Tim Fergien is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching the very first time this season. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a thorough (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out 2 or 3 essays every week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is really a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to operate it out. No one informs you how to put together an argument and push yourself coming from a 60 to some 70, but once one to get grips with how you’re intended to construct them, it’s simple.”
The goal of Best Essay is always to show that one could think critically regarding the material available (whatever it might 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 in the marking scale.
“You must be utilizing your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not simply showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where marks lie.”
But precisely what does critical evaluation actually seem like? Based on Fergien, it’s simple: you should “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and exercise the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That is surely an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading a thing that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as being an undergraduate, critique it? “The answer is that you’re not likely to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s Background of Se-xuality Volume 3, but you are going to have the ability to say: ‘There are problems with these certain accounts, is the way you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay along with a 70-something essay.”
Once you’ve cast a critical eye on 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 true secret to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught in an young age to provide both sides in the argument,” Fergien continues. “Then you can university and you’re told to offer one side in the argument and sustain it through the entire piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections in your own argument will be. Write them and then try to react to them, so you become aware of flaws inside your reasoning. Every argument has its own limits and whenever you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
“I genuinely disagree,” says Fergien. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, the things they had in mind, what their biases are. However, if you’re just looking to get a handle on the subject, or you need to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would personally only recommend it as being either a primer or even a last resort, however it has its place.”
Reading lists could be a hindrance in addition to a help. They should be the first port of require guidance, nevertheless they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb everything. Fergien advises reading the introduction and conclusion along with a relevant chapter but forget about. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything from it because you’re seeking to plough your way via a 300-page monograph,” he says. You also have 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 those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box and so i don’t lose them. When I visit write, We have all of my material.” There are a lots of online offerings to aid using this, like the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, you will find productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites using their computers for any set period.
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Fergien. “Look at the citations used in the written text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and determine whether they’re worth reading. Then you could look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the task you’re talking about – a few of these will be useful. But quality matters a lot more than quantity.”
The existing trick of coping with your introduction last is common knowledge, however it seems few have really mastered the ability of writing a highly effective opener. “Introductions would be the easiest things on the planet to have right and nobody will it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I will substantiate this with 3 or 4 strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and that i will conclude with many thoughts on this place and how it may clarify our comprehension of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words approximately. That’s literally it.”