This post is divided into three distinct parts:
- ESSAY WRITING SKILLS
- INTEGRATING QUOTATIONS INTO YOUR ESSAY WRITING
- CONNECTIVES FOR WRITING A BRILLIANT ESSAY
Dear Reader: This post is slightly longer than usual – my apologies.
As a High School student you will write at least 20 to 50 essays by the time you graduate. This could be in the form of a class task, a homework exercise or timed-essay in the exam. Essay writing can be quite a demanding and daunting task and, as a result, many students go through High School without having grasped the essentials of a good essay.
To avert such a catastrophe befalling on you, here are useful ways on how to successfully write a brilliant essay. Following the hints suggested here, step by step, is crucially beneficial in the short and long run.
You will definitely ace it if you follow these time-proven ideas! Good luck in all your endeavours.
Dispel Some Misconceptions
An essay should be written in a formal and impersonal way. This means it must be objective in its expression of ideas. Furthermore, it also means that specific reference to your personal opinion or to yourself as a performer of actions is usually avoided.
|Personal Writing (To be avoided)||Objective Writing (Instead, try this)|
|In my opinion . . .||It has been argued that . . . .|
|I believe that . . .||Some writers claim . . . ./It is proposed that . . . .|
|In my view . . . .||Clearly, . . . / It is clear that . . .|
|I undertook the survey/study . . . .||There is little that . . . .|
|I propose to . . .||The survey/study was undertaken . . . .|
|In this essay I will examine . . . .||This essay examines . . . .|
|In this report I will show…||This report presents…|
|I noticed…||Analysis of the raw data indicated…|
A note on paragraphing is also essential here:
Parts of a Paragraph
A paragraph is a group of sentences that communicates one main idea. Most paragraphs have three parts: a topic sentence, several supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence.
The topic sentence is the most important sentence in the paragraph. It is often the first sentence in a paragraph. It tells the reader what the paragraph is about.
Next comes the supporting sentences. These sentences give details, examples and reasons to explain the topic sentence. All of the supporting sentences must relate to the topic of the paragraph.
Some paragraphs end with a concluding sentence. The concluding sentence restates the main idea in different words. Here are some common ways to begin a concluding sentence: All in all …, As one can see …, Accordingly… .
Writing An Essay Plan
The Question: This starts with the question you are going to respond to. Read it carefully. Then UNDERLINE THE KEY WORDS that will tell you what sort of approach to take (Analyse, Explore, Discuss, etc).
Lastly, HIGHLIGHT key words relating to the question.
The planning gives a basic outline of your essay. Try using a “Spider diagram” or a “Pattern plan”- listing your points down – or “Mind-mapping” to brainstorm relevant ideas. In some circles, this means, make an outline!
Why should you plan?
- To ensure that you include all the information you will need.
- It sets out your main ideas clearly.
- To make sure that your essay has got structure by taking the reader through your answer in a logical and progressive way.
- So that you answer the question fully.
- So that you don’t run out of time in an examination.
- You can also select your connecting words and phrases, as well as quotes (if any) to each point/idea to earlier and later points.
Writing an effective introduction is one of the most important skills you must learn. A good introduction should:
- give your reader a taste of what your essay is about
- lead your reader into the rest of the essay
- encourage them to continue reading, because what you are writing seems clear and interesting.
Another important sentence is your Thesis Statement – usually, the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. It must present the TOPIC of your essay and also make a comment about your POSITION in relation to the topic. It must tell the reader what your essay is about. It is very important!
Take Note: An introduction must connect back to the question being asked. A simple way to gauge how good or bad your introduction is, is to try this simple technique: “Remove the introductory paragraph and show it to another student and have them tell you what the essay question is. If the answer is NOT quite what the actual question is, then something isn’t right.” REVISE IT!
Usually, you will not use any quotes in your essay’s introduction. An introduction should be entirely in your own words.
The Body/Supporting Paragraphs – Follow the PEEE Technique!
This is the main body of your essay which should:
- be clearly structured into well-organized paragraphs. A general rule is “one point = one paragraph”.
- start with a topic sentence (POINT) making it clear what the paragraph is about.
- have EVIDENCE to support your point. You do this through selecting a well-chosen quote; the quote should demonstrate the point you have made. It could be a sentence; phrase or a word.
- EXPLAIN the link between your point and the evidence – how does the evidence support the point you have made?
- What EFFECT does this have? How would the audience feel about this? Look at the author’s choice of language – what words does s/he use? What effect do these words have? Is what the author has done effective? What’s your personal response?
Here too, you may need to consult transitions (connectives) and phrases to spruce up your essay and become more scholarly. A whole list of them is available BELOW.
A conclusion should not be a reworking of everything you have previously stated in your essay. It is, instead, as crucial to the overall success of your essay as the other sections. The conclusion needs to be a carefully constructed paragraph that ‘completes’ your argument. It is an opportunity to leave the reader with a set of final, original ideas about the text that you have created yourself. You should try to make a lasting impact in your conclusion, creating a paragraph that your reader remembers and show your own individual, intellectual and emotional engagement with the text that you are writing about.
Writing a good conclusion is important because it will:
- round off your essay well, perhaps echoing your introduction to do so, usually in about 3-5 sentences in length.
- leave your reader with a clear sense of what the essay was all about.
- summarize all the points you have made clearly and concisely.
The format in writing a conclusion can be seen in three stages as:
- A ‘general’ comment summarising the content of your essay.
- A brief reference to one of the major points made in your essay.
- A final summing up, perhaps including a specific, interesting detail.
You may find that you need more than one sentence to cover each point. As a rule of thumb having 3-5 sentences is fine.
Thus, a conclusion should contain NO new points and, so, no reference, as well.
INTEGRATING QUOTES INTO YOUR WRITING
Quotes are useful in writing because they serve to validate your point. Choose your quotes carefully, however; the best quotes are the ones that if you tried to paraphrase them, they would lose some of their power.
There are several ways to quote:
- Quote a word/s
- Quote phrases
- Quote sentence(s)
- Embed quotes into your sentences
ALWAYS explain the effect(s) of words; phrases or sentences to the question asked.
When using quotes, it is important to incorporate, or “blend” them seamlessly into your own words within a sentence. Do NOT put quotes alone in a sentence. Instead, introduce them in a way that they are part of your own sentence.
Remember, a quote should never appear in a sentence by itself, because then there is no context for the quote.
Use Signal Phrases
A quote can be smoothly integrated into the sentence by using a signal phrase.
The signal phrase can be a phrase, clause, or even sentence which leads into a quotation or statistic. These generally include the speaker/author’s name and some justification for using him or her as an expert in this context; it may also help establish the context for the quotation.
Verbs in Signal Phrases
|X states, “….” or According to X, “….”
X himself writes, “….”
In her book… X maintains that “….”
In the article… X claims that “….” In X’s view, “….”
X agrees/disagrees when she writes, “….”
X complicates matters further when she writes, “….”
According to…/ In her article…
In the opinion of (author’s name)…
(Author’s name) suggests/ argues that…
|adds admits agrees argues asserts believes criticizes proclaims
claims comments compares demonstrates denies emphasizes
illustrates implies insists notes observes points out complains
reasons says states suggests thinks proposes comments
announces concludes predicts declares claims replies responds
remarks estimates presents observes exclaims writes acknowledges
grants refutes illustrates
Never insert a quote or a paraphrase abruptly into your writing without first introducing the quote (or paraphrase), citing it, and explaining it.
This means that you will never begin or end a paragraph with a quote.
This method is often referred to as the ICE method of integrating quotes: Introduce, Cite, and then Explain.
ICE: Introduce, Cite, and Explain Your Evidence
Body paragraphs in academic essays contain evidence that supports debatable main ideas that appear in topic sentences, and responsible writers make sure to introduce, cite, and explain quotes and paraphrases used as evidence.
INTRODUCE: Introduce all your quotes using introductory phrases. Here are some examples:
- According to Michael Smith, “you should use the author’s first and last name when you cite that author for the first time in your paper” .
- As Smith explains, “you can introduce your quotes with a number of different phrases” .
- Smith suggests that “if the introduction to your quote isn’t a dependent clause, it doesn’t need to be followed by a comma”.
- Smith observes the following in his article: “When you use a colon to introduce a quote, you need a complete sentence preceding the colon”.
CITE: Provide appropriate parenthetical citations for all quotes and paraphrases (but not summaries). Check the appropriate style guide for guidelines, e.g. MLA, APA, and Chicago. Here are some guidelines for MLA style citation:
- If the author’s name appears in the introduction to the quote or in the paraphrase, it doesn’t have to appear in the parenthetical reference, as the citations above illustrate.
- If the author’s name does not appear in the introduction to the quote, the name must appear in the parenthetical reference. See the following example of a cited paraphrase:
EXPLAIN: Make sure to explain your quotes. Provide analysis that ties them back to your main idea / topic sentence. In other words, comment on the evidence in order to incorporate it into the argument you’re making.
Never leave any room for interpretation. It is your responsibility as the writer to interpret the quote for your reader and provide the significance.
If you want to make a long quote shorter in order to present the reader with a more concise quotation, do so using an ellipsis, which is three periods, each period having a space before and after it (example: “ . . . ”).
Example: When Fuller (2005) returns home, she explained, “…I was dislocated and depressed” (p. 72).
However, be careful not to cut words that change the tone or meaning of a quote.
Adding Text to Quotes
The quote you use should make grammatical sense with the rest of your sentence. Therefore, you may sometimes have to add words to a quote, or modify the verb form in the quoted text.
You do this by enclosing the added material in square brackets (like this: [ ] ).
Example: “I will love the light for it shows me the way. Yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.” Og Mandino
Blended: Even though times may be difficult, it is important to be positive and “love the light for it shows me the way [while] endur[ing] the darkness because it shows me the stars” (Mandino).
Notice that brackets [ ] were used to show that words were added or changed. You would do this when the quote as written does not flow well with your sentence. Use brackets if needed to change or add words and make the sentence flow!
If you are quoting four or more lines of text, indent the quoted lines ten spaces from the left margin. Double-space the quote as you do the rest of your essay, and do not use quotation marks.
Use the poem’s line number instead of page numbers to identify the quote. If you are quoting three lines or less of poetry, put a slash (/) between the lines to mark the line break
If you are quoting more than three lines, you must block quote them. However, do not double-space a block quote from a poem. Rather, you must attempt to recreate the line spacing and indenting of each line as it is in the original.
Integrating Quotes Into Your Writing
Quote the Good Stuff
Beware of using quotations that do not mean anything or add substance to your essay.
If a source says something so well that you couldn’t possibly change it, use it! If a source backs up a point you made, use it!
If you understand what a source is saying, use it! You will have to analyze it later, so understanding it will help you.
Remember “less is more.” Do not pad your essay with other people’s ideas.
Keep Quotations Short
Keep your quotations 1–2 sentences long or use a few key words/phrases. If you need it all, turn the quotation into a “block quotation,” but use them sparingly! “Block” the quotation if it’s more than 40 words long.
Block the quotation by having it start on a new line and in the same position as a new paragraph.
Copy Quotations Correctly
Misspellings and use of incorrect grammar when it’s obvious that the source couldn’t have made those mistakes affects your own credibility as a writer. Accuracy indicates care for one’s work.
Use brackets when you alter a word or phrase from the quotation. Use an ellipsis when you omit words or phrases from the quotation.
Use an ellipsis with brackets […] when you omit words in a sentence.
Do Not Start a Paragraph with a Quotation
A paragraph should begin with your ideas. The first sentence of a paragraph is known as the topic sentence or assertion, both of which support the focus of the essay. In turn, the quotation supports the topic sentence.
Do Not End a Paragraph with a Quotation
Always conclude the paragraph with your ideas. The last sentence should be part of your analysis of the quotation.
As you choose quotations for a literary analysis, remember the purpose of quoting. Your essay develops an argument about what the author of the text is doing – how the text “works.”
You use quotations to support this argument; that is, you SELECT, PRESENT, and DISCUSS material from the text specifically to “PROVE” your point – to make your case – in much the same way a lawyer brings evidence before a jury.
CONNECTIVES FOR WRITING A BRILLIANT ESSAY
Connectives connect and relate sentences and paragraphs. They assist in the logical flow of ideas as they signal the relationship between sentences and paragraphs.
In essay writing, the material is supported and conditioned not only by the ordering of the material (its position) but by connectives which signal order, relationship and movement.
Introducing an Additional Point
These connectives are used to add further information/ideas.
To Contrast or Balance
We use these connectives to compare two different ideas with each other to show that they are different.
- These help to develop the logical sequence of your ideas.
- They enable you to show chronological order.
Making a Comparison
We use these connectives to compare two different ideas with each other to show that they are similar.
Introducing an Illustration
These connectives are used when we want to give an example of something.
Introducing Details or Examples
These connectives are used when we want to give an example of something.
These connectives are used when we want to give detail to our examples/explanations.
These connectives are used to express time and are usually used to explain when something happens/has happened in relation to something else.
Indicating an Opinion/Interpretation/Qualification
These connectives help to explain why something may change because of something else.
Indicating Cause and Effect
These connectives help to explain why something happens.
In Conclusion or Summary
These connectives help to show that you have come to the end of an idea/sums up your essay.
Connectives make your writing more powerful and help the reader move smoothly from one point to the next.
Always REMEMBER to use connectives to make your ideas flow and to improve the structure of your writing.
Good luck in all your endeavours.