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Essays

A quick guide

Essays are a part of almost every degree program. While In this handout…
you probably won‘t write an essay when you become a
 Essay writing process
professional, the skills needed in good essay writing are
 Task analysis
very relevant to other academic tasks. These skills—
 Finding ‗research‘
researching, analysing, applying, synthesising and
 Reading & taking notes
evaluating—can also be transferred to any professional
situation which requires you to respond critically and  Organising with Rationale®
creatively to a problem or issue.

The Essay Writing Process

1. Analyse the Read / take


Research
task/question notes

This process shows the cyclical


research/read/write/reflect process
which follows question analysis.
Good essay writers do more than
Reflect on and
1 session of research because
Organise /
when they reflect on and analyse analyse your
their drafts, they find that they write
need more (or different) evidence draft
to fully support their arguments.

Analysing the task/question


Before you research or write you should analyse the essay task/question. Task analysis helps us to
find out exactly what the question is asking for, and ensures that we have correct focus in our
answer. One strategy for question analysis is called MDUP:

Main ideas in the question or task - all the ‗content‘ words and phrases in the task. These

M main ideas become search terms in your research.

Directive verbs - the words that tell you to do something. For example ―analyse‖ or

D ―evaluate‖. These words tell you how to respond to the task.

Underlying question. Often—but not always—we need to answer an unstated question

U before we can respond appropriately to the task. To find it, think deeply about the task
and relate it to other ideas you have studied in your lectures. Write it down somewhere.

Predictive thesis. This is your initial answer to the essay task, based on what you already

P know. Your predictive thesis gives you a place to start your thinking and helps direct your
first research efforts. Often, our predictive thesis is very different to our final argument, as
our research influences our ideas and our argument evolves.
See over the page for an example of MDUP task analysis.

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MDUP task analysis in action…
Example essay task: Using case
illustrations, explain how legally binding
contracts are distinguished from mere
Main Ideas: legally binding agreements which have no legal Predictive thesis: Contracts are
contracts, mere agreements, legal consequences. written, agreements are spoken. To
consequences, case illustrations, protect themselves, businesses
distinguish (differentiate) should use contracts.

Directive Words: explain… how Underlying question: What‘s the


= describe the process; using = difference between contracts and
apply cases to description; agreements? What are the
distinguish(ed) = show the implications of this for businesses?
difference between

Researching
The main ideas you identify in task analysis should guide your research. Of course books in the
library will be useful, but academic databases (Proquest, Emerald, Eric etc.) are great for finding the
most up-to-date, reliable and sophisticated information relevant to your essay topics. You can find
these databases on the RMIT online library. Use the basic tips below to get started on them.

Reading & Taking Notes


Once you have books/articles/websites related to you essay topic, the challenge is to read those
sources efficiently and effectively – you should find the most useful information in the least amount
of time. Follow the process below (Boddington & Clanchy 1999) for each source you‘ve found.

•Look at the title, sub


2. Skim • Choose the paragraphs
4. Study
titles, headings and that provide the
contents pages •Once you've found the information you need •Read those paragraphs
•Find the most relevant most relevant sections, carefully and critically
sections skim over them, and take notes relevant
focussing on the to the essay topic.
introduction and topic • Try to paraphrase
sentences of paragraphs
1. Search 3. Select

Learning Skills Unit


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Organising the essay using Rationale® software
This is the most important part of the process – it‘s where you combine ideas from your research
into a structured, logical and persuasive response to the essay task. Because those ideas in you‘re
your research can be complex, it‘s often a good idea to organise them visually so that the
relationship between them can be easier to find. One very powerful way of organising your ideas
visually is to use the Rationale® argument mapping software, which is now available on the LSU
computers. This easy-to-use software allows you to build a ‗tree‘ of your answer—having a ‗picture‘
of the arguments and reasons can help you focus on the logic of your answer, which is the most
important aspect of essay writing. The very basic argument map below gives an example of what
Rationale® can do for you.
At the top of the map is the
‗contention‘ – in an essay, this is
‗because‘ links ‗reasons‘ and ‗support for reasons‘,
called the ‗thesis statement‘.
‗but‘ links objections. Organisation at this level
shows ideas to support or object to the thesis
statement. These can be seen as ‗main points‘.

Ideas at this level are more


specific, and are used to support
or object to the more general ideas
above them. Ideas here can be
seen as ‗evidence‘.

Generating an argument map using Rationale® is surprisingly easy, and the Learning Skills
Advisers in LSU can help you with it. Simply book a consultation and let us know that you want to
map your argument with Rationale®. We‘ll show how to do it, and we‘ll help you reflect on the quality
of your argument.
Writing the essay
Essays have 4 essential sections: the introduction, body, conclusion and reference list. After you
know what your thesis statement is, try to write the essay in this order:
First: Write the body, focussing on one paragraph at a time
Second: Write the conclusion
Last: Write the introduction, complete the reference list and proofread!
Importantly, you should attend very carefully to in-text referencing in the first drafts of your essays. If
you don‘t, it is possible that you will forget to correctly cite some ideas, and this could lead to
concerns about plagiarism.

Learning Skills Unit


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Sections of an essay

I. INTRODUCTION

General statements - introduce the topic, the context and the The introduction should be one
question/ issue/problem that the essay addresses paragraph only, approximately
10% of the essay‟s word limit.
Thesis statement – your 1- or 2-sentence argument in response Avoid using expressions such
the questions/issue/problem above as „nowadays‟ and „all over the
world‟, as these are over used
Signpost – briefly describe how the body of the essay is and lack sophistication.
organised

II. BODY
Topic Sentence

i. Support
ii. Support
iii. Support
Link / summary sentence
The number of body paragraphs
is determined by the structure of
Topic Sentence your argument. Avoid very
lengthy or very short paragraphs
i. Support – try to keep each paragraph
ii. Support about the same length.
iii. Support
The organisation of paragraphs
Link / summary sentence in the body should show the
reader your analysis and
reasoning. Your analysis breaks
Topic Sentence the main topic into smaller
ideas, and your reasoning
i. Support shows a logical relationship
ii. Support between them.
iii. Support

Link / summary sentence

etc.
The conclusion is approximately
III. CONCLUSION 5-10% of the essay‟s word limit.
This is a place to restate your
Summarise main points / restate thesis statement argument and main points. To
create a good final comment,
answer this question: “What are
Final comment – relate thesis statement to the wider context the implications of your
argument being valid?”

Summary
Try not to think of essays as something you simply ‗write‘. Instead, try to see essays as complex
puzzles that take a lot of analysis, research, reading and thinking to respond to effectively. When
generating and expressing your answer to the issue/question/problem in the essay task, always
keep the audience (probably your lecturer) in my mind. If you can see your own essay from his or
her perspective, you‘ll be more able to meet their needs and expectations and more likely to do well.

Learning Skills Unit


Saigon: 1.2.08 / Hanoi: Library
learningskills.sg@rmit.edu.vn / learningskills.hn@rmit.edu.vn