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Advice on Writing Essays

. You must have your essay title okayed by 17.00 on Friday 8 Dec for the first essay, 16 March for the second essay. Essay titles that have not been okayed have to be considered rubric violations. Please take care with this.

. Don't try to write what you think your seminar tutor wants to hear. Try to be original. You’re likely to score higher for making an original argument that seems problematic than for repeating the arguments you’ve read or heard. . Don’t generalise. Stick to one solid specific demonstrable argument.

. Read the question, if you answer one of the published questions. It is surprisingly common for essays to miss one word or phrase, or not to be familiar with the terms in the question. . If you make promises of an historical framework, don’t then wander between times (e.g. books from 1958 and 1989 can’t easily fit into an argument about post-war consensus without some work to link these times).

. Don’t repeat what you hear in seminars – especially without citation. Seminar discussions are invitations to research, not information to be repeated. Nor are seminar talks the ultimate authority on a text - stay critical.

. Try to finish your essay well before the deadline, to reduce stress and allow for accidents.

. Proof-read your essay before submission.

. Avoid retelling the plot. Try to think about how questions of form, language, narrative structure impact on your argument. Don’t just focus on thematic content, dialogue, or ‘what happens’. Think about the text as an object in itself that does things with language, rather than as something that has to be ‘interpreted’ to complete it.

. Try to do something small, focused and in-depth than trying to tackle a huge subject by only skimming the surface. Philosophical ideas are complex and need to be unpacked, explained and developed – dropping them in halfway through your essay without warning feels rushed.

. Make sure your paragraphs are connected together in a logical way and your argument isn’t just a series of points or general statements. Create a thesis statement and develop it over the course of your analysis. Often adding a final sentence at the end of a paragraph will help the reader follow your thinking.

. Don’t put ‘filler’ in your first paragraph. Try to make sure your argument is crystallised in the first paragraph, especially in a very short essay like this.

. Revise the terms that are fundamental to the module: devolution/ independence; England/ Britain; language/ dialect/ accent/ Standard English’; middle class/ working class.

.Technical or theoretical terms need to be defined – but avoid saying 'The Oxford English Dictionary defines "a novel" as…'. Find the secondary text or theorist you’re using and spend time working through why their conceptual vocabulary is useful and productive for your analysis.

. Read history books, but try to be discerning. Find books that avoid journalistic cliché or pop-history descriptions that are too broad or general. This will help you show how the text at hand is embedded in a material history and avoid overly simplistic readings that reduce history to a set of ‘contexts’.

. Use the extensive module booklists as a basis for research. It’s good to find new sources, but be careful of going straight for whatever comes up on a google search. - Be judicious with Jstor – not everything on there is academically rigorous or suitable. Build your bibliography by looking at the secondary reading list, then use the indexes of those works to expand your secondary knowledge. Same goes for newspapers and internet sources. Think about how informed the sources you find really are, and when they were published.

. Don’t assume that ‘critics’ are a special source of textual analysis – it is often better to trust your own close reading and your overall historical sense – and don’t resort to newspaper interviews for help interpretation of texts by that author. . Avoid journalese, overwriting, and review-type writing (e.g. ‘A Clockwork Orange is a thrilling and outstanding work of fiction’).

. ‘Originality’ doesn’t (always) come from finding a completely new angle. Put theoretical and critical analyses in dialogue with one another in a way that is aware of history and your argument will develop more nuanced and original dimensions without it being forced.

. Don’t use ‘I’ (e.g. ‘Many have suggested that Hunger is pro-nationalist, but I believe…’). Avoid examples from your own life.

. Don’t tub-thump (‘Because of Thatcher, hard-working communities all over the UK were decimated’). Stay scholarly.

. Don’t describe Scotland as a colony (unless you have a serious argument for claiming this).

. Don’t assume individualism is always the goal, at least without having a serious theoretical rationale for this (e.g. ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four shows how the individual is oppressed by society’).

. The words “In conclusion…” aren’t usually necessary.

. Revise basic punctuation, especially apostrophes and inverted commas.

. Check the MLA style guide. Note that all entries need actual and original publication dates, if these are different.

. If you see your module tutor during office hours, talk about the content of the module rather than trying to work out how to structure your essay. We are constrained as to how much we can talk about the writing of the essay, but genuine engagement with content always shows.