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Here is what a Deakin lecturer had to say about good essays:
The basis of a good essay is that it answers the question set.
It should also develop an argument logically - so that one point follows from another - and coherently - in that it holds together and is consistent.
You should also indicate the evidence on which your argument and individual points are based and acknowledge the sources of your information. You should paraphrase and summarise the writers you read - don't just use direct quotes.
A good essay will also conform to the word limits and other directions set by the lecturer and be as concise as possible. Avoid irrelevant or extraneous information that distracts from the main argument.
Some students will have a better command of language and a wider vocabulary than others - but that is less important than the ability to get your message across clearly. Use words that you understand and are comfortable with. It is far better to say what you have to say simply than to attempt to dress up your information in flowery prose.
Finally, be sure to edit your work for spelling and typographical mistakes before you hand it in. Sloppy work at this stage detracts from what might otherwise be a good essay.
These are relatively simple rules. Follow them and almost certainly you will produce a good essay.
To summarise, a good essay will:
So, how do we write a 'good' essay? Like most things, essay writing is best thought of as a process, which is made up of stages that need to be worked through. There is no point in stressing yourself about the finished essay if you have not even completed an analysis of the question!
Ask yourself: What is the specific topic for this essay? What are the limits of this discussion (time period, place)? What directions are set (e.g. word limit, instructional words like 'discuss' or 'analyse')?
Next try asking what, when, why, where, who, how, to what extent, how significant-type questions about the topic and its various parts. Write these down. This will help you break down the essay question. Consider all of this in light of your lectures, readings and other study materials.
The ideas you generate from the brainstorm will form a preliminary plan, which will help direct your research and which you can review after you have completed your research.
Do not presume that you must research all of the ideas you have jotted down. Some of these will be covered in your study guide or reader. In the library, focus on issues that are not covered (or not covered adequately) in your study materials. Make sure that you write down the bibliographic details of any reference you make notes from. Be sure to note page numbers for direct quotes as well as for information that you have taken from a specific page or pages of a document.
Having done your reading, you can now review and finalise your plan. Think about the order in which you want to present the ideas. This imposes a structure and a logical progression in your argument.
The introduction is one of the most important parts of an essay. It:
Each paragraph in the body of the essay should include a topic sentence that tells the reader the main idea of the paragraph. Other sentences in the paragraph should develop the main idea by:
In your paragraphs you will need to summarise and paraphrase the ideas, research and arguments of others. You should use direct quotes sparingly.
The order of the ideas in these body paragraphs should reflect the order outlined in the introduction.
The conclusion should summarise the main view (thesis) presented. It should briefly review the ideas covered and could finish off with an overall comment on the topic.
The simplified diagram below shows what an essay should look like structurally. It is important that the introduction, body and conclusion are linked together as a whole.
When you have completed your draft essay put it aside for a day or so. Then go over it two or more times looking carefully at it each time.
Look for overall structural coherence first. For example, ensure each argument develops logically from one idea to another.
In a second edit, look at style and expression; that is take note of your choice of vocabulary, the construction of your sentences and the way ideas are introduced.
Proofreading is usually the final step in the editing process. Check spelling, grammar and punctuation.
Writing academic essays always involves the citing of sources in-text and the inclusion of reference lists or bibliographies. Check your unit guide or ask your lecturer or tutor which referencing system you should use for a particular unit.