Tim Fergien is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays every week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is actually a knack into it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to operate it all out. Nobody informs you how to create a disagreement and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but when one to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
The aim of Writing Essays would be to show that you can think critically regarding the material on hand (whatever it may be). This implies going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble top of the end from the marking scale.
“You need to be utilizing your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author in the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not only showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? In accordance with Fergien, it’s simple: you should “poke holes” inside the texts you’re exploring and exercise the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That is definitely an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something which someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as being an undergraduate, critique it? “The response is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s Background of Se-xuality Volume 3, but you are likely to have the ability to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, is the way you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay along with a 70-something essay.”
Once you’ve cast a vital eye within the texts, you ought to change it back on your own arguments. This might think that going from the grain of the items you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to offer either side of the argument,” Fergien continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side from the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you have to determine what the strongest objections in your own argument would be. Write them and try to reply to them, which means you discover flaws in your reasoning. Every argument does have its limits and whenever you can attempt to explore those, the markers will frequently reward that.”
“I genuinely disagree,” says Fergien. “Those on the opposite side state that you can’t know who may have written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But when you’re just hoping to get a handle on the subject, or you need to locate a scattering of secondary sources, it may be quite useful. I would personally only recommend it as a either a primer or even a last option, nevertheless it does have its place.”
Reading lists can be quite a hindrance as well as a help. They ought to be the first port of demand guidance, nevertheless they aren’t to-do lists. A novel might be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb everything. Fergien advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but forget about. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your path by way of a 300-page monograph,” he says. You also have to keep the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends an electronic digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I possess a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box therefore i don’t lose them. When I visit write, I have most of my material.” You will find a lots of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for your procrastinators, you will find productivity programmes like Self Control, that allow users to bar certain websites off their computers to get a set period.
“This is fairly easy to do,” says Fergien. “Look on the citations found in the text, put them in Google Scholar, look at the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you could look on Google Scholar at other papers who have cited the task you’re covering – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
The old trick of coping with your introduction last is typical knowledge, however it seems few have really mastered the skill of writing a powerful opener. “Introductions are definitely the easiest things on the planet to have right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here will be the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with 3 or 4 strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these items, and I will conclude with a few ideas on this region and just how it could clarify our comprehension of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”