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Essay Tips


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In Short / Referencing / Alternate Assessment
A Short Guide to Writing a Good Essay

Thesis: No matter what topic you choose, we're looking for an essay that (a) argues an interpretive thesis, (b) marshals and analyses textual evidence to support that thesis, and (c) does so in a logical and persuasive way with prose that is error-free and thoughtful. When we say “interpretive thesis,” we mean a thesis that doesn’t just make an observation about the text, but that also interprets that observation and argues for its importance in understanding or rethinking the text as a whole.

If you're writing a comparative essay, remember that pointing to two things and saying what they are and how they are similar or different does not make a good interpretive argument. Make sure you are not just describing the two texts and how they’re different, but developing an argument about their relationship to each other; they should end up mutually illuminated in a way that they couldn't have been by just standing on their own.

Research: We strongly recommend that your research takes in the secondary criticism about your chosen text, but also extends out into the broader field you're discussing – whether that be the Cold War, second wave feminism, psychoanalysis, the frontier, Jim Crow, postmodernism, and so on. In other words, think not just about the text itself, but also the concepts/contexts that will help you make an interesting argument about it. Remember that the syllabus has numerous secondary readings for each week under “Suggested Reading.” These suggested readings are your friend, though of course you should in no way feel limited by them. The goal of this assignment is for you to follow your interests and explore, so cast your net widely.

The best essays...

  • are bold and engaged, pushing beyond the obvious and the cliched
  • have at their heart a thesis statement that poses an argument or interpretation rather than an observation
  • consist of paragraphs built around a unified concept/point that in turn clearly relates to the ongoing argument
  • show how textual evidence supports their claims (i.e., showing is different than telling)
  • engage properly with the research and understand the arguments of the people they are quoting
  • bring in quotations from secondary sources to propel or develop their own argument, not just paraphrase what you've already said or stand in for your own thinking
  • are a pleasure to read: grammatically accurate, well punctuated, with concise, elegant, and clear prose that is able to handle complex ideas and terminology with deftness and confidence
  • look like proper scholarly work: are referenced accurately and consistently and presented neatly (a simple font, spaced lines, generous margins, numbered pages). There are full departmental guidelines about this here.

(by Mark Storey)

There are many sites that provide information on essay writing. A detailed, though perhaps too basic in some cases, example provided by the Harvard Writing Center can be accessed here .
Using electronic publications is becoming more and more common. Norms for proper referencing books and articles, which often have no pagination or use a different system from the print version can be challenging. Some style guides offer more clear advice than others. You may want to consult the relevant section of the MHRA style guide, or look up a short guide to the MLA Handbook, such as the one provided by Purdue. No matter which standard you use, keep in mind that the purpose of scholarly referencing is to properly credit the authors cited and to document research so that others may easily find the sources used.

Essays as alternate assessment for EN201

The essays to be submitted as alternate assessment for EN201 in 2019-200 should follow the same guidelines as most other essays you have written at Warwick. However, there are significant differences. Whereas normal essays are usually research-based and should have a narrow focus, the essays you will write as alternate assessment are a way of replacing exams. These exam-replacement essays are oriented toward synthesis of a wide range of knowledge rather than in depth research into a narrower topic. These essays should be written based on any notes and revision already undertaken, and to a realistic extent with reference to secondary material that can be accessed digitally (please see list of digital resources). Accordingly, please keep in mind the following points:

1. As with any essay (and unlike exams), you are expected to provide bibliographic references. However, given the short length of the essays, these references do not need to be extensive. Indeed, these essays are meant as necessary replacements for the exams and should reflect your notes and other revision materials already at hand.

2. These essays are NOT timed. However, please allow yourself a bit of time ahead of the deadline to revise and edit before submitting.

3. As with all Tabula submissions it is best to submit with some margin, in case something goes wrong, you may loose internet connection, or upload the wrong file.

4. In order to prevent duplicating material it is best to avoid writing on the same novels for this alternate assessment as you already did for the essay due at the end of T2. Should you need to refer to a novel you already commented on you can do a document comparison in your word processor to make sure you are not repeating your own text or general ideas.

5. You do not need to write on any novel not fully covered during T1 and T2. However, if you wish to draw on one of the novels originally assigned but not actually covered, of course you can.

6. On word count the same norms apply as for any other essay: footnotes, endnotes, and works cited lists / bibliographies are not included in the word-length; but quotations are.