Posts Tagged Markers
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.
Getting something better with less effort sounds like a dream – but that’s what we covered last week. Recap it now to revise how to grab the freedom you are given when writing essays and using that freedom to its full advantage.
So how did you go in the challenge? Did you notice examples of nuanced arguments made in real life? Or nuanced discussion points that you could’ve raised, but didn’t? I promised an example of how to use the nuanced argument strategy, so here it is. It’s an essay question that you might find in an English assignment.*
“Q: The main purpose of a film is to entertain the audience. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?.”
- You can argue ‘yes, the main purpose of a film is to entertain the audience’ by using examples of humour, suspense etc.
- You can also argue ‘no, the purpose of a film is not to entertain -it’s to educate’. Or you could go as far as saying ‘the purpose of a film is to indoctrinate – or solely to make money’. Those are extreme positions, though – good luck arguing them.
A nuanced argument: elegant and sophisticated.
- one nuanced argument would be to define “entertain[ing] an audience” to include feelings of horror and pity, as well as happiness.
Tip: I thought of this idea by looking at the key word “entertain” and asking what that implies – and doesn’t imply – and what it could imply with a slight stretch of the imagination.
Another nuanced argument would be that through the emotional film techniques (entertainment) a higher purpose is achieved: conveying a deeper message about society, humans as individuals etc. [launch into an amazing thematic topic sentence here!]
Tip: this was triggered by looking at the keyword “purpose”.
It’s all about analysing the question really. Just do it in an open-minded, even quirky way.
NB: Nuanced arguments don’t have to be full paragraphs – they can be smaller points within paragraphs too, but I find they are often important enough and big enough to justify a full paragraph length of explanation.
I’m sure there are other ways you could approach that question, but it’s important to answer it in a way that’s unique to you. As long as it’s reasonable and you can back it up with evidence and express it well, of course. So let your uniqueness peep through the academic façade of your writing. Write on!
*based on a true assignment question. Some of the words may have been changed to protect the identity of the film mentioned, to comply with all relevant legislation, and to completely alter the meaning of the original question.
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.
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
essay: the conclusion.
Many people find writing conclusions difficult, but they do not need to be.
The purpose of your conclusion is to sum up your essay and nearly everything you need for your conclusion you have already written. You are taking all the arguments, information, and evidence you have presented throughout your essay and are tying it all together.
So before you start your conclusion you need to refer back to your:
- introduction – did you write about what you said you would?
- body paragraphs – how does what you wrote answer the essay question convincingly?
If the answer to either of those questions is ‘No’ then you need to go back and fix them up. You cannot write an effective conclusion without being able to answer ‘Yes’ to both these questions because this is where you will draw your content from.
Just as a poor introduction will lose you lots of marks, so too will a poor conclusion. In fact, if written well, your conclusion can gain you a lot of marks by aiding the marker’s understanding of what you have written in your body paragraphs.
So just because you are sick of writing after 2500 words of introduction and body paragraphs or you are running out of time in your exams, doesn’t mean you can write a half-arsed conclusion and you’ll get away with it.
Over the next few weeks I will look at how you can write effective conclusions which will give the marker no choice but to award you a top mark.
Photo Credit m.gifford via Flickr
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.