How to Write a Strong Essay
One research project looked at people who wrote strong essays. This is one student's interpretation of what made his essays predictably strong:
I got a high mark because I got to the core of the film maker's meaning... by grasping the gist of the argument.
Mr H commented that some students have difficulty at this level. They get lost trying to assimilate the ideas presented by authors.
I explained why various writers' ideas were relevant to the ideology of the video.
Mr H continued that this process helped him to develop his ideas about the perspectives developed in the video by the film maker. Both these points suggest Mr H has adopted a deep approach to learning rather than a surface approach. Inexperienced students, especially first year students, seem to lack confidence to express personal opinions and responses to texts for fear of being wrong (Unistart Preparatory Program, 1993).
I threw in as many things as I thought were appropriate because they were all applicable to Arlyck's argument.
Mr H quoted four authorities to support his argument, two of whom were philosophers (Betrand Russell and Val Plumwood). He had read extensively in fields related to his area of study and more widely than the lecturer's suggested reading list. Many students... do not have time to devote to extra reading because they are fully involved with the ideological content of their compulsory reading lists. Mr H's essay scores a high mark because he has been able to incorporate additional material in his essay. Perhaps first year students need to be reminded that evidence of wider reading in essays is valued by lecturers and may assist the student to gain the elusive A .
Mr H also thought that his Introduction was good because he had been able to refer to an appropriate external authority which gave strength and originality to his essay. Mr H quoted from a lecture given at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which he had attended in his own time and on his own initiative to provide this authority and freshness. This strategy of immersing himself in the subject area means that his knowledge base was wider than text book knowledge.
The process Mr H followed seems to ensure that he has a thorough understanding of the issues involved (in this case a video). He interacted with these ideas which then enabled him to relate the film maker's ideology with his own perspective and then compared and contrasted these views with the ideology of other relevant experts. When he says that he "threw in as many things as I thought were appropriate" he is not only making a judgment about the appropriateness of subject matter, but that he is confident to manipulate it to suit his purposes. He also expresses a casualness about essay writing that gives the impression that he is in control of the subject matter and the process of writing an essay.
Mr H stated that a successful strategy is to allow an adequate amount of time for ideas to gel and to make meaningful links between various sources (e.g., personal reading, lectures and other source material). Mr H also speaks of taking ideas as far as they can go; this requires time and patience but provides strength, freshness and originality to his work. Furthermore, when Mr H discussed the reasons why he got a high mark on his assignment, he shows that he is able to form abstract concepts and to relate ideas between the film maker, himself and other experts in the field.
Excerpted and modified from Carmichael, Driscoll & Farrell (nd)