The following 10 pieces of advice are specifically designed for a 2,000 word essay: some of the things that I suggest might be less applicable for different assessment types (e.g., exams, dissertations, group projects) and I will give you exam-writing advice closer to exam period. If you are in any doubt, always ask the module co-ordinator. If you do not understand any aspect of the content below, do not worry because we have 11 weeks to address any issues that you might have – it can take lots of time and practice to master some of the concepts.
1. Answer the question. I have failed well-written and thoroughly researched essays simply because they did not answer the question set. Read the question carefully. What are the key words? It might help to repeat key words from the question throughout the essay, to ensure that you’re staying on track. If you’re unsure, speak to me after lectures and seminars, on the blackboard discussion board or come to see me during my office hours.
2. Presentation. As an examiner, a nicely presented and well-structured essay provides a positive first impression and makes our job easier. For this essay, follow the basic stylistic instructions:
o Typeface: Calibri, Arial or Times New Roman
o Size 12 (headings 14 and bold)
o Either 1.5 or double spaced
3. Structure, subheadings and word allocations. Subheadings are a necessary part of extended written pieces of work. They force you to focus on essay structure and flow and can be helpful if you need to cross-reference parts of the essay. Keep it simple, I do not want to see dozens of subheadings in a 2000 word essay. The following is a guide only (feel free to use a different structure); the important thing is that the three main pieces of advice are allocated similar attention.
o Introduction (200 words). This is a 2,000 word essay (which is not a lot, as you’ll soon realise) and I want you to get into the 3 main discussion points as soon as possible. The introduction should provide a very broad overview of the objective(s) of the essay, and should include a concise definition of key constructs or ideas.
o Advice 1: (550 words). Each of the three pieces of advice should comprise of 3-4 substantial paragraphs, with no paragraph exceeding 200 words. Each paragraph must have a very clear focus, which should be obvious from its first sentence. Paragraphs should logically flow from previous paragraphs without repeating or contradicting previous content.
o Advice 2: (550 words)
o Advice 3: (550 words)
Conclusion (150 words). I do not expect a summary of the essay – I have just read it. What I want to see here is a comment on the relevance of your essay: who might be interested in your arguments? For example, are there any practical implications? If you have been critical of the general body of literature, would you suggest some future research opportunities?
4. Be critical. This is a term that you will hear a lot over the next 12 months and we will talk about it throughout the course so do not worry of you don’t immediately grasp it. You must go beyond describing a piece of research (e.g., “Smith (1996) found that x leads to y”). The next stage – to get into the distinction grade range – is to tell me (the reader) why Smith’s findings should or should not be accepted. For example:
a. Is the fact that Smith’s research is 18 years old an issue? If so, why? Have more recent studies progressed the research community’s understanding of y?
b. Are there flaws or limitations with Smith’s methodology or theory? E.g., is it a biased sample (such as students, rich people or females)? Are the findings generalizable to the wider population (external validity)?
c. Has Smith’s study been replicated elsewhere? Or do other researcher’s agree with her position?
d. Do other researchers disagree with Smith’s theory? Does Smith neglect alternative theories (i..e, counter theories) that might also explain changes in y?
e. Academic phrase bank. The following is an excellent resource that is useful to help you write in a critical manner https://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/
5. Citing in the essay (also see #6, list of references). This is a really important issue; a failure to provide reference can lead to several issues, the most serious of which is plagiarism.
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