DEPARTMENT OF ITALIAN
A GUIDE TO ESSAY WRITING
As a student following a degree programme involving the study of Italian you will have a variety of ways of expressing yourself during the four years of study. These include: writing in Italian on a variety of topics and in a variety of forms and registers; conversation in Italian including short presentations on a variety of topics; seminar contributions in both Italian and English in the form of personal presentations and interventions; and essay writing, both assessed (including examination essays) and 'non-assessed'. In an assessed essay, the mark is determined by two markers and contributes to your overall mark for the module. A 'non-assessed' essay is marked by the tutor for the module and its mark does not contribute to your overall mark for the module. This booklet is about essay writing in English for literature and culture modules taken in the Italian Department. All the recommendations made are valid equally for assessed and 'non-assessed' essays, except where specifically indicated. Examination essays, commentaries and dissertations are discussed in separate sections (sections 17–19).
The writing of an essay provides an opportunity for you to communicate your ideas in an ordered and engaging way. There is no one way in which to write an essay. Writing, whether a story, poem or essay, is an intensely personal experience and there are probably as many ways of writing essays as there are people who write them. It is for you to decide how best to combine thinking, reading, note-taking, and writing in order to produce an essay which successfully communicates your understanding of a topic. The more you work on essay writing the greater will be your understanding of your own mental processes, and such knowledge will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.
1. Choosing the topic
Usually you will be given a list of questions from which to choose. Although there are opportunities for specialization through choosing topics that are interrelated (for instance, you may find topics concerning imagery on essay lists for more than one module) it is a good idea to show some spread of interest over your degree work. If none of the suggested topics appeals to you, it is usually possible to negotiate a title with your tutor; in some modules you will be actively encouraged to think out a title for yourself.
Some recommendations for choosing a topic:
Choose a topic which you find personally interesting, one to which you feel willing to devote some time and energy. Choose the title of your essay early, giving yourself chance to think about it broadly before starting intensive research. Make sure you have understood what the question or topic requires before settling down to work on it. If you are in doubt, discuss the question with your tutor. Think hard about the terms of the question itself: what sort of information and what sort of approach does the question seek; and are the terms of the question straightforward, or are they themselves open to question?
Your reading will usually be divided into primary texts and secondary (or contextual or critical) texts.
i. The primary text is the work (or group of works) on which the question is based. In the following question on Dante there is no doubt what the primary text is: ‘What part does suspense play in the narrative of the Comedy?’ You need a good knowledge of the Divina Commedia to answer this. But in the following question you need to choose your own primary texts: ‘Consider the presentation and function of landscape in the short story’. Much of the success of the essay will depend on the choice of stories (and the rubric to the essay title list will tell you how many you need to choose). It is often a good idea to choose texts from which you can create contrast in your essay: here, texts which allow you to show how different authors (or the same author) use landscape in varying ways,...
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