A simple guide to writing a first-class essay - Notícias CERS

A simple guide to writing a first-class essay

Manoela Moreira
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Atualizado em 02/12/2019 - 06:06

A simple guide to writing a first-class essay

The Internet is awash with not-so-helpful essay writing advice, making it tricky for students to find the advice they need when writing essays. To help you out, our aademic experts have written the following tips you can use before and whilst crafting your essay, to ensure your writing hits the mark.


Understand the question


This may, at the face of it, sound like somewhat banal advice – but fact of the matter is that failing to properly understand the question set is one of, if not the most common reason behind a disappointing grade when it comes to essay writing. Are you being asked to critically evaluate something? Compare and contrast? Analyse a particular circumstance? Evaluate the usefulness of a particular concept?


These are some of the common phrases found in essay questions, and each indicates a different set of expectations. If you are asked to critically evaluate a particular theoretical approach, for instance, you have to gain an understanding not only of said theory, but also other common approaches. They must all be weighed against each other, highlighting the relative strengths and weaknesses of each theory and, importantly, you must come to a well-justified and confident conclusion. Is the theory good? What are its flaws? How can it be improved?


If you are asked to evaluate the usefulness of something, however, you don’t necessarily need to go into as much critical depth. Yes, you should still acknowledge alternative approaches, and yes, you should still note some strengths and weaknesses – but the bulk of the work must emphasise the concepts practical usefulness. Perhaps the best approach is to find one, or a few, case studies where the theory has been used – what was the outcome of this? Does the application of the theory reveal any particular shortcomings, or strengths?


“Compare and contrast” essays, meanwhile, are essentially a hybrid of the above – you need to take a critical approach and evaluate the literature, but your focus has to remain solidly on the theories that you have been asked to compare and contrast. It is important to show that you understand both (or all) core theories in great depth, both on a theoretical and applied level.


In essence, the wording of the essay question will tell you how the essay should be written. It will indicate where the focus of your essay should lie as you research and write.




Plan and schedule


Understanding the question is the first step, but it is equally important that you make efficient use of the available time. Students often underestimate the amount of work required to write a good essay, which results in two things: (1) late nights at the library, and (2) a disappointing grade. If you want to achieve a good mark, you should start planning your essay the moment you receive the essay question. The following table may be a useful aid:


By setting deadlines for yourself and committing to stick to them, you are ensuring that you won’t be left with too much work right before your hand-in date. It is also important that you leave time, ideally a couple of days, between finishing your first draft and proofreading.




Be critical


Perfect theories and academic approaches are rare – the clear majority of theories, arguments, and studies have flaws. Being descriptive is fine if you are looking to scrape a pass, but for a higher grade you need to show that you are able to leverage critical reasoning in your dealing with academic materials. What are the limitations of the theories you are drawing on? How have these been dealt with in the literature? How do they impact the quality of arguments presented, and to what extent do they limit our understanding of what you are studying? What alternate explanations might offer additional depth?


Critical thinking is what will make your essay stand out. It shows the marker that you are not simply repeating the arguments that have been fed to you throughout your studies, but actually engaging with theories in an academic manner. A good way to practice this is to pay careful attention when reading literature reviews in published articles – you will see that authors don’t simply summarise previous studies, but offer a critique leading to a gap for their own research.




Structure, flow and focus


How you present your argument is nearly as important as the argument itself, which is why it is imperative that your essay follows a logical structure. A classic piece of advice is to “tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, and tell them what you told them” – this, in essence, summarises the core introduction, main body, and conclusion structure of your essay.


Having a clear and logical structure will help ensure that your essay stays focused, and doesn’t stray from the question being answered. Each section, paragraph, and sentence should add value to the argument you are presenting. As you are writing, it’s good to take a step back and ask yourself “what value does this sentence/section add? How does it link to my overarching argument?” If you find that you can’t answer that question, there is a high risk that you have strayed from your core argument, and you may want to reconsider the path you are taking.


You should also make sure that all the different parts of your essay fit together as a cohesive and logical whole, and that the transition from one argument to the next is fluid. Students often treat essays as lists of arguments, presenting one after the other with little consideration for how they fit together, which inevitably leads to a lower grade. Make sure to tell your reader why you are transitioning from one argument to the next, why they are in this particular order, and how each argument helps shed light on a particular aspect of what you are discussing.




Read widely


Writing may be the core task, but reading is equally important. Before you start writing your essay, you should conduct a broad search for relevant literature. Learning how to sift through a large amount of data is an important academic skill. You should start by searching through databases – Google Scholar is a great tool for this – using key words related to your research topic. Once you find an article that sounds promising, read through the abstract to ensure that it’s relevant.


If you are still not a hundred percent sure, it is usually a good idea to skip to the conclusion – this usually contains a detailed summary of the study, which will help determine whether you should read the article as a whole. You don’t want to waste time reading through and endless number of articles simply to find that they aren’t actually relevant. Once you have identified a few solid articles, you should (a) go through their bibliographies and take note of who they are citing, as these articles will likely be of value for your own research; and (b) check on Google Scholar to see who has cited them. To do this, simply input the name of the article in the search bar and hit enter. In the results, click “cited by” – this will return a list of all of the articles that have cited the publication you searched for.


It’s important that you don’t rely too heavily on one or a couple of texts, as this indicates to the marker that you haven’t engaged with the wider literature. You should be particularly careful in using course books (i.e. “introduction to management” and the like), as these are essentially summaries of other people’s work.





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Quoting, paraphrasing and plagiarism


Academic writing requires a careful balance between novel argument, and drawing on arguments presented by others. Writing a completely ‘novel’ essay, without drawing on a single source, indicates that you haven’t made yourself familiar with what has already been published; citing someone for every point made suggests that you haven’t produced a novel argument. As such, it is important that you provide evidence (a credible citation) when you are making a statement of fact, or drawing on arguments, frameworks, and theories presented by other academics. These, in turn, should support the overarching novel argument that you yourself are making.


When drawing on other authors it is important to understand the distinction between quoting and paraphrasing. The general rule of thumb is that you should paraphrase wherever possible, and quote only when necessary or if it clarifies the point you are making. That said, paraphrasing can be difficult without losing the inherit value of the argument presented. In case you are unsure about the difference between quoting and paraphrasing, we’ve included an example below.


Quote: “Cultural capital can be acquired, to a varying extent, depending on the period, the society, and the social class, in the absence of any deliberate inculcation, and therefore quite unconsciously“ (Bourdieu, 1986: 18)


Paraphrase: Unlike economic capital, the amassing of which requires some conscious effort, cultural capital can be built simply by existing and consuming (Bourdieu, 1986).


Both the quoted and the paraphrased versions carry essentially the same meaning – with the exception that paraphrasing shows slightly wider knowledge of Bourdieu (through mentioning another form of capital), and presents an argument that – while true to the writings of Bourdieu – better fits the overall argument.


Properly citing the sources upon which you draw also ensures that you will not be accused of plagiarism, which is a serious offence in academia. In fact, repeated and grievous plagiarism can lead to the suspension of your studies at the majority of academic institutions!



 



Find a ‘study buddy’


Having a similarly ambitious ‘study buddy’ is often undervalued by students, but the synergy achieved by working together can help both of you achieve considerably higher grades. It is important to note that you shouldn’t write your essays together, nor necessarily agree on the approach to be taken beforehand, as this leads to the risk of submitting two papers that are too similar – again linking back to the issue of plagiarism.


Instead, you should exchange essays with each other once you are both done with the first draft. It is immensely difficult to proofread your own work – one goes blind to minor grammatical issues in a text after reading it repeatedly for days on end – and it is similarly easy to overlook gaps in flow and logic of argument. Having a friend read through the work will address both of these issues, assuming that they, too, are high achieving.




Write academically


Another common issue – particularly amongst first and second-year undergraduates – is that they tend to use rather non-academic language:


“In this essay I will look at how people who buy art use cultural capital. My theory is that having more cultural capital will change their taste in art, as they are able to understand the pieces differently to other people.”


Examples such as the above are unfortunately rather common, and should give you a good idea of what to avoid. The sentiment behind the text is good, but it reads more like a second-rate blog post than an academic essay. An academic might instead write:


“This essay explores the role of cultural capital in the consumption of art, and the impact of cultural capital on consumers’ perception of artistic expressions.”


You will note that this second example is far more concise yet none of the meaning is lost. It also uses present (rather than future) tense, and avoids informal terms. Clear, concise, and precise language is a hallmark of academic writing.



Essay-based examinations can be some of the most daunting that students have to face. Not only do you have to learn all the facts and information. You also have to work out, under time pressure, how to present them in a clear and well-structured essay that addresses the requirements of the question.

Many students struggle to produce a sophisticated essay format under exam conditions. Instead of writing to their usual standard, they panic and just scribble down all the information they know on the subject. Sound like you?


You can earn a lot of extra marks in these exams, if you know how to answer the question specifically and producing a well-structured essay. So it’s Oxbridge Essays to the rescue, with a series of custom essay formats that you can use to answer any one of these common exam question types: ‘Compare and Contrast’, ‘To What Extent’, ‘How does the Writer’, ‘For and Against’ and ‘Close Reference’.





To What Extent?


It’s really common to see ‘To what extent…’ essay questions in an exam. They come up time and time again, across a range of different subjects.

Why are they so popular? Well, this type of question allows the student to show a variety of skills. Firstly, the depth of their knowledge on the given subject. Secondly, students can display independent judgement by analysing the importance of different pieces of information.





What your custom essay should include


There are two principle elements that a ‘To what extent…’ essay question should include.

The first is detailed source evidence and extra material, to support your argument. Let’s use an example essay question here to demonstrate. In a history exam, the essay might ask: “To what extent was the character of Charles II responsible for his problems with parliament?“.


The student is being asked to do two things here: to show an in-depth knowledge of Charles II’s character, and to analyse which specific aspects of his character may have affected his political relationships.


Incorporating detailed evidence will always demonstrate how much you know of the subject matter, and will help to support the angle and strength of your argument.


The second element is linking to wider issues, topics or arguments that support your point of view. For example, in this particular history essay, a student could refer to other historical events that were responsible for problems between Charles II and parliament, but which were not related to his character.


Drawing on other factors in this way helps to increase the significance of your argument, and will round out your essay fully.


These two elements of analysis – including detailed evidence and linking to wider ideas – can be used to answer any ‘To what extent…’ question. In other words, when answering this type of essay question, keep the general structure the same and change the the appropriate information in the right places.


Remember also to analyse your evidence as you weave your argument. Do this by answering questions like, ‘how significant is your evidence in supporting your argument?’ and, ‘what are the potential weaknesses that this evidence carries?’.





How your custom essay should be structured


A custom essay designed to answer a ‘To what extent…’ question should look something like this:




Introduction


As with all essays, the introduction needs to briefly answer the question. However with a ‘To what extent…’ question, the introduction will usually, to some degree, agree with the assertion of the essay question.

For example, going back to our history essay question above, the introduction would need to acknowledge that to some extent, the character of Charles II was responsible for his problems with parliament.


An introduction should then go on to highlight the importance of taking into account other aspects which also impact the topic of the essay.





Paragraph 1 and 2


These are dedicated to proving, with detailed evidence, that the assumption stated in the question is true, explaining how and why. So in the history essay, these paragraphs would detail key aspects of Charles’s character that negatively affected his relationship with parliament and show proof of their impact.




Linking sentence


This recaps the important points you have made in the first two paragraphs and goes on to say that, on the other hand, it cannot be said that the question is completely true, as there is an extent to which other aspects also come into play.




Paragraph 3 and 4


These paragraphs show the extent to which the assumption of the question is not true.

This can be achieved in two ways. Firstly, by showing flaws in its logic (in this case, by suggesting that there were actually some aspects of Charles’s character that in fact improved his political relationships). Secondly, by offering alternatives (in this case, other elements unconnected to his personality that may have soured the parliamentary relationship independently).





Conclusion


Any ‘To what extent…’ custom essay must end with a concluding summary which answers the overall question.

To do this, simply recap:


• The points that suggest the question’s claims are true
• The points against
• Then conclude whether you agree the statement is true ‘to a certain extent’, ‘to a great extent’ or ‘to a very small extent’. This must be backed up by a summary of the argument on both sides to prove why you feel it to be weighted one way or the other.





Once you have finished your essay, the little touches matter. You don’t want to risk being penalised for not sticking to the formatting guidelines set for your submission. Many students seek the assistance of a good proofreader to check for any errors or omissions in your work and will ensure that you have every opportunity to present your points in the best possible light, with the perfect structure, formatting and presentation to match. After your thorough research and work put into completing this best essay writing, you deserve the best possible grade.



Are you a stickler for good grammar? Perhaps you’d even go as far as to call yourself a grammar geek? Well, whether you’re the sort of person who prides themselves on their flawless grammar, or a hapless essay writer looking for a trick or two, this post will introduce you to some of the more unusual grammar rules you should know.


Below are six common grammatical mistakes we see routinely, not just in undergraduate essays, but also in professional publications like newspapers, magazines and even best selling novels. With that said, here are some weird grammar rules you might not know.




Which and That


This is a common mistake that even professional writers regularly make. You might think these two can be used interchangeably, but you’d be wrong.


‘That’ is a restrictive pronoun, so it’s vital to the noun to which it’s referring, e.g. I don’t trust second hand cars that aren’t nearly new. So in this instance, I trust all second hand cars that are nearly new.


‘Which’ introduces a relative clause that allows non-essential qualifiers, e.g. ‘I only trust second hand cars that are nearly new, which come from the Ford or Renault garage.’ So while ‘that’ restricts, ‘which’ is used to add more detail.




May and Might


Again, most people assume these two words can be used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference in their meaning.


‘May’ implies a possibility, whereas ‘might’ implies far more uncertainty. For example: ‘I may fall over if I drink all that wine’ implies a good chance of falling over, but ‘I might start singing once the karaoke begins’ implies it’s not that likely to happen.




Fewer and Less


This is an excellent example of one of the grammar rules in essay writing which is commonly broken. Thankfully it’s actually a very simple one to remember.


‘Less’ is reserved for hypothetical quantities, whilst ‘few’ and ‘fewer’ are reserved for items you can actually quantify. For example, ‘the firm is less fun to work for now we have fewer than five employees’.




Affect and Effect


This one is not so much an example of a weird grammar rule, but one you absolutely must know. Both of these words are extremely common, but it’s amazing how many people get them wrong. However, it’s actually very easy to differentiate between the two.


‘Effect’ is almost always a noun, and ‘affect’ is almost always a verb. So ‘the effects of alcohol can be damaging’ describes the result or outcome of drinking alcohol. Affect is used to describe the influence or cause of an impression i.e. ‘alcohol’s affects can be damaging’.




“Impactful”


This doesn’t fit into the bracket of weird grammar rules. Instead, it’s just a word that’s not a word, born and bred in the corporate jungle. Please don’t use it, no matter how ‘impactful’ you want to be.




Comma Use with Adjectives


– Use commas to separate coordinate adjectives as in the following: ‘The unkempt, brilliant man was always unhappy.’


– Do not use commas to separate cumulative adjectives: ‘The long yellow car circled the factory.’


– Do not use a comma when the adjective modifies both the noun and the other adjectives modifying it: ‘The late humorous and generous Mr Welby will be sorely missed.’


– Comma use with descriptive adjectives can also be determined by the class of adjective, i.e. age, size, colour, shape, material, origin and general. If multiple adjectives from the same class appear, separate them with a comma: ‘The sad, broken man fell into the smelly, murky lake.’



A first-class essay is one that is categorised by a grade of 70 per cent or higher, though in some institutions the minimum requirement is 75 per cent. Whatever the case, for many students this benchmark seems almost impossible to attain.


Rest assured, however, that there are steps that you can take to help ensure you’re able to write a first-class essay. We’ve put them together into an easy-to-read (and follow) list; read on to familiarise yourself with them.




Step 1: Understand the marking criteria


This seems quite straightforward, however you’ll be surprised to learn that many students aren’t well informed about the criteria they must meet to be awarded a first. It’s a very important point, however; you must determine exactly what the marker is looking for from a first-class essay so that you can meet these points effectively. You’ll often find these criteria in your course handbook, or it may feature as an add-on to your essay question, so do look out for it. Bear in mind that a marker will generally outline various criteria for different aspects of the essay such as: content, presentation, referencing, critical analysis, technical knowledge, spelling, grammar, structure and coherence, amongst others.


Ensure that you understand what is required under each category – don’t just assume, as each essay you’ll write will most likely have a different set of criteria. When drafting your essay, focus on the criteria with which it will be marked and ensure that you address every one of them. This will not only make essay-writing a more straightforward process, you’ll be inching closer to the first-class essay grade you desire so much.




Step 2: Put some thought into choosing your question


It’s imperative that you put considerable thought into choosing your essay question – don&rs世沁㹉Ჹ밑閵逧詺캼匀ԭ筕崹䡻闷佃ኃ꘎ȡ㟦܃

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