(Credit also to Natalya Hughes, Lawson Fletcher, James Meese and Raya Massie)
An essay is a persuasive piece of writing. That means it must have an argument. All of the advice below is oriented towards this basic definition.
Submission and Presentation
Keep the assignment within the one document. Just start a new page for each section. Cover sheet should precede every digital essay, within the file – it’s no different to a physical one.
The essay should be formatted as such: 10 to 12 pt font size, a formal font e.g. Helvetica or Times, double spaced, and correctly margined, etc. Submit the essay with no obvious errors.
Style is almost as important as content. If we can’t understand what you’re saying i.e. if your essay is poorly presented/laid out haphazardly/randomly structured, the best ideas can and will go to waste. Paragraphs and sentences aren’t suggestions – they are iron-clad rules about how we communicate in the context of a research environment.
Academic texts cannot be replaced by general opinion pieces found on the internet. Academic texts must be sourced from the library, either through those old fashioned things called books, or else through journal databases.
Newspaper and magazine articles are not valid academic sources. The only times they should be cited is, when they mention a factual detail that is important to making your argument or to assess the ‘common sense’, journalistic and ‘public’ opinions regarding a particular topic.
Please be aware that final essays that don’t at least show an attempt at appropriate in-text referencing are by definition not essays, and run the risk of failing outright.
Writing and Critical Analysis
Simply repeating what others have said shows that you’ve listened, but not that you’ve learned. A good essay is one that develops an argument – it has a point of view. This point of view does not necessarily have to be original but it will show that you’ve thought about the issues and come to a conclusion.
The early stages of your essay should set up your position or argument. Briefly outline the issue, noting work that has already been done in the area and indicating key concepts and themes. Discuss what others have said, and how it relates to your own work. It is usually fine to assume some knowledge on the part of the reader, but not too much.
Academic papers are formal pieces, and not conversational, you must demonstrate your knowledge of the opinions, theories or concepts of recognised authorities in the area you’re writing about and you must adopt an appropriate style and tone.
Understand the difference between primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are what you are examining/criticising. Secondary sources are about what you are examining/criticising. Effectively, you are producing a new secondary source that makes an argument about some primary source.
An argument without evidence is opinion. The essay is not just about what you think but what you have discovered during the course of your research. (Thus be wary of “I think” statements – your opinions are less convincing than what you can prove). The evidence you provide to detail your discussion and analysis can come in many forms:
Published research and statistics.
Your own data (gathered via ethnographic methods perhaps).
Many essays are marked on the quality of their evidence – unreliable evidence means you’ll have a flimsy argument. Don’t try to make your evidence write the essay for you – it can support your argument but not be your argument.
The final structure of your essay should flow naturally – Intro + Body + Conclusion. The idea is to introduce your argument, develop it, prove it and then conclude it. Writing a plan is often good. If you do a plan, try to map out what each paragraph is going to say and how each paragraph may link to the next. This will take some time in the beginning but will make the final writing stage…