March 31st, 2010

Kat sketching

Essay Writing

I am the Essay Writing MASTER!! James is having super difficulties writing up this essay for a history unit. He's a maths major, so he's used to reports and such. Not arguments. The last one he did, he just typed stuff and handed it in after an all nighter. This time, I've set him mini-goals, like collecting sources before typing. So he did that. Then last night he got 4hrs of sleep, then headed to the uni to start typing. He did 700 words. 800 words short of the limit by the time I arrived at uni at 8am. So I got to work to give him direction.

I printed off the 3 pages of notes he collected, then cut them up. Then he organised the notes into 3 broad catagories. I asked him to divide them some more. So he kinda ordered them into similar ideas within that broad topic. I then summarised what he was trying to tell me those quotes were about (i.e. all these quotes talk about how the Bolsheviks took Marxism into their own hands. All these quotes are the peasants rebelling against this control, etc). I sticky-taped the quotes down on another sheet of paper with the sub headings to the side. All these groupings are paragraphs and it's now 12:30 and he's only got one more paragraph to type. Then the proper conclusion, introduction and bibliography. Then editing and proofing. It's currently 2 days overdue, but at least it's a proper essay in proper essay format with flow.

It took me 3 years at University to learn how to properly research and write an essay. High school really doesn't prepare students for tertiary level assignment submission.

How To

1. What is the topic or question of your essay? Are there set readings provided by your lecturer/tutor? What kind of information does that give you? What more information do you need?
Do a library/internet search to find other sources, other points of view, other arguments on the topic.

2. As you do your readings, make sure you underline or highlight sentences and phrases that present the ideas or argument relevant to your topic. Once you've read through a source, go back to these sentences and type them out on your computer.

3. Print out your quotes. Section them off into major ideas. Section those major ideas into smaller related-themes/key words. This is the structure of your essay. Make sure it makes sense and that each idea flow into the next easily.

4a. Write out the body of your essay, continually referring back to your quotes. You want to have your argument sorted by this time. Structuring out the quotes should be the skeleton for whatever it is you're trying to say. As an undergrad (or anyone below doctorate level really), you're not allowed to say anything original. The reasoning for this is because it probably isn't original anywayand you need to source your ideas, citing the correct people. You are relying on other people's authority to back up your claim.

4b. It is better for you to say "John Smith (1867) believed paraphrased something" rather than "'direct quotation' (John Smith, 1867)". Because it shows that you understand what Smith is saying and can rewrite it to fit your own ends. Too many direct quotations makes tutors unhappy. Further, 2-4 quotations per paragraph is good. But again, paraphrase said quotations.

5. Write your introduction. The point of this is to guide your reader through your essay.
"This essay is arguing blah blah. It will prove it to you by these main points that I've made in favour of my position (consider this sentence/s a road map to your argument. Give your main points here). As this reference says about the topic, 'blah'."

6. Write a shortened version of your introduction as the conclusion.

7. Edit and proof read

8. Write up a Bibliography. Or if you're using Endnote/Microsoft Word 2007, make sure you've been adding references to the database from the very start so you only need to click on the bibliography button to magically have it all done for you!! (I love the Microsoft Word referencing system SO FREAKING MUCH!!!)

Here ends Kat's guide to writing an essay. It has worked for me and is currently working better for James than his previous "didn't really have a system" system. The first time of doing this is hard, but once you've done it, every other time is so much easier! The first essay I ever wrote using this system is archived on LJ here. I'm pretty proud of that essay. Whether you agree with it or not, it is still written quite well (IMHO, lol)