As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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only 300 words it's all bout myself :v
can i start like this ?
I have been meditating when our teacher said that we will make an essay about ourselves. I asked myself, "did i change since i was a child?, what kind of person i am now ?, Who i am ? "
something like that as an introduction?
Hey, when it comes to writing an essay about yourself then I guess it should be written this way.. I don't know if its a different thing for you but I hope this helps :)
My name is [insert you full name] and I'm [insert your age]. There are many things about me but those are few main points I would like to mention about myself.
One of the many things I love to do in my free time is ice hockey and I've been doing in for [insert the amount of time you've been doing it for]. I am on the team crew and I really enjoy it. Some of the things I really like about it are [insert the things you like about about it].
I have rather wide variety of pets which include a cat named [insert name], dog called [insert name], gecko who's name is [insert name] as well as fish and other really interesting animals.
The main reason why I came to this school is because of my brother. He went to this school and once I went with him to one of the events that was going on I found that I really liked this school and wanted to attend it too.
I participate in health tech class for school and my goal is to do as well as possible in in throughout the year.
My favorite genre of music is [insert genre you like] and my favorite songs and artists include [insert list of your favorite songs and artists]. I like it because [insert a reason why you like it].
The person I admire the most and found to be my role model is [insert the name of your role model]. This is because [insert a reason].
Those are some of the many things about myself and facts about me form my personal point of view
also, in introduction, I suggest you how you can compose it to attract the reader's attention, so the readers will feel curious to read more
Overall, an intro should describe the contents of the essay in a clear manner as to attract the attention of the readers to the essay topic and organization. As always, Google is the best friend. Everything you can find there.
As a student I have a lot of questions going around my mind. I have been talking to myself asking , " Did I change since I was a little child ?, What kind of person I am now ?, Who I am ? What is special about me ? Am I worth it ?". Many of us ask different things ourselves.
My name is Sherabie Aseras, I am 14 yrs. Like other people I have some obstacle in life but im doing my best to overcome it. The old me is demure, innocent, always asking for my mother help and following her instruction. What I am now is a different person an opposite .I am what each day of my life changes me. Having someone who motivates you, supports you and take care of you changes something. Something really special that makes you believe that you can achieve beyond your wildest dream. Being special to someone makes you already a special one. Even though some people do not recognize your capabilities, manifest them your capabilities to do things because we are worth it. Our ambition helps us to set our goals in life and the supports, motivations, determinations, trust in yourself and love to God helps us to accomplish it. Making decisions is hard for me you should think it over and over again to avoid consequences.
I am a normal person with an ambition in life. we all have our own uniqueness that makes us take the spotlight in our life. Problem is just an obstacle that we can jump on.
uhmmm is this alright ? :x
im not really good at writing things :v
please help :)
Begin with introduce your name. Be brief, let the reader know clearly what are you going to discuss. Goodluck :)
i could not articulate or structure the essay just looking the title , what should i do to structure the whoe essay first in my mind and then start the essay ..Regards
My name is Sherabie Aseras, I am 14 yrs.
My name is Sherabie Aseras with 14 years old
Like other people I have some obstacle in life but im doing my best to overcome it
Like other people, I have faced some obstacles in my life, but I always overcame them in my best way.