Remember essays need to go beyond description. You’re not there to recount what happened in the play. You’re there to interpret what happened – analyse, offer some insights – even synthesize with other relevant ideas. To do this in-depth analysis of the text, you need enough words to discuss your chosen sub-topics(s) comprehensively, so focus the question.

NB: One thing you can’t narrow down is the number of texts or examples you have to refer to.

In most cases, however, redefining the question is brilliant. It focuses your writing; allowing you to go more in-depth and produce a higher quality essay. And it makes it easier to write the essay too. Redefine the question to unleash the halo effect and get higher marks.

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Is a conclusion, an introduction in disguise? – Analysing an example

Henri Fayol and Pumpkin Patch

Last week we looked at whether a conclusion is roughly just a paraphrased introduction in past tense by comparing the formulaic introduction and conclusions. In this post we will continue with this analysis by looking at an example.

Introduction – Conclusion

1. Hook them! with 5. End with a bang!

Introduction: Fresh from successfully reversing his mining company’s fortunes, French engineer-cum-manager Henri Fayol developed and later published in 1919 his Administrative Theory (Hatch with Cunliffe, 2006).”

Conclusion: Other modern businesses may have thrived by strenuously applying different principles than the four mentioned, but it appears, as Pumpkin Patch shows, behind any great business, past or present, you will find the application of one or more of Fayol’s 14 General Principles of Management.”

Introduction in disguise? Nope.

Content-wise these two sentences have very little in common. Also, the introductory sentence is neutral (they’re accepted facts) and the conclusion is not – find a few successful businesses you think don’t apply any of the principles and you’ve got a counter-argument. So the only similarities are their tone; both are powerfully written and get the marker’s attention, and that they address the broader context.

2. Set the scene with 1. Re-state the scene

Introduction: “In this book, General and Industrial Management, Fayol introduced 14 principles of management (Samson & Daft, 2005); four of these will be discussed in this essay in relation to Pumpkin Patch.”

Conclusion: “This essay has considered the applications of four of Henri Fayol’s 14 principles of Administrative management in the modern organisation, in regards to Pumpkin Patch.”

Introduction in disguise? Yup.

These sentences are nearly identical. It is quite common for the sentence in the introduction to contain a little more detail and for it to not be quite so similar diction-wise to the conclusion’s sentence; but in this case you couldn’t paraphrase the conclusion’s sentence much more. No, don’t reach for that thesaurus!

3. Show you are smart with 3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist

Introduction: “Due to its age, it is easy to disregard Fayol’s work as not being relevant in today’s fast-paced modern environment (Fells, 2000).”

Conclusion: “However not all of Fayol’s principles are applied in modern organisations and some principles are more useful in certain situations than others, so therefore these are more rigorously applied (Rodrigues, 2001). While the four principles discussed in this essay (Authority and Responsibility, Division of Work, Unity of Direction, and Esprit de Corps) have all had a dramatic impact of turning this home-grown New Zealand business global, this list is not exhaustive, as Fayol (1967) concludes, there is no limit to the principles of management.”

Introduction in disguise? Nope.

These two sentences are pretty much completely different. While they both show the writer’s intelligence, they go about it in very different ways. The sentence in the introduction sets the context of the essay – applying an old management theory to a modern business. On the other hand, the sentences in the conclusion that make up the twist look at what the essay specifically discussed and made a judgement – not all of the principles are equal nor is there a fixed amount of them.

4. Give the game away with 2. Answer the question

Introduction: “Contrarily this essay shall argue that Pumpkin Patch’s massive growth in just 16 years (Brookes, Shepherd and Nicholson, 2008) can be largely attributed to the application of Fayol’s principles.”

Conclusion: Examining key parts of the organisation from executive directors to the ordinary part-time employees, in addition to important production models, it has shown how Fayol’s ninety-year-old theories are still relevant today.”

Introduction in disguise? Yup.

Both these sentences are saying very similar things: “can be largely attributed to the application of Fayol’s principles” = “Fayol’s ninety-year-old theories are still relevant today.” The only real difference is that the conclusion’s sentence mentions some of the evidence used to prove the essay’s argument.

5. Sum it up with 5. End with a bang!

Introduction: Overall, this essay will focus on the importance of the principles of Authority and Responsibility, Unity of Direction, Division of Work and Esprit de Corps.”

Conclusion: Other modern businesses may have thrived by strenuously applying different principles than the four mentioned, but it appears, as Pumpkin Patch shows, behind any great business, past or present, you will find the application of one or more of Fayol’s 14 General Principles of Management.”

Introduction in disguise? Close.

The sentence in the conclusion essentially covers what the sentence in the introduction says, however it goes much further. While the introduction’s sentence is focused on what the essay is going to discuss, the conclusion’s sentence relates the essay to the broader context – Pumpkin Patch extrapolated to “modern businesses” and the four specific principles to Fayol’s principles as a whole.

So is a conclusion, an introduction in disguise?

No, but it is rather close.

The real key difference as discussed in my previous post, is the comparison: “3. Show you are smart with 3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist” which is very obvious in the example above. This is not much of a surprise because the twist is what sets the conclusion apart. It makes a conclusion a conclusion – and it’s the bit that gets you marks.

The main difference that sets the introduction apart from the rest of the conclusion (i.e. minus the twist) is the first sentence – “Hook them!” You shouldn’t need to hook the reader in your conclusion as they should have been reading from the start! It is the first sentence of the introduction that is going to draw the marker in; so write a good one.

Other than those two differences, the two paragraphs are rather similar. However, make sure you know the slight differences, and don’t get lazy and fall into the trap of copying the sentences in your introduction word for word and then paraphrasing them – that trick only works when you want to “Re-state the scene”!

Do you agree with my conclusion? Are there any more similarities and differences you think I’ve missed?

Below are the complete paragraphs:

Introduction

Fresh from successfully reversing his mining company’s fortunes, French engineer-cum-manager Henri Fayol developed and later published in 1919 his Administrative Theory (Hatch with Cunliffe, 2006). In this book, General and Industrial Management, Fayol introduced 14 principles of management (Samson & Daft, 2005); four of these will be discussed in this essay in relation to Pumpkin Patch. Due to its age, it is easy to disregard Fayol’s work as not being relevant in today’s fast-paced modern environment (Fells, 2000). Contrarily this essay shall argue that Pumpkin Patch’s massive growth in just 16 years (Brookes, Shepherd and Nicholson, 2008) can be largely attributed to the application of Fayol’s principles. Overall, this essay will focus on the importance of the principles of Authority and Responsibility, Unity of Direction, Division of Work and Esprit de Corps.

Conclusion

This essay has considered the applications of four of Henri Fayol’s 14 principles of Administrative management in the modern organisation, in regards to Pumpkin Patch. Examining key parts of the organisation from executive directors to the ordinary part-time employees, in addition to important production models, it has shown how Fayol’s ninety-year-old theories are still relevant today. However not all of Fayol’s principles are applied in modern organisations and some principles are more useful in certain situations than others, so therefore these are more rigorously applied (Rodrigues, 2001). While the four principles discussed in this essay (Authority and Responsibility, Division of Work, Unity of Direction, and Esprit de Corps) have all had a dramatic impact of turning this home-grown New Zealand business global, this list is not exhaustive, as Fayol (1967) concludes, there is no limit to the principles of management. Other modern businesses may have thrived by strenuously applying different principles than the four mentioned, but it appears, as Pumpkin Patch shows, behind any great business, past or present, you will find the application of one or more of Fayol’s 14 General Principles of Management.

Photo Credit: Henri Fayol via Wikimedia Commons, Pumpkin Patch logo via Human Synergistics International’s website

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Is a conclusion an introduction in disguise?

Over the last couple of months I have looked at how to write brilliant introductions and conclusions and there seemed to be a lot of similarities in the purposes of the sentences in their respective formulae.

So is a conclusion an introduction in disguise? Vice versa? Or are they very different beasts?

Well lets take a look at the formulae again:

Are introductions and conclusions similar or not?

The Formulaic Introduction

Sentence:

1. Hook them!

2. Set the scene

3. Show you’re smart

4. Give the game away

5. Sum it up

The Formulaic Conclusion

Sentences:

1. Re-state the scene

2. Answer the question

3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist

5. End with a bang!

At a surface level each sentence of the introduction pairs up with a sentence from the conclusion. So we will chronologically go through the introduction and pair it up with the sentence from the conclusion that it is most similar too:

Introduction – Conclusion

1. Hook them! with 5. End with a bang!

Similarities: both sentences are broad like the extreme ends of a Greek column and should be powerful.

Differences: the first sentence of your introduction introduces the broad topic only; in addition the last sentence of the conclusion contains what the essay argued with regards to the broad topic. Also,  the first sentence of the introduction is neutral whereas the final sentence of your conclusion most probably is not.

Introduction in disguise? Nope.

2. Set the scene with 1. Re-state the scene

Similarities: both sentences have the same purpose – introduce/conclude what the essay will/has talk(ed) about. Also, they both use the same or similar signpost.

Differences: just the tense.

Introduction in disguise? Yup.

3. Show you are smart with 3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist

Similarities: both have the same purpose – show your intelligence, but…

Differences: …they achieve this is very different ways. The third sentence of your introduction does this by talking about the context of the essay, whereas the twist makes a judgement call on the evidence and information presented in the body of the essay.

Introduction in disguise? Nope.

4. Give the game away with 2. Answer the question

Similarities: both deal with the essay’s argument; however…

Differences: …the way it does this is slightly different – in the introduction you state your argument, whereas in the conclusion you go one step further by comprehensively answering the essay question and concluding your argument.

Introduction in disguise? Sort of.

5. Sum it up with 5. End with a bang!

Yes we have already compared “End with a bang!” but since it’s the last sentence of the introduction, let’s see whether it is similar to the last sentence of the conclusion:

Similarities: both have the same purpose – sum up the essay, and use the same or similar signpost.

Differences: tense and with “End[ing] with a bang! You need to, well, end with a bang…

Introduction in disguise? Yup.

So is a conclusion an introduction in disguise?

Based on this analysis we have two “Yup’s”, two “Nope’s” and a “Sort of”. Though the last sentence of the conclusion, “End with a bang!” is most similar in function to the last sentence of the introduction, so really there is just one key “Nope” – the two sentence 3’s: “Showing you are smart” and “Delivering a twist”.

Both have a similar purpose, so next week we will look at an example of an essay’s introduction and conclusion and I’ll provide my answer to the question.

In the meantime, what do you think – is a conclusion an introduction in disguise?

Photo Credit:  Top – 1. Lazurite 2. Unhindered by Talent 4. DraconianRain all via Flickr

Bottom – 1. Unhindered by Talent 3+4. thombo2 5. mudcu.be all via Flickr

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A Formulaic Introduction – An Example

Below is an example of the formulaic introduction broken down into its 5 sentences:

Photograph by Danny Masson

Sentence 1: Hook them!

While Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was first mentioned in the 1930s, it is not till more recently that CSR became an important part of business practice (Carroll, 1979).

Are you hooked?

This probably wouldn’t hook the average student, but the average student is not marking your essay. To a Management lecturer this is good stuff. It is neutral sentence, definitely won’t polarise anyone, and provides a good start to an essay on the importance of CSR.

Sentence 2: Set the scene

This essay will examine how The Boeing Company have responded to the challenge of CSR and will evaluate their performance.

Notice the signpost?

From this sentence the marker knows exactly what the essay is going to deal with – Boeing’s performance in regards to CSR. Even if your essay is long and you deal with a lot of content, always try and be concise in this sentence. It only needs to be a broad overview.

Sentence 3: Show you are smart

Samson and Daft (2005) define CSR as the requirement of the corporation’s management to contribute to society as a whole and not just to the corporation.

Genius?

No, but it doesn’t need to be. Definitions of the keywords/topics are great to put here; they provide a point for you to argue from and, if you have paraphrased the source, show that you are smart – and do know what you are talking about. Once again be concise and don’t try and show off – remember there is a fine line between showing you are smart and showing off.

Sentence 4: Give the game away

Using the guidelines set out by Carroll (1979), this essay will analyse Boeing’s social performance in terms of their ethical and discretionary responsibilities and discuss possible improvements.

Can you see cards?

From this sentence you know exactly what will be discussed in the essay. This sentence is very good for listing the topics of each of the body paragraphs that will be in your essay. In this essay the topics of the three body paragraphs were: Boeing’s social performance in terms of their ethical responsibilities, Boeing’s social performance in terms of their discretionary responsibilities, and Boeing’s possible improvements.

Sentence 5: Sum it up

Overall, this essay will show that while Boeing’s CSR is very good there is still room for improvement.

Notice another signpost?

This sentence sums up the entire essay, all 2000 words. The marker doesn’t need to read to the conclusion to find out the essay’s finding(s), it is right here in Sentence 5 – remember there should be no suspense in an essay, you’re not writing a bestseller.

To finish off, here is the introduction in full:

While Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was first mentioned in the 1930s, it is not till more recently that CSR became an important part of business practice (Carroll, 1979). This essay will examine how The Boeing Company have responded to the challenge of CSR and will evaluate their performance. Samson and Daft (2005) define CSR as the requirement of the corporation’s management to contribute to society as a whole and not just to the corporation. Using the guidelines set out by Carroll (1979), this essay will analyse Boeing’s social performance in terms of their ethical and discretionary responsibilities and discuss possible improvements. Overall, this essay will show that while Boeing’s CSR is very good there is still room for improvement.

As you can see, using the formula you can whip up a strong introduction rather easily. Try it when you write your next essay and let us know how it goes.

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A Formulaic Introduction

1. Hook them! 2. Set the scene 3. Show you are smart 4. Give the game away 5. Sum it up

You have planned your essay, you pick up your pen or sit down at your computer, and then what?

If you know what you are doing, the introduction is actually relatively easy to write because for academic essays it follows a rough formula. English essays don’t necessarily follow this structure quite as rigidly but for university essays it is very useful.

Below is an elaboration from Dr. Ian Hunter’s book, Write That Essay! For an average length essay five sentences is usually enough and each of them has a specific purpose.

Sentence 1: Hook them!

Aim: Introduce the general topic to the reader.

This sentence is a neutral sentence. It contains facts and information that is generally agreed to be correct – as tempting as it may be, you do not want to spark controversy here.

Sentence 2: Set the scene

Aim: Introduce what topic(s) your essay is going to specifically focus on.

You want to start this sentence with something like “This essay will [examine/consider/discuss]…”.

While this sort of sentence might sound a little stupid, throughout your essay you need to place signposts to help the marker follow your argument and not get lost. This is the first signpost in your essay, it lets the marker know what topics to expect in the body paragraphs.

Sentence 3: Show you are smart

Aim: Mention the context of your essay.

You want to show the marker that you know what you are talking about and are not just bluffing through the essay question because you spent your research time on Facebook. However, there is a fine line between proving your intelligence and showing off. If you cross that line this early in your essay, you will have severely damaged the marker’s impression of you. Not a good move!

Sentence 4: Give the game away

Aim: State your argument.

An essay is not a thriller and you are not John Grisham. Right here in the fourth sentence of your essay you want to tell the marker your argument. Without reading any further they should know what happens at the end – suspense has no place in your essay – it is an essay after all!

Sentence 5: Sum it up

Aim: Summarise the conclusion of your argument.

Two sentences after the first ‘signpost’, we come to another one (after all no one wants to get lost in an essay!). Here, in a nutshell, you are summing up your essay. Your sentence should start with something like:

“Overall, this essay will argue…” or “In summary, this essay will suggest that…”

This is a very good guide for writing your introductions and one that I always use.  Learn it, use it, then you can adapt it a little too (remember English essays don’t have to be as formulaic). Just make sure you fulfil the aims of an effective introduction.

Also, check out Dr. Hunter’s book for more help and tips on writing essays.

Photo Credit: 1. Lazurite 2. Unhindered by Talent 4. DraconianRain all via Flickr

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Introducing first impressions

Right from the start the marker is putting you in a box.

“We take it for granted we know the whole story – We judge a book by its cover and read what we want between selected lines.”

– Axl Rose

We do it, and so do markers. It is no different with your essays, whether they are written in an exam or done as an assignment.

First impressions are lasting impressions.

Therefore, the introduction is the most important part of your essay. From the introduction the marker is making judgements on:

  • Your grasp of the subject (how much time you spent asleep in class)
  • Whether you understand the essay question (if you don’t you’re stuffed)
  • Your competency in English (written academic English not your version of English)
  • Your level of intelligence (using a thesaurus doesn’t show you’re smart)
  • Your attitude (whether you have the time of your life writing essays)
  • The amount of effort you have put in (write lots of quality content; not lots of bullsh*t)

So after the first paragraph the marker can already put you and your essay in a box – it’s an A, B, C, D or N, A, M, E essay.

Make sure they are putting you in the best box because the rest of the of the essay, no matter how awesome, is unlikely to change your mark by much because:

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

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