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Writing an Essay
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In the School of Theology, your assessments will mostly be in the form of critical essays.
That is, you are asked to critique a topic; to present an argument, with evidence that supports your answer to the question.
There are useful guides to writing essays in the library.
- Peter Levin has written a student-friendly guide called Write Great Essays. It also has a great section on reading strategies.
- A Visual Guide to Essay Writing by Valli Rao, Kate Channock and Lakshmi Krishnan is recommended for students who are visual learners, or do not have English as their first language. It is available online if you Google it.
Step 1 Topic Analysis
The first thing to do is to work out what the question is asking.
- What is the main topic of the task?
- What are the directive words? Eg analyse, discuss, explore, describe, compare & contrast
- What is the underlying question?
- What is my first answer to the question – the predictive thesis?
Do a concept map to generate ideas, and then group your ideas into 3 to 5 related issues or sub-topics.
For each of these, generate details and examples
But be prepared for this structure to change as you research.
To research the topic, you want to find evidence that will help support your view.
Start with the reference books in the library. Look up key words or theological terms.
If you are having trouble finding sources, look at the bibliographies that authors have at the end of their articles or books or entries.
The number of sources is approximately 1 per 200 words.
That is, if it is a 1000-word essay, you will need at least 5 sources (However, pay attention to what the question asks; you may be asked to just refer to one text).
Be sure to keep track of quotes and sources. One way to do this is to use cards; either electronically or physically. Endnote is a program that will help you also.
Be prepared for your preliminary answer to be changed as you read.
Once you have an idea of your answer to the question, you will need to develop an argument that logically proves that answer.
This will help you to structure your final essay, and also helps you to have more than one idea in your essay.
The Visual Guide uses a human skeleton as a reminder of the structure of an essay.
- The head is the introduction to the essay.
- The trunk is the ‘body’ of the essay
- The legs are the conclusion of the essay.
Step 4 is writing your essay; proofreading it; rewriting it; proofreading it and doing that as many times as it takes ‘til you are happy with the result (or ‘til the essay is due!)
If you are writing a 1000 word essay, your word limits need to be:
1. 100 to 150 words for the introduction
2. 800 words for the body paragraphs. If you have 4 body paragraphs that is 200 words in each paragraph.
3. Between 50 and 100 words for your conclusion.
4. The bibliography is essential, but does not count towards your word count.
Each part of the essay has a specific job.
- Begin with a sentence that indicates the field, then focuses on the topic of the essay.
- Introduce the structure of your argument
- And indicate your answer to the underlying question (your thesis).
2. Body paragraphs will have one paragraph for each step of your argument:
- Background or methodology may need to be provided first.
- Each paragraph is on a separate part of your argument, and builds towards your conclusion
3. Conclusion draws together your findings and considers the implications for the future.
4. The Bibliography lists the sources you referred to in your essay.