Posts Tagged research

A stroke of genius – the difference between a good mark and a great one

You hear it a lot – that essay or assignment was hard, I did everything my teacher/lecturer want and yet I only got an average mark.

Einstein's 'stroke of genius'. What's yours?

Exactly. You did everything you were asked to do, just like everyone else in your class.

You had the same essay question, same information, same teacher/lecture as everyone else. So everyone’s essay ends up roughly the same. If it’s written well, you’ll get a good mark.

So how do you get a great mark?

With what I like to call ‘stroke of genius’.

With everyone writing essentially the same answer to the same question, you need to differentiate yourself. This doesn’t mean writing an essay completely different from everyone else. Which, while possible, is nearly impossible to pull off and not necessary to achieve a great mark. Instead a ‘stroke of genius’ is usually a small but powerful point that make near the end of your essay.

While there is no specific place to reveal your ‘stroke of genius’ in your essay, a great place for it is your twist.

It’s all about connections

A twist is all about weighing up your essay’s evidence. If you want a good mark then this is where you stop – you weigh the evidence, come to a conclusion and that’s your essay.

But, if you want a great mark you need to take this weighed evidence and make some connections.

Throughout your essay you’ve talked about experts’ opinions and ideas – quoted and paraphrased your way to a solid argument that answers the essay question. Apart from the exact words on the page it is not particularly original or creative. You can’t be; you’re not an expert on the subject – even if you think you are.

However, having thoroughly researched the subject and topic you’re writing on, you have the ability to see links and make connections between the evidence, context and argument of your essay.

Here you can be creative, be original, show you’re smart – come up with a stroke of genius.

So what does a stroke of genius look like?

Well that is up to you… but next week we will look at an example to help you come up with your strokes of genius.

, , , , , , , ,

No Comments

Use the experts: Back to School, stuntmen, and referencing

I was watching a movie tonight, Back to School (aptly titled movie for the Southern Hemisphere), starring Rodney Dangerfield and it got me thinking. In the movie Dangerfield’s character turns out to be quite the diver (think Olympic not deep sea) despite his advancing age and waistline. For those scenes it was quite obvious a stunt double was used.

What does this have to do with essays?

Well think of the actor as the writer and the essay as his character. The actor is the face of the character and it’s his voice that speaks – just as the writer’s name is on the essay and it’s written in his style, with his words.

A good movie always has a bit of action and I’m not talking about the stuff in the bedroom. The action usually consists of some pretty cool stunts and for this a stunt double is quite commonly used. They are dressed the same, and the scenes are shot in such a way that it looks like it is still the same actor.

In an essay the stunt double is the sources and authority figures you have referenced. You integrate their quotes and paraphrase their papers so it looks like one cohesive essay.

While it might be made to look like there is just one person playing the character in a movie, the stuntmen are credited for their role at the end of the movie. The same goes for your essays – reference all your sources correctly. Paraphrasing doesn’t make it your own work!

But why bother with a stunt double? Why can’t the actor do it?

In some cases they can and do; however, the two reasons they usually don’t are:
1. They physically can’t aka Mr. Dangerfield
2. It is not worth the risk of them injuring themselves

In your essay you do research and use credible sources because you can’t provide the evidence yourself. You don’t have enough experience, and haven’t carried out your own studies or experiments in your essay topic’s field. Basically, you’re a student and not qualified. Even if you are, it is very risky to base an essay wholly on your own thoughts and findings. Use the experts for the evidence.

Overall, you’re the actor (writer) and your essay is your character – it communicates to your audience. Write your essay with your unique voice, integrate evidence from credible sources,  and create a powerful argument.

Keep this in mind when you are writing your essays this year and good luck!

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

, , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

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

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Comments

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.

, , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Essay vs Facebook – The never ending war


I just received an email from friend, who at this moment, is struggling to tear himself away from the amazing (and time consuming) hobby of Facebooking – if that is not a word yet, then I am sure it soon will be!

So how does one beat Facebook?

Here are three suggestions:
1. Go back to the Stone Age: take a pen and a piece of refill. Sit down with all your research and write the way your parents had to.

2. Kill your internet: without internet, Facebook (and any other online distractions…) will have no power over you. Print off all of your research, sit at your laptop, and type. No Facebook until you’re done!

3. Use positive reinforcement (good ol’ PSYCH 203): write one paragraph, then reward yourself with 5 minutes of Facebook. Then write another followed by the Facebook reward, and so on, until you’re done. Any other suitable reward works just as well. Personally I choose this option, and eat lots of chocolate!

So what do you do to prevent essay procrastination?

, , , , ,

7 Comments