Posts Tagged essay paragraphs
In the past few weeks, we’ve explored the use of examples in essays. Since examples are powerful communication devices, I will take my own advice. Below are some example paragraphs from a Year 13 level essay (written for Cambridge A2 course work).
Before we dive into them, though, note that for English Literature essays like these, the examples will usually be quotations taken from the text. At higher levels, and in other subjects, the types of examples may be case studies from various academic sources – or other sorts or evidence.
Good essay examples to use in an English Literature essay include quotations of sound devices, metaphors, personification, and various forms of imagery. This not only ensures your analysis is tied to the text (which is very important), but it means you can leverage the evocative power of the author’s work to help you explain your thematic interpretation.
Now for these examples – how many of the key elements of good examples can you identify? What things do you like about these paragraphs? What could be improved?
Q: Explore the effect on the reader of Conrad’s use of Marlow as narrator in “Heart of Darkness”.
Conrad’s literary strategy involves using Marlow’s narrative to demonstrate the reader’s incomplete understanding, which parallels the main character’s developing discernment. Marlow frequently presents his tale beginning with inexact, unrevealing descriptions. Literal observations like the “poleman… stretch[ing] himself flat on the deck” utilize emotionally neutral diction such as the leisurely verb “stretch”. Casual, nonchalant statements beguile the reader and belie the actual occurrences. “Arrows, by Jove! We were being shot at!” These snappy exclamations are all the more striking after the long, unenlightening sentences that begin the paragraph. Delayed decoding causes the reader to imaginatively experience the unanticipated situation.
Conrad has Marlow use lists of images to capture essential evocations. The ominous mood during the preparation for his voyage is created by eerie and lifeless adjectives: “deserted street” and “dead silence” appear in the list describing “the sepulchral city”. “Deep shadow” has symbolic connotations of evil and harm, “grass sprouting between the stones” signals neglect and carelessness, the adjective “imposing’ is plainly aggressive. This unnamed European city is later described metaphorically as a “whited sepulchre”. This biblical allusion* implies hypocrisy and deceitfulness. Wealth and power are often the motivating desires behind a façade of legalistic cant touting administration, advancement, illumination and civilization.
Were the examples relevant? Were they entertaining or at least engaging? (This could be because of the examples themselves and also because of the argument). Was the significance of each example adequately explained? Were they detailed enough? These are just a few of the questions that you can derive from previous posts about using examples in essays. There are other questions too – if you grasp the main points and also develop a personalised understanding of the concepts, then you’ve done really well. That’s a sign of a good example.
* cf Matt 23:27,28
Photo Credit: Image via Fishpond.co.nz
Last week we looked at the benefit of using examples to elucidate your essay’s points. We know that examples should be interesting, but still relevant to your essay as a whole, and help you to answer the essay question. Now let’s look in more detail at how examples provide more relevant details to the reader.
Give examples as details
When writers don’t give the required details, they’re tantalising the reader. Some examples and details can even make things worse – like in murder stories; finding out more details can increase the suspense even further. An essay is not supposed to be suspenseful – give the reader (marker) the satisfaction of knowing what you’re talking about by giving them an example sooner rather than later. If your argument is itself interesting, then your reader should be interested anyway. For example, would you keep reading an essay that began arguing that crop circles don’t prove the existence of aliens because the symbols depict forms that humans expect to come from aliens, which assumes that all intelligent life is like human life? Okay, maybe it’s just me. Anyway…
Give detailed examples
If the point of examples is to explain your essay’s points in more detail, you should give examples with enough detail for the marker to understand your argument. This isn’t about being verbose. Don’t stuff your example full of unnecessary words. The detail that’s required are the links to make the links in your reasoning clear. It’s often about setting the example in context so markers know how to respond. After all, what use is a picture if you don’t know where to look or what you’re looking for in the picture? A little explanation of the significance of the picture and how it relates to you (or rather, in the case of essays, to your marker), is what is really useful.
Consider standing up in a business presentation and saying “sales are expected to be $1,000,000”. That doesn’t tell me much – is that good or bad? What time frame does it relate to? If the sales forecast is for one year then the million dollar figure might be alright – if it’s Sally selling sea shells from a wheelbarrow. Not so good if it’s for Shell Oil. The size of the company matters in this case. Be specific; set the example in context. Another aspect of including an example’s critical details: state the assumptions. For example, what are the geographic boundaries that were taken into account in your sales forecast? Were you talking about global sales – or sales just from one suburb? If you want to get better marks, set examples in context and state your assumptions. Communicate the details.
Give examples as details and give detailed examples. You’ll make your essays clearer and more compelling. And probably more interesting. So you’ll get more marks. And maybe even have a little bit more fun writing too!
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Little things can make a big difference. It’s been said that ‘big doors swing on little hinges’ – if it’s not already, that will be a cliché one day. One small technique that can improve your essays massively is the astute use of connectives (or “linking words” as some call them).
In the last few posts we’ve been looking at various uses of connectives, and why they’re important. You can’t expect the marker to piece all your diverse points together. Between sleep deprivation and thinking about what they’ve got to teach the next day, there’s a high chance their neurons will misfire – so we use connectives to help them connect the dots.
We’ve mentioned two main types of connectives so far: those that show when you’re stopping to drill into more detail, and those that announce that you’re moving on to a new point, while also showing the direction of the argument. This second tactic includes the special case of using connectives to show causal relationships, which are very persuasive. However you use connectives, make sure you make the marker’s journey to enlightenment easy. You’re their guide in the big bad jungle.
A few tips:
Unlike a children’s colouring-in book, there isn’t only one correct way to connect the dots, but there are still ways that produce a better picture that strikes the marker. Using connectives makes it easier for them to notice that picture. From which dot are you going and to where. Are you now going into more detail about one point, or are you going to the other side of the colouring-in book (a different point that’s still related to the topic you are discussing)? Be creative in how you put your argument together – don’t do what everyone else does. Do make sure that it’s still logically constructed though.
You can draw inspiration for the various types of connectives from your bullet-point essay plan. Consider both the direction of the argument and the way you want to handle the evidence. From this you can get a clearer idea of how you’ll link concepts on a paragraph and sentence level, and not just a nebulous ‘big picture’, whole-essay impression. Now you have a more precise blueprint in mind.
So there’s a recap of two types of connectives and how they relate to each other and how you can work with them. Stay open-minded and creative when planning your essay. Just integrate your brilliantly unique insights in a logical form and the essay will be of a higher quality. There are more uses of connectives, though. What other uses of connectives can you think of?
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In previous posts, we’ve covered how to structure your essay’s arguments by separating them into ‘mini argument’ paragraphs. We’ve also covered how to order essay paragraphs to best guide your marker through various pieces of evidence and interpretation, based on the thematic and technique-based framework. There is one simple trick that makes these two things a lot easier, though: use connectives.
Connectives do an important job: they, well, connect paragraphs. That’s one of the most powerful uses of them, anyway. Technically, connectives show a relationship between two sentences – or sometimes two parts of a sentence (in which case they’re usually conjunctions). But the main point is that they connect thoughts. Like the stitching between patches in a patchwork quilt, or maybe the chain that links the rods in a pair of nunchaku, connectives link two substantial components together.
Importantly, connectives are also useful because they improve the flow of your essay; guiding the reader to your conclusion. Consider how you are going to order your paragraphs. This will give you ideas on the type of connectives to use to link them. We’ve touched on using connectives to introduce contradictory evidence in the “Paragraphing – an example (and a coffin)” post.
Since arguments can be represented on a spectrum, the sequence and direction of the arrows can show the direction of the argument. If an arrow points in the same direction as a previous one, then it is backing up the evidence in the previous point or paragraph. Connecting words like “furthermore, similarly, also, in addition” etc. can be used to introduce the second point. If an arrow points in the opposite direction, then the evidence suggests a different interpretation than that of the previous point. Connectives like “contrastingly, on the other hand, alternatively, ironically” etc. can be used depending on the context.
When linking between mini-arguments, connectives that imply causal relationships, derivations, or proofs are particularly compelling. Examples of connectives you could try for this purpose: “Since that decision was made..”; “Following on from this…”; “Hence, …”; “Thus, …”; “Therefore, …”; “Predictably …”; “Moreover…”. The more proof you seem to be piling up, the more persuasive. (All other things, like the quality of that evidence, being equal).
Connectives link threads of comments and thoughts so they’re easy to follow – and as strong as a (nunchaku) chain. Use them if you want to increase your essay’s readability and persuasiveness.
References: here are some websites I found useful for the technical aspect of connectives. See what you think.
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We’ve talked about answering the question – perhaps narrowing the question, using nuanced arguments, and remembering to use the wording of the question as a motif throughout your essay. Answering the question ensures that your essay is eligible to get marks; the other techniques make hard questions easier, conceive higher quality essays, and speed up the process so you have more free time.
It’s important that each paragraph is well structured in its own right, though. This goes beyond knowing when to split or combine thoughts into paragraphs or ordering the paragraphs well. Each paragraph is a mini-argument. So each paragraph has elements which work together to guide your reader through so that they reach your conclusion – or at least appreciate it and give you lots of marks!
Mini-introductions and conclusions
One important ingredient that strengthens a paragraph is an opening and closing topic sentence. This pair of topic sentences holds the paragraph together; making it easier for the reader to ‘pick up’ and digest its contents (the evidence that supports your argument). Topic sentences do this by introducing the main argument of the paragraph, which improving clarity. Then the closing topic sentence summarises, evaluates, and re-emphasises an important “take-out” point at the end of the paragraph. This makes the paragraph more compelling.
Using a pair of topic sentences is sort of like having an introduction and conclusion, on a smaller scale, for each paragraph. Essay writing is often like putting together a babushka doll; each component resembles the one that it’s inside, but it’s smaller and simpler. Repetitive? Perhaps, but that makes it clearer and more compelling. Balance the downside of repetition by using varied expression – but that’s a topic for a future post.
First attempts at topic sentences
Opening topic sentences share a similar function to headings, like the ones in this post. When considering your essay plan, think of the main point of each paragraph as being a heading. Of course, in most academic essays, you won’t use headings (some course lecturers will allow this – check with them before you submit your work). Instead, you can write ‘full sentence’ headings as the first lines of each paragraph – this is a good first attempt at nefarious “topic sentences”, but the two types of topic sentences is a topic (eek) for another time. For an example of topic sentences which shows how well they summarise the main strands of the essay’s argument, see this bird’s-eye-view of an essay.
I encourage you to use topic sentences – while they can be a challenge to write initially, with practice writing them will become second nature. Effective topic sentences can lift the rest of a paragraph. Results are far better than expected, based their proportion of words – try it!
Photo credit: ** Maurice ** via Flickr
So you’ve taken your break and now you’re back at your computer with your essay in front of you. So what should you check first?
Wait, one read through isn’t enough?!
Nope, you should definitely read through your essay a couple of times before you hit the print button. Checking, editing, and proofreading your work is extremely important. Remember your mark is based not just on what you write but also the marker’s impression of you – if there are grammatical errors and typos in your essay their impression won’t be very favourable!
Okay, so what do I need to check first?
First up is looking at the essay as a whole and focusing on content.
You are checking that:
- the introduction roughly follows the formula
- it introduces your argument and the topics of your body paragraphs effectively
- your body paragraphs are well constructed – don’t forget topic sentences!
- they are all similar in length – zoom out or use print preview to check this
- your conclusion roughly follows the formula
- it concludes your argument effectively and mentions what you discussed in your body paragraphs
- most importantly, you are answering the essay question throughout your essay!
While this is a broad check of what you’ve written, if you do see a typo or grammatical error – fix it up as you go. If there is something that doesn’t sound quite right or you think should be re-written better, don’t dwell on it – highlight it in yellow (or whatever colour takes your fancy); you’ll have time to fix this up on the next check.
But then why not just check everything at once?
Well, because the more things we focus on, the more likely we are to miss something. So focus on the big picture first, get that right and then go after detail. Also, that way you save time; because if you start with the detail you may ending up fixing parts of paragraphs that get deleted at the big picture checking stage.
Getting the big picture right is the easiest and the most important thing you should do. Over the next few weeks we will look at the detail and making sure what you hand in is perfect.
Photo Credit: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons
I was watching a movie tonight, Back to School (aptly titled movie for the Southern Hemisphere), starring Rodney Dangerfield and it got me thinking. In the movie Dangerfield’s character turns out to be quite the diver (think Olympic not deep sea) despite his advancing age and waistline. For those scenes it was quite obvious a stunt double was used.
What does this have to do with essays?
Well think of the actor as the writer and the essay as his character. The actor is the face of the character and it’s his voice that speaks – just as the writer’s name is on the essay and it’s written in his style, with his words.
A good movie always has a bit of action and I’m not talking about the stuff in the bedroom. The action usually consists of some pretty cool stunts and for this a stunt double is quite commonly used. They are dressed the same, and the scenes are shot in such a way that it looks like it is still the same actor.
In an essay the stunt double is the sources and authority figures you have referenced. You integrate their quotes and paraphrase their papers so it looks like one cohesive essay.
While it might be made to look like there is just one person playing the character in a movie, the stuntmen are credited for their role at the end of the movie. The same goes for your essays – reference all your sources correctly. Paraphrasing doesn’t make it your own work!
But why bother with a stunt double? Why can’t the actor do it?
In some cases they can and do; however, the two reasons they usually don’t are:
1. They physically can’t aka Mr. Dangerfield
2. It is not worth the risk of them injuring themselves
In your essay you do research and use credible sources because you can’t provide the evidence yourself. You don’t have enough experience, and haven’t carried out your own studies or experiments in your essay topic’s field. Basically, you’re a student and not qualified. Even if you are, it is very risky to base an essay wholly on your own thoughts and findings. Use the experts for the evidence.
Overall, you’re the actor (writer) and your essay is your character – it communicates to your audience. Write your essay with your unique voice, integrate evidence from credible sources, and create a powerful argument.
Keep this in mind when you are writing your essays this year and good luck!
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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’.