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You sit down at your desk. For once, you're actually psyched to write that text response essay (as far as someone can be 'psyched' when approaching VCE English!). You stare hard at the essay topic. You twirl your pen for about 5 minutes. You can't think of anything to write, or you have so much to say that you don't know where to start, and you end up writing something that goes for a few pages, but doesn't seem to say anything significant or en pointe. Here is an all too familiar scenario that strikes in households all over Victoria (am I being overly melodramatic?). Don't despair, though, help is at hand!
The tips and principles discussed below, if applied, will lead to more thorough and coherent essays. They are organised in reference to the assessment criteria for text response essays. Print a copy out and stick in near your desk, so that these basic principles of essay structure will infiltrate your grey matter before the next time you have to write an essay!
Let's start off with the basic STRUCTURE (Criterion 2)
- I can't emphasis how important it is to plan your essay! It is well worth spending that 5-10 minutes at the beginning of reading time to brainstorm the essay topic and develop an essay structure. Once you have a clear, coherent structure, writing your essay is only a matter of providing evidence from the text and articulating your ideas more fully.
- Write an introduction that clearly sets out the way you are going to approach the question ie. The general structure of your essay and its contention.
- Break down your points into paragraphs.
- USE T E E L structure.
- In each paragraph, address only one main point. If you try to stuff each paragraph full of points, your essay will become very confused (and confusing!).
- Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence. Topic sentences should act as a 'mini-thesis' of the content of your paragraph. A reader should be able to follow the progression of ideas in your essay by reading your topic sentences.
- "¢ In your conclusion, briefly summarise your argument and make some comment on the relevant themes or characters from a broader perspective.
Moving onto the 'meat' of your essay - CONTENT (Criterion 1)
- For each of the points you make, use evidence from the text. Slot appropriate quotes into your essay plan.
- Carefully consider and be selective about which quotes you use to back up a point. There is no hard and fast rule about how many quotes you should use in an essay; however, it should be clear from your use of quotations that you are in control of the text.
- Develop the central idea expressed in each topic sentence to the extent that the content of each paragraph provides sufficient coverage and depth to effectively 'prove' that point.
- Don't introduce unnecessary material into your essay. If it doesn't go toward supporting your contention in the essay, think hard about whether it really needs to be there. Examiners have a lot of material to get through-- they will not want to wade through copious amounts of 'waffle' you put in to make your essay longer!
- Make sure you have examined the question thoroughly. Have you explored the various aspects, concepts, possibilities and implications of the question? Is your analysis merely 'tacked-together' and superficial? Or have you demonstrated that you have a thorough, detailed and complex knowledge of the text, which you have used in a sophisticated and controlled manner?
Say it with style"¦ LANGUAGE (Criterion 3)
- Italicise or place quotation marks (' ') around the title of a text. Also use this punctuation when paraphrasing the text.
- Place talking marks (" ") around your quotations.
- Always use present tense when referring to characters in the text eg. "Othello maintains that"¦ "
- Make sure it is clear whom you are referring to, when you use pronouns eg. he, she, him, her.
- Make an effort to learn some new vocabulary specific to your text that will improve the fluency and expressiveness of your essay eg. adjectives to describe the personality and motivations of major characters, or technical terms to describe certain effects or features of the genre you are studying.
- Plan to leave a few minutes at the end of writing time to read over your essay, looking out for errors of spelling, grammar and punctuation.