Academic Tips and Tricks

All the help you need for good essay writing


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How To Write a Cohesive Essay

One of the biggest problems with many of the essays I’ve read is a lack of general cohesion and structure – an essay can be both interesting and well-researched and still completely fail to answer the essay question or have any kind of cohesion.

So how do you keep your essay on topic?

My first tip would be, for every paragraph, or at least every section, refer back to your essay question, research aims or hypothesis and really think “is what I’m writing relevant to the question?”. This may sound obvious, but it’s very easy to find something tangential to your topic, which is still very interesting, and really want to put it in – it’s understandable, you want your tutor to understand that you’ve really engaged with the topic and to see all your observations and insights about it. If you really can’t restrain yourself, leave tangentially interesting things to the following areas:

  • Footnotes/endnotes
  • Appendices
  • Suggestions for further research

Do NOT put them in the main body of the essay.

It is also very tempting to try to fit in quotes from books which aren’t strictly relevant – this is tempting for the following reasons: to bulk up your reference list, to prove to your tutors how well-read you are, or because it’s just such a great quote you can’t not include it. Well in this case you can not include it, and should not include it. Lecturers know a not-strictly-relevant source when they see one and quotes that don’t quite fit are not going to enhance the flow of your essay.

The above should be gospel for specific sections and can be summarised as the following:

keep it relevant and leave out what isn’t relevant

But to keep the entire essay flowing well, read on.

Each section should have a logical link to the next section, and each paragraph should link to the next and express a point in its entirety. If you’re going to make a jump in topics, this requires a new section, e.g. to go from introducing your topic to talking about your research methodology you should use underlined headings to introduce and differentiate each section.

Essays should always start with an introduction and for longer essays, an abstract too. Each section within the essay should have a mini-introduction to help the reader know what to expect. Something as simple as “this section will review the current literature on X and describe how it relates to this study” is fine. The general layout, which works for most essay types, proceeds through the various sections in this order:

  1. Abstract and/or Introduction
  2. Research Aims/ Hypothesis
  3. Methodology – usually having several subsections, such as talking about ethics (if relevant) discussing data collection (or selection), and briefly looking at what method you’re using for data analysis.
  4. Literature Review
  5. Data Analysis – usually having several sections categorised by, for example, method of data collection, participant differences, different methods of analysis, looking at different aspects of the data, etc.
  6. Suggestions for improving the study, and the study’s limitations
  7. Conclusions
  8. Suggestions for further research
  9. Appendices
  10. Bibliography

Not all essays will need every section – and if you can think of any sections I have missed out, i.e. those applicable to more art-based, or science-based disciplines, please let me know below and I will modify these suggestions accordingly.

If you follow the above, you can’t go far wrong. Please also click the hyperlinks – these link to further blog entries exploring the highlighted subjects in more detail, e.g. writing a good introduction.

As always, for any other topics you want covered, please let me know.

Liz


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Tips and Tricks 8: Paragraph Structure

For those of you who were educated in the UK, and paid attention in your GCSE English classes, this may sound obvious, however, I’m sure many of you had more important things on your minds at the age of fifteen and could use a refresher. This technique has never failed me, obviously you can elaborate on the basic structure to make more detailed and elegant arguments, but the standard three steps will work fine if you’re not very confident with essay writing.

The structure I’m referring to is known as PQC or PEE (Point, Quote, Comment / Point, Evidence, Explanation) – these are two acronyms for the same thing. First, the Point:
A statement about something such as:
(this is taken from an A-Level essay of mine on Phillip Larkin’s poetry)

Larkin’s Persona in many of his poems plays the part of a silent observer who is somewhat elitist in his views.

Next, the Quote or Evidence:
A statement from the text itself, or another legitimate source’s opinion of the text or theory in question:

Often the common people are portrayed as a uniform ‘crowd’ who have petty ‘desires’ such as ‘cheap suits, red kitchen ware’ they are a ‘cut-price crowd’, every wife is ‘grim’ and ‘head-scarfed’, and every mother ‘loud and fat’ in ‘nylon gloves and jewellery substitutes’.

Finally, the Comment or Explanation:

an expansion on the point and the quote saying how the two relate to one another and, crucially, the reason the point is relevant to the essay as a whole.

This gives the people other than Larkin’s persona a total uniformity, they are ‘crowds, colourless and careworn’ they have no distinguishing features. A few simple adjectives sums up entire cities of people, this gives Larkin’s persona an elevated stance and makes him seem arrogant and disapproving of his fellow man, which makes him seem elitist.

In a University level academic essay, it is likely that examples from the text will not be enough on their own (as they are in my A Level example), so you will have to seek out secondary sources, or conduct primary research such as interviews to find opinions and analyses which support your own. The example above is also very simple in that it presents and solves a statement in just one paragraph, in a University-level essay lecturers look for more developed arguments, presenting further points which support the first one and building up the evidence, finally summing up at the end.

This can lead to extremely extensive sequences where the point, evidence and explanation are not even easily distinguishable, such as in this section from one of my third year essays about ideologies present in adverts for toiletries:

The slogan in each advert is where the most obvious ideologies can be found. The L’Oreal™ adverts both use the well-known slogan ‘because you’re worth it’. This slogan is very well constructed as it implies a variety of qualities about the product and the people who buy it. The double meaning of ‘worth’ implying both personal and financial value, states that the consumer as a person is valuable and that they deserve to use L’Oreal products. ‘Because you’re worth it’ contains a subordinating conjunction, making this an incomplete sentence. This slogan flouts the Gricean maxim of quantity by not giving enough information, generating the implicature ‘because you’re worth what?’, the listener is invited to fill in the second part of the clause, perhaps leading to a sentence such as “because you’re worth it, you should buy our products”. The ambiguous ‘it’ is also not assigned a proper referent, meaning that it can be applied to a variety of L’Oreal’s products. A valid inference one could make from the L’Oreal slogan, is that you, the consumer is only ‘worth’ as much as their product, which is the image L’Oreal wants to create as they market their products as being exclusive and expensive, exemplified by Pierce Brosnan and Jane Fonda who star in their advertisements. As Williamson states, ‘the product, which initially has no ‘meaning’, must be given value by a person or object which already has value to us’ (Williamson 1978:31), in other words, by having Brosnan and Fonda talking about L’Oreal products, the qualities of these people are associated with the products themselves, for example qualities such as success and attractiveness.

This kind of expanded evidence section is what will make your argument really persuasive, it uses multiple examples from the text, which are backed up by a reliable source (Williamson), which is correctly referenced using the Harvard system. This is by no means a perfect paragraph, it makes a few statements which do not seem to add to the discussion such as ‘‘Because you’re worth it’ contains a subordinating conjunction, making this an incomplete sentence’ – to which my response as a marker would be ‘so what?’ – (it’s easy to see flaws in your own writing in retrospect but it can be hard to see them at the time) try to make sure all your points actively contribute to the discussion, it isn’t enough to just reel off a set of facts about the data!

I hope this helps, any questions, just tweet me on @Lizmarsden_AS or use the comment space below. Let me know of any tips you’d find especially useful and I’ll do my best to provide.