This is the second part to my guide on essay writing (here’s the link to Part One):
The first thing to do when you get an essay, is to read the question. I mean, really read it. Out loud, if you are not in an examination. The easiest questions are the ones asking you to discuss stuff. But make sure you talk about what they want you to talk about. Say you get the question, ‘Discuss the role of Sponge Bob Squarepants in children’s television.’ After you’ve read it twice the most important thing is to define your terms. Academics are just as guilty of writing woolly questions, as students are of writing woolly answers. So be firm with them. Say what you are going to talk about. Children’s TV is a huge area, so you’d be well within your rights to point this out and say, ‘I’m going to discuss Sponge Bob’s role in British TV, or American TV or whichever TV land you inhabit. Define the word ‘role’ too. Give examples of some of the different things it can mean and then say which ones you are going to discuss further (explore is a really useful word here; essay markers love it).
That is your introduction.
Then you need to set your paragraphs out. Use each one to talk about different aspects of the role that Sponge Bob plays. Teachers these days are extremely fond of the P.E.E. method (point, example, explanation), it but you need to take care that you don’t end up writing like a dalek.
I am terrifying. For example I have a deadly egg whisk and a nobbly exterior. Hence, I am not to be confused with the school dinner lady.
Sometimes your essay will flow more easily if you combine the point and the example in one sentence. However, if you get stuck, be a dalek. Your tutor/ teacher won’t care. They won’t care because they just want you to answer the question. If you answer the question you fulfill the whole point of the essay.
See what I did there?
Then, after you have explored the different aspects of Sponge Bob’s role, you write a conclusion. You sum up the points that you have made in each paragraph. For example you might come to the conclusion that, based on the evidence that SB is funny, endearing and inhabits a world under the sea which in some respects mirrors real-life habitats, SB can be said to be both entertaining and educational. Or not. It doesn’t matter what you say, so long as you back it up.
The other most common kind of essay is the compare and contrast one. It’s a bit trickier, but so long as you define your terms and do what the question asks you should be ok. Say you’re asked to compare and contrast Sponge Bob and Squidward. It doesn’t matter if you compare and contrast them in each paragraph or if you talk about one first and then the other. Just so long as you are clear.
Some common problems:
- Poor organisation of information – make a spider diagram before you start, and then a list of points you want to make in order of importance.
- Not enough content – you need to do more research.
- Boring – not necessarily a problem, but can sometimes be solved by using shorter sentences and making your points more crisply and clearly. You might even want to think of different ways of looking at your subject. But don’t go too mad. This is not entertainment; this is an academic exercise.
In effect, your essay is making an argument in much the same way as a lawyer would in court. If it helps, stand up, read your essay out, and if the dog has fallen asleep by the end, sit down and have another look at it.