Writing an Essay
For an essay to be successful it must answer the question. It should clearly address the topic, identify key areas of debate surrounding the issues raised in the question, coherently discuss them, and, most importantly, make a cogent argument. In order to write a successful essay, apart from the requisite reading, it is essential that you understand what you are being asked to do.
Breaking Down Essay Questions
When looking at essay questions it is often not easy to see exactly what is being asked. It is essential to identify all the elements that make up an essay question to ensure that you deal with it appropriately. You need to identify the instruction, the topic, and any limitations or parameters. This is possible without substantial knowledge of the subject.
You also need to know what the assumptions are, what is significant, and accurately identify any issues or problems. In order to do this you must have knowledge of the subject and any controversies surrounding it.
For example, consider the following essay title:
‘Examine the relative impact of foreign intervention on the outcome of the first phase of the Angolan civil war (1975-1991).’
Examine is the instruction, foreign intervention is the topic and the limitation is the first phase of the Angolan civil war (1975-1991).
The instruction tells you how to approach your essay.
Look at the following piece of feedback on an essay written in response to the title: ‘Assess the respective weight of reasons for the Emancipation Edict of 1861.’
Here are a number of common instructions explained in more detail:
Give reasons for; explain how and why something happened. Analyse
Examine and explain why.
Evaluate and give reasons.
Write about (usually) two things which have certain similarities but with some crucial differences. There may be an element of evaluation here too. Define...
Citations: References and Bibliography for more information).
Always check the instructions given by your department/faculty regarding presentation before submitting an essay. Different departments/faculties have different rules.
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