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Essay Writing:

Developing Academic Writing Skills in


English
Catherine Schwerin

Designed for use in the


obligatory academic writing courses
in the second module of studies at the

Institut fr Anglistik und Amerikanistik


Universitt Hamburg
Von-Melle-Park 6
20146 Hamburg
Germany

1999 Catherine Schwerin


Catherine.Schwerin@uni-hamburg.de
Second revision October 2007

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Contents
Contents ...................................................................................................................................... 1
Essay Checklists ......................................................................................................................... 1
Sample Essays ............................................................................................................................ 1
Before you begin ........................................................................................................................ 2
Parts of an Essay ........................................................................................................................ 5
Introductions............................................................................................................................... 6
Body ........................................................................................................................................... 6
Conclusions ................................................................................................................................ 7
Organising Principle ................................................................................................................... 7
Developing a Paragraph ............................................................................................................. 9
TV Step 1: Preparing ................................................................................................................ 13
TV Step 2: Brainstorming ........................................................................................................ 14
TV Step 3: Organising and Adapting ....................................................................................... 15
TV Step 4: Final Plan ............................................................................................................... 16
Media Violence Step 1: Preparing ........................................................................................... 21
Media Violence Step 2: Brainstorming .................................................................................... 22
Media Violence Step 3: Organising and Adapting................................................................... 24
Media Violence Step 4: Final Plan ........................................................................................... 26

Essay Checklists
Checklist: Procedure .................................................................................................................. 3
Standard Essay Outline .............................................................................................................. 8
Readership, content and style ................................................................................................... 18
Some Useful Links ................................................................................................................... 32

Sample Essays
Sample essay on Paragraphs .................................................................................................... 11
Sample Essay on Paragraphs: examination of structure........................................................... 12
Simple Essay: The Importance of Television ......................................................................... 19
Complex Essay: Violence in the Media ................................................................................... 29

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Essay Writing

Before you begin


Essays are instruments of communication. Your essay should be a structured treatment
of a particular topic, presented in a standard form and in a readable, fluent and logical
manner. Your essay is a tool that communicates your ideas (though of course you may be
talking about other peoples ideas or even quoting them) and should reflect your
interest in the topic. Being able to write essays is an essential skill in your studies and
forms the basis of all academic writing. However, to make the most of your essay, there
are some things to remember:
Check, check, and check again! Develop the text in stages of writing,
revising and rewriting. This ensures that the final version of the text flows
logically and communicatively towards its conclusion and that unintentional
hiccups and breaks in style do not occur.
Write from the perspective of the reader. In this manner, aspects of
register and style remain more consistent.
Plan well and be clear about your topic. Lay the thought basis of the
completed text in the introduction, develop the ideas in the body and tie these
ideas together in the conclusion.
Later you may be writing texts other than essays, so you will also have to pay
attention to additional features. Research papers, for example,
characteristically have headings, deal with many aspects of a particular theme in
some detail, and will use references, frequently in the form of footnotes or
endnotes, to relate the contents to the academic context in which the knowledge
has evolved. For this sort of writing you will also need to consult a style manual
such as the MLA Style Manual to help you.
Let's begin now by looking at a checklist of the general procedure for planning and
writing an essay. Then we will examine the different parts of an essay before turning to
look at how to write one in more detail.

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Checklist: Procedure
Taking a systematic approach to essay writing ensures that you thoroughly develop the
necessary skills for a meaningful and well-balanced piece of writing. Practise following
the steps outlined here. Examples will be provided in the following sections.
1.

Preparing:

What is the general subject?


What is the specific purpose of the essay?
Formulate a preliminary thesis statement if possible at this stage

2. Brainstorming:

Write down all the ideas related to your topic, including seemingly bizarre
or outlandish ones.
Allow your thoughts free range - you can include sketches, diagrams,
tables if necessary.

3. Organising and adapting:

Choose the elements relevant to the specific purpose of your essay and
arrange them in thematic groups and these in turn in logical steps.
Discard those ideas which do not relate to your purpose.
Adapt the subject to your own sphere of interest and knowledge.

4. Gather material:

Information on your subject.


Quotes, examples that illustrate certain points, references.

5. Make a logical outline:

Plan the structure of your essay, keeping in mind the main purpose. It may
help to refer to the essay outline template provided in the following
pages. Your outline will serve as a kind of check-list to consult while you
are writing.
Note the sub-elements under each particular section heading.
Modify the outline so that it indicates thesis statement, topic sentences
and supporting points

6. Check outline

Check topic sentences against thesis statement


Check supporting points against topic sentences

7. Write according to your outline:

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

At this stage you are more or less "padding out" your outline. You expand
each section heading, fill in the details, provide examples or descriptions,
connect the ideas logically.
Who are your readers? This will influence your choice of style and your
approach.

8. Check 1st draft:

Check against outline to ensure you have covered all points.


Check grammar and spelling.
Check logic (within the sentence, between the sentences, in relation to
the topic sentences, in relation to the thesis).
Check flow (Do the ideas flow or jump around? Is it readable? Is it easy
to follow?)
Is the style and the approach appropriate for your target group?

9. Revise draft:

And check again!

10. Write the final version.

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Parts of an Essay
Essentially an essay consists of three major parts:
the introduction
the main body
the conclusion
Each of these parts has a function.
The introduction is intended to lead the reader into the topic and clarify what
the essay will specifically deal with. It usually consists of one paragraph, but this
depends on the length of the essay and the amount of background information
the context requires. The introduction will contain a key sentence (or, if
necessary, more than one) that represents the thread running through the whole
essay. This sentence is called the thesis statement.
The main body deals with the major ideas that support the thesis statement.
Each main idea is presented in a separate paragraph (one notion, one paragraph)
and developed with supporting ideas in the form of explanations, definitions, or
similar, and illustrated with examples where appropriate or necessary.
The conclusion brings the reader back to the purpose of the essay and draws all
the points together before making a final comment on the result of the
discussion/argument. Often this final comment will point towards some
consequence the discussion may have for the future or make some observation
about what the discussion has revealed on a general level.
Ultimately an essay will show a progression from a general level (in the introduction)
down to the specific (thesis statement and body) and back up to the general level again
(conclusion). The reader will be expecting this so it gives your essay a sense of
completion.

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Introductions
The introduction lays the basis for the whole of the rest of the essay. It should tell
the reader about the topic and how the topic will be dealt with. However, an abrupt
statement of the topic and the controlling idea makes the readers feel uncomfortable
and does not give them time to warm up to the topic. Therefore it is best to lead in to
the topic by making a general statement about it, then narrowing the topic down before
dealing with the issue itself.
Note: Unlike the German Aufsatz, the English essay requires that you take a
standpoint at the beginning of the essay so that the reader knows what he is to expect.
English essays are "reader friendly" and guide the readership through the
argumentation. Do not leave the reader guessing about your opinion until the conclusion.
This gives the English-speaking reader the feeling that you werent sure about your own
opinion and that the essay was not sufficiently planned. This means your thesis
statement must clearly show your position on the topic.
Make a general statement about your topic
Narrow down the topic to lead towards your theme
State the issue/question you are dealing with
State your thesis/ controlling idea for the whole essay

Body
The body of the essay will contain several paragraphs, each dealing with one major idea
that supports the thesis statement. The major idea for the paragraph is given in a topic
sentence and all the other sentences in the paragraph are linked to this idea in some
form or another. The paragraphs should also contain a transition between the ideas, i.e.
moving from the introduction to the first topic sentence and between the body
paragraphs. This can be done in sentences or with individual words such as discourse
markers (linking words).
Topic sentence
Supporting ideas
Examples

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Conclusions
In the conclusion you are drawing your ideas and observations together to make your
final point. Do not be afraid if it seems like you are repeating your ideas. It is part of
the task to remind the reader of your aims and your main discussion points. This
clarifies your purpose. However, do not just repeat word-for-word what you have said
before. Contextualise what you are saying.
Remind the reader of your topic and intention
Show the reader how the discussion has underlined this aim (in a way you are
summarising the topic sentences of the developmental paragraphs here)
State your perspective as a result of the discussion
Sum up the whole concept, e.g. by stating what this may mean for the future

Organising Principle
You can use the standard outline on the following page as a framework when preparing
for most kinds of essays. It may have to be varied according to the organising principle
and the aim involved, but serves as a solid basis.
The organising principle is the logic according to which you put together your ideas.
Your choice of organising principle will depend on the effect you want to achieve and
the expectations of your readership. For instance:
Organising principle

Possible effect

Least important to most


important point

Climb in tension to climax;


dramatic

Most to least important

The readers are confronted with the


most convincing point at the outset;
memorable

Chronological

Narrative effect; familiar structure,


easy to follow and remember

Reverse chronological

Depending on focus, can highlight an


issue of change; contemplative

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Standard Essay Outline


You can use the following as a checklist. Remember: while you are writing always
consider your readership and your aims. In the body you will need to have a clear
organising principle.
Introduction
1.

Introduce general topic

2.

Narrow down topic

3.

Restate question

4.

State thesis (controlling idea)


There are, of course other ways of approaching the lead-in to the issues in
the essay. For instance, you could start by introducing the opposite viewpoint
(e.g. Many people believe that television is beneficial) and arrive at your
standpoint by pointing out that you do not agree with the other view and
indicate why (However, the harmful effects of television far outweigh its
benefits), which is then expanded in the essay.

Body (consisting of several developmental paragraphs)


Each paragraph consists of:
1.

Topic sentence (topic and controlling idea)

2.

Supporting ideas

3.

Details

Facts, data, quotes


Examples
Description
Explanation
Comparison, etc.

Conclusion
1.
2.

3.
4.

Restate thesis (topic focus and controlling idea of essay)


Synthesise the main ideas of the developmental paragraphs (restate topic
sentences)
State your opinion/ preference; give solution; make prediction...
Final statement (summing thought). This rounds off the essay and brings it back
to a general level.

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Developing a Paragraph
Your essay will consist of a series of paragraphs. Each paragraph is made up of a set of
related sentences all connected with a single idea and (apart from the introduction and
conclusion, because their purpose is slightly different) is constructed according to
similar principles. In order to effectively convey your ideas, each paragraph should
contain certain features. It should have a topic sentence, follow a single idea, be
appropriately developed, and be cogent. In addition, there is a formal feature to
consider: paragraphs in printed publications or in handwritten texts generally have an
indented first line to clearly indicate where it begins (thus clearly identifying it as a
unit). In some forms of writing, for example business letters, paragraphs are indicated
by leaving a line before and after. The preferred form for academic writing is
indentation. In any case, this formal feature helps the reader identify and process the
ideas.

1. The topic sentence:


A topic sentence indicates what idea or argument the paragraph is going to deal with.
For academic writing it is most effective if the topic sentence is the first sentence of
the paragraph because it makes it easier for the reader to follow the argumentation
without having to do additional processing. If you are not yet used to writing in English
or are in general an inexperienced writer, it is better for you to place your topic
sentence at the beginning of the paragraph.

2. One paragraph, one notion:

Your paragraph should focus on the idea set out in the topic sentence. You should not
introduce other ideas or go off on a tangent. If you have finished an idea, you begin a
new paragraph. If your discussion of one idea is going to be lengthy, subdivide your
paragraph into two or more sub-notions and link them with new topic sentences / linking
sentences.

3. Sufficient development
The idea you introduce with your topic sentence should be sufficiently fleshed out to
get across your idea properly. The way you do this in each paragraph may vary,
depending on what you aim to achieve, for instance you might use examples, give
definitions, provide data, refer to other authors or quote them, outline causes and
effects, compare and contrast, summarise or explain.

4. Cogency:

This refers to clarity of thought and argumentation. It is the result of writing


coherently and cohesively. It makes the paragraph fluent, logical, and easily
understandable. This means putting the ideas in a logical order and using strategies of
linking them up. You can do this using:
logical bridges:
The same idea of a topic is carried over from sentence to sentence
An idea is built on from one sentence to the next

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

grammatical structures:
Successive sentences can be constructed in parallel form
Successive sentences can be constructed inversely.
linguistic bridges:
Repetition of key words over several sentences
Use of synonyms throughout the paragraph
Pronouns and deictic terms to refer back (or forward) to nouns or whole ideas in
other sentences
Lexical phrases and conjunctions can be used to link ideas from different
sentences or indicate attitude

On the following pages you will see an example of an essay based on some of the
information you have been given so far - an essay about essays. This is followed by an
analysis of its structure. Then I lead you through two essay-writing tasks, one on the
importance of television and the other on violence in the media, which both conclude
with sample essays.

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Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Sample essay on Paragraphs


An essay is an instrument of communication. It is a structured treatment of a
particular topic, presented in a standard form and in a readable, fluent and logical
manner. To write a cogent and communicative essay, you must master the structure of
its building blocks, its paragraphs. Paragraphs are expected to have certain
characteristics and the paragraphs in the different sections of an essay fulfil
particular functions to provide a well-rounded essay. Firstly, the essay begins with an
introduction, a paragraph which tells the reader what the essay is about and how the
information will be presented. Then, paragraphs which support and develop the idea
presented in the introduction form the body of the essay, and finally, the concluding
paragraph brings all these parts together again.
The introductory paragraph lays the basis for the whole of the rest of the
essay. It should tell the reader about the topic and how the topic will be dealt with.
However, an abrupt statement of the topic and the controlling idea makes the readers
feel uncomfortable and does not give them time to warm up to the topic. Therefore, it
is best to lead into the topic by making a general statement about it, then narrowing the
topic down before dealing with the issue itself. The key element in the introduction is
the thesis statement, which provides the focus for the rest of the essay and is usually
found at the end of the introduction.
The introduction is followed by the developmental paragraphs, each of which
deals with one major idea that supports the thesis statement. The major idea for the
paragraph is given in a topic sentence, which, in an academic essay, is usually at the
beginning of the paragraph. This topic sentence states the topic (i.e. who or what) and
indicates the controlling idea (i.e. how, when, where, why, etc.). All the other sentences
in the paragraph are linked to this idea in some form or another. Since all the
paragraphs (specifically, the topic sentences) in an essay should support the thesis
presented in the introduction, you can say that the structure of a paragraph is a mini
reflection of the structure of the essay.
Finally, in the concluding paragraph, you draw your ideas and observations
together. You remind your reader of your aims and your main supporting arguments,
synthesising them (not repeating them verbatim) to make your final point. What seems
obvious to you may no longer be obvious to the reader, so it is part of the task to
clarify your overall purpose here and arrive at a final conclusion.
Thus, although all the paragraphs in an essay will essentially follow the one
notion, one paragraph principle, they will vary in character according to the function
they serve, i.e. whether they are introductory, developmental or concluding paragraphs.
They will also share the character of linking the ideas within and between them. And
when the paragraphs fulfil the requirement of supporting the thesis as they should, you
will find you have a readable, clear and well-rounded essay.

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Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Sample Essay on Paragraphs: examination of structure


Introductory paragraph:
General lead-in to
topic
Narrowing focus
Particular issue
Thesis (claim)
General indication of

line of discussion

An essay is an instrument of communication. It is a structured


treatment of a particular topic, presented in a standard form and in a
readable, fluent and logical manner. To write a cogent and communicative

essay, you must master the structure of its building blocks, its
paragraphs. Paragraphs are expected to have certain characteristics

and the paragraphs in the different sections of an essay fulfil


particular functions to provide a well-rounded essay. Firstly, the essay

begins with an introduction, a paragraph which tells the reader what the
essay is about and how the information will be presented. Then,
paragraphs which support and develop the idea presented in the
introduction form the body of the essay, and finally, the concluding
paragraph brings all these parts together again.

First developmental
paragraph:
Topic sentence
Supporting ideas
(expalanation and
outline)
Idea linking to next

The introductory paragraph lays the basis for the whole of


the rest of the essay. It should tell the reader about the topic and how
the topic will be dealt with. However, an abrupt statement of the topic
and the controlling idea makes the readers feel uncomfortable and does
not give them time to warm up to the topic. Therefore, it is best to lead
into the topic by making a general statement about it, then narrowing the
topic down before dealing with the issue itself. The key element in the
introduction is the thesis statement, which provides the focus for the
rest of the essay and is usually found at the end of the introduction.

2nd developmental
Phrase linking to

The introduction is followed by the developmental paragraphs,


each of which deals with one major idea that supports the thesis
statement. The major idea for the paragraph is given in a topic sentence,
which, in an academic essay, is usually at the beginning of the paragraph.
This topic sentence states the topic (i.e. who or what) and indicates the
controlling idea (i.e. how, when, where, why, etc.). All the other sentences
in the paragraph are linked to this idea in some form or another. Since all
the paragraphs (specifically, the topic sentences) in an essay should
support the thesis presented in the introduction, you can say that the
structure of a paragraph is a mini reflection of the structure of the
essay.

step

previous paragraph

Topic sentence
Supporting ideas
(details of features)
Parallel as example

3rd developmental
paragraph:
Linking word
Topic sentence
Explanation
Concluding paragraph:
Linking word/signpost
Reminder of thesis
Reference to main
points
Bringing reader back

up to general level of
the topic and context
concluding remark

Finally, in the concluding paragraph, you draw your ideas and

observations together. You remind your reader of your aims and your
main supporting arguments, synthesising them (not repeating them
verbatim) to make your final point. What seems obvious to you may no
longer be obvious to the reader, so it is part of the task to clarify your
overall purpose here and arrive at a final conclusion.

Thus, although all the paragraphs in an essay will essentially


follow the one notion, one paragraph principle, they will vary in
character according to the function they serve, i.e. whether they
are introductory, developmental or concluding paragraphs. They will
also share the character of linking the ideas within and between them.

And when the paragraphs fulfil the requirement of supporting the thesis
as they should, you will find you have a readable, clear and well-rounded
essay.

12

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

TV Step 1: Preparing
Deciding on your thesis and approach
Simple example: We cant live without television
Very often the topic you will be writing on is already set, in which case the approach is
relatively clear. However, sometimes you most respond to a question or a statement.
This means you have to examine the question or statement carefully.
What are the key words?
What is the general topic area?
What issue/problem is it focusing on?
Is it formulated in a provocative way? Will I have to relativise it or put it into
perspective?
What is my view of the topic? Do I agree or disagree with the view
presented? To what extent?
For the sake of simplicity, let us imagine you have been asked to write in response to
the statement:
We cant live without television.
The key words are television and we and cant live without it. Television is the
general topic. We suggests it is a social phenomenon. And cant live without it
suggests a dependency. The last phrase is emotive and perhaps too categoric. What are
we really talking about? Perhaps whether television is really important in our lives. What
do you think? Is television important? Is it beneficial? Or is it rather a problem?
If you are not sure yet what you would like to focus on, it would be best to brainstorm
the topic and then decide. Brainstorming is a strategy that you can use during most
steps of your writing, especially if you find your ideas running low.
If you already have an idea of where you stand, you can loosely formulate a preliminary
thesis statement, which will be your guiding thought throughout the essay. This need
not be your final thesis statement but it clarifies what you intend to show in your essay.
This is important so that you maintain a consistent line in your discussion and because it
needs to be made clear in the introduction what you intend to do in your essay. Once you
have formulated an initial thesis statement, your next step will be focused on
brainstorming the aspects of this.
We will proceed as if you were not entirely sure of your view.

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Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

TV Step 2: Brainstorming
Collecting ideas and formulating / refining a thesis
Simple example: We cant live without television
If you are not sure yet what you would like to focus on, it is best to brainstorm the
topic to get some ideas and then decide. Brainstorming is a strategy that you can use
during most steps of your writing, especially if you find your ideas running low.
When you brainstorm an idea, you collect ALL the ideas you can think of which relate to
the topic, directly or indirectly. Let the ideas flow as rapidly and spontaneously as
possible, and do not worry about the order or the value of the ideas. Our example will
remain with the subject of television:
TV guide

Education

News

Advertisements

Entertainment

Instruction

Documentaries

Up-to-date

Information

Cartoons

Sports

Technology

Weather

Films

Violence

Sound

Everywhere

Small world

Colour

Picture

There are two main groupings we can identify: types of programmes (sports, news,
films...) and what TV can offer (entertainment, education...). A focus you could choose
based on the latter grouping would be:
How big a role television plays in our daily lives.
Now it is time to formulate a preliminary thesis statement, that is, a statement
outlining what you want to show in your essay. This statement clarifies what you intend
to show in your essay. For this topic your preliminary thesis statement could be
something like the following:
Television is important for our society today.
Once you have settled on your focus, you can use the ideas you have already collected,
or brainstorm further with the focus in mind. The next step is to sort out and select
the ideas you will be using.

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2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

TV Step 3: Organising and Adapting


Selecting and Organising the relevant ideas
Simple example: We cant live without television
Now organise and select the ideas you will use for the essay.

Which ideas can you leave out?


Which ideas belong together?
Can you organise them under one heading?
Is there more than one way to group the ideas?

In order to avoid rewriting at this point, you can use symbols or highlighter to group the
ideas:
TV guide
Entertainment
Information
Weather
Everywhere
Knowledge of the
world

Education

News

Advertisements

Instruction

Documentaries

Up-to-date

Sports

Technology

Cartoons
Films

Violence

Small world
School
programmes

Colour

Picture

Vivid images

Realism

The symbols stand for the following ideas:


What TV offers
Types of programmes
Method
Character of content
Ideas I think I dont need
Now you can decide on the structure your essay will take.

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Sound

Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

TV Step 4: Final Plan


Devising a final outline of the structure
Simple example: We cant live without television
This is the point where the ideas should be organised into the final framework you will
use to guide you in your writing. You may wish to look at the outline template
beforehand to assist you.
Here is a final overview of the ideas that will be presented in the essay. First, I
decided to leave out the paragraph on methods because it does not fit the main topic so
well. Second, I have changed the order of the ideas so that they flow more logically.
Finally, I have added the outline of an introduction and a conclusion to round off the
plan.
NOTE: As a rule, the introduction and the conclusion can only be planned AFTER you
have planned the body of the essay, since you cannot introduce the argumentation if you
have not planned it, and by the same token, you cannot conclude/draw the ideas
together if you do not know what they will be. Thus, I only made the outline of the
introduction and the conclusion after I had finished making the outline of the body.

The importance of television


Introduction
TV common in households
Cant imagine no TV
TV important for us today (thesis)
TV can serve many purposes; offers variety of valuable programmes and content
(reasons and guide to reader)
Body
1) Variety of programmes
Weather
Cartoons
Films
School programmes
News
Documentaries
Sports
Advertisements

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2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

2) Informative content
Up-to-date
Realism
Accessible (Everywhere)
3) TV offers us other benefits
Entertainment
Information
Education
Instruction
Knowledge of the world
Conclusion
Value of range and form of TV content, many purposes
Types of programmes, character of content, what TV offers
TV is an integral and vital medium today
TV can contribute positively to society in education and awareness
Now you can begin writing the essay following your outline. Look at the comments on
readership before you begin. If you like, you can look at another, more complex example
first in the sections following Sample Essay 1, focusing on the topic Violence in the
Media.

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2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Readership, content and style


Addressing the reader appropriately
It is important to write your essay with your readers directly in mind. Address them with the
words you write. It will help to ask yourself the following questions before you begin:
Who are my readers?
Are they specialists or non-specialists in the subject?
What are they likely to know about the topic already?
What will they want to learn from me?
What is their attitude likely to be?
How can I maintain the attention of those who have little interest?
What aspects of the subject may be of particular importance to them?
Will it be more appropriate to be personal or impersonal in approach?

Opening
Introduce topic as if the title doesn't exist (who, what, how, when, where, why).
Try to arouse the readers' interest (e.g. question, anecdote).
Save formal introductions for long and complex reports or investigations

Main Body
Deal with each point systematically
Avoid unnecessary explanations and indirect approaches as these destroy the impact.
Be simple and direct.
Do not over-generalise. You will only undermine your own credibility.
Provide examples, descriptions, explanations, personal experiences (if appropriate).
If necessary, make footnotes or endnotes. Indicate sources (see MLA citation style
at http://www.liunet.edu/cwis/cwp/library/workshop/citmla.htm ).

Conclusion
Recap all the main points and draw them together to support the point you wish to
make
If necessary, point out what direction your conclusions may lead for future
discussion.

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Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Simple Essay
The Importance of Television
To show how the outline fits with the essay itself, I have placed each paragraph next to
a basic general outline. The points follow in the same order.
Outline

Essay

Introduction

Today it is very common in


industrialised countries for a household to
have at least one television. In fact, it is
so common that it is difficult to imagine a
household without TV. This shows just
how significant television is to us, but we
can see that its importance is far greater
than just being an object we own if we
look at the variety of programmes and
valuable content it offers and the
purposes it serves in daily life.

1. Introduce general topic (TV)


2. Narrow down topic (household without
TV?)
3. Focus on thesis (TV important)
4. Reasons and reader guide (valuable
programmes, content, purposes)

Body: developmental paragraph 1 (Variety


of programmes)
1. Topic sentence (topic and controlling
idea: many programme types)
2. Supporting ideas (list some types)
3. Details (function)

Body: developmental paragraph 2


(Informative character of content)
1. Topic sentence (topic and controlling
idea: what makes content attractive)
2. Supporting ideas (realistic, etc.)
3. Details (value for viewers)

Body: developmental paragraph 3 (serves


many beneficial purposes in daily life)
1. Topic sentence (topic and controlling

First of all, there are many different


types of programmes on television that
are useful. The viewer can watch a
weather report to prepare for the day.
Cartoons and sport provide relaxation and
fun. School programmes, documentaries
and the news teach us about the world.
And advertisements inform us about
products and new ideas.
Secondly, the content is relevant
because it is realistic and up to date. As
TV is a medium that combines moving,
colour images and sound, it resembles real
life, so the viewers can identify with what
they see. Furthermore, modern technology
means that the content is up to date, for
example, news reports can be broadcast
live and from all over the world. This
means that information is available almost
anywhere at any time.
Finally, TV can be used to enhance
many important aspects of everyday life.
People seek entertainment and
distraction, and TV can give us that in the

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

idea: how does TV meet peoples needs) form of films or cartoons. People want
education, information and instruction
2. Supporting ideas (peoples needs)
because they are inquisitive and like to
3. Details (specific functions)
learn. TV gives us these in documentaries
or educational programmes, in reports or
cultural magazines. People enjoy
creativity, and TV gives us that in the
work of all the people involved in creating
clever film scripts, effective scenery,
witty dialogues or magnificent camera
shots. TV gives us the world, other
cultures, other people, languages and
ideas. It introduces us to knowledge.
Conclusion
1. Restate thesis (controlling idea of
essay: valuable programmes, content,
purposes)
2. Restate each topic sentence from
developmental paragraphs (programme
types, character of content, what TV
offers)
3. State your opinion/ preference; give
solution; make prediction... (TV vital
and integral)
4. Final statement (summing thought:
education, awareness )

As we have seen, television offers us a


wide range of valuable programmes and
content and serves many purposes in our
daily lives. Television not only provides
many types of programmes with
interesting and broad content, but also
serves to fulfil our needs in terms of
entertainment and knowledge. It is far
more than just an object we own. It is an
integral and vital medium today, which can
contribute positively to the education of
society and to people's awareness of
others.

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Essay-writing brochure

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

Media Violence Step 1: Preparing


Identifying the topic and the task
Complex example: Violence in the Media
Most of the time your essay will be based on a prescribed topic. If you have a question
or a statement requiring a response, you will need to read the question carefully and ask
yourself 2 main questions:
What is it about?
What am I expected to do?
To ensure you identify the whole task, underline the key elements and, if necessary,
number them. Look at the following task, which is based on a past TOEFL writing test
question:

Task: Violence in the media has been blamed for the rising incidence of

crime in our (western) society. However, many people disagree that


violence in society can be related to violence in the media. Discuss the
possible reasons for both points of view and give your own opinion as to
whether or not violent programs should be censored.
So proceeding step by step we ask ourselves:
What is it about?
The question is about VIOLENCE IN THE MEDIA.
What am I expected to do?
1. Discuss reasons for both points of view.
a. Media violence is the cause of violence in society
b. Media violence is not the cause of violence in society
2. My opinion of censorship question
Now you can formulate a preliminary thesis statement. In this case, your preliminary
thesis statement may be something like the following:
There are two sides to the question of whether media violence causes
violence in society, both of which have strong arguments. However,
censorship is a dubious solution which will cause its own problems.
Once you are clear about what the question requires of you, you may begin
brainstorming your first ideas.

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Essay-writing brochure

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

Media Violence Step 2: Brainstorming


Complex example: Violence in the Media
You have now identified the topic and the task you are expected to carry out: At this
stage you should write down as many ideas on the topic you can think of. Limit yourself
to 4 or 5 minutes. If you have difficulty starting, it is often helpful to start by asking
and answering the following basic questions:
What is meant
by...?

Media = TV, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines,


books...

Who

Esp. children affected; programmers who decide, ...

What

Crime, blackmail, theft, even murder, particularly gruesome


acts

How

Desensitising, bad examples, ...

When

Now

Where

Europe, America

Why

Shown as normal, social problems, children copy 'heroes',


TV ubiquitous

This will help us think of concrete examples and reasons when we are developing our
essay, and provide a basis for more encompassing comments.
In addition in this case, as the question already indicates three major areas, it will help
if we collect the ideas under each area:

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

Media cause of violence

Media NOT cause of


violence

Censorship

Accent on violence in
news

Social pressures

Who should decide?

Children copy

Arbitrary release of
aggressive feelings

What will be censored?

Violent cartoons

TV educational

Heroes violent

Individualism and
materialism

Heroes outsiders
Ideas for crime
Lack of positive example
Lower threshold
Sensationalism

What else might go?


Broadcasting controls
Change channels

Lack of parental help

Critical viewing

People can't cope

Education of viewers

Unable to find help

Viewers can switch off

Unemployment

TV entertaining

Include all the ideas you think of even if they seem far-fetched to begin with. You may
be able to use these ideas later to give your essay an unusual perspective. Note any
examples or anecdotes which may occur to you, or even diagrams or sketches. Current
events may also provide illustration for your topic, for example, the spate of school
children running amok with weapons in the United States is a topical illustration for this
essay.
If you run out of ideas and feel what you have is not sufficient, focus on one of the
sub-points and work on from there. You can also try simple word association to set you
on track again.
Once you have gathered enough ideas, move on to step 3: organising and adapting.

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Essay-writing brochure

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

Media Violence Step 3: Organising and Adapting


Collating, selecting and organising the material
Complex example: Violence in the Media
Please note, the time you spend on planning and the amount of detail you include will of
course depend on constraints such as time or space placed on the essay. This essay is
being planned in greater detail than you may be required to use. However the
framework of your essay will emerge from the time you allot to your planning. Our 2nd
sample essay here consists of a relatively high degree of detail since we are moving
step by step through the task. To begin with we have our topic and task:
VIOLENCE IN THE MEDIA
1. Discuss reasons for both points of view.
a. Media violence is the cause of violence in
society
b. Media violence is not the cause of violence
in society
2. My opinion of censorship question

I have gathered a number of ideas in table form since a general grouping was apparent
from the start. Now organise and select the ideas to be used for the essay.

Which ideas can you discard?


Which ideas belong together?
Can you organise them under one heading?
Is there more than one way to group the ideas?

A Media cause of violence B Media NOT cause of


violence
Accent on violence in
news
Children copy
Violent cartoons
Heroes violent

Society to blame
Arbitrary release of
aggressive feelings

C Censorship
Who should decide?
What will be
censored?

TV educational

What else might go?

Individualism and
materialism

Broadcasting controls

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Essay-writing brochure

2007 Catherine Schwerin

Heroes outsiders
Ideas for crime
Lack of positive
example

IAA Universitt Hamburg

Lack of parental help

Change channels

People can't cope

Critical viewing

Unable to find help

Education of viewers

Lower threshold

Unemployment

Sensationalism

Viewers can switch


off
TV entertaining
Evidence not
conclusive

These are categorised in the following way:


A Media violence is to blame:
1.
2.
3.
4.

Violence is normal
Violence is entertainment
Negative example only
Children particularly susceptible

B Media violence not to blame:


1.
2.
3.

Social pressure/ social change to blame


Individual inability to cope
Parental guidance lacking

C Should there be censorship?


1.
2.
3.
4.

Problems
Alternatives
Individual behaviour
Additional considerations

This is merely one approach to grouping the ideas that can be used for this material.
You may prefer a different method or include other ideas, but once you have reached
this stage, the next step is to plan the outline.

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Essay-writing brochure

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

Media Violence Step 4: Final Plan


Complex example: Violence in the Media
Let us reconsider the question:

Question: Violence in the media has been blamed for the rising incidence

of crime in our (western) society. However, many people disagree that


violence in society can be related to violence in the media. Discuss the
possible reasons for both points of view and give your own opinion as to
whether or not violent programs should be censored.
We have identified the main elements:
VIOLENCE IN THE MEDIA
1. Discuss reasons for both points of view.
a. Media violence is the cause of violence in
society
b. Media violence is not the cause of violence
in society
1. My opinion of censorship question

Moreover we have formulated a preliminary thesis statement:


There are two sides to the question of whether media violence causes
violence in society, both of which have strong arguments. However,
censorship is a dubious solution which will cause its own problems.
It is now necessary to collate the ideas you sifted through in the organising stage and
set them out in a logical order, making alterations and additions where necessary. The
introduction will largely be based on the question, the task identification and the thesis
statement. The conclusion will refer back to these and the main points of the body
before making a final pronouncement. Thus our outline could take the following form:
A Media violence is to blame:
Violence is presented as normal or even entertainment
a. Violence in news, cartoons, films, radio, papers. Films without violence or
weapons rare
b. Violence is a source of 'humour' (children's cartoons)
c. Yellow press/ reality TV present sensationalism as pseudo-information

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

d. Many musicians and songwriters glorify/condone violence in their lyrics


and performances
Negative example is not balanced by a positive view
a. 'Heroes' are frequently violent, take law into own hands, outsiders
b. Lack of positive examples
c. Violence is frequently presented as the only solution to a problem
Result
a. Threshold to committing violence lowered
b. People get ideas for crime from film, newspapers
c. Children are particularly susceptible - cannot distinguish between reality
and fantasy
d. Children copy dangerous and unacceptable behaviour and learn
unacceptable values
B Media violence not to blame:
Social pressure and social change to blame
a. Pressures of modern society: unemployment, homelessness, pressure to
succeed, lack of perspective for young people
b. Individualism and materialism leave emotional emptiness
c. Responsibility shirked
Individual inability to cope
a. Inability of individuals to cope with new social and economic situations
(divorce, workplace pressures
b. Inability to seek/find help
c. Aggressive feelings vicariously released
Parental guidance lacking
a. Parents do not supervise children enough: emotional and moral guidance
lacking
b. Parents do not guide their children's TV viewing habits or taste in
entertainment
c. People should question and be critical
C Should there be censorship?
Problems of censorship
a. Who will be responsible for censorship?

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

b. Who will decide what will be censored?


c. What if censors overstep their responsibilities or interpret their task
too strictly?
Alternatives
a. Define content appropriate for particular broadcasting times - and
enforce!
b. Educate the viewers to be selective, critical
c. Encourage writers and programmers to offer other more balanced
content
Individual behaviour
a. Encourage viewers to show their viewing desires by switching off or
changing channels if they disapprove of the programmes
b. Point out to people that they as consumers (e.g. by buying trashy
newspapers) are responsible for content
Additional considerations
a. No conclusive evidence that the media is responsible for violent behaviour
b. Media may reflect life rather than life the media
Now you can begin writing the essay following your outline. Look at the comments on
readership that follow and refer to the essay outline given at the beginning to help you
write.

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Essay-writing brochure

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

Complex Essay
Violence in the Media
In recent years we have witnessed an alarming increase in the crime rate, especially
among young people. We have been left shocked and at a loss to find explanations for
why teenagers rob and blackmail, why young people commit physical violence, why
children become murderers. Some people place the blame on the way violence is
represented in the media and, as a consequence, demand that there should be stricter
controls, or even censorship, put in place. However, this way of dealing with the problem
is not undisputed. It is necessary to take a closer look at whether or not violence in the
media really is responsible for this development and then to examine what censorship
may entail before taking such a far-reaching decision, as it may, in fact lead to more
problems rather than providing solutions.
Many concerned people, ranging from worried parents through to reputable
psychologists, deplore the ever-present nature of violence in the media, claiming that
this is the reason why people are increasingly prepared to commit violent acts. They
argue that violence is being propagated as normal or even entertaining. Violence is in the
newspapers, on the news, in film plots and in cartoons. Violence is a source of laughter in
children's programmes; films present it as staple fare; it is served as pseudoinformation in sensation-hungry newspapers and on reality TV; and it is even glorified by
some musicians in their lyrics and performances. In fact in the public domain, it is
difficult to find material that is not linked to violence in some form.
Those who are worried by this development also point out that the negative examples
provided by the media are not balanced by a positive view. Criminals are often seen as
daredevil and debonair or are presented so as to arouse sympathy. The so-called
'heroes' in TV series and films, be they Dirty Harry, the Power Rangers, Butch Cassidy
or the Mighty Ducks, are frequently violent and tend to take the law into their own
hands. Not only this, the situations are often so contrived that the hero apparently has
no other choice but to turn to violence to solve his problem. Thus, success in media
terms means achieving a goal by means of violence and crime, so people naturally see
this means as an acceptable alternative for achieving what they want too.
Since the media depicts violence as a normal state of affairs and an acceptable
problem-solving option, this is seen as inevitably leading to a lowering of the threshold
to committing violence and crime. It does not stop here, for film, television and the
popular press even offer ideas for ways to commit crime and violent acts. Indeed, the
detail given and emotional involvement evoked in film in particular even provide ideas as
to how to carry out certain crimes. A prime example is the recent report of the high
school massacre in Littleton in the United States, where the teenage killers wore
trench coats and mowed down their victims in a manner reminiscent of scenes from a
popular film. The teenagers and children of today are immersed in the media, and
children above all are particularly susceptible to its influence, as they are not yet in a
position to be able to distinguish adequately between reality and fantasy. They grow up
experiencing violent acts being committed daily in cartoons, in films and on the news, so
it is not surprising if they believe that violent behaviour is normal behaviour. They copy

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

this dangerous and unacceptable behaviour and assimilate dangerous and unacceptable
values.
Nevertheless, there are voices which challenge the assumption that violence in the
media is the cause of increased violence in society. They would say that society itself
was to blame as a result of the social pressure and social change people must face.
Modern society subjects individuals to an array of pressures such as the lack of
perspective for young people, the threat of unemployment or homelessness, as well as
the necessity to succeed in economic terms and terms of status. Furthermore, there is
a lacking sense of responsibility and a tendency to pass the blame. Individualism and
materialism leave little room for the fulfilment of emotional needs.
This situation is coupled with the inability of the individuals themselves to cope with
new social and economic situations such as divorce or the changing demands of the
workplace. Once caught up in a cycle of strife, people frequently find themselves unable
to seek or find help. They are trapped in an anonymous and seemingly uncaring world. As
a result, feelings of frustration, despair or aggression build up until they can no longer
be contained and are then suddenly, horrifically and vicariously released.
There is also the suggestion that the society 'outside' is not the only source of
concern, that in fact a great deal of blame lies at the feet of thoughtless or
irresponsible parents. Parental guidance is said to be lacking because parents do not
supervise their children enough to guide their emotional and moral development. Very
often the much-berated media is employed as a babysitter: TV and video games keep
the children and teenagers occupied and out of the way. What is missing is the shared
experience, the guidance in viewing habits and taste in entertainment, and the critical
discussion and explanation of what the children have encountered in the media. Parents
must teach their children to question what they see and hear and be there for them.
So in all of this, is there a need for censorship in the media? The question of
censorship raises a number of problems. Decisions would need to be made as to just who
would be responsible for carrying out the task and in what form. Would it be the task
of one person or a committee? Who would have the right - or the privilege - to be
represented on a committee of this nature? The range of groups who would wish for a
say extends from parents through church groups to the media representatives
themselves, and this would clearly present a tug-o-war on many levels of interest: moral,
educational, economic, aesthetic, and exploitative, to name a few. In addition, there is
no guarantee that the criteria for determining the suitability of content nominated by
this committee would better protect viewers than the arbitrarily functioning dynamics
currently operating. In fact, there may be a need to set up controls to regulate what
will happen if censors overstep their responsibilities and interpret their task too
strictly or even irrationally. Indeed, this raises a further question: who would be the
one to censor the censors?
There are certain alternatives to the extreme of censorship. Rather than rigidly
setting up regulations to be strictly enforced, media groups could be encouraged to
establish a code of practice. In addition to this, programmers need to define the

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IAA Universitt Hamburg

content appropriate for particular broadcasting times, which would, for example, ease
the difficulties that parents may have in supervising their children's viewing habits.
This is already in practice to some degree in many places, but the difficulty is to ensure
that the guidelines are followed. Further to this, script-writers need to be encouraged
to offer more balanced content. There is a belief, whether well-founded or not, that
violence sells and this can only be overcome if producers and programmers are prepared
to move in other directions, accepting more variety in content, and viewers are prepared
to show that the belief has little basis.
Viewers, readers and listeners need to become more aware of their power and learn
to be selective and critical of what the media offers for consumption. The TV viewer's
programming desires can be demonstrated by switching off the television or changing
channels if the programmes meet his disapproval. The reader can take active steps by
not purchasing papers or magazines that glorify or sensationalise violent content. The
listener can also switch stations or call in on that talk-back programme to state his
opinion. Audiences can boycott products that are advertised during films or other
programmes that show inappropriate content or are shown at inappropriate times. Thus,
individuals must be aware that they are to some extent also responsible for the
content, since the signals they give to filmmakers and advertisers suggest that violence
is indeed what they want.
This brings us back to the point of what role violence in the media has to play in
influencing society's behaviour. The discussion has shown that while violence appears
almost ubiquitously in the media, providing a lopsided view of acceptable behaviour and
how to deal with problems, thus certainly having at least the potential to influence
those exposed to it, it need not be the sole cause of the rising incidence of violence in
the community. There are enough examples of the difficulties and complexities of
society that people must face today to show that violence may stem from failure to
cope with these pressures and lack of outlet for emotional problems. In other words, it
may be that the media reflects life, rather than life reflecting the media. Whatever
the case, the role of parents and guardians in supervising and guiding the media
consumption of those in their care cannot be underestimated. Censorship would only
remove the responsibility out of the control of the people who are most directly
affected by programming content, and is thus not a desirable alternative to the present
situation. Measures such as responsible programming, incentives for more creative and
well-balanced scripting and production, and encouragement of reflection on the part of
broadcasters and the press to the point of even establishing a code of practice would
be preferable steps to take. But above all, people need to be taught to be selective and
responsible in dealing with not only the media, but all aspects of everyday life, and to
recognise that they as individuals must make decisions and take action themselves in
order to influence not just the media, but the fabric of the whole of our community.

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Some Useful Links


Grammar and
Writing Skills

http://www.englishgrammar.org/

Style Manuals

http://www.mla.org/
http://webster.commnet.edu/mla/index.shtml
http://library.osu.edu/sites/guides/chicagogd.html

Bibliography
styles

http://www.aresearchguide.com/12biblio.html

Writers
Workshops

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/
http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~riceowl/table_of_contents.htm

MLA Citation
Style

http://www.library.cornell.edu/resrch/citmanage/mla#mla

Elements of
grammar and
style

http://www.bartleby.com/141/index.html

British Council
UK

http://www.britishcouncil.org/

IELTS

http://www.ielts.org/

TOEFL test

http://www.toefl.org/
1999 Catherine Schwerin
Second revision October 2007

Institut fr Anglistik und Amerikanistik


Universitt Hamburg
Von-Melle-Park 6
20146 Hamburg
Germany
Catherine.Schwerin@uni-hamburg.de

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