Writing Essays

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A Student’s Writing Guide Are you struggling to meet your coursework deadlines? Finding it hard to get to grips with your essay topics? Does your writing sometimes lack structure and style? Would you like to improve your grades? This text covers everything a student needs to know about writing essays and papers in the humanities and social sciences. Starting from the common difficulties students face, it gives practical examples of all the stages necessary to produce a good piece of academic work: r r r r

interpreting assignment topics drawing on your own experience and background reading analytically and taking efficient notes developing your argument through introductions, middles and conclusions evaluating and using online resources understanding the conventions of academic culture honing your ideas into clear, vigorous English.

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This book will provide you with all the tools and insights you need to write confident, convincing essays and coursework papers. g o r d o n t a y l o r is Honorary Research Associate at Monash University; before his retirement he was Associate Professor and Director of the Language and Learning Unit in the Faculty of Arts there. He was a pioneer in the development of content- and discipline-specific writing programmes for students in higher education. His many publications include The Student’s Writing Guide for the Arts and Social Sciences (1989).

A Student’s Writing Guide
How to Plan and Write Successful Essays


Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo Cambridge University Press The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521729796 © Cambridge University Press 2009 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published in print format 2009


978-0-511-54002-8 978-0-521-72979-6

eBook (EBL) paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For Kasonde, Susan and Jeremy

Preface xi Sources of extracts used in the text 1 1 2 3 4 5


Introduction 1 The main elements in academic writing 2 You and your writing task 4 You and your subject matter 7 You and your reader 12 Your language: form and structure 15 Part I Reflection and Research 19

2 1 2 3 4 5 3 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Reflection: asking questions and proposing answers 21 Speculative thinking and writing 22 Choosing a topic 24 Kinds of question 27 Coming to terms with an essay topic 35 Summary 51 Interpretation: reading and taking notes 53 The ‘problem’ of reading 54 Evidence, interpretation and fact 57 What an author does 65 An author’s major motives 69 Modes of analysis 77 An author’s structural intentions 79 Interpreting a difficult text 82

viii – Contents Part II The Dynamics of an Essay 89 4 1 2 3 4 5 5 1 2 3 4 6 1 2 3 Introductions 91 The constituents of an essay 92 The constituents of an introduction 94 The use and misuse of introductory material 95 Setting out your case 98 Writing an introduction to a research paper 107 Middles 111 Some common problems 112 The uses of outlines 116 Expanding a case 117 Summary 133 Endings 134 Recapitulation 134 Mood: suggestion and implication Variations on a theme 140 Part III Language 145 7 1 2 3 4 8 1 2 3 9 1 2 3 You, your language and your material 147 Subjective and objective: the uses of ‘I’ and ‘we’ Confusing yourself with your material 151 Quoting – and not quoting 161 Some verbs of...
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