Archive for January, 2011
The paragraphing techniques that we’ve covered have been the basics – the foundations, the bare essentials. Now let’s put some power into your paragraphs – soup them up – so they don’t just survive, but thrive.
There’s one powerful technique that I use to ‘pimp paragraphs’. I like this technique because it looks good, allows you to express more of what you personally think, and makes the essay-writing task easier. It also gets you more marks.
You can get all that by using what I call ‘nuanced arguments’. (In case you noticed it on the diagram, the “x” doesn’t mark a spot where treasure is buried – then again, metaphorically…) .
So what is a nuanced argument?
We looked at how paragraphs can be based around concepts that agree or differ with a stance framed by the question. But different interpretations don’t necessarily have to be opposites; they can sometimes be due to re-defining a concept. That right there was an example of a nuanced argument! It’s going into more detail and explaining how something similar or linked is actually different. So before you can synthesise this into your essay, you have to analyse some differences.
What are the benefits of using “nuanced arguments”?
- Get more kudos (and therefore marks)
Markers generally like this sort of unique insight in an essay – it shows higher level thinking and is more engaging. Just make sure that you can back it up with evidence and it’s not straying outside of the question’s scope
- Be more creative, not a stuffy academic
So many more options are open to you when you aren’t simply arguing “yes/no” or “for/against” – even the “how strongly” dimension is still limited compared to nuanced arguments…
- Be more opinionated.
… which also means you can be more opinionated! (Some of you will really like that, I’m sure).
Nuanced arguments also make your job easier for many essays because you don’t have to fit the teacher’s thoughts into your own words, or struggle to come up with the ‘right answer”; you can write your own opinion, which you’ll know better and sooner than any other opinion. Best of all, markers prefer to read a fresh take on something (as long as it’s still well written and you back up the argument with evidence).
Don’t you want to take advantage of this technique? Here’s an idea: stay alert this week; see how many nuanced concepts you notice in real life – how many levels of precise interpretation you can identify. Once you start noticing them, you can pick them up everywhere. It’s great practice for essay writing and critical thinking in general. Also think about examples that you could use in an English essay. I’ll give you an example next week and we can compare notes, OK? All the best.
Over the last couple of months I have looked at how to write brilliant introductions and conclusions and there seemed to be a lot of similarities in the purposes of the sentences in their respective formulae.
So is a conclusion an introduction in disguise? Vice versa? Or are they very different beasts?
Well lets take a look at the formulae again:
1. Hook them!
2. Set the scene
3. Show you’re smart
4. Give the game away
5. Sum it up
1. Re-state the scene
2. Answer the question
3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist
5. End with a bang!
At a surface level each sentence of the introduction pairs up with a sentence from the conclusion. So we will chronologically go through the introduction and pair it up with the sentence from the conclusion that it is most similar too:
Introduction – Conclusion
1. Hook them! with 5. End with a bang!
Similarities: both sentences are broad like the extreme ends of a Greek column and should be powerful.
Differences: the first sentence of your introduction introduces the broad topic only; in addition the last sentence of the conclusion contains what the essay argued with regards to the broad topic. Also, the first sentence of the introduction is neutral whereas the final sentence of your conclusion most probably is not.
Introduction in disguise? Nope.
2. Set the scene with 1. Re-state the scene
Similarities: both sentences have the same purpose – introduce/conclude what the essay will/has talk(ed) about. Also, they both use the same or similar signpost.
Differences: just the tense.
Introduction in disguise? Yup.
3. Show you are smart with 3. (and 4.) Deliver a twist
Similarities: both have the same purpose – show your intelligence, but…
Differences: …they achieve this is very different ways. The third sentence of your introduction does this by talking about the context of the essay, whereas the twist makes a judgement call on the evidence and information presented in the body of the essay.
Introduction in disguise? Nope.
4. Give the game away with 2. Answer the question
Similarities: both deal with the essay’s argument; however…
Differences: …the way it does this is slightly different – in the introduction you state your argument, whereas in the conclusion you go one step further by comprehensively answering the essay question and concluding your argument.
Introduction in disguise? Sort of.
5. Sum it up with 5. End with a bang!
Yes we have already compared “End with a bang!” but since it’s the last sentence of the introduction, let’s see whether it is similar to the last sentence of the conclusion:
Similarities: both have the same purpose – sum up the essay, and use the same or similar signpost.
Differences: tense and with “End[ing] with a bang! You need to, well, end with a bang…
Introduction in disguise? Yup.
So is a conclusion an introduction in disguise?
Based on this analysis we have two “Yup’s”, two “Nope’s” and a “Sort of”. Though the last sentence of the conclusion, “End with a bang!” is most similar in function to the last sentence of the introduction, so really there is just one key “Nope” – the two sentence 3’s: “Showing you are smart” and “Delivering a twist”.
Both have a similar purpose, so next week we will look at an example of an essay’s introduction and conclusion and I’ll provide my answer to the question.
In the meantime, what do you think – is a conclusion an introduction in disguise?
In previous posts, we’ve looked at how to structure paragraphs to produce coherent, compelling, and persuasive essays.
To recap quickly:
- Use paragraphs to make your essay easy to read
- Your paragraphs are mini-arguments; use them strategically
- Be able to use both Thematic and Technique-based paragraphs
Once you’re comfortable with what each individual paragraph should do, you can master the art of arranging them effectively. We looked at both chronological ordering and ordering paragraphs by similarities and/or differences.
These topics are quite abstract. Enough to do your head in; after all, I’ve been writing lots of paragraphs about how to write paragraphs! So here’s an example of how I ordered paragraphs in one of my essays (we first saw part of this essay in the second “SEX” post). I’ll show you the ordering and the basis on which the paragraphs were constructed by reproducing the first and last sentences of each paragraph. (See how useful topic sentences are?). I’ll write comments in normal text underneath the italics of the example.
The poem opens with direct speech: “’I’m rising five’”, exclaims the character in the poem.
Nicholson shows us how when we are young we lack knowledge outside of our uncomplicated small-scale experiences; and don’t recognise how carefree our lives are – we place the utmost importance on growing up.
The start of my essay’s body discusses the start of the poem; the overall method of ordering is chronological as you will see. Note that in the first sentence I begin the paragraph by focusing on Techniques, then the evidence throughout the paragraph this leads to a Thematic closing topic sentence.
Our early years present us with so many opportunities, Nicholson believes.
Soon his life’s opportunities are left behind him: opportunities are left stranded by humans every day.
The paragraph both began and ended with a Thematic focus. Between the topic sentences there was still Technical content, though. It’s important to have good Technical content to back up your arguments and make them more convincing.
As we mature, our perspectives change.
The boy’s mentality is shown throughout the poem by using the same line-placement technique. It is like a chain of reasoning, but this results in a rather chilling conclusion….
Notice that even in the closing topic sentences of this thematic paragraph, I refer to a chain of techniques that reveal the evolving perspectives of the boy. This further reflects the chronological ordering that is the basis of my essay’s analysis. This poem lends itself to the chronological approach because it’s theme is about progression and growing up.
NB: I don’t think I’d be so creative now to end a paragraph in a formal essay with ellipsis, but I got away with it that time. 😉
Positive images are still used for a while, though.
The space that is left unused means that the stanza lacks the detail of the previous, more densely packed stanza. This could reflect how blank and empty our lives are when we incessantly worry about the future.
Here I used a different approach to link to this paragraph. A link is made based on a similarity. The previous paragraph set up expectation of a progression, but I choose to emphasise the similarity of the imagery (so it’s a Technique focused paragraph again). This gives the reader a clear overview of what to expect, while still making the current point clear; aim for clarity in your essay.
Although the form of the poem is comparatively erratic in the previous stanza, the next is more traditional in layout – it is here that a subtle shift in the mood of the piece can first be detected.
It is ironic that people often desire to be younger again when they are adults – this backs up the poet’s argument that we need to make prudent decisions about what we do with each day; once we have decided, we can never get that day back again.
Another new approach to mix things up: this time a contrast is used to link the paragraphs. “Although” is a great linking word to use to signal a difference in the next paragraph. “On the other hand”, “however”, “in contrast”, and “nevertheless” are a few others. Experiment with them to find ones that work for you – the ‘fit’ often depends on the specific situation.
By the last stanza, Nicholson’s motif of the fruit trees has developed into an extended metaphor for the human life cycle.
The future holds the same fate for all of us: death. Nicholson reminds us not to be excessively captivated by the future.
(There. So now you know why there’s a coffin as the image for this post.)
Back to chronological linking of paragraphs after a little variety to add interest for the reader.
Often, my closing topic sentences are more creative and expressive than my opening topic sentences. I also prefer to close with a theme – and the sentence I leave in the reader’s mind at the end of each paragraph can target emotional responses (without becoming a poem or novel itself; it’s still an essay).
So there it is – ah, I’m at my word limit. ‘Bye for now’.
Below is an example of a well-constructed conclusion:
Sentence 1: Re-state the scene
This essay has looked at the key issues of the 2009 Review of the Holidays Act 2003.
Know what the essay was about?
The sentence is short, simple, and clearly states what the essay did. For comparison here is the second sentence of the introduction, “This essay will examine the positions that the employer organisations and trade unions took, in regards to the key issues reviewed by the Working Party, within the Employment Relations’ frameworks of unitarism and pluralism.” Both sentences are very similar, as they should be, but the sentence in the introduction goes into a lot more detail. The reason is because in the introduction you haven’t said anything yet and so need to introduce the topic to the marker in a bit of detail. However, by the time they have got to the conclusion they don’t need to have it spelt out again in so much detail. All you need to do is refresh the marker’s memory, not try and put them to sleep!
Sentence 2: Answer the question
Looking in particular at where the employers and unions stood on these issues, this essay has shown how the reasoning behind their positions is a product of their unitarist or pluralist viewpoints.
See the answer?
The sentence follows on from the first sentence and narrows its focus before providing the answer to the essay question: “In 2009, the Government undertook a review of holiday entitlements in New Zealand. What were the key issues addressed by the Working Party? What positions did employer organisations and trade unions take on these issues? What does your reading of the debate on holiday entitlement suggest to you about the principal analytical frameworks used in Employment Relations?”
Once again, you are providing a broad answer to the essay question here – you don’t need to go into too much detail.
Sentence 3 (and 4): Deliver a twist
This was most strongly apparent when they disagreed on the major issues of relevant daily pay and the selling of holidays.Interestingly enough, despite the employer’s unitarism, the review itself was a product of the pluralist model – it was a bargaining session. That is one of the reasons the subsequent Holidays Amendment Bill (2010) has been strongly opposed by the unions, they feel betrayed by the Government’s decision to not uphold the recommendations they bargained for during the review (“Unions urge Government to protect worker leave entitlements”, 2010). In fact, in some regards, while initially portraying a democratic pluralist approach to fixing the Holidays Act (2003), the Government has now switched to a unitarist approach to do what it feels is best for New Zealand as a whole.
See what the most important evidence was?
The first sentence is essentially the twist – it chooses from all the evidence and examples presented in the essay the most important. The next three sentences show the student”s intelligence. It is a different way of looking at the evidence in order to answer the essay question and shows the marker that the student has thought very carefully and understood the topic he is writing about.
When I introduced this formula in my last post I suggested two sentences but in this example the twist takes up four sentences. With the formulas we have discussed the most important thing is what the sentences are about, not how many sentences you write. The twist is the most important part of the conclusion and so here it takes up four sentences total. Make sure, though, that it is taking up more sentences because it contains important content – not because you’re waffling.
Sentence 5: End with a bang!
Overall, it appears that in New Zealand Employment Relations, unitarism and pluralism are going to continue to fight to gain the upper hand, with the Government’s job to try and balance the opposing views because of our democratic pluralistic political system.
Hear the bang?
Probably not quite what you were expecting. Ending an essay with a bang is not quite as dramatic as ending a fiction novel – but you want the same effect. This sentence ties the whole essay context together and doesn’t waste words.
To finish off, here is the conclusion in full:
This essay has looked at the key issues of the 2009 Review of the Holidays Act 2003. Looking in particular at where the employers and unions stood on these issues, this essay has shown how the reasoning behind their positions is a product of their unitarist or pluralist viewpoints. This was most strongly apparent when they disagreed on the major issues of relevant daily pay and the selling of holidays. Interestingly enough, despite the employer’s unitarism, the review itself was a product of the pluralist model – it was a bargaining session. That is one of the reasons the subsequent Holidays Amendment Bill (2010) has been strongly opposed by the unions, they feel betrayed by the Government’s decision to not uphold the recommendations they bargained for during the review (“Unions urge Government to protect worker leave entitlements”, 2010). In fact, in some regards, while initially portraying a democratic pluralist approach to fixing the Holidays Act (2003), the Government has now switched to a unitarist approach to do what it feels is best for New Zealand as a whole. Overall, it appears that in New Zealand Employment Relations, unitarism and pluralism are going to continue to fight to gain the upper hand, with the Government’s job to try and balance the opposing views because of our democratic pluralistic political system.
Well that’s the formula in action, give it a try and let us know how you get on.
Photo Credit: US Embassy New Zealand via Flickr
In my last post, we looked at a simple method of ordering paragraphs: sequentially like the way content appears in the text. Along with the advantages, chronological ordering comes with a downside: it’s tempting to recount what happened in the text, rather than analysing the way the text was constructed and the deeper messages it conveys. The last thing markers want is yet another summary of the plot. They have sparknotes for that – and they’ve probably taught it so many times they can spout it off in their sleep – backwards – and with their hands tied behind their backs. Use chronological ordering to tie your technical and thematic analysis together in a logical manner. It’s not an invitation to stop thinking.
However, chronological ordering is just one method that you can use. The following ‘family’ of methods is modelled on the ‘Spectrum Diagram’ above.
Essentially, all these methods structure your essay around concepts – usually themes and techniques in a Literature Essay.
Similarities and Differences
The spectrum diagram depicts the flow of the essay through the paragraphs. The spectrum itself represents the grounds of the debate, as set by the question. Opinions, individual concepts, arguments – and the different schools of thought that you discover in your research – can be placed on this spectrum.
Tip: to have a more convincing argument, look at alternative interpretations and arguments, as well as your own.
Structure your argument by balancing the different opinions and pieces of evidence. So some paragraphs may re-enforce each other (move in the same direction), while others may differ and take the reader back along the spectrum of opinion in the opposite direction. These paragraphs can be more persuasive, because the arguments are clearer; they form the very backbone of how the essay’s ordered. However, you have to very clearly communicate where the evidence is found in the text, since it’s not in chronological order. Also, remember to order the paragraphs with the end goal of being persuasive. Your paragraphs should link together in a meaningful journey, not just meander through some interesting but irrelevant concepts.
Ordering paragraphs to lead readers through stages of an argument is a more adaptable method than chronological ordering; every essay question will invite you to discuss concepts. You can mold the content more freely. However, it can take a little more thought to write using this method – but that can be a good thing. Done well, this can impress the marker and give you more persuasive power.
Perhaps it’s time to try a slightly more sophisticated paragraphing and ordering technique?
Now we will put it all together to create a formula for your conclusions like we did with the introduction.
Sentence 1: Re-state the scene
Aim: Summarise your essay broadly, what did it do?
Start with a signpost such as “This essay has [examined/considered/discussed]…”
This sentence is essentially the past tense version of Sentence 2 in your introduction. Don’t copy it word for word though! Paraphrase it, show you understand what your essay has done.
Sentence 2: Answer the question
Aim: State the broad conclusion to your essay’s argument – what has your essay proved?
Carry on from Sentence 1 and move into specifically what your essay looked at and finish up the sentence with your broad answer to the essay question. This sentence can sometimes get quite long so don’t be afraid to split it into two sentences. However, as we keep stressing, be concise! The marker will have read tens if not hundreds of essays – you want your conclusion to stand out.
It is similar to Sentence 4 in the introduction.
Sentence 3 (and 4): Deliver a twist
Aim: Make your conclusion interesting and demonstrate your knowledge and understanding to the marker.
Everything you need to know about the one thing you need to include in your conclusion can be found in my previous post.
Since this is such an important part of the conclusion it usually takes up a couple of sentences. It has a similar purpose as Sentence 3 in the introduction.
Sentence 5: End with a bang!
Aim: To summarise your conclusion.
Be succinct and concise. This is the last thing the marker is going to read; you want them to remember it. So start with a signpost, “Overall…” and end with a bang!
It follows along the same lines as Sentence 5 in the introduction.
This formula is a great guide for writing your conclusions and is based off Ian Hunter’s book.
Next week we will look at an example of this formula in action.
When is simple good?
Now we’ve covered ways you can decide what goes in each individual paragraph. This post will go over ways you can order the paragraphs. Knowing what makes a good order of paragraphs will also help you plan the essay in the first place.
Each mini-argument that becomes a paragraph should fit in with the rest of the mini-arguments. The main thing is that you’ve got to lead your reader through your arguments. Make it flow. If it’s a nice easy journey, they’re more likely to like you and your arguments.
There are ways of achieving this gentle persuasiveness. Here’s one strategy that I use.
This is when you write your first paragraph about the first part of the text, or the first part of a model, or the first historical development in your topic. You then write about the second part of the text etc. until you have finished analysing the text and sum up your argument in your conclusion. This is simple to do, so it is probably the best one to practice on. It is also usually clear for the reader and is particularly well-suited to character development and plot-driven questions. If you’re writing an English Literature essay, choosing a chronological ordering for your paragraphs may speed up your analysis as well, because you can simply go through the text in order. So besides being easy to write, chronologically ordered essays can be simple for the reader to understand too, if the question, text, and your overall argument serendipitously complement each other using this method.
To answer the question posed at the beginning of this post, simple chronological ordering of paragraphs is good where you want to write a solid essay quickly – like when you’re in an exam. However, what other ways of ordering paragraphs can you think of? And when is simple bad?
Following on from what you don’t include in a conclusion let’s look at the one thing you should include.
Many of you will recognise the twist ending as a literary device found in fiction. However, it also has an important place in your essay; which is entirely a non-fiction work (make sure it is and you have made nothing up!).
The twist seems to be a little known part of an essay’s conclusion and it was in Ian Hunter’s book that I first came across it.
The twist has two functions:
- Make your conclusion interesting – your conclusion only contains things that you have mentioned earlier in your essay so you need something different to keep the marker awake.
- Most importantly though, it is the perfect way to demonstrate to the marker that you know your topic and understand your arguments – this is how you show you are smart in your conclusion.
So what actually is a twist?
In your essay you have presented a number of arguments and a variety of evidence to back these up. Go back and reread what you have written – what was the most important?
This is what the twist is – making a judgement call on the significance and importance of the points your essay has made.
What was the strongest evidence? The weakest? Whose opinions are most valid? Or invalid? What source(s) were the most credible?
Form your answers to the above questions into a sentence or two and you have your twist. Remember don’t include any new information, just a layer of interpretation.
Up next week we look at structuring your conclusions and where the twist should be found.
Photo Credit thombo2 via Flickr