GUIDE TO ESSAY WRITING
Format – Essays should not exceed 1500 words in length. Essays must be submitted as MS Word documents.
Introduction (I): At a basic level, there are three main parts to an essay: introduction, body and conclusion. A strong introduction places the essay topic in a relevant context and then narrows down towards how the essay is going to tackle the question. The introduction should indicate the types of evidence the essay is going to focus on, and the structure within which this evidence is going to be placed.
Structure (S): A strong structure is heavily reliant on a clear introduction and conclusion that introduce and summarise the key arguments being presented. The main body of the essay should be structured around key issues identified in the introduction. Each paragraph should make a single point, which might often be expressed in a topic sentence at the start of the paragraph. Sentences at the beginning and end of each paragraph should sign-post transitions from one point to another to maintain a smoothly flowing story line. Sub-headings are sometimes helpful to signal a change in direction and group paragraphs together.
Coverage of the literature (CL): The essay should demonstrate your awareness of all core readings and some additional relevant material. There will not be space to fully describe and analyse every relevant piece of literature. The key is to be selective and prioritise the most important lines of reasoning, with evidence that best supports your key points. There is a balance to be struck between breadth of coverage and depth of analysis, and this will vary across essays. Reliance on secondary sources (textbooks, etc.) will decrease as students become more skilled at wielding primary sources of research to make a powerful argument.
Clarity of argument (CoA): An argument is a conclusion together with supporting evidence. A good essay will express clear arguments that directly address the question posed. The essay should say explicitly what conclusions it is arguing for and explain how the evidence supports these arguments. Arguments can be made at different levels of analysis, so it is important to maintain clarity both in individual points and through the overall thrust of the over-arching argument.
Critical analysis (CA): Critical analysis involves careful evaluation of evidence and arguments, considering their strengths and weaknesses. Evaluation should contribute to answering the essay question. If a methodological weakness or a question of validity is relevant the essay should say why. Critical analysis can include positive comments (e.g. pointing out particular strengths of a piece of research). Powerful analyses will be both theoretically sound and directly relevant to how you are addressing the essay. A key part of critical analysis is comparing different sources of evidence that may offer contrasting viewpoints or alternative explanations, as this shows a good understanding of the tensions within the area.
Conclusion (C): The conclusion should provide a powerful finish to your essay and should be written at a higher level of abstraction than the paragraphs that precede it. It should summarise the key points of the essay into a coherent overall argument that directly addresses the question. In combination with a strong introduction, the conclusion should make it clear to the reader exactly why you have focused on particular pieces of evidence and how these directly relate to the position you are taking on the question posed. The conclusion should generally not introduce new material.
References (R): Accurate referencing is a fundamental part of academic writing. Every time you take any information from a source you must cite the source you have accessed. Your references should conform to APA style as described in the Referencing guidelines in your student Handbook. These guidelines cover the form of citations within the essay as well as the reference list at the end of the essay.
Writing style (WS): Essays should be written in a concise, formal style (without contractions and colloquial expressions, etc.). They should use reasonably simple sentence structures and simple words to communicate clearly, building an argument with a series of logically connected sentences. Wellchosen examples often help to clarify complex concepts, and diagrams can also be used to good effect. A good essay will have few spelling and grammatical errors. Such errors easily creep in, but they can inhibit the strength of an argument.
ASSESSMENT CRITERIA FOR ESSAYS
Definition of key terms: Knowledge and understanding: Using knowledge of relevant theories and literature, demonstrating an understanding of the relevance and success of theories in the broader dimensions of the area, evidence of understanding the limits of current understanding.
Analysis and evaluation: Demonstrating awareness of gaps or limits in the knowledge base, selecting appropriate methods of enquiry, presenting a lucid rational argument with clear well thought out conclusion and an appreciation of the future direction of work in the topic area. Synthesis: Demonstrating the combination of different viewpoint/levels of analysis when dealing with complex and perhaps conflicting information. Considering and identifying the appropriateness of methods and/or experimental design.
Originality and innovation: The demonstration of original thinking – that is, evidence of independent analysis of information, and presenting new ideas and or the application of techniques in novel ways to address specific problems.
Independent learning: The piece of work demonstrates evidence of relevant reading and reflection on course material on behalf of the writer that goes beyond mere reproduction of the account presented in lectures.
Distinction (75, 85, 95) A distinction class (75) answer should clearly address the title and be presented in an appropriately succinct, formatted, and structured manner. The work should be comprehensive and show evidence of (1) detailed knowledge and understanding of the relevant material, (2) appropriate synthesis and critical analysis (e.g., characterizing the strengths and limitations of theories and/or empirical studies, the assumptions are appraised/challenged) and evaluation of relevant material that is justified with (3) reference to empirical and other evidence derived from both coursework/ reading and independent learning. The work should show an exemplary, logical consideration of the limits of current knowledge together with consideration of the future directions of the topic that illustrates some evidence for original thinking. The work is presented in a highly eloquent and persuasive manner.
An excellent mark (85) should display sustained quality in all of the areas described above with no substantive errors or critical omissions. Subject specific knowledge should be clearly and succinctly presented and appropriately applied, relevant theory, concepts and evidence should be discussed and analysed in a critical fashion, e.g., competing/alternative analyses should be presented clearly and cogently discussed. There should be evidence of independent learning accompanied by original insight into problems and solutions. The consideration of future directions should display evidence of originality, such as original theoretical, experimental or empirical developments.
An outstanding (95) mark should show all the characteristics of an excellent piece of work and in addition present clear evidence of sustained innovation and originality in terms of knowledge, understanding (e.g., linking concepts and/or empirical findings in novel ways) and critical analysis (e.g., insight into issues or the appropriateness of methods, data analysis, theoretical developments). There should be clear evidence of independent learning and novel synthesis of information. Consideration of future directions, e.g., experimental designs, development of theories and novel predictions, and the broader context of the topic, based on outstanding insight, knowledge and understanding of (potentially complex) material.
Merit (62, 65, 68) A minimum merit (62) should display the majority of the following characteristics: (1) it should reflect a clear correctly structured and succinct answer to the question or topic under consideration, (2) the content should be appropriate, accurate with few errors and only minor omissions (3) subject-related knowledge and understanding should be applied appropriately to directly addresses the question. but the answer may lack depth (e.g., there will be a description of relevant theories and appropriate empirical evidence without reference to wider issues).
A better answer within this class (65) should be clear and demonstrate a balanced coherent critical and rigorous analysis of the subject matter. Detailed understanding of knowledge and theory should be expressed with clarity and show some depth of understanding and some evidence of (4) evaluation (e.g., contrasts are made between theories, weaknesses in experimental design/findings are articulated). (5)
Good answers within this class (68) should develop its topic clearly and illustrate the above qualities together with evidence for some independent learning and synthesis of material that is largely precise and illustrates a critical understanding of lecture/essential texts and recommended readings. The essays may nevertheless still contain some very minor errors or areas requiring improvement.
Pass (52, 55, 58)
A pass (52) should (1) be clearly and succinctly written and appropriately formatted and address the question succinctly. (2) There should be evidence of a detailed review and grasp of pertinent issues and a critical contextual overview of the literature. There should be evidence of a thorough knowledge of theory and methods and appropriate use of this information to underpin arguments and conclusions. The level of knowledge (e.g., reference to key theories and findings) and critical analysis will, however, be limited in scope and depth, and may be incomplete or contain irrelevant arguments or misunderstanding of core theories/finding’s. Typically, the information will not go beyond lecture material/essential texts. Overall, the grasp of the topic should be accurate and coherent and be clearly consistent with the relevant module learning outcomes.
Better answers (55) will show evidence of synthesis of core knowledge and understanding. Although the work will contain appropriate detail, it will not extend beyond that provided in lectures/essential texts and may contain factual/presentation errors and/or omissions.
Higher marks (58) within this category should demonstrate evidence of (1) an accurate and more detailed understanding of the material and its appropriate application to the question (e.g., contain knowledge of appropriate theories and their empirical foundations) together with some knowledge of limitations that may, however, not be consistently maintained, (2) but the answer will lack depth and critical analysis and appreciation of wider issues.
Fail 42, 45, 48. A mark of 42 will show evidence of a logical organised structure with good use of language and supporting material. It should show evidence of understanding key concepts with valid conclusions drawn from the research. However, the understanding of the topic will be weak (there will be no reflection on basic concepts and their empirical underpinnings) and the material should be limited to lecture content and may only partially address the question. While there may be some evidence familiarity with the key literature ,which is cited and presented according to convention, there should be no evidence for independent learning. The essay may also show substantial errors or omissions or irrelevant arguments. More adequate answers (45) should contain reference to broadly appropriate facts but these may fail to address the question fully or directly. Better answers (48), will also show evidence of understanding key concepts and an ability to develop and support an argument in a predominately descriptive way with a valid conclusion using material derived from lecture content. Overall the essay will represent a reasonable attempt to address the question but requires improvements before meeting the pass threshold at this level.
GUIDE TO ESSAY WRITING