Major Assignment Guide

Essay by TinaDu November 2014

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Planning and writing your essay Unless you have truly remarkable powers of handling multiple sources of information simultaneously in your working memory, you will need to follow your research and note taking by making out a plan before you begin to write an essay. Indeed, it is a false economy to spend little or no time on the plan, thinking that you will sort out any gaps or fuzzy bits during the process of writing - you are more likely to get stuck or wander away from your line of argument/discussion. Time spent on effective planning should quickly repay itself by greatly cutting down writing time.

Answering the question To understand what a good plan looks like, you need to be clear on what it should enable you to do. Certainly that is to write out the full essay, but what are you trying to do in that? Whatever your topic, the same applies: the cleverest thing you can do is answer the question. Although many people believe this to be obvious, one of the most common faults with early essays is their failure to address and/or to answer the question the tutor or examiner has set.

An essay question asks you to do something(s) and so establishes a domain of relevance for your answer - to 'compare and contrast...', 'discuss...', spell out 'why...' or 'how...' and so forth. Some concepts, arguments and sources of evidence are relevant to answering it, many more are not. Analysing what the question means, and what material is relevant to answering it, is an important part of planning an essay's structure. No essay question is ever intended to mean 'write out everything you know about X', unless it says so - and generally it won't! Often, however, producing an unordered list of points that...