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Section 6: Essay Writing

This section steers you to basic information on how to write essays to the standards expected by both departments. Full advice on essay writing and scholarly citation is provided on the English Department’s website.

The Philosophy Department gives guidelines and a brief sample of citation practice in the Academic Advice section for Undergraduates.

What you should be aiming for in an essay

Your essay will be read by someone familiar with the texts about which you write and you are writing the essay for that person, not as a general preface to a popular edition. The purpose of an essay is different from that of an examination answer; in an essay you are expected to treat the subject more deeply and thoroughly. An essay should show evidence of substantial reading and thought (but there is no virtue in length merely as such). Your resources in writing essays are immensely larger than in answering examination questions; you have the texts before you; critical and historical studies are available for consultation and quotation; facts may be checked from reference books of all kinds. To get off to a good start, choose a topic that especially interests you, have a plan in mind to keep your focus as you write, be precise and clear in your use of language, and make sure to explain and argue for your claims. Correct grammar and spelling are important!

Quoting others

You should use quotations in such a way that the argument is advanced. Do not use them merely to prove that you are familiar with a particular text (that should be evident from the way you construct the argument). All quotations, from whatever source, should be exact in wording, spelling and punctuation, and if in verse, in line-arrangement. Short quotations, embedded in the main text, should be enclosed in quotation marks. Quotations in verse and longer quotations in prose (more than about 30 words) should stand apart from the main text; they should be indented, without quotation marks, and in typescript they should be single-spaced. All quotations must be identified by adequate reference. For poems, give, besides title and author, the line or stanza number(s) (where possible); for plays, give act and scene; for novels, chapter number. For quotations from all secondary sources (criticism, biography, etc.) give the title of the work or essay (and where appropriate the name of the periodical in which an article or essay appears), place and date of publication and page reference. Titles of books, long poems separately published, plays and periodicals should be italicised. (Words or short phrases in languages other than English should also be italicised). Articles, essays and short poems should be referred to within quotation marks. References should normally be placed in parentheses immediately after the quotations. If a work is referred to more than once it is not necessary to repeat all the details. At the end of your essay you should list by authors in alphabetical order, with publisher (in the case of books) and date, all works which you have used in the preparation of the essay. Note: failure to give proper reference information can result in your work being judged to contain plagiarised content.

Essay deadlines

The English and Philosophy Department websites have full information on essay deadlines and on how to submit your essays online. It is your responsibility to be aware of these procedures and to meet these Department of English and Department of Philosophy deadlines for each of your modules. If you think your circumstances warrant an extension on a deadline, you must request the extension from, in Philosophy, the Department Senior Tutor, and in English, the Director of Undergraduate Studies. These are the only people entitled to grant extensions. The kind of exceptional circumstances that can justify an extension include medical emergencies (supported by a medical certificate) or personal tragedy.

Penalty for late essays

Essays handed in after the deadline are penalised 5% per working day. This rule is applied by both departments.