Writing



From the University of Lancaster, UK

Read these guidelines thoroughly and carefully prior to beginning your essay.  While writing and when you are finished, use these guidelines as a check-list.  They are designed to help you and to give you some guidance on organization, as well as to help you write with clarity.

"An essay which answers the questions, has a strong argument supported by evidence and (possibly) quotations, properly attributed, which shows knowledge of contrary arguments, and which does not confuse the reader will gain high marks."

(1) Before you begin: Think about what is behind your question (essay) or problem (longer paper).   What is it getting at and what sorts of issues or debates does it raise.

(2) Always answer the question or address the problem.  Check constantly to be sure that you are not wandering off on some tangential or even non-related matter.  Each paragraph or section should pertain directly to the question or problem.

(3) Send some time on structure.  It is good practice.  Bad structure can easily cost you points, particularly if the reader finds it difficult or impossible to understand what you are trying to say.  Your essay or paper should not be so inchoate that it presents real problems in understanding; it is not meant to be a puzzle with which you are trying to "stump" the reader.   Do paragraphs relate to each other?  Is the introduction actually introductory? Does the conclusion really conclude the discussion? Are you careful not to introduce new arguments in the conclusion?

(4) Make note of important points as you go.  Tell the reader what you are going to tell them (the introduction).  Tell them (the body).  Tell them what you have told them (the conclusion).  If you feel on the final reading (yes...you have to read it.), that this is too simplistic or too basic, you may delete, but it is usually helpful to the reader to have some signs and guideposts along the way.  Sometimes using headings (or sections) and sub-headings can be a way of doing this.

(5) Always proof-read the paper carefully!!!  Sloppiness is not only annoying to the reader, but it will cost you points.  It may even entail complete rewriting of your essay or paper.  It is perfectly permissible for an essay or paper to receive a failing grade for terminal sloppiness.  If it cannot be read, then it cannot be graded.

(6) Always include a bibliography.  This should contain all the books/articles you have cited in the essay or paper.  You should also include sources which you consulted, but did not cite, which are relevant to your discussion, including sources which present opposing arguments or points of view. Check a style sheet for the appropriate citation form.  You must have accurate citations, which are complete and coherent.  Failure to cite carefully and fully leave you open to charges of deliberate plagiarism.

(7) You need to show that you have read thoroughly on the subject and have made a serious attempt to examine different perspectives and have considered the strengths and weaknesses of various position.

(8) You will need to display your understanding of the concepts you are using (e.g. methodology, ideology, sociology, feminism, etc.) And you should be able to use and apply them, using examples.  Be aware of competing definitions.

(9) Use of research studies to dispute or substantiate your arguments is useful, if such studies exist and can be validly applied.  Always include the dates of any books or articles in the text.

(10) Always think of the implications of your approach/argument.

(11) Do not insert simply insert quotations to support an argument.  Always analyze and explain them.

(12) Never use unjustified or unexplained assumptions or assertions, or you will find "unsubstantiated" or  "e.g." written all over your essay or paper.  Arguments have to be asserted convincingly, not just stated.

(13) Check for and avoid "universalizing" statements.  Example: "all historians agree...."

(14) It is usually good practice to reflect on what you have not managed to do in an essay or paper...what new perspectives, etc. were throw up by your research and writing. Some of these reflections could be included in your conclusion.

(15) Read your essay or paper aloud when it is finished (preferably to someone else, but this can be done alone).  This will help you see not only where grammar, syntax, and style are poor, but where arguments work or do not work, or where bits are missing or where you have wandered off the subject.

(16) Make sure you essay or paper is legible, that your pages are numbered and that your name is on the front page.   Good luck, your are probably going to need it.....




Last modified:  Ides of August, in the 2762th
ab urbe condita
(from the Foundation of the City, Rome, that is....2009, for those of you on a different calendar).