Posts Tagged Essays

Paragraphing – an example (and a coffin)

Coffin icon

Weird? I know. The example essay will explain why this image is here… (Image via Wikipedia)

In previous posts, we’ve looked at how to structure paragraphs to produce coherent, compelling, and persuasive essays.

To recap quickly:

Once you’re comfortable with what each individual paragraph should do, you can master the art of arranging them effectively. We looked at both chronological ordering and ordering paragraphs by similarities and/or differences.

These topics are quite abstract. Enough to do your head in; after all, I’ve been writing lots of paragraphs about how to write paragraphs! So here’s an example of how I ordered paragraphs in one of my essays (we first saw part of this essay in the second “SEX” post). I’ll show you the ordering and the basis on which the paragraphs were constructed by reproducing the first and last sentences of each paragraph. (See how useful topic sentences are?). I’ll write comments in normal text underneath the italics of the example.

[Introduction]

The poem opens with direct speech: “’I’m rising five’”, exclaims the character in the poem.

Nicholson shows us how when we are young we lack knowledge outside of our uncomplicated small-scale experiences; and don’t recognise how carefree our lives are – we place the utmost importance on growing up.

The start of my essay’s body discusses the start of the poem; the overall method of ordering is chronological as you will see. Note that in the first sentence I begin the paragraph by focusing on Techniques, then the evidence throughout the paragraph this leads to a Thematic closing topic sentence.

Our early years present us with so many opportunities, Nicholson believes.

Soon his life’s opportunities are left behind him: opportunities are left stranded by humans every day.

The paragraph both began and ended with a Thematic focus. Between the topic sentences there was still Technical content, though. It’s important to have good Technical content to back up your arguments and make them more convincing.

As we mature, our perspectives change.

The boy’s mentality is shown throughout the poem by using the same line-placement technique. It is like a chain of reasoning, but this results in a rather chilling conclusion….

Notice that even in the closing topic sentences of this thematic paragraph, I refer to a chain of techniques that reveal the evolving perspectives of the boy. This further reflects the chronological ordering that is the basis of my essay’s analysis. This poem lends itself to the chronological approach because it’s theme is about progression and growing up.

NB: I don’t think I’d be so creative now to end a paragraph in a formal essay with ellipsis, but I got away with it that time. 😉

Positive images are still used for a while, though.

The space that is left unused means that the stanza lacks the detail of the previous, more densely packed stanza. This could reflect how blank and empty our lives are when we incessantly worry about the future.

Here I used a different approach to link to this paragraph. A link is made based on a similarity. The previous paragraph set up expectation of a progression, but I choose to emphasise the similarity of the imagery (so it’s a Technique focused paragraph again). This gives the reader a clear overview of what to expect, while still making the current point clear; aim for clarity in your essay.

Although the form of the poem is comparatively erratic in the previous stanza, the next is more traditional in layout – it is here that a subtle shift in the mood of the piece can first be detected.

It is ironic that people often desire to be younger again when they are adults – this backs up the poet’s argument that we need to make prudent decisions about what we do with each day; once we have decided, we can never get that day back again.

Another new approach to mix things up: this time a contrast is used to link the paragraphs. “Although” is a great linking word to use to signal a difference in the next paragraph. “On the other hand”, “however”, “in contrast”, and “nevertheless” are a few others. Experiment with them to find ones that work for you – the ‘fit’ often depends on the specific situation.

By the last stanza, Nicholson’s motif of the fruit trees has developed into an extended metaphor for the human life cycle.

The future holds the same fate for all of us: death. Nicholson reminds us not to be excessively captivated by the future.

[Conclusion]

(There. So now you know why there’s a coffin as the image for this post.)

Back to chronological linking of paragraphs after a little variety to add interest for the reader.

Often, my closing topic sentences are more creative and expressive than my opening topic sentences. I also prefer to close with a theme – and the sentence I leave in the reader’s mind at the end of each paragraph can target emotional responses (without becoming a poem or novel itself; it’s still an essay).

 
So there it is – ah, I’m at my word limit. ‘Bye for now’.

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Constructing Conclusions – An Example

Kate Wilkinson, New Zealand Minister of Labour. Photo Credit: Geoff Walker, Photographer, Greytown, New Zealand.

Below is an example of a well-constructed conclusion:

Sentence 1: Re-state the scene

This essay has looked at the key issues of the 2009 Review of the Holidays Act 2003.

Know what the essay was about?

The sentence is short, simple, and clearly states what the essay did. For comparison here is the second sentence of the introduction, “This essay will examine the positions that the employer organisations and trade unions took, in regards to the key issues reviewed by the Working Party, within the Employment Relations’ frameworks of unitarism and pluralism.” Both sentences are very similar, as they should be, but the sentence in the introduction goes into a lot more detail. The reason is because in the introduction you haven’t said anything yet and so need to introduce the topic to the marker in a bit of detail. However, by the time they have got to the conclusion they don’t need to have it spelt out again in so much detail. All you need to do is refresh the marker’s memory, not try and put them to sleep!

Sentence 2: Answer the question

Looking in particular at where the employers and unions stood on these issues, this essay has shown how the reasoning behind their positions is a product of their unitarist or pluralist viewpoints.

See the answer?

The sentence follows on from the first sentence and narrows its focus before providing the answer to the essay question: “In 2009, the Government undertook a review of holiday entitlements in New Zealand. What were the key issues addressed by the Working Party? What positions did employer organisations and trade unions take on these issues? What does your reading of the debate on holiday entitlement suggest to you about the principal analytical frameworks used in Employment Relations?”

Once again, you are providing a broad answer to the essay question here – you don’t need to go into too much detail.

Sentence 3 (and 4): Deliver a twist

This was most strongly apparent when they disagreed on the major issues of relevant daily pay and the selling of holidays.Interestingly enough, despite the employer’s unitarism, the review itself was a product of the pluralist model – it was a bargaining session. That is one of the reasons the subsequent Holidays Amendment Bill (2010) has been strongly opposed by the unions, they feel betrayed by the Government’s decision to not uphold the recommendations they bargained for during the review (“Unions urge Government to protect worker leave entitlements”, 2010). In fact, in some regards, while initially portraying a democratic pluralist approach to fixing the Holidays Act (2003), the Government has now switched to a unitarist approach to do what it feels is best for New Zealand as a whole.

See what the most important evidence was?

The first sentence is essentially the twist – it chooses from all the evidence and examples presented in the essay the most important. The next three sentences show the student”s intelligence. It is a different way of looking at the evidence in order to answer the essay question and shows the marker that the student has thought very carefully and understood the topic he is writing about.

When I introduced this formula in my last post I suggested two sentences but in this example the twist takes up four sentences. With the formulas we have discussed the most important thing is what the sentences are about, not how many sentences you write. The twist is the most important part of the conclusion and so here it takes up four sentences total. Make sure, though, that it is taking up more sentences because it contains important content – not because you’re waffling.

Sentence 5: End with a bang!

Overall, it appears that in New Zealand Employment Relations, unitarism and pluralism are going to continue to fight to gain the upper hand, with the Government’s job to try and balance the opposing views because of our democratic pluralistic political system.

Hear the bang?

Probably not quite what you were expecting. Ending an essay with a bang is not quite as dramatic as ending a fiction novel – but you want the same effect. This sentence ties the whole essay context together and doesn’t waste words.

To finish off, here is the conclusion in full:

This essay has looked at the key issues of the 2009 Review of the Holidays Act 2003. Looking in particular at where the employers and unions stood on these issues, this essay has shown how the reasoning behind their positions is a product of their unitarist or pluralist viewpoints. This was most strongly apparent when they disagreed on the major issues of relevant daily pay and the selling of holidays. Interestingly enough, despite the employer’s unitarism, the review itself was a product of the pluralist model – it was a bargaining session. That is one of the reasons the subsequent Holidays Amendment Bill (2010) has been strongly opposed by the unions, they feel betrayed by the Government’s decision to not uphold the recommendations they bargained for during the review (“Unions urge Government to protect worker leave entitlements”, 2010). In fact, in some regards, while initially portraying a democratic pluralist approach to fixing the Holidays Act (2003), the Government has now switched to a unitarist approach to do what it feels is best for New Zealand as a whole. Overall, it appears that in New Zealand Employment Relations, unitarism and pluralism are going to continue to fight to gain the upper hand, with the Government’s job to try and balance the opposing views because of our democratic pluralistic political system.

Well that’s the formula in action, give it a try and let us know how you get on.

Photo Credit: US Embassy New Zealand via Flickr

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The Spectrum

No, this isn’t about politics, don’t worry. It is about opinions and arguments in essays, though.

In my last post, we looked at a simple method of ordering paragraphs: sequentially like the way content appears in the text. Along with the advantages, chronological ordering comes with a downside: it’s tempting to recount what happened in the text, rather than analysing the way the text was constructed and the deeper messages it conveys. The last thing markers want is yet another summary of the plot. They have sparknotes for that – and they’ve probably taught it so many times they can spout it off in their sleep – backwards – and with their hands tied behind their backs. Use chronological ordering to tie your technical and thematic analysis together in a logical manner. It’s not an invitation to stop thinking.

However, chronological ordering is just one method that you can use. The following ‘family’ of methods is modelled on the ‘Spectrum Diagram’ above.

  • Similarities
  • Differences
    • (nuance)

Essentially, all these methods structure your essay around concepts – usually themes and techniques in a Literature Essay.

Similarities and Differences

The spectrum diagram depicts the flow of the essay through the paragraphs. The spectrum itself represents the grounds of the debate, as set by the question. Opinions, individual concepts, arguments – and the different schools of thought that you discover in your research – can be placed on this spectrum.

Tip: to have a more convincing argument, look at alternative interpretations and arguments, as well as your own.

Structure your argument by balancing the different opinions and pieces of evidence. So some paragraphs may re-enforce each other (move in the same direction), while others may differ and take the reader back along the spectrum of opinion in the opposite direction. These paragraphs can be more persuasive, because the arguments are clearer; they form the very backbone of how the essay’s ordered. However, you have to very clearly communicate where the evidence is found in the text, since it’s not in chronological order. Also, remember to order the paragraphs with the end goal of being persuasive. Your paragraphs should link together in a meaningful journey, not just meander through some interesting but irrelevant concepts.

Ordering paragraphs to lead readers through stages of an argument is a more adaptable method than chronological ordering; every essay question will invite you to discuss concepts. You can mold the content more freely. However, it can take a little more thought to write using this method – but that can be a good thing. Done well, this can impress the marker and give you more persuasive power.

Perhaps it’s time to try a slightly more sophisticated paragraphing and ordering technique?

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When is simple good?

Pocket watch, savonette-type.

Image via Wikipedia

When is simple good?

Now we’ve covered ways you can decide what goes in each individual paragraph. This post will go over ways you can order the paragraphs. Knowing what makes a good order of paragraphs will also help you plan the essay in the first place.

Each mini-argument that becomes a paragraph should fit in with the rest of the mini-arguments. The main thing is that you’ve got to lead your reader through your arguments. Make it flow. If it’s a nice easy journey, they’re more likely to like you and your arguments.

There are ways of achieving this gentle persuasiveness. Here’s one strategy that I use.

Chronological ordering

This is when you write your first paragraph about the first part of the text, or the first part of a model, or the first historical development in your topic. You then write about the second part of the text etc. until you have finished analysing the text and sum up your argument in your conclusion. This is simple to do, so it is probably the best one to practice on. It is also usually clear for the reader and is particularly well-suited to character development and plot-driven questions. If you’re writing an English Literature essay, choosing a chronological ordering for your paragraphs may speed up your analysis as well, because you can simply go through the text in order. So besides being easy to write, chronologically ordered essays can be simple for the reader to understand too, if the question, text, and your overall argument serendipitously complement each other using this method.

To answer the question posed at the beginning of this post, simple chronological ordering of paragraphs is good where you want to write a solid essay quickly – like when you’re in an exam. However, what other ways of ordering paragraphs can you think of? And when is simple bad?

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A Twist in the Tail – adding interest to your conclusion

Following on from what you don’t include in a conclusion let’s look at the one thing you should include.

Using a twist in your conclusion adds interest and shows your intelligence

A twist.

Many of you will recognise the twist ending as a literary device found in fiction. However, it also has an important place in your essay; which is entirely a non-fiction work (make sure it is and you have made nothing up!).

The twist seems to be a little known part of an essay’s conclusion and it was in Ian Hunter’s book that I first came across it.

The twist has two functions:

  1. Make your conclusion interesting – your conclusion only contains things that you have mentioned earlier in your essay so you need something different to keep the marker awake.
  2. Most importantly though, it is the perfect way to demonstrate to the marker that you know your topic and understand your arguments – this is how you show you are smart in your conclusion.

So what actually is a twist?

In your essay you have presented a number of arguments and a variety of evidence to back these up. Go back and reread what you have written – what was the most important?

This is what the twist is – making a judgement call on the significance and importance of the points your essay has made.

What was the strongest evidence? The weakest? Whose opinions are most valid? Or invalid? What source(s) were the most credible?

Form your answers to the above questions into a sentence or two and you have your twist. Remember don’t include any new information, just a layer of interpretation.

Up next week we look at structuring your conclusions and where the twist should be found.

Photo Credit thombo2 via Flickr

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Essays for generals (Part VI) – paragraph foundations

Plan your paragraphs to get maximum impact.

Individual paragraphs affect more than just the ‘mini-arguments’ in those paragraphs; they also affect the persuasiveness of the entire essay. This is because flow of the essay is based on how the paragraphs link, which is in turn driven by the conceptual basis on which they are built. So it’s important to outline paragraphs well – but what conceptual basis can you use to create paragraphs?

There are at least two methods you can use.

  1. Thematically
  2. Technique-based

Thematic grouping designs paragraphs to show a range of themes. A drama’s themes of loyalty/sacrifice and greed/cruelty can be discussed based on examples, regardless of when the various examples of the themes appear in the text.

Technique-based grouping creates the paragraphs to emphasise your technical analysis. For example, you could structure your paragraphs around how a reader’s response changes as the poem progresses.

The method of ordering your paragraphs depends on what you want your essay to emphasize, so everything comes back to the essay question (as usual). If the question asks what attitudes towards nature a novel conveys, then a thematic basis of creating paragraphs would work well; if it’s about the techniques the poet has used to communicate the deeper message of the poem, then technique-based paragraphs might be best.

Use the thematic and technique-based concepts of how to design paragraphs in order to write clearer and more focused paragraphs. This style of paragraph design also makes it easier to link the paragraphs overall, which we’ll cover in a future post. Besides the two methods mentioned above, what other foundations could use to plan paragraphs?

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Introducing Conclusions

Over the last few weeks we have talked a lot about introductions and body paragraphs which leads us nicely to the third and final part of an

Introducing Conclusions

essay: the conclusion.

Many people find writing conclusions difficult, but they do not need to be.

The purpose of your conclusion is to sum up your essay and nearly everything you need for your conclusion you have already written. You are taking all the arguments, information, and evidence you have presented throughout your essay and are tying it all together.

The introduction is there to hook, the body paragraphs to persuade, and the conclusion is there to convince.

The marker should, after reading your conclusion, see how all your points and mini-arguments work together to answer the essay question, convincingly.

So before you start your conclusion you need to refer back to your:

  • introduction – did you write about what you said you would?
  • body paragraphs – how does what you wrote answer the essay question convincingly?

If the answer to either of those questions is ‘No’ then you need to go back and fix them up. You cannot write an effective conclusion without being able to answer ‘Yes’ to both these questions because this is where you will draw your content from.

Just as a poor introduction will lose you lots of marks, so too will a poor conclusion. In fact, if written well, your conclusion can gain you a lot of marks by aiding the marker’s understanding of what you have written in your body paragraphs.

So just because you are sick of writing after 2500 words of introduction and body paragraphs or you are running out of time in your exams, doesn’t mean you can write a half-arsed conclusion and you’ll get away with it.

Over the next few weeks I will look at how you can write effective conclusions which will give the marker no choice but to award you a top mark.

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Essays for generals (Part IV) – strategic paragraphs

Strategic paragraphs in action...

Okay, so we’ve covered one of the reasons why paragraphs make your essay suck less: they let the reader absorb information before moving on to the next segment. Paragraphing stops them from dreading the rest of the essay.

Q: How do you decide where to split your writing into paragraphs?

A: You’re asking the wrong question.

Mini-arguments

Since the point of paragraphs is to make your points clearer, the real question is how can you use paragraphs to make your essay easier to understand? That’s the point (no pun intended) of paragraphs. This approach subtly reshapes the way you assign thoughts to paragraphs. Instead of creating a long rambling stream of consciousness with a few arbitrary paragraph breaks, you start to think strategically.

And you should think about paragraphs strategically. In our army analogy, “Paragraphs are regiments of troops. Each deployed regiment has a specific aim – they provide developed ‘mini-arguments’ and evidence to back up the overall thrust of the essay.” Body paragraphs should form a logical chain of reasoning throughout your essay. Plan the mini-arguments in note form to make sure they support the main argument that you make through the entire essay. Only then should you begin writing if you want to win the battle.

So good paragraphs make your reader hate you less. In addition, by giving your reader a break, they can also understand what you’re saying better. That’s got to be good for your marks.

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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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Essays for generals (Part II) – the other half of arguments

Fairy – "Take the Fair Face of Woman"...

This image has nothing to do with this post...

Answering questions well is the first and most critical part of a high-scoring essay. But there’s more to getting the “macro-level strategy” of your essay right than just analysing the question. Without this, it’s like you have really precise intelligence informing you of what to target, and state-of-the-art radar revealing where it is, but you don’t have any ammo to take the target out.

Tip: it’s really useful to have some background understanding on the topic before you write an essay on it. Some of you probably realised this when you implemented the advice in the last post. The need for research is especially high at university, but it’s a good skill to develop at high school because even this mindset alone empowers you to write stronger and richer essays.

Research is your friend

So when you get a question, do some research. You may have good notes from classes/lectures, but most subject teachers expect you to go into more detail than that. There are two ways to do this:

  1. introduce some unique thoughts of your own
  2. integrate thoughts of respected academics.

Researching existing opinions will help you form your own arguments anyway. So do some research – know the basics of the main schools of thought on the topic. This is like knowing the battle field – if you have an understanding of the terrain, you have an advantage. (Sorry to keep using war metaphors, but I’m not accustomed to writing about flowers and fairies and unicorns, so I’ll stick with this analogy for now). Anyway…

Planning – and what follows it

Once you have your basic understanding, you can begin to write a plan for your essay based on argument. In doing this, you may realise that you need more information on specific points. Pros, cons, alternative suggestions, and developments of the basic/original arguments etc. It’s fine if you go back to research at various stages of the writing process. It’s good even, because there’s a feedback loop between what you’re doing, what you can improve, and the resources that raise these questions and make the improvements possible. However, for this process to end well, you need to start early. (We can all improve on that point, I’m sure). So keep researching, and keep adding to your argument brainstorm and planning pages. The writing process is a dynamic process. These are living documents; they evolve as your ideas grow.

To summarise, here’s the process I follow:

  1. Analyse the question
  2. Research to understand the basics on the topic (the ‘battle field terrain’)
  3. Plan the essay’s argument structure
  4. Research to fill the gaps – make the plan complete

Every essay is different and every essay writer is different, so you may use a modified version of the process. It’s okay to use a different process to get to a stunning result. The main thing is that you adapt aptly, edit repeatedly, stay flexible – and allow enough time!

Let me know what you do to prepare for an essay assignment; I’d love to hear from you.

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