Writing the essay

Every essay needs a clearly defined introduction and conclusion. These are the ‘frame’ of the essay and contain the main text. An essay without either of these elements is unfinished, incomplete and very unlikely to pass.

The essential rules of essay writing are:

  1. Say what you are going to say (introduction)
  2. Say it in a way that is supported by evidence of research (main text)
  3. Say what you have said! (conclusion)

Introduction

‘This essay will examine the impact of De Stijl on Modernist design and architecture…’

The introduction expands on the question and explains your approach to the reader. It should:

  • Clarify the scope of the essay in relation to the question
  • Outline focus, scope, aims and limitations
  • Define key terms

You might want to divide your essay into chapters or sections after the introduction; do not use ‘Background’ or ‘Analysis’ as titles but break up these longer sections with your own headings.

Background

‘Martin Parr’s approach was formed from a young age by photographing everyday scenes such as his local chip shop…’

A background section is not strictly required but it forms a useful transition between the introduction and the analysis. You could include:

  • Factual information – definition/description, biography (if discussing a person – very short and containing only material relevant to the question!), achievements, exhibitions, historical facts
  • Influences – peers, theoretical movements
  • Context – social, cultural, political, economic, artistic, personal

These last two might be integrated within the analysis.

Analysis

‘Textile technology has been most comprehensively explored by Issey Miyake….’

Analysis unpicks and explores in depth the subject of the question. This might be the work of an artist, the impact of a technology on art, design or music, the application of theory to practice, or a single product, building or media form. Your essay plan will be essential here to order your arguments so that they follow each other logically.

In your analysis you should observe the following:

  • Address the main point and key concerns of the title immediately
  • Depth not breadth! A good essay demonstrates thorough and finely focused research, not broad vague generalisations
  • Analyse examples in depth, providing support for your arguments with evidence from your high quality sources. Analysis goes beyond description and asks why and how
  • Evidence may be directly quoted or paraphrased; both of these approaches need a reference
  • Do not use any unsupported personal opinion in an academic essay. Everything has to be supported by evidence!
  • Question your sources, and where possible produce an alternative viewpoint
  • Don’t let your quotations speak for you; introduce each one and comment on it. Don’t use them to express an idea you don’t quite understand!
  • Check that your analysis has covered every aspect of the question

Conclusion

‘It is plain from the findings of this study that games graphics have earned their place as a contemporary art form…’

Your conclusion should leave the reader with a clear sense of the essay and its main points. Do not introduce any new material at this stage. Instead, you should:

  • Return to your title and explain how you have addressed it
  • Review your argument, summarising the key points
  • Check and confirm that your aims and objectives from the introduction have been achieved.

Appendices

When researching and writing essays students will often come across more complex and detailed material that is very informative. This material can often be awkward and distracting to include in the essay itself. You may have found detailed diagrams, illustrations, tables, maps, questionnaires, supporting evidence or descriptions of research techniques and findings, and the best place for these is in the ‘Appendices’. The ‘Appendices’ are always at the end of the essay, after the bibliography.

‘Appendices’ is a Latin word, and is the plural of ‘appendix’ meaning something extra. So if you have just one piece of material to add at the end of your essay then it will be titled ‘Appendix 1’. If you use more pieces of material you must start each one on a new page, and change its title number accordingly i.e. ‘Appendix 2’, ‘Appendix 3’, and so on. The page numbers themselves should run on from the essay and bibliography i.e. you should not start new page numbers for the appendices.

Remember also you must make clear on each appendix, the title, author(s), date and source of the material and where it is published or can be found. This information should not appear in the bibliography. If you have a ‘Table of Contents’ where you list the main sections of your essay, each appendix should be listed separately with its page number.

Before you let go: final checks before submission

Leave yourself plenty of time for last minute snags, for example realising that there is a part of the question you haven’t answered, or that you have forgotten to add your references.

Read through this checklist at the latest one week before submission.

The final checklist: have you:

  • read the brief and/or essay question again to ensure you fully answered it?
  • provided full details on the cover page of both copies: essay title and number, your name, your programme, the module name and code and the date?
  • checked essay length? (+/- 10% is permitted)
  • completed the self-assessment ? This is part of the assessed task
  • included your bibliography with the correct minimum number of sources?
  • read the Skills Guide again to check you have formatted your essay correctly?
  • double spaced your 12pt. text?
  • numbered the pages?
  • spell-checked and proof-read your essay?
  • referenced both quotations and summarised ideas?
  • put quotations, bibliography and references in the right format?
  • included appendices, if needed, at the end?

Yes? Then hand it in and walk away with a smile on your face…

Notes on printing: 3 things to remember

  1. Printers are especially sensitive to student stress and will instantly break down or run out of ink and/or paper when you have only ten minutes to print before the submission time
  2. There are always long queues on submission day for LRC printers: be smart and print early!
  3. Remember that you will usually need to submit two identical copies

Some guides to essay writing

  • • Barrass, R. (1995) Students Must Write: a Guide to Better Writing in Coursework and Examinations, London: Routledge.
  • • Clanchy, J. & Ballard, B. (1998) How to Write Essays: a practical guide for students, Melbourne: Longman.
  • • Cottrell, S. (2008) The Study Skills Handbook, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • • Greetham, B. (2008) How to Write Better Essays, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • • Mann, S. (2011) Study Skills for Art, Design and Media Students, Harlow: Longman.
  • • Northedge, A. The Good Study Guide, Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2005.
  • • Soles, D. (2005) The Academic Essay: how to plan, draft, revise and write essays, Abergele: Studymates.
  • • Gordon Taylor, The Student’s Writing Guide: for the Arts and Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • • i-Spy – bite-size tutorials on research and planning skills, accessible here
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