As you prepare your essay you may ask ‘what is the point’? There are a number of arguments against having geography students write essays. The most often expressed is that essay writing has no relevance for what geography graduates actually do in the ‘real’ world. The staff in the Geography Programme are often used by students as referees for job applications, and the first question prospective employers typically ask us is ‘Does s/he have good written communication skills’. During your geography programme you will be given the opportunity to develop a range these necessary communication skills, of which writing is one of the key ones. The ability to write clearly, and hence communicate effectively is becoming increasingly important as text based tools such as the internet, and email become essential tools of our daily life. Without being able to communicate face-to-face, our writing needs to be clear and concise in order to both get our message across and to prevent misunderstandings. In this context essay writing provides a means whereby you are able develop the skills of effective communication that will be relevant wherever you end up as a graduate. This guide has two functions: first, to provide advice as to the process of writing an essay; and second to give guidance as to the specific requirements of essay writing in the Geography Programme. 4
Essay Writing and Format Guide
Types of Essay
There are a range of essay types, and each of these types requires you to do different things. An important first skill, then, in preparing your essay is to identify what sort of essay you are being asked to write, and what this requires you to do. In general essays fall along a continuum between those that ask you to describe a particular phenomenon, and those that ask to discuss, analyse, criticize and debate particular issues. At university essays increasingly tend to fall into the latter discussion type. These types of essay require you to go beyond simply repeating what you have been told towards thinking about the information you have found and knitting it into an argument. TIP: If you are not sure what the essay requires you to do, ask the person setting the question about what they want. Analysing the Question: Answering the Question
A key point to remember as you prepare you essay is that no matter how well you write the essay, if you do not actually answer the question you will not do well. This seems an obvious point, but in the heat of the moment it is often neglected. To help you stay on track you can do two simple tasks: first, have a close look at the essay question; second, as you prepare and write your essay continue to look at the question and think if what you are doing matches what the question requires. Essay Writing and Format Guide
It is important to pay close attention to the essay question because the way in which the question is worded often gives clues to the way in which the question is designed to be answered. To help you understand an essay question a simple step is to divide the question up between content words, and command words (Kneale, 1999). Content words are those words in a question that frame the topic; whilst command words are those words that actually indicate what needs to be done with the topic. Two examples might be:
Discuss and critically (command words) evaluate the processes that are considered to drive plate tectonics (content words). Critically discuss (command words) the changing structure and geography of the global music industry (content words). Finally, in understanding an essay question it is very useful to have an idea of what is required when certain command words are used. The list below has examples of command words that are commonly used. Account for: Give the reasons for, giving an indication of all relevant circumstances. Very different from 'give an account of' which is asking for a detailed description. Analyse: Study in depth; breaking down data/information...
References: Kneale, P. 1999: Study Skills for Geography Students: A Practical Guide, 2nd Edition, Arnold, London.
The call number of a revised edition of this book is 910.711 Kne. This book is well worth looking at if you want some further guidence.
Pain, R. 2003: Writing Essays and Related Assignments, in Rogers, A., and Viles, H. (eds), The Student 's Companion to Geography, 2nd Edition, Blackwell Publishing, Malden, MA, 180-184.
Compiled and Revised
Matthew Henry (12/8/2004
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