I attempt to outline below key issues that
you must address when writing an essay.
For an advanced level essay there is
unlikely to be one right answer that you have to find. You must construct the answer that you think
is appropriate or that is the right answer for you. However this does not mean that you can write
whatever you want. There is probably an
established body of knowledge that you need to show you know, understand and
You must do what the essay title asks. If it asks you a question you must answer
it. If it asks you to discuss, assess or
something else then do that. Do not simply write all you know on
the topic. It can help to take a view – you agree, disagree or perhaps you feel
that the alternate arguments are finely balanced and you do not come down on
You may wish to discuss the question in the
introduction to the essay. If so,
examine it, explain what it means, why it needs answering and how you will
Don’t just write the essay. Think about the structure – the introduction,
the main body of the essay and the conclusion.
The introduction should outline what you think the essay is about. Perhaps present alternative arguments: the
classic essay structure is thesis, antithesis and synthesis i.e. for and
against a particular argument or explanation. The conclusion can sum up or
synthesise. If you do not structure the essay, you are less likely to answer
This depends on the kind of essay and the
expectations of the marker. There are
three basic approaches. You may be asked
to demonstrate, to analyse and assess arguments or theories, or, to provide and
analyse factual material.
typical example of demonstration is a micro economics essay that asks you to
explain perfect competition. You would
be expected to show you understand the theory by explaining step by step how,
given certain assumptions, firms and markets would behave in certain ways. At that level there is little scope for you
to exercise judgement – you are just showing that you understand the logic
(probably by repeating it as closely as possible).
and analysing requires you to exercise
judgement. You are assessing and
analysing key arguments, theories and explanations. For example you might be
asked to consider the usefulness or explanatory power of the theory of perfect
competition. You yourself must be able to explain and support what you
say. The judgement and argument do not
have to be yours – you may simply be showing why someone else’s analysis is the
best. The strengths of theories or
explanations lie in either i) the logical power of the arguments, or, ii) how
well supported they are by authorities (that is key writers on the subject)
(also why do these authorities support them,) or, iii) how well supported they
are by the facts. You might compare and contrast different explanations. Not
all analyses come to definite or certain conclusions.
and analysing facts. Facts are not just described and repeated. They are assembled and used to explain
situations, or, to support or contradict arguments & theories. You have to judge the importance and strength
of different facts, present them as you think they are and integrate them into
an analytical framework.
Reading People who plagiarise are fools. Not only do they risk discovery
but they lose the opportunity to gain extra marks. Don’t disguise the fact that
you have read something – show that you
have read by giving quotes or by referring to the key authors on the subject.
The more you can show that you have read widely and understood key authors, the
more marks you will get.
Essays require a combination of the above
elements. Some works simply require a
demonstration of knowledge. At a higher
level you don’t often need to be as descriptive as in the first year. Your analysis should demonstrate that you
know the theories. If so you don’t need
descriptive lists of assumptions etc.
While you will be exercising a lot of
judgement as you write the essay, it should not come across as your personal
opinion. It emerges from your
examination of the main body of knowledge on the topic (facts and theories) and
the main writers. Demonstrate your
knowledge and understanding of the subject and the literature throughout the
Ref: Ref: DC7010/CH