As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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What Is a Critical Lens Essay
A critical lens essay is a type of essay where student's ability to think critically and express their ideas in the written form is estimated. Generally, it requires three major skills: reading, critical thinking, and writing. Careful preparation for essay writing is no less important than writing itself.
ESSAY WRITING TIPS AND TRICKS
This type of essay (see all types of essay) is often used during written examinations when the assignment is given in the form of a statement or a phrase, and students are asked to relate it to one or two pieces of literature.
Critical Lens Essay Structure
Critical Lens essay generally follows a fixed essay format. In the essay, a student has to discuss two literature pieces and 3 literary terms. In addition, a student needs to know capitalization rules and write them correctly. All titles are capitalized. Book titles are underlined and short stories are put in quotes. Generally, an essay consists of the following elements:
The first sentence introduces the quote itself. Next sentence one should give the student's interpretation of the quote to show how the student understands its meaning. Next, outline whether you agree or disagree with this quote, mention the books you are going to talk about in your essay and explain how your quote relates to them. Remember to spell, capitalize and punctuate all titles correctly.
It is advisable not to use personal pronouns like: “I, you, we, me, my”; in contrast, it is better to substitute them with third person pronouns or alternative words like ‘they’, ‘readers’, ‘people’ etc.
Three Body Paragraphs
Paragraph 1. In the first body paragraph, restate the quote in your interpretation.
Paragraph 2. In the second body paragraph, mention the titles of the first literature piece you are going to analyze and briefly mention how it relates to the selected quote.
Paragraph 3. In the third body paragraph, speak about the second literary piece and explain how you think it relates to the quote you have selected.
In order to back up your quote, you will need to use specific examples from each novel. Another thing: don't forget to connect the book back to the interpretation of your quote.
Your conclusion sums up the main thoughts of the essay. It is strongly recommended not to repeat your introduction verbatim. Don’t forget to end your essay with the quote that opened it.
CRITICAL ESSAY FROM A TO Z
Steps on How to Write a Critical Lens Essay
STEP 1. Read the quote attentively.
STEP 2. Try to rewrite the quote in your own words.
STEP 3. Analyze the quote.
STEP 4. Decide whether you agree or disagree.
STEP 5. Name the two literary pieces that support your position.
STEP 6. Think of a short summary of the two texts and express how they support/don’t support the quote.
STEP 7. Try to use literary elements into your argument, but don't overdo it. Use it in the introduction and the first body paragraph.
STEP 8. In the first paragraph, focus on the book you have read and explain how the text supports your understanding of the quote.
STEP 9. If one paragraph appears to be too long, you may break it up into two smaller ones.
STEP 10. In the second paragraph, you should use the same order but now write about the other text.
STEP 11. Make a short summary of what you've written – that’s your conclusion.
STEP 12. Restate your thesis and explain how the texts you selected to support it.
Necessary Literary Elements
Keeping the structure in mind, you should not forget to use the following literary elements:
- Figurative Language: use the simile, metaphor, alliteration, personification and hyperbole correctly.
- Flashback: be able to describe the past event at present.
- Foreshadowing: use name hints or clues that suggest some events that may happen next.
- Plot: follow the correct sequence of events which took place in the literary piece.
- The point of view: give your own point of view.
- Setting: show your knowledge of the time and place of the action in literary work.
- Theme: show your understanding of the central idea of the literary work.
- Tone: use your specific attitude towards the audience or subject.
Be able to add to your interpretation of the quote the details from the books you read. If you follow all the tips you will create an intelligent critical lens essay and will easily convince the reader that you are aware of your topic to the smallest detail. The main thing you need to keep in mind while creating your critical lens essay is to persuade readers to accept your viewpoint. Place an order and our professional academic writers will help you find the right reasoning to do that!