Need help with a college essay writing.
Writing essays is incomparably the most effective way for you to develop the skills essential to the study of politics: the skills of rigorous argument, conceptual clarity, sensitive interpretation and effective marshalling of evidence. The essay itself is the tip of the iceberg, the visible results of considerable preparation.
The planning stage is the most important stage in the production of essays. If you cut corners at this stage you will produce an essay that does not do justice to your ability.
Planning an essay involves the following tasks:
a) Research and finding sources of information Put aside time to read enough material to enable you to fully understand the nature of the question and the major arguments that should be included in your answer. The obvious sources to start with are those on the course reading list. Consult the bibliographies in these sources to find additional relevant sources. If you need additional sources, use the library catalogue, searching under ‘key word’ and for authors whose work you have already found useful.
b) Reading and taking notes Be selective in what you read. You don’t necessarily have to read the whole book to extract the information you need! Use the table of contents and the index to help you focus on the sections most relevant to the essay title. This will provide you with a good overview of the main points made by the book and help you prepare for reading a wider range of sources. Read actively. When you are reading, look out for the key ideas and arguments made by authors and the evidence they provide in support of them. Note the ways in which they contradict or support those of other authors you have read. Don’t be afraid to be critical. To write a rounded essay, you must engage with points you disagree with as well as those that support your argument. Take good notes. Summarise the main arguments or ideas in your own words. Note the page number on which you find each piece of information, in order to reference it accurately in your essay. If you plan to cite a particular phrase, sentence or section from a text in your essay, copy it out accurately and place it in quotation marks.
c) Preparing an outline Your plan need not be elaborate. Its main purpose is to enable you to structure your main points in the best possible order for your argument. The plan should outline what is to be covered in each section of your essay. When working out your plan, keep re-reading the essay question, to make sure you have understood it and are heading in the right direction. Concentrate primarily on identifying your key arguments. Remember that your time and space are limited. You cannot cover every aspect of the subject so make sure to concentrate on the points you consider most important. Once you have a plan, break down the total word limit and assign a general word limit to each point. This will help you give equal attention to each section. To help you organise your reading and notes in preparation for the essay, try the following techniques:
i) Brainstorming: Scribble down any key words, ideas or thoughts that you have. Draw lines
between them to try and pull the major points together.
School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin 2012-13 2
ii) Write the question at the top of the page then write underneath it your answer in response
to this question in one sentence. Then write down general headings you think the
information falls into and under these write the sources/notes you will use for each section.
The School uses six key criteria for assessing essays:
i) Your essay must be relevant to the question asked.
ii) It should be well-organised and under your control.
iii) It should show accurate and adequate knowledge of the topic being discussed.
iv) It should demonstrate that you understand the topic by expressing your views clearly.
v) It should have an overall argument involving analysis of the issues and a critical evaluation of different points of view.
vi) It should be well presented: the right length, legible (preferably typed), carefully proof-read, well-referenced and have a good bibliography.
The guidelines below are designed to help you meet these criteria.
a) Introduction The introductory paragraph should set out why the subject is important, where the focus of the essay question lies, what your argument in response to this is and how you will answer the question/expound your argument, thereby clearly laying out the structure of the essay. It is the point at which you try to capture the reader’s attention. Therefore, it is not advisable to fill the first paragraph with long ‘background’ narratives, gross overstatements or irrelevant information. One way of starting an essay is with a general statement concerning the subject in question and then narrow this down to set out your argument. A brief outline of the main points supporting this argument should then follow. The introduction may be the final section that you complete. You could re-write it last to be sure that it introduces your essay well and complements your conclusion.
b) Body An essay is the exposition of a reasoned argument to support a point. It is not a recitation of facts nor is it a summary of events. Analysis should be the driving force behind the narrative, not the other way around: why rather than what. It is in the body of your essay that you should use the factual details and sources you discovered in your research to give your points weight and strength. The golden rule: 1 idea = 1 paragraph. The beginning of a paragraph has two main functions: to introduce a new idea for discussion and to indicate the role this topic plays in your overall argument. The rest of the paragraph is devoted to elaborating and substantiating its central idea. Your points need to flow logically on from one another and you need to create a sense of progression through the way that each paragraph is linked. If the essay involves a critique of a particular thesis or text, don’t waste valuable space on long summaries of this thesis. Instead, give a brief and accurate exposition and concentrate for the most part on analysing its strengths and weaknesses. However, in some theoretical essays the primarytask might be to explain the thesis of an author, rather than to debate the plausibility of those ideas. Make sure you have made it clear why you think a piece of evidence supports your argument, or raises questions about an author’s assumptions etc. After you have written each paragraph, ask yourself if it relates to the essay question and how it supports your argument. If it doesn’t do this clearly, amend it straight away before you get stuck on a diversion.
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