Archive for category Introductions
Last week we looked at redefining the question to make it easier to answer. Now, there is a danger if you take this advice out of context: you will lose many of your marks – maybe even all of them – if you change the substance of the question. Remember, analysing the question correctly is the basis of a good essay answer. Dreaming up your own essay question is not completing the required task. So remember this: narrow the question, don’t try to twist it into encouraging wild thoughts and tangents.
By the way, did you notice that the above clarification is a nuanced argument? Not only are they useful tactics to use when doing writing; they’re also useful when learning how to write!
To make the concept of ‘redefining the question’ clearer, below are some examples of what you should and shouldn’t do.
You should not do this:*
*Answers are not written in essay form. The tone is purposefully colloquial and facetious; this is not how you would write an actual academic essay.
1. Compare and contrast the two poems “Thistles” by Ted Hughes and “Tall Nettles” by Edward Thomas.
Thistles by Ted Hughes is about prickly thistles and the thistles grow in the wilderness and the thistles annoy people because they grow where they want to grow plants… [basically, only writing about one poem].
2. Discuss the theme of power and authority in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”.
“Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare is a play about betrayal, revenge, fate and justice… [never mentioning the given themes of power or authority, or only mentioning them briefly – probably at the end of the essay when you reread the question before writing your conclusion, when you suddenly realise you should say something about the given themes].
You should do this:
Here’s an example question that gets narrowed down in many ways. Let’s highlight then redefine parts of the question.
3. Discuss ethics in business organisations and how they can affect stakeholders.
Businesses today face a phenomenon of growing ethical concerns from groups on all sides: consumers, regulators, employees (Samson & Daft, 2005).
Some thinkers consider ethics to be a purely individual matter, and therefore focus on training responsible managers (MacLagan, 1998, cited in Knights & Willmott, 2007). However, this essay will focus on the ethical attributes of multi-national organisations themselves, as entities distinct from their constituent members, and the positive benefits with which multi-national businesses can endow society. Overall, this essay will argue that organisations have an ethical capacity in themselves and can pro-actively respond to the various ethical perspectives by being a source of positive transformation in modern society.
Notice how the coloured parts of the question are narrowed down to more specific sub-sets in the introduction of the essay? The concept of “multi-national organisations themselves” having “ethical attributes” is more specific than a general discussion of “ethics” which includes the idea that “ethics [is] a purely individual matter”. Similarly, “multi-national organisations” is a more specific focus than any size “business”, and so on. So the question hasn’t been changed, but the essay has been focused so that part of a broad topic can be covered in more depth.
So that’s what you can and can’t do when redefining the question. Use this technique correctly and it will make your essay-writing projects a lot easier. Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions or comments. See you again next week!
Success often involves jumping through hoops. However, if you use nuanced arguments wisely, as we discussed last week, you can be more flexible in what you do to get through those hoops. Another strategy that makes writing essays much easier is to cleverly redefine the question. You can mold the question to fit the essay you plan to produce.
Wait! Isn’t that cheating?
Or at least not answering the question? No, you have to stay within the broader confines of the question, but you can narrow the question.
As Ian Hunter explains in his book “Write That Essay!”, this technique is often used anyway, because it might be necessary to cut down the amount of content that you’d have to cover in your essay. For example, you can’t cover everything about Medieval European warfare in one essay. So, you could focus on, say, a few famous battles, or a few technologies, or the political aspect of warfare during that era.
The trick and a quick example
Here’s the trick: tell the marker what you’re doing. Tell them that you’re focusing on one aspect of the broad topic allocated by the question. This ‘qualifying sentence’, as Ian Hunter calls it, might say something like “while Medieval European warfare was affected by many factors such as the political environment, social paradigms, and prominent personalities, this essay will discuss the effect of technological advancement which ultimately brought the Medieval Age to an end.” That one extra sentence in the introduction (it often becomes sentence 2 or 3 in the formulaic introduction) shows a broader understanding of the topic. So even though you haven’t covered them, the marker will assume you understand the other sub-topics too. In fact, if you write really well on one sub-topic, they will assume you know the other topics to the same standard. So write in detail on the aspect that you understand best, and you’ll score an instant kudos upgrade for no extra effort (the halo effect – the awesomeness rubs off on surrounding sub-topics).
Remember essays need to go beyond description. You’re not there to recount what happened in the play. You’re there to interpret what happened – analyse, offer some insights – even synthesize with other relevant ideas. To do this in-depth analysis of the text, you need enough words to discuss your chosen sub-topics(s) comprehensively, so focus the question.
NB: One thing you can’t narrow down is the number of texts or examples you have to refer to.
In most cases, however, redefining the question is brilliant. It focuses your writing; allowing you to go more in-depth and produce a higher quality essay. And it makes it easier to write the essay too. Redefine the question to unleash the halo effect and get higher marks.
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?
You have planned your essay, you pick up your pen or sit down at your computer, and then what?
If you know what you are doing, the introduction is actually relatively easy to write because for academic essays it follows a rough formula. English essays don’t necessarily follow this structure quite as rigidly but for university essays it is very useful.
Below is an elaboration from Dr. Ian Hunter’s book, Write That Essay! For an average length essay five sentences is usually enough and each of them has a specific purpose.
Sentence 1: Hook them!
Aim: Introduce the general topic to the reader.
This sentence is a neutral sentence. It contains facts and information that is generally agreed to be correct – as tempting as it may be, you do not want to spark controversy here.
Sentence 2: Set the scene
Aim: Introduce what topic(s) your essay is going to specifically focus on.
You want to start this sentence with something like “This essay will [examine/consider/discuss]…”.
While this sort of sentence might sound a little stupid, throughout your essay you need to place signposts to help the marker follow your argument and not get lost. This is the first signpost in your essay, it lets the marker know what topics to expect in the body paragraphs.
Sentence 3: Show you are smart
Aim: Mention the context of your essay.
You want to show the marker that you know what you are talking about and are not just bluffing through the essay question because you spent your research time on Facebook. However, there is a fine line between proving your intelligence and showing off. If you cross that line this early in your essay, you will have severely damaged the marker’s impression of you. Not a good move!
Sentence 4: Give the game away
Aim: State your argument.
An essay is not a thriller and you are not John Grisham. Right here in the fourth sentence of your essay you want to tell the marker your argument. Without reading any further they should know what happens at the end – suspense has no place in your essay – it is an essay after all!
Sentence 5: Sum it up
Aim: Summarise the conclusion of your argument.
Two sentences after the first ‘signpost’, we come to another one (after all no one wants to get lost in an essay!). Here, in a nutshell, you are summing up your essay. Your sentence should start with something like:
“Overall, this essay will argue…” or “In summary, this essay will suggest that…”
This is a very good guide for writing your introductions and one that I always use. Learn it, use it, then you can adapt it a little too (remember English essays don’t have to be as formulaic). Just make sure you fulfil the aims of an effective introduction.
Also, check out Dr. Hunter’s book for more help and tips on writing essays.
“We take it for granted we know the whole story – We judge a book by its cover and read what we want between selected lines.”
– Axl Rose
We do it, and so do markers. It is no different with your essays, whether they are written in an exam or done as an assignment.
First impressions are lasting impressions.
Therefore, the introduction is the most important part of your essay. From the introduction the marker is making judgements on:
- Your grasp of the subject (how much time you spent asleep in class)
- Whether you understand the essay question (if you don’t you’re stuffed)
- Your competency in English (written academic English not your version of English)
- Your level of intelligence (using a thesaurus doesn’t show you’re smart)
- Your attitude (whether you have the time of your life writing essays)
- The amount of effort you have put in (write lots of quality content; not lots of bullsh*t)
So after the first paragraph the marker can already put you and your essay in a box – it’s an A, B, C, D or N, A, M, E essay.
Make sure they are putting you in the best box because the rest of the of the essay, no matter how awesome, is unlikely to change your mark by much because:
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”