As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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How To Write An Article Review
An article review essay is a critical analysis or evaluation of literature in a given field through making summary of the article in question, comparison or classification. In case it is a scientific article being reviewed, the writer will be required to use database searches to retrieve the results of the search. It is from the searches the writer chooses the article which is appropriate. It is a common skill that is developed in school, to help the students to establish analytical skills. It means the skills are not just used in the classrooms, but also applies in the work environment. Writing an article review has over time proved to be a difficult assignment for most of the students. The fact that it involves the critical evaluation of the ideas that have been presented in the article, means it is not just a summary. For most of the students, an article review is confused with an article summary. The critical analysis of the ideas in the article means, the author has to go further than summarizing the content of the article.
Content of this article
- Guide for writing
- Writing process
1. Purposes of an Article Review
- The purpose of the article review essay is associated with the writer summarizing the content of the article, evaluating other literature content and then adding their own understanding of the content.
- In most of the cases the article to be reviewed is going to be difficult to understand which requires the writer to read it severally before they are able to understand, which then means they will be in a position to offer insights into the content of the article in the review essay.
- One of the major aspects to understand, in reference to the purpose of article reviews essays writing, is a professional writing skill. This is relative to, article review requires one to have in-depth knowledge of a certain field, from which the article belongs.
- It is this information that helps in the review of the article and helps the audience to better understand the content and the argument of the writer.
- The purpose of an article review is associated with values that the people attach to opinion from others about certain information in a given field.
- It is also a crucial skill for journalists as they have to gather information on a given topic and to further assess how the audience view their work.
- Overall, article reviews build on the skills of the students to become better at analyzing information that interact with and make professional evaluations and recommendations.
2. Step-by-step guide on article review writing
2.1 First Read
The first part of the article review writing process is reading the article to be reviewed for the first time. The first time helps the writer to understand what it is the article is actually talking about. If it is an assigned reading in class, the student may not have come across the article in the past and thus will need to familiarize themselves with the content and the style of the author. The first reading of the article is crucial, as it helps the reader to connect with the author of the article to be reviewed. This also means that the reader will have to take note of the key points of the author, the basic argument presented in the article and note down some of the words, phrases and concepts that are new. These are elements that will then be looked at before going into the next reading. After noting the new information, the reader is supposed to look up the meaning of the phrases, words and read up on the concepts that have been presented in the article. The information on the various words, phrases and concepts can be found online or even at the library. It helps with better understanding the article and information presented especially if the article is in an unfamiliar field. This also sets the premises for reviewing the article in question, given it is not possible to write a review of an article that one does not understand.
2.2 Close Read
This is the followed by a close reading, which is associated with critical reading of the article. In this case the, reader is not just reading to understand but to also form an opinion of the presentation of the information, the style of the author, the ease of understanding the information resented and even an opinion on the accuracy of the information presented. As such, the close reading is associated with analytical skills of the student. The writer is supposed to take notes of the various aspects of the article that they are going to include in the article review essay. It is crucial as it makes the work or writing the review much easier, relative to collated information that is then sorted out for inclusion in the essay.
2.3 Identify Ideas
After identify the main ideas in the article, the writer may now develop the essay using their own words.
2.4 Present a Unique Article Review
The point behind an article review essay to develop the skills to analyze information gathered from the various sources and presenting in a unique manner that reflects the ideas of the essay and presented in a manner that also shows the opinion of the writer. The writer has to be in a position to present the ideas in a professional manner, showing in depth understanding of the information found on the essay.
3. Article review writing process
The first part of the article review essay is the title, which informs the readers what the essay is about. The title is supposed to be short and precise, giving all the information that the reader may need to understand what the essay is about. At the same time, the title is supposed to be catchy, such that it gets the readers interested. For example, the title may be phrased as follows: “Evaluating the rise home grown terrorism”.
This is then followed by the correct citation of the article to be reviewed. Ideally it does not only give credit to the author of the article to reviewed, but also gives the readers a chance to check out the article that is being reviewed. It is crucial, as some of the readers may want to first read the article under review or may want to compare and make opinions of their own other than what is established in the review essay. In an example the reference to an article home terrorism may be cited as follows:
Park, S. (2016). Counter-Terrorism in France : Home-Grown Terrorism and the Change of Counter-Terrorism Policy. The Journal Of Peace Studies, 17(3), 117-140. http://dx.doi.org/10.14363/kaps.2016.17.3.117.
Within the text of the essay, however the writer will acknowledge the work of the author as follows (Park, 2016).
When identifying the article, it is crucial that the writer selects an article that talks about a topic that they are familiar with. This will help them to better analyze the article as they have some background information. Choosing an article that the writer is not familiar with, will further complicate the analysis process. If for example the writer chooses an article on calculous and they are not familiar with the field, they will have difficult time analyzing the same and may actually distort the meaning presented in the article.
The introduction of the article review essay should be catchy and inform the readers about the topic that they are going to discuss. This is then followed by the introduction of the article to be reviewed, with close reference to the main ideas and arguments presented by the author. The writer then introduces the author of the article and where the information is available, the credentials of the author and some of their other works. If for example the author of the article is a senior lecturer at the local university and working with local antiterror agency, this should be brought to the attention of the readers as it builds on the credibility and authority of the information presented in the article.
The critique section of the essay is organized into three main parts, the introduction of the field in which the article belongs and the wide issues. This is then followed by the article content and later on the review of the ideas and concepts of the article according to the writer. This means that, this is content that has to be unique to the writer. If for example, the writer do not agree with the strategies of reducing home terrorism, they may state so in this section and support their argument with facts.
In the conclusion, the writer summarizes the main points of the article and also connect the same wit their opinion on the matter.
To make sure the article review essay is professional, the writer has to read through it and make all the necessary corrections such as grammatical errors.