Writing in Arts (Language and Learning Online)

Writing in Arts

These tutorials are intended to help you develop skills to improve your writing in Arts subjects. Take a look at the resources in the English Literature <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/index.xml> , History <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/index.xml> , Philosophy <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/index.xml> , or Sociology <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/index.xml> modules to learn more about meeting your lecturer's expectations and developing your own writing skills in these subjects. These tutorials all feature samples of student writing, as well as student comments on the writing process.











English essay

This tutorial contains information about essay writing based on materials from the first-year English subject, Reading Writing Literature. You will also find much of the information to be useful for your other English subjects. Navigate through the tutorial using the Table of Contents on the left. The tutorial's three main sections are outlined below.

Lecturer's advice <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/1.xml>

Get information from the lecturer about what is required for English assignments.

Skills for writing in Literature <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/2.xml>

Learn to write better assignments through interactive tasks.

Annotated assignments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.xml>

View samples of student work with lecturer and student comments.

Lecturer's advice

Alan Dilnot, Lecturer In this section, one of your lecturers - Alan Dilnot - answers Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about researching and writing essays in first-year English subjects.

FAQs: Click on those topic areas that are of interest to you, or that you need to know more about.



1. How well do most students do in the practice essay?

Summary: Students generally receive scores in the Pass/Credit range, and improve with the second assignment.

In the first-year English Literature, the quality of the first assignment (the practice essay) is often disappointing. The most common problems are lack of unity, inadequate argumentation, and informal presentation. Marks higher than 14 out of 20 are rare, and many students score 10.5 or 11.

Students clearly learn useful tips from this, however, and the second assignment (the first full-length essay) usually indicates a marked improvement, with more succinct and directed writing, in a style more appropriate to tertiary-level work. Many students move up a grade, from pass to credit, or from credit to distinction.

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2. Why do we do a practice essay anyway?

Summary: To give you practice in writing a line of argument that clearly sets out your response to the text, but that also takes into account differing viewpoints.

I hope that students will use their research to develop a focus for their own response to the literary text, and that they'll discover that more than one response is possible and legitimate. I hope that during the writing of the essay students improve their ability to argue a case, and that, in doing so, will take account of conflicting opinions.

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3. How can I avoid "just describing"?

Summary: Don't just talk about what happens, give an analysis of why it happens.

Perhaps the most frequent problem students have is a tendency to just describe what happens in a text, when they should be attempting an analysis of why it happens. An example of "just description" is when you tell the story in your own words, or you provide a summary of the nature of the characters, but you neglect to indicate what the theme of the story is and how the various elements in the story contribute to making the theme more evident.

The theme of the story is not usually encapsulated in some direct statement. The theme of a story emerges through your interpretation of the various elements in the story. These elements can include, for example, metaphors that are used, and particularly symbolic moments, actions, or objects in the text.

So what a student's analysis should be aiming to produce is the crucial ideas that lie at the centre of the story. If you simply tell the reader of your essay what happens in the story you've not assisted the reader in any way to understand the story better, because the reader could have done that himself or herself.

One way of indicating why something happens in a text is to look at the arrangement of the plot, but also to look at the psychology of the characters and the traits of a character that push or predispose that character to act in a certain way. Through that you're getting close to indicating why something happens in the story rather than just telling us what happened.

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4. How do I relate to the world of the text?

Summary: Distinguish between the conditions and values of your own world and those of the text.

Another problem that students frequently have when they are writing on literature is that they don't distinguish between the values and conditions of the world in which they themselves live - in the present day, in a particular part of the world - and the conditions and values of the world of the text. In understanding the "world of the text", we also need to distinguish between the world in which the text is produced (for example, the world as it was when the novel, Jane Eyre, was written) and, most importantly, the conditions of the world as it is set up and depicted within the novel.

For example, one of the underlying themes in Jane Eyre is that women have to fight harder than men do in their world - in the world of the novel - to make themselves heard and to leave a mark on the world. Men in the novel may or may not be treated sympathetically, but they are more likely to be in positions of power than women are, and they tend to set up situations in which the lives of women are circumscribed. If you don't recognise that the conditions of Jane's world are different from your own then you're going to be blind to some of the important concerns of the novel.

Generally speaking, literature of the distant past is more likely to inhabit a world that is different from our own than literature of the present. A case of a different kind is Wide Sargasso Sea ( WSS). Wide Sargasso Sea was produced much nearer to our own time (1966), but the action in the novel is set back in the first half of the 19 th century.

The author, Jean Rhys, has in fact made exactly the kind of imaginative leap from her own time to the time of the characters in the novel that readers of literature need to make. In any case, a 21 st-century reader of WSS needs to make some allowance for social relationships as they were in the West Indies in the early part of the 19 th century - and affected as they were by ethnic and racial antagonisms and hostilities.

Some of these issues are presented as being extremely complex in the world of WSS. Now we've got to ask ourselves what a world would be like in which these were important factors. So that's the kind of imaginative leap that students often need to make when they are writing on a work of literature.

It might still be the case that a student could allow for the fact that the text's assumptions about human relationships are normal for the time, but nevertheless the student might still want to say, "that's wrong, that's an inadequacy in the world view of the text". They can say that, but it requires quite a lot of confidence on the part of the student, and also they would need to have faced their own value system to make that kind of judgement.

One of the reasons for studying Literature is to broaden mental horizons, and that involves questioning the assumptions of your own time and place, your own culture. You need to be aware too that there are possibilities for criticism of the world in which you live. The text gives you an opportunity to evaluate your own assumptions. The really worthwhile literature very rarely simplifies its moral positions; it usually shows awareness of the complexity of the issues being talked about and this will overlap with the world we live in.

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5. What is the difference between the author and the speaker?

Summary: The person who "speaks" in the text is often the "narrator", or a character in the text, and is not the same person as the author of the text.

There's one other thing that students need to be mindful of and that is the difference between the author and the speaker. For example, there is a temptation to think that the person who speaks in Jane Eyre (that is, Jane Eyre herself because she's telling her own story) is the author, Charlotte Bronte. That is, we tend to think that the character Jane Eyre is authoritative, has the last word, and therefore that we should accept what Jane says in judgement of other people. If we believe Jane Eyre to be a "reliable" narrator, it ought to be because of who she is, because of what we know about her character, not because she is Charlotte Bronte's "representative".

The difference between the speaker and the author is crucial in respect of poetry. Because so many poems are short and so many poems use the first person, and because there are times where the poet has used identifiably biographical experiences, the temptation is to say that it is the poet himself or herself who is speaking.

I don't object actually to students saying "the poet says" as an unidentified or general "poet speaker", but what I do object to is "John Donne or William Wordsworth was feeling this on a particular day..." So the distinction between the speaker and the author is a useful one; it allows for much more flexibility and sensitivity to interpretation of the literary text.

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6. How can I improve my writing?

Summary:

It's important when you are writing your essay to make sure that it is a unified piece of work. In other words, what you are arguing for in your opening paragraph - or the claims you make about the piece of literature that you are interpreting - these need to be supported and developed in the succeeding paragraphs. The conclusion of the essay should relate to the opening paragraph, so if you find that the key terms in the opening paragraphs are not visible in the concluding paragraph, that might be a sign that you've wandered from the point. So be definite in your exposition at the beginning of the essay and make sure that you carry over the sense of your argument from paragraph to paragraph. Don't get led away into generalities.

The best thing to do when you are writing an essay is to remind yourself of the key terms of the topic that you are writing on. Ask yourself in relation to each of your own paragraphs: Is this a paragraph that is relevant to the topic that I undertook to answer? You don't ask yourself whether the paragraph is relevant to something important, say in Jane Eyre, which it may well be, but what you ask yourself is whether the paragraph is relevant to that aspect of Jane Eyre that you were going to discuss. So relevance to the topic takes priority over relevance to the text.

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7. What analytical framework should I use when reading texts?

Summary: Be guided by the individual assignment topic. Generally speaking, most of your essays will be very text-focused.

There are so many different legitimate ways of going about reading a text, analysing it, and describing it, so the safest guideline for the student is to look at the parameters set up by the topic and stick with them, because different topics may require different reading approaches.

The subject booklet alerts students to the various ways a text might be interpreted. We supply some passages of critical readings. The bits of criticism that we print there come from various times in the 20 th century, but they do show different sorts of approaches. They show how opinions of Jane Eyre and Rochester and Bertha and our understandings of the three have changed over time.

In fact, there's one passage there which looks at the way in which the novel has been revalued since the onset of feminism. It summarises what some of the critical articles have said about the novel. A student who is conscientious can discover that there are a variety of approaches for examining texts.

What is common to most approaches nowadays is that they are in the end text-focused. That is, they don't feel comfortable in making assertions about the text unless they can back it up from the text. Even deconstructionists, who very typically look at what's not said in a text, are looking at what's there in order to uncover what's not there - so it's still text-focused. That is, deconstructionists allow for the things that are not being said which are nevertheless active in the text.

For example, what is not said is important in Jane Eyre because Bertha Mason's story is literally not described. This is why the later novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, which tells Bertha Mason's story from her own perspective, is so valuable because it is an attempt to fill in the gap. It is signalled to us as we read Jane Eyre that there is something we're not being told. So Wide Sargasso Sea comes along and says, "so here is what was not said in Jane Eyre". By putting the two texts together we do actually have quite a good opportunity to use quite recent critical approaches.

So, unless the topic indicates otherwise, you should ensure that your analysis is supported by the text itself.

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8. What will you look for when marking my essay?

Summary:

An essay should reveal a student's understanding of both the text and the question being asked about the text. Your essay should state its objective succinctly, should support its claims by reference to the text and should feature an appropriate conclusion.

We do look very much for unity, relevance, and coherence (see the answer to Question 3, What kind of problems should I look out for?)

The assertion that you should support your argument with reference to the text is an obvious one, but it is important to handle your references to the texts in an efficient and succinct way. You don't need to have lengthy quotations; you can make a reference to a chapter or to an incident in the chapter and simply give a page reference for where that incident will be found.

Quotations that are too lengthy can interrupt the flow of your argument and they also suggest that you have run out of ideas for yourself and you are trusting that the passage you quote will speak for itself and therefore save you a bit of analytical effort. So students should be sparing with your quotations, make them short and sharp and make sure they do relate to the point.

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9. How much should I read for my essay?

Summary: You must read and re-read the primary text, but it's up to you if you want to read secondary sources. These can be very helpful, but not strictly necessary.

Many students are uneasy about the amount of material they need to read for their particular essay. It is, of course, important to know the primary text in detail, so you must read it, and then you must read it again, and perhaps you might read it once more after that.

As to secondary sources - that's a more difficult matter to decide. The course booklet recommends a limited amount of reading in addition to the primary text. This further reading is not intended to supplant the primary text or to supply the whole answer to the essay question, but rather to help the student understand what the imortant critical issues are. The booklet states that it is possible to tackle the essay questions successfully without having recourse to secondary sources.

Some students can write very good essays without consulting any secondary sources at all. That probably won't happen absolutely for your essays on Jane Eyre, because if you think about it, your edition of Jane Eyre gives you an introduction - you might read part of it, if not the whole of it - and there are annotations in your edition of Jane Eyre and these notes sometimes present a point of view. Some editions of Jane Eyre actually include critical articles in the back. If you are reading introductions, notes, critical articles, you are probably being influenced by them and therefore you ought to indicate that.

One way of indicating that you are acknowledging your sources is through your bibliography. In the bibliography, you list all the works that you have read in relation to your primary text. This might include the introduction and editorial notes to your edition of the text.

If you do use secondary sources, the best way to use them is in what I would call the "yes, but" manner. That is, you don't take a critic, "Critic A", and say, "Critic A has said the final word on this topic so I will just tell you what Critic A says and I agree absolutely and wholeheartedly with Critic A". That's that not very rewarding for you or for the reader; in fact, it allows you to escape the challenge of being confronted by the primary text yourself.

So, a better manner is to say, "Critic B has made this assertion about Jane Eyre. There is something to be said for this, but it fails to recognise, or is deficient in this respect or respects...". This shows that you have read the primary text and it shows that you've read a secondary text about the primary text with intelligence and discrimination. It shows that you recognise the strengths of the argument put forward by the secondary source, and that you've got a mind of your own.

After a while it will become second nature to you and you will do it in all of your courses. In challenging somebody else's argument, you're entering into the world of scholarship; you're entering into the world of debate and the clash of ideas. The expectation is that through the clash of ideas, through discussion, a greater insight into whatever it is that we're discussing will emerge.

So, use secondary sources as a starting point or as a stimulation for developing your own point of view and if you do that and if - very importantly - you acknowledge all the sources that you've used, you won't be in any danger of being accused of plagiarism. Plagiarism is where you take somebody else's ideas and pass them off as if they were your own. That is, you copy them out more or less verbatim, but you don't signal through footnotes or through the bibliography that you've actually used somebody else's ideas. This is to be avoided at all costs and severe penalties apply.

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10. What final piece of advice do you have?

Summary:

First, identify the key concepts in the set topic. In the planning stages, if you've got any doubts about your understanding of the topic, it is quite reasonable for you to ask to see your tutor and check to see whether your interpretation of the meanings and purpose of the topic are along the right lines. What the tutor won't do for you is read a final draft of your essay and give you a tentative mark for it. The drafting of your essay is your own responsibility.

Once you have identified the key concepts in the set topic, make sure that you stick to them throughout your essay. Make sure that you have taken account of possible objections to your case. If you know what the opposite argument is then you'll be able to strengthen your own argument. So, in preparing to write your essay, make a list of points for and against the main proposition.

Make sure, also, that your selection of evidence is appropriate and if you make some assertions that are quite strong - especially if you make some generalisations - wait a day or two and come back to them and see if you still feel that they are valid. Do you still find your argument convincing? How and where can you strengthen your case?

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Skills for writing in Literature

In this section, you have the chance to learn and practise different aspects of essay writing in Literature.

The materials cover three topics and include a range of practice tasks. Select from the topics on the left to develop skills in topic analysis <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/2.1.xml> , structuring an argument <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/2.2.xml> , and interpreting texts <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/2.3.xml> .

Select those topics that you think you need to work on. If you wish to explore all topics, work on them from start to finish.

Topic analysis

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

A central concern for lecturers when marking a student's essay is whether or not it actually answers the question that was asked. While it may seem to you that university questions allow for a broad range of responses, you still need to ensure that you do not stray too far from the central issue in question.

The following tasks are designed to help you further develop the topic-analysis skills you have already learned at school or in other university subjects.

Please note that information in the comments should not be taken as any definitive answer to the task question; instead it represents one interpretation only by the authors of these materials.

Analysing a topic fully means that you need to read an essay topic very carefully, identifying key words and phrases and noting how these different parts of the topic relate to one another.

This usually involves:

When dealing with complex topics it is sometimes difficult to put this into practise, so let's have a look at an example of an essay topic from the subject, Reading Writing Literature.

Read the following essay topic on the novel Jane Eyre:

Mr. Rochester describes in Vol. 3, Chapter 1, the circumstances in which he was married to Bertha Mason, and how he came to incarcerate her in the attic at Thornfield. What do we learn about him from this and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?


Breaking down the topic

The first step is to break the question down into parts.

Consider the following questions, then check your answer.

What is the purpose of each sentence? What are the different elements you would need to address in order to answer this topic appropriately?

[1]Check the answer

Reading the topic closely (Sentence 1)

The second step is to examine what each section of the topic requires of you.

In this topic, the first sentence refers specifically to Vol. 3, Chapter 1. Do you think that a good response to this topic should:

a. discuss the relevant information from this chapter, but also bring in other parts of the novel

b. concentrate only on Rochester's explanation in this specific chapter, to avoid going off the topic

Please make a selection before continuing.

[2]Check the answer

Reading the topic closely (Sentence 2)

Let's now look more closely at the wording of the second question.

What do we learn about him from this and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?

Can you identify key words or phrases that will affect how you answer?

Tick the box of key words from the question.

[3]Check the answer

[1]

Feedback on breaking down the topic

Mr. Rochester describes in Vol. 3, Chapter 1, the circumstances in which he was married to Bertha Mason, and how he came to incarcerate her in the attic at Thornfield. What do we learn about him from this and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?

The key sections of the topic are highlighted above.

The first sentence introduces the particular element of the novel to be considered: Rochester's explanation of his actions.

The second sentence contains the specific question to be answered, which consists of two parts. The words " this" and " claim" in this sentence both refer to Mr. Rochester's " explanation".

We can rewrite this question, then, as:

  1. What does Mr. Rochester's explanation tell us about him?
  2. And how far is his explanation endorsed by the novel?

A good paper would answer the two questions in the second sentence, relating them in particular to Mr. Rochester's explanation of his actions (the first sentence).

Working out how many sections there are to a topic is just the first step, however. We have to read a little more closely still. (See the next two questions.)

[2]

Feedback on reading the topic closely (Sentence 1)

A is the better response.

While a particular chapter is specified, you would need to do more than examine that single chapter in your answer. This is because the second sentence of the essay topic asks you to consider how far the novel (that is, the whole novel) supports the view presented in this chapter.

Therefore, when preparing to write an essay, much of your time should be spent reading and re-reading the text.

Now go to the next question on Sentence 2 of the topic.

[3]

Feedback on reading the topic closely (Sentence 2)

What do we learn about him from this and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?

The important words or phrases for working out what the topic is about are highlighted above. Compare these with your response.

The first part of this question is reasonably straightforward; it asks, what can be said about Rochester's character, based on his explanation?

  1. The second part of this question contains the important phrase, how far.

    Note that this topic is not asking you to say whether the novel does or does not endorse Rochester's view that he acted for the best. Rather, it is asking you how far the novel endorses this view.

    This means that you are not likely to have a 'yes' or 'no' answer. Instead, you will need to look at those elements that might be seen to support Rochester's view and then look at those elements that do not. You will then need to make a judgment about how far the novel endorses Rochester (i.e. not at all, partly, mainly, completely) and how it does so (e.g. through the narrator's voice, through events that happen to Rochester, through symbolism, and so on).

    Writing such a qualified argument is not always easy. See the Annotated Assignment, Claire's Essay, for one student's explanation of how she tried to address this topic.

    See also the task on 'Writing a clear but qualified answer', in Topic 2, 'Structuring an argument'.

  2. This part of the question also contains the phrase, the novel endorses...

    Note that the question is asking how far the novel endorses Mr. Rochester's claim; not whether or not you endorse his claim.

    What do you think is meant by the word "endorse", and how can a novel "endorse" something? Here is what lecturer Alan Dilnot had to say about it:

    "An aspect of the topic that might give difficulty is the idea that the novel 'endorses' a character's behaviour. Students should consider how such an endorsement might be conveyed. It could come as a direct declaration from the narrator. However, the narrator is Jane Eyre and the reader must allow for the possibility that she is an interested party. Or endorsement could come through demonstration: the novel might indicate that certain kinds of behaviour have inevitable consequences, pleasant or unpleasant. Or the degree of endorsement could be indicated through rewards or punishments handed out just prior to the end of the novel."

    See also the task on 'Frameworks for analysis', in Topic 3, 'Making judgements'.

Structuring an argument

In another section of this tutorial, we discussed the importance of carefully analysing your topic to ensure that your essay actually answers the question the lecturer has asked.

Another concern for lecturers is whether or not the essay has a clear line of argument.

This is not a new idea for most students. Nevertheless, while you may know that you should have an argument, when dealing with complex themes in an academic essay, it is often difficult to make that argument stand out clearly, or sometimes, to even know what your argument is!

The following tasks are designed to help you develop further your ability to structure arguments. They cover three main aspects of writing a clear argument: focusing on the topic, writing qualified answers, and linking main points. Select these individual tasks from the menu on the left.

Focusing on the topic

Once you have determined exactly what the topic requires of you and what your response will be, you'll need to ensure that this response is presented in a clear line of argument throughout your essay.

One of the most obvious ways to ensure a clear response to a topic is to very clearly tie in your introduction and conclusion to the topic itself. While this may seem self-evident, students nevertheless frequently lose marks because they have not linked the different sections of their answer back to the topic.

Once you have written your essay, it is a good idea to review your introduction:

It is sometimes a good idea to write your introduction after you have written the body of the essay. This way you can ensure that the argument you set out in your introduction is, in fact, the one that you ended up writing in the rest of your essay!

Analysing a sample topic and introduction

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Let's now examine a sample topic and matching introduction to see how well the argument is presented:

A. Essay Topic

First, we need to analyse the topic in order to work out what is required. Read the following essay topic on the novel Wide Sargasso Sea:

On page 6 of Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette remembers, "Our garden was large and beautiful as the garden in the Bible - the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and the smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell" (p.6)

Comment on the way in which descriptions of landscape and environment in the novel mark stages in the spiritual and psychological journey of the heroine.

Which words or phrases do you think are particularly important in working out what the topic is about? Choose the keywords from the following list:

[1]Check your answers

[1]

Feedback: Wide Sargasso Sea topic analysis

On page 6 of Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette remembers, "Our garden was large and beautiful as the garden in the Bible - the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and the smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell" (p.6)

Comment on the way in which descriptions of landscape and environment in the novel mark stages in the spiritual and psychological journey of the heroine.

The first paragraph consists of a quote that highlights the garden imagery employed throughout the novel. It also invokes the biblical imagery of the "original" garden (the Garden of Eden), and all that is implied by the events that unfolded there (eg. The innocence of Adam and Eve before the "fall" into sin; the banishment of Adam and Eve from the garden, etc.) It is provided as an example of a descriptive passage that can be interpreted as being parallel to the interior, mental life of the protagonist. Does the garden of Antoinette's family home represent her loss of innocence, etc?

The key words and phrases are in the second paragraph. The question asks you to discuss the relationship between the descriptions of the landscape and the environment and the mind of the protagonist of the novel.

Writing a qualified answer to a question

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Most essays at university do not require a straightforward "yes" or "no" answer. Usually the issues being discussed are very complex and so require a more complex and qualified answer. Because you will often have to incorporate contradictory material, you may find it hard to express a clear line of argument. You will need to find a way to balance opposing views while at the same time taking a clear position.

Read the following topic on Jane Eyre:

Mr. Rochester describes in Vol. 3, Chapter 1, the circumstances in which he was married to Bertha Mason, and how he came to incarcerate her in the attic at Thornfield. What do we learn about him from this and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?

As we have seen in another section of this tutorial, the second sentence is asking you to make a judgment about how far the novel endorses Rochester's view. In your introduction you need to identify the argument you will be presenting ( see Focusing on the topic <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/2.2.1.xml> ). In the body, you need to balance the elements for and against Rochester's view of things.

Now examine the following conclusion to an essay on this topic

[1] In the novel, Jane Eyre, the main male character, Mr. Rochester attempts to justify imprisoning his first wife in an attic and deceiving Jane about his marital status. [2] A number of elements in the novel encourage a positive assessment of Rochester's actions: the narrator herself, Jane Eyre, finds reasons to forgive his actions, and he is "rewarded" at the end of the novel through his marriage to her. [3] Nevertheless, the novel only partly endorses Rochester, as he suffers a great deal both emotionally (thinking he has lost his true love, Jane) and physically (through his blindness). [4] While Rochester may have thought he acted for the best, it is clear from the reactions of the other characters that he still is seen to have committed a moral wrong. Therefore, within the framework of the novel he suffers for his actions before he attains happiness through his marriage to Jane.

How has the student incorporated contradictory aspects of the novel in her conclusion?

Try to work out the structure of her conclusion by identifying the key words that indicate the direction of each of the sentences in relation to the argument. (Responses to the first two are given.)

Sentence Keywords
1 "attempts to justify imprisoning his wife in an attic..." (This orients the reader back to the topic, opening up the moral question.)
2 "A number of elements..." (This asserts that there are many factors which support Mr. Rochester's view.)
3
4

[1]Check your answers

[1]
Sentence Keywords
3 "only partly" (This concedes that, while there is support for Rochester, it is only partial support as he is very obviously punished throughout the novel.)
4 "it is clear" (This extends the previous point by indicating how other characters also think he has done wrong

Linking main points

In the other tasks we discussed tying the introduction and conclusion to the assignment topic. It is equally important to ensure that each paragraph or section of the essay is also clearly linked to, and is relevant to, the topic.

In researching for an assignment it is easy to get sidetracked by interesting issues that are not directly relevant to the topic, and this is another area where students can lose marks.

As you write each paragraph, ask yourself:

One way to help you stay focused on the topic is to keep a copy of the topic next to you as you read, take notes, and write drafts for your essay. Post a copy of the topic on your computer or desk calendar; this way as you do your research you can be certain to not get sidetracked onto other interesting avenues.

Analysing sample paragraphs

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Read the following paragraph from an essay on Wide Sargasso Sea:

Antoinette is left to wander Coulibri, the family home, and do as she likes. It is during this time that she seeks refuge in nature. We discover that she hides in the garden, listening and observing, when visitors come to Coulibiri. From the haven of the garden and within proximity of "the tree of life" (p. 6), the realities of Antoinette's life unfold:

I had heard what all these smooth smiling people said about her [Antoinette's mother] when she was not listening and they did not guess I was. Hiding from them in the garden when they visited Coulibri, I listened (p. 13).

Antoinette's innocence is crushed. Her life, like her precious garden, has the potential of paradise with its "tree ferns" (p. 6), wild orchids and magnificent colours. Yet we are told that a "six foot snake (p. 13) lurks in the depths of the garden; the serpent that will deliver evil...

What do you think this paragraph is about? Choose your response from the following options:

Antoinette seeks refuge in nature

Antoinette has lost her innocence

The garden at Coulibiri represents evil

[1]Check your answers

[1]

Feedback

Antoinette is left to wander Coulibri, the family home, and do as she likes. It is during this time that she seeks refuge in nature. We discover that she hides in the garden, listening and observing, when visitors come to Coulibiri. From the haven of the garden and within proximity of "the tree of life" (p. 6), the realities of Antoinette's life unfold:

I had heard what all these smooth smiling people said about her [Antoinette's mother] when she was not listening and they did not guess I was. Hiding from them in the garden when they visited Coulibri, I listened (p. 13).

Antoinette's innocence is crushed. Her life, like her precious garden, has the potential of paradise with its "tree ferns" (p. 6), wild orchids and magnificent colours. Yet we are told that a "six foot snake (p. 13) lurks in the depths of the garden; the serpent that will deliver evil...

The first sentence makes it clear that this paragraph centres on the garden of the family home, Coulibri. But what is the student saying about it?

The first sentence should show how this paragraph relates to the topic as a whole. If we read further, we find that the student is talking about Antoinette's lost innocence and how the description of the garden represents that loss.

Interpreting texts

Naturally, the primary purpose of an essay on a literary text is to provide an interpretation of that text. In so doing, an essay needs to move beyond a description of characters and events to an analysis of the different elements of the text.

This analysis should bear in mind that the world that is presented in the text may well be fundamentally different from the world in which you live. Therefore, in analysing the characters and events of a text, you will need to take an "imaginative leap" into the moral and social framework of that text, imagining how such characters and events would be judged from within that framework.

The following tasks are designed to highlight these two different aspects of interpreting texts: narrative vs. analysis and making judgements. Select these individual tasks from the menu on the left.

Narrative vs analysis

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

When discussing a literary text, it is easy to get sidetracked into describing what happens in the text rather than analysing the text. That is, you might give an accurate summary of the characters and what happens in the text, instead of providing, for example, an explanation of the theme and how the various elements in the story contribute to making the theme more evident.

If you simply tell the reader of your essay what happens in the text, you have not helped them to understand the text better because the reader can easily have read the text him or herself. Analysis, on the other hand, provides the reader with some insight into the events of the text:

1. Read the following extract from a student' s essay on the novel, Jane Eyre:

[1] "I must be provided for by a wealthy marriage" (p. 343). [2] These were the circumstances surrounding a young Edward Rochester's marriage to Bertha Mason. Rochester's father had given all of his money to his older son Rowland, leaving Edward penniless, so he had to marry wealth. [3] The Masons were acquaintances of the family, so where better to find a match than with a wealthy family in the West Indies who were willing to give Edward 30,000 pounds for marrying their daughter Bertha. [4] Rochester knew nothing of the money "My father told me nothing about her money; but he told me Miss Mason was the boast of Spanish Town for her beauty; and this was no lie. I found her a fine woman. . . tall, dark and majestic" (p. 343). [5] When they married, Rochester and Bertha had barely spoken, they had simply appearances to go by and for Edward this was all he needed. [6] The Rochester narrative in the novel paints him as a naive young man doing what his father told him was best. [7] It could almost be said that he was tricked into the marriage.

Which sentences provide a description of the text and which make an evaluation or analysis of the characters and events of the text? Select them from the list below below.

Description:

Evaluation/Analysis:

[1]Check your answers

[1]

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Sentences 1-5 provide a description of the central points Rochester makes in his narrative of how he came to marry Bertha. In sentences 6- 7 the student makes a preliminary evaluation of how Rochester presents himself in his explanation.

The student could cut down on the descriptive part - to one or two lines perhaps - and then begin his analysis with sentences 6 - 7, taking his argument further. For example, what does the fact that Rochester paints himself as naive tell us about him? What does his account of events tell us about his attitude to marriage, to family, to money, and so on? What elements in other parts of the novel support his representation that what he did was for the best?


2. Now read the following passage from another student's essay on the novels, Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea

Rochester is the dominant masculine subject in both Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette and Rochester's loveless wedlock is representative of many marriages during the mid 19 th century. Rochester's motives seem suspiciously mercenary, as his marriage to Antoinette (a prosperous Creole heiress) inevitably makes him incredibly rich according to customary English law. Christophine realizes Rochester's underlying ambitions: "Everyone knows that you marry her for her money and you take it all" (p. 98). Their wedding, as described in Rochester's narrative during Part Two, seems superficial: as Rochester remembers, "It meant nothing to me. Nor did she, the girl I was to marry" (p. 46). Rochester vividly remembers the touch of his bride's hand: "cold as ice in the hot sun" (p. 47). Although Antoinette is "afraid of what may happen" (p. 48), she nevertheless marries him, as the necessity of securing a husband overwhelms her. On the other hand, the autonomous Jane is able to reject a prospective husband, St. John, by audaciously telling him, "I scorn your idea of love" (p. 408). Jane is able to marry for love, not out of necessity. Antoinette's thoughts on marriage represent the norm for many women living in 19 th century society. Unlike Jane's experiences in Jane Eyre, the security of marriage was the ultimate gain in a woman's life during that patriarchal era.

Can you identify phrases that indicate an analysis of the events in the novel? Select them from the list below below:

"...dominant masculine subject..."

"...loveless marriage is representative..."

"...motives seem suspiciously mercenary..."

"...inevitably makes him incredibly rich..."

"Their wedding... seems superficial..."

"...necessity of securing a husband overwhelms..."

"...able to reject a prospective husband..."

"...thoughts on marriage represent the norm..."

"...security of marriage was the ultimate gain..."

[2]Check your answers

[2]

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The phrases that indicate an analysis of the events in the novel are highlighted below. Compare them with your response.

[1] Rochester is the dominant masculine subject in both Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. [2] In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette and Rochester's loveless wedlock is representative of many marriages during the mid 19 th century. [3] Rochester's motives seem suspiciously mercenary, as his marriage to Antoinette (a prosperous Creole heiress) inevitably makes him incredibly rich according to customary English law. [4] Christophine realizes Rochester's underlying ambitions: "Everyone knows that you marry her for her money and you take it all" (p. 98). [5] Their wedding, as described in Rochester's narrative during Part Two, seems superficial: as Rochester remembers, "It meant nothing to me. Nor did she, the girl I was to marry" (p. 46). [6] Rochester vividly remembers the touch of his bride's hand: "cold as ice in the hot sun" (p. 47). [7] Although Antoinette is "afraid of what may happen" (p. 48), she nevertheless marries him, as the necessity of securing a husband overwhelms her. [8] On the other hand, the autonomous Jane is able to reject a prospective husband, St. John, by audaciously telling him, "I scorn your idea of love" (p. 408). [9] Jane is able to marry for love, not out of necessity. Antoinette's thoughts on marriage represent the norm for many women living in 19 th century society. [10] Unlike Jane's experiences in Jane Eyre , the security of marriage was the ultimate gain in a woman's life during that patriarchal era.

Notice that this passage does not provide a full account of the story; description of the text is limited to specific incidents and dialogue from the text that support the evaluation made.

For example, the evaluation in sentence 3 is supported by elements from the text:

evaluation Rochester's motives seem suspiciously mercenary (Sentence 3)
support as his marriage to Antoinette (a prosperous Creole heiress) inevitably makes him incredibly rich according to customary English law. a fact of the plot

(Sentence 3).
Christophine realizes Rochester's underlying ambitions: "Everyone knows that you marry her for her money and you take it all" (p. 98). quote from a character

(Sentence 4).

Similarly, the evaluation in Sentence 5 is supported by the following elements from the text:

evaluation Their wedding ... seems superficial (Sentence 5)
support as Rochester remembers, "It meant nothing to me. Nor did she, the girl I was to marry" (p. 46). quote from Rochester

(Sentence 5).
Rochester vividly remembers the touch of his bride's hand: "cold as ice in the hot sun" (p. 47) quote from Rochester, using metaphor

(Sentence 6).

Making judgements

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Sometimes, students can get sidetracked into making value judgements about characters' actions, basing their arguments on the values and conditions of the time and place of the world in which they themselves live. In interpreting a text, it is important to keep in mind that the world of the text is different from the world that you inhabit. When dealing with works from the distant past, this is easier to keep in mind. For example, Charlotte Bronte published her novel, Jane Eyre, in 1847; the values and conditions of Bronte's mid-19 th century world are clearly very different from our own.

But, in addition to these differences between the world of the author and the world of the reader, there are also differences between these two worlds and the world of the text itself. Bronte presents a moral and social framework within the novel that is characteristic of that particular novel; it is not identical with the life that she led or the world that she inhabited. It is thus important to distinguish between the author and the narrator: the character Jane Eyre is not Charlotte Bronte, and Jane's world is not the same as Bronte's world.

To illustrate how one might describe a novel's social framework, here is what one of your lecturers, Alan Dilnot, had to say about the world of the novel, Jane Eyre:

"When interpreting a text, It is important to try to understand the conditions of the world as it is set up and depicted within the novel. In Jane Eyre, for example, one of the underlying themes is that women have to fight harder in their world - in the world of the novel - to make themselves heard and to leave a mark on the world than men do. Men in the novel may or may not be treated sympathetically, but they are more likely to be in positions of power than women are; and they tend to set up situations in which the lives of women are circumscribed or at least influenced."

The differences between the world of the reader, of the author, and of the text, can be illustrated clearly through a discussion of the novel, Wide Sargasso Sea. Here is what Alan Dilnot had to say:

"Wide Sargasso Sea (WSS) was produced much nearer to our own time (1966), but the action in the novel is set back in the first half of the 19th century. The author, Jean Rhys, has in fact made exactly the kind of imaginative leap from her own time to the time of the characters in the novel that readers of literature need to make. In any case a reader of WSS who is located in the early 21st century in Australia needs to make some allowance for social relationships as they were in the West Indies in the early part of the 19th century, and affected as they were by ethnic and racial antagonisms and hostilities.

Some of these issues are presented as being extremely complex in the world of WSS. Now we've got to make some allowance for these factors, even if they don't occur in our own daily lives; we've got to ask ourselves what a world would be like in which these were important factors. So that's the kind of imaginative leap that students often need to make when they are writing on a work of literature."

In presenting your analysis of a text, it is important to avoid making judgements from within your own moral and social framework, and instead look for the elements in the text itself that support a particular interpretation.

To illustrate this point, let's look at an example from an essay on Jane Eyre.

First, read the following essay topic:

Mr. Rochester describes in Vol. 3, Chapter 1, the circumstances in which he was married to Bertha Mason, and how he came to incarcerate her in the attic at Thornfield. What do we learn about him from this and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?

Now, read the following conclusion to an essay on this topic:

Many incidents in the novel demonstrate that what Rochester did was in the best interests of Bertha, but these only occur during his narrative when a negative picture is painted of Bertha, but a closer reading of the novel doesn't endorse this claim. There are immense problems with what Rochester did. The incarceration of Bertha in the attic most probably caused her onset of madness to flourish. She should have been rehabilitated rather than imprisoned. Certainly Rochester kept to his marriage obligation and had Bertha taken care of but in reality what Rochester did wasn't the best thing for her condition. We must remember though that Rochester was young and naive when he got married so hiding Bertha away meant that if he couldn't see the problem then it meant that it wasn't there enabling him to move on with his life. Ultimately though we learn that Rochester thought what he did was the right thing to do for not only Bertha but also for himself, but in reality he caused more harm than good.

Has this student answered the question posed in the assignment topic?

Does her analysis interpret events in terms of the moral and social framework of the novel itself, rather than in terms of her own world?

[1]Check your answers

[1]

Feedback

Unfortunately, this conclusion does not answer the question. The question is not whether or not you endorse Rochester's claim that he acted for the best, but whether the novel endorses his claim. To find an answer to the question, do not look from within the values and conditions of your own world, but within the values and conditions of the world as they are presented in the novel. For example, what events, statements, literary devices from the novel can you use to illustrate the view that he did or did not act for the best?

Here is what lecturer Alan Dilnot had to say about how a novel might "endorse" something:

"An aspect of the topic that might give difficulty is the idea that the novel "endorses" a character's behaviour. Students should consider how such an endorsement might be conveyed. It could come as a direct declaration from the narrator. However, the narrator is Jane Eyre and the reader must allow for the possibility that she is an interested party. Or endorsement could come through demonstration: the novel might indicate that certain kinds of behaviour have inevitable consequences, pleasant or unpleasant. Or the degree of endorsement could be indicated through rewards or punishments handed out just prior to the end of the novel." Alan Dilnot, Dept. of English

With this in mind, read the following response to the topic. Note how the student uses evidence from the novel to determine whether or not the novel endorses Rochester's explanation of his actions:

In the novel, Jane Eyre, the main male character, Mr. Rochester attempts to justify imprisoning his first wife in an attic and deceiving Jane about his marital status. A number of elements in the novel encourage a positive assessment of Rochester's actions: the narrator herself, Jane Eyre, finds reasons to forgive his actions, and he is "rewarded" at the end of the novel through his marriage to her. Nevertheless, the novel only partly endorses Rochester, as he suffers a great deal both emotionally (thinking he has lost his true love, Jane) and physically (through his blindness). Rochester may have thought he acted for the best, but it is clear from the reactions of the other characters that he still is seen to have committed a moral wrong. Therefore, within the framework of the novel he suffers for his actions before he attains happiness through his marriage to Jane.

Sometimes , however, you may have a particular reason to draw attention to the fact that the moral world and values of the text are not shared by today's readers. The following passage effectively makes this point as it explicitly refers to the difference between the moral framework of the novel's world and the world of the student reader.

Ten years in the confined space of an attic, in a foreign country, with no friends, no conversation, no outside world and the knowledge that your husband is out gallivanting across Europe is likely to send anybody mad. This allows us, as readers, to disagree with Rochester's opinion that what he did was for the best. This incarceration can hardly be described as acting in Bertha's best interests by today's standards.

Further resources for Literature

Books

Fox, Alistair (Ed.). 1995. How to Study Literature in English: A Guide for the Advancing Student, 3 rd Edition. Otago, NZ: University of Otago Press.

Griffith Jr., Kelley. 1990. Writing Essays in Literature: A Guide and Style Sheet, 3 rd Edition. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Online resources

Guide to grammar and writing, Capital Community College Opens in a new window <grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/>

Colorado State University Writing Center Opens in a new window <writing.colostate.edu/learn.cfm>

The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Opens in a new window <www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/index.html>

Annotated assignments

These are three first-year students from the Reading Writing Literature subject in the English department. Use the menu on the left to navigate through this tutorial, reading about their lecturer's expectations, and seeing the essays that they wrote for class. The annotated assignments and the writing approaches described by students should not be seen as ideal models for you to copy. They are intended to be a general guide to essay writing in your subject and to help you to reflect on your own approach.

Claire

Topic:

Jane Eyre Essay


Kiren

Topic:

Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea Essay


Joseph the student

Topic:

Wide Sargasso Sea Essay



Claire's assignment

Claire

Claire is a first-year English student. For her main essay in the subject, Claire chose the following topic based on the novel Jane Eyre.

Essay topic:

Mr Rochester describes in Vol 3, Chapter 1, the circumstances in which he was married to Bertha Mason, and how he came to incarcerate her in the attic at Thornfield. What do we learn about him from this, and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?

  1. Look at the lecturer's expectations <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.1.xml> of the essay.
  2. Next read Claire's essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.2.xml> as it was submitted.
  3. Now read the lecturer's comments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.3.xml> about Claire's essay.
  4. Finally, listen to Claire <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml> talk about how she wrote her essay and read feedback about how to overcome the difficulties she faced.

Lecturer's expectations

Alan Dilnot, Lecturer

In this section, one of your lecturers - Alan Dilnot - sets out what he expects from student assignments on this topic.

Essay topic:

Mr Rochester describes in Vol 3, Chapter 1, the circumstances in which he was married to Bertha Mason, and how he came to incarcerate her in the attic at Thornfield. What do we learn about him from this, and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?

How I would expect students to go about researching and writing this particular essay

I would expect students to have read the whole of Jane Eyre, and to have made some preliminary notes about their reactions to it. I would expect them then to give a careful re-reading of the passage where Mr. Rochester describes how he came to marry Bertha Mason (this occurs in Chapter 27). They should establish how Mr. Rochester judges his own actions, and compare this with how Jane views them. Sudents should also consider what alternatives were available to Rochester, bearing in mind the differences between the conditions and values of the world of the novel and the conditions and values of their own world. (For more help with this, go to the Skills for Writing in Literature section of this tutorial: Interpreting the Text and Making Judgements.)

An aspect of the topic that might give students difficulty is the idea that the novel "endorses" a character's behaviour. Students should consider how such an endorsement might be conveyed. It could come as a direct declaration from the narrator. However, the narrator is Jane Eyre and the reader must allow for the possibility that she is an interested party. Or endorsement could come through demonstration: The novel might indicate that certain kinds of behaviour have inevitable consequences, pleasant or unpleasant. Or the degree of endorsement could be indicated through rewards or punishments handed out just prior to the end of the novel.

The students are not expected to do a great deal of secondary reading. The course booklet contains several commentaries on Jane Eyre which highlight the chief critical problems. Lectures on the novel will supply further guidance. Secondary reading is not a substitute for the student's own response, but should be used to stimulate it.

Four hours of concentrated work should be enough for the writing of the essay. (Time spent reading the novel itself is not included in this.)

What a "good" essay on this topic would need to contain

A good essay on this and on most other critical-interpretative topics would show that it understands that there are valid points to be made on both sides of the question. In this case it would consider whether Mr. Rochester's narrative was totally candid, whether a better course of action was available to him, and whether he himself had been treated unjustly. It would consider whether what happens to him subsequently rewards him or punishes him. A good essay would build up its case by taking into account possible objections and answering them judiciously.

The course booklet has a section entitled "Assessment", which makes the following points:

"The marker will ... assess your ability to find interesting, fruitful ideas about the work, both from secondary sources and from your own insight. Your ability to expound these ideas clearly will be judged, and whether you are able to keep them in close interaction with the work that has suggested them. This relates to your ability to construct an essay that follows a sequence of thought, keeps its eye on the idea you have discovered and unfolds its implications fully, avoiding repetition."

A "high distinction" essay would go beyond established criticism to reach an individual insight into the problem. Its argument would be supported by evidence that was drawn chiefly from the text itself. While acknowledging that the evidence might be open to more than one interpretation, the essay would persuade the reader of the validity of its special approach to the text.

Claire's essay

Essay topic:

Mr Rochester describes in Vol 3, Chapter 1, the circumstances in which he was married to Bertha Mason, and how he came to incarcerate her in the attic at Thornfield. What do we learn about him from this, and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?


Jane Eyre endorses the view that Mr. Rochester believes that he has acted for the best. Mr. Rochester is presented to the reader as a sympathetic character, so the reader has some understanding of his viewpoint, the situation he is in and the choices he has made. However, the reader is also made privy to a darker, more shameful side of Mr. Rochester that suggests that the decisions he made were a result of weak character rather than a desire to do what is right. By looking at similarities between Jane Eyre and a fairytale and examining the sympathetic viewpoint of the narrator, the reader is presented with a sympathetic view of Mr. Rochester. This sympathetic viewpoint is also detected by looking at what voices or opinions are excluded in Mr. Rochester's story and the negative view that the reader is given of Bertha Rochester. Examples of Mr. Rochester's weak and manipulative character lie in his propensity to play the victim, his use of language and his warped view of reality. In this essay the word "endorse" is defined as "to support or approve of".

A fairytale reading of Jane Eyre shows a sympathetic attitude toward Mr. Rochester's actions. That is, the reader sees Jane Eyre as the story of a girl who begins as an "ugly duckling", falls in love with a prince, loses the prince then, after much ill fortune (and some happiness) gets the prince back. In this context, the story of Mr. Rochester and Jane follows a similar path to many fairytales. In this reading, Rochester's actions are simply a natural progression of the story.

Apart from the general storyline, another aspect of Jane Eyre that is related to most fairytales is the sense of romance and fantasy that one is left with. Although Mr. Rochester bears little resemblance to a stereotypical prince, he loves his "princess" with such passion and devotion that it appeals to the reader's sense of romance. This is expressed in the following passage:

My living darling! These are certainly her limbs and these her features; but I cannot be so blest, after all my misery. It is a dream; such dreams as I have had at night when I have clasped her once more to my heart, as I do now. (p. 534)

Mr. Rochester's deep love for Jane is readily returned. Jane's view of Mr. Rochester colours how the reader views him because we see him through her eyes. Even if she does not directly endorse his actions, she is sympathetic toward him. She says "I pity you - I do pity you" (p. 374) when he tells the story of his past with Bertha. She also quickly forgives his deceit against her, which encourages the reader to do the same. Jane appeals to the reader by addressing them directly: "Reader - I forgave him" (p. 379).

Just as we see the novel through Janes eyes, we only hear the story of Mr. Rochester and Bertha through what Mr. Rochester tells Jane and Jane narrates to the reader. If we were to see the story through Bertha's eyes it would no doubt be very different. This exclusion of the voice of Bertha makes it very easy to believe Mr. Rochester's explanation. There is no other explanation provided. It is not just Bertha's opinion that has been excluded from the text but every other opinion apart from Jane and Mr. Rochester's. It is clear that the lawyer and the clergyman do not condone what Mr. Rochester has done; however, they are not given a voice to express their disapproval other than the act of stopping the wedding. Jane says "the clergyman stayed to exchange a few sentences, either of admonition or reproof, with his haughty parishioner" (p. 360). However, that sentence is the extent to which the reader is provided further opinion.

Mr. Rochester and Jane's view of Bertha are extremely negative. This induces the reader to side with Mr. Rochester, against Bertha - for how could he be expected to live with a "monster"? Jane's description of her first proper meeting with Bertha illustrates this point: "What it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight tell" (p. 357). Bertha is rarely referred to by her name in this section of the novel. A lot of wild animal imagery is used to describe her and also words such as "lunatic" (p. 360) and "madwoman" (p. 367).

As indicated by the above, Jane does not show any sympathy toward Bertha. All her sympathies lie with Mr. Rochester. Therefore the reader must be more wary of the way in which we are invited to think about him, because he is already being portrayed in a positive light. If one looks closely at the text, as he tells the story of himself and Bertha one can piece together some of the elements of his character that have previously been hidden.

Mr. Rochester constructs his own reality where he can separate himself entirely from "falsehood and slander" (p. 368). He believes his own rigid view to be completely correct. He appeals to the other men: "With what judgement ye judge ye shall be judged" (p. 359). He believes anyone would act as he has and that he has done "all that God and humanity require" (p. 377). He believes himself not married. "I keep telling her I am not married and do not explain to her why" (p. 371). His inability to face his problems or accept his responsibilities prompts him to try to runaway with Jane to the South of France. He promises her "never fear that I wish to lure you into error - to make you my mistress" (p. 371) and yet, this is exactly his plan for her. Later, he tells Jane: "I do not wish to torment you with hideous recollections of Thornfield hall" (p. 366), yet it is not just Thornfield Hall that is tied to shame and secrecy but rather Mr. Rochester himself.

Perhaps the most striking new element to Mr. Rochester's character is his ability and readiness to play the role of the victim. This shows the reader that he is not as strong as the reader may have been led to believe. His self-assured, authoritative countenance hides a man who is rigid in his views, uncompromising and weak. He does not have the strength to take responsibility for his life or actions, but rather blames it on Bertha, his own father and brother, and Bertha's family. His father and brother "joined in the plot" (p. 373) against him, because of the thirty thousand pounds.

The language Mr. Rochester uses to tell of his own guilt shows that he is manipulative and a liar. His seemingly self-deprecating behaviour when he is telling his story is a device to make himself look decent. He wants to come across as apologetic for his sins and reasonably humbled. The majority of his self-derogatory statements begin with some variation on "you must think me . . .", rather than stating what he thinks of his own actions. He says, "as my pastor there would tell me, [I] deserve no doubt the sternest judgements from God" (p. 356). Later he says, "I am little better than a devil at this moment" (p. 356). However one would think that Mr. Rochester would have thought himself a "devil" throughout his courtship to Jane rather than just at the moment that he gets caught. This seems to signify that Mr. Rochester thinks himself a "devil" because he got found out, rather than for his actions. He is quick to overlook his own behaviour.

The reader is sympathetic toward Mr. Rochester's actions because of how he is presented in the novel. The narrator's sympathy toward him shows Mr. Rochester's behaviour as easily forgivable. However, Mr. Rochester's manipulative nature and propensity to do what he desires rather than what is right show the reader that his actions spring from a darker, more shameful side of his nature.

(1384 words)

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bronte, C. Jane Eyre. Modern Publishing Group, 1991.

Claire's essay and what her lecturer thought

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Essay topic:

Mr Rochester describes in Vol 3, Chapter 1, the circumstances in which he was married to Bertha Mason, and how he came to incarcerate her in the attic at Thornfield. What do we learn about him from this, and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best?


Jane Eyre endorses the view that Mr. Rochester believes that he has acted for the best. Mr. Rochester is presented to the reader as a sympathetic character, so the reader has some understanding of his viewpoint, the situation he is in and the choices he has made. However, the reader is also made privy to a darker, more shameful side of Mr. Rochester that suggests that the decisions he made were a result of weak character rather than a desire to do what is right. By looking at similarities between Jane Eyre and a fairytale and examining the sympathetic viewpoint of the narrator, the reader is presented with a sympathetic view of Mr. Rochester.
[IMG-1] comment

[1] [1]This sympathetic viewpoint is also detected by looking at what voices or opinions are excluded in Mr. Rochester's story and the negative view that the reader is given of Bertha Rochester. Examples of Mr. Rochester's weak and manipulative character lie in his propensity to play the victim, his use of language and his warped view of reality. In this essay the word "endorse" is defined as "to support or approve of". <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.3.xml#comment-1>


[IMG-2] comment

A fairytale reading of Jane Eyre shows a sympathetic attitude toward Mr. Rochester's actions. That is, the reader sees Jane Eyre as the story of a girl who begins as an "ugly duckling", falls in love with a prince, loses the prince then, after much ill fortune (and some happiness) gets the prince back. [2] [2]"In this context, the story of Mr. Rochester and Jane follows a similar path to many fairytales. In this reading, Rochester's actions are simply a natural progression of the story. <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.3.xml#comment-2>

Apart from the general storyline, another aspect of Jane Eyre that is related to most fairytales is the sense of romance and fantasy that one is left with. Although Mr. Rochester bears little resemblance to a stereotypical prince, he loves his "princess" with such passion and devotion that it appeals to the reader's sense of romance. This is expressed in the following passage:

My living darling! These are certainly her limbs and these her features; but I cannot be so blest, after all my misery. It is a dream; such dreams as I have had at night when I have clasped her once more to my heart, as I do now. (p. 534)


[IMG-3] comment

Mr. Rochester's deep love for Jane is readily returned. Jane's view of Mr. Rochester colours how the reader views him because we see him through her eyes. [3]Even if she does not directly endorse his actions, she is sympathetic toward him. She says "I pity you - I do pity you" (p. 374) when he tells the story of his past with Bertha. She also quickly forgives his deceit against her, which encourages the reader to do the same. Jane appeals to the reader by addressing them directly: "Reader - I forgave him" (p. 379).


[IMG-4] comment

Just as we see the novel through Janes eyes, we only hear the story of Mr. Rochester and Bertha through what Mr. Rochester tells Jane and Jane narrates to the reader. If we were to see the story through Bertha's eyes it would no doubt be very different. This exclusion of the voice of Bertha makes it very easy to believe Mr. Rochester's explanation. There is no other explanation provided. [4]It is not just Bertha's opinion that has been excluded from the text but every other opinion apart from Jane and Mr. Rochester's. It is clear that the lawyer and the clergyman do not condone what Mr. Rochester has done; however, they are not given a voice to express their disapproval other than the act of stopping the wedding. Jane says "the clergyman stayed to exchange a few sentences, either of admonition or reproof, with his haughty parishioner" (p. 360). However, that sentence is the extent to which the reader is provided further opinion.


[IMG-5] comment

[5]As indicated by the above, Jane does not show any sympathy toward Bertha. All her sympathies lie with Mr. Rochester. Therefore the reader must be more wary of the way in which we are invited to think about him, because he is already being portrayed in a positive light. If one looks closely at the text, as he tells the story of himself and Bertha one can piece together some of the elements of his character that have previously been hidden.

Mr. Rochester constructs his own reality where he can separate himself entirely from "falsehood and slander" (p. 368). He believes his own rigid view to be completely correct. He appeals to the other men: "With what judgement ye judge ye shall be judged" (p. 359). He believes anyone would act as he has and that he has done "all that God and humanity require" (p. 377). He believes himself not married. "I keep telling her I am not married and do not explain to her why" (p. 371). His inability to face his problems or accept his responsibilities prompts him to try to runaway with Jane to the South of France. He promises her "never fear that I wish to lure you into error - to make you my mistress" (p. 371) and yet, this is exactly his plan for her. Later, he tells Jane: "I do not wish to torment you with hideous recollections of Thornfield hall" (p. 366), yet it is not just Thornfield Hall that is tied to shame and secrecy but rather Mr. Rochester himself.

Perhaps the most striking new element to Mr. Rochester's character is his ability and readiness to play the role of the victim. This shows the reader that he is not as strong as the reader may have been led to believe. His self-assured, authoritative countenance hides a man who is rigid in his views, uncompromising and weak. He does not have the strength to take responsibility for his life or actions, but rather blames it on Bertha, his own father and brother, and Bertha's family. His father and brother "joined in the plot" (p. 373) against him, because of the thirty thousand pounds.

The language Mr. Rochester uses to tell of his own guilt shows that he is manipulative and a liar. His seemingly self-deprecating behaviour when he is telling his story is a device to make himself look decent. He wants to come across as apologetic for his sins and reasonably humbled. The majority of his self-derogatory statements begin with some variation on "you must think me . . .", rather than stating what he thinks of his own actions. He says, "as my pastor there would tell me, [I] deserve no doubt the sternest judgements from God" (p. 356). Later he says, "I am little better than a devil at this moment" (p. 356). However one would think that Mr. Rochester would have thought himself a "devil" throughout his courtship to Jane rather than just at the moment that he gets caught. This seems to signify that Mr. Rochester thinks himself a "devil" because he got found out, rather than for his actions. He is quick to overlook his own behaviour.


[IMG-6] comment

[6]The reader is sympathetic toward Mr. Rochester's actions because of how he is presented in the novel. The narrator's sympathy toward him shows Mr. Rochester's behaviour as easily forgivable. However, Mr. Rochester's manipulative nature and propensity to do what he desires rather than what is right show the reader that his actions spring from a darker, more shameful side of his nature.

(1384 words)


[IMG-7] comment

[7]BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Bronte, C. Jane Eyre. Modern Publishing Group, 1991.


[IMG-8] comment

[8] [Lecturer's overall comments]

[1]

Contradictory argument

Claire seems to change positions a couple of times here. She alternates between the view that the narrative is biased in Rochester's favour and the view that he is shown to be weak and manipulative.

Claire explains that the novel did not endorse his view, but then had trouble incorporating elements that didn't fit with this one-sided argument. However, Claire does not need to take a strictly 'yes' or 'no' position. The question is asking 'how far' the novel endorses Rochester's view of his actions (a little, mainly, completely?). Thus, she is able to make a qualified response that incorporates these contradictory views of Rochester's actions.

For an example of a qualified response to this topic, go to the section on Skills for Writing in Literature and select the topic Structuring an Argument; then select the task Writing a Qualified Answer.

NOTE: Most essays at university do not require a straightforward 'yes' or 'no' answer. Do not ignore contradictory evidence in an attempt to have a strong line of argument. In fact, your argument will be much stronger if you can address conflicting pieces of evidence, weighing them up before coming to a conclusion.

[2]

Apply this idea further

Claire introduces an interesting reading of the novel as belonging to the genre of fairytale. She argues that because Rochester is presented after the manner of a fairytale prince, he is portrayed sympathetically.

While Claire has noticed a similarity in the narrative pattern, she needs to examine further how well the novel fits within this genre.

For example, if this were a true fairy tale, wouldn't Rochester be classifiable in a simple way? Aren't Rochester's actions essentially unlike those of a fairytale prince?

In trying to understand how the novel both borrows from and moves away from the fairytale genre, Claire can provide a more complex assessment of Rochester's actions.

[3]

Good use of evidence

Claire has made good use of the text to support her contention that Jane "is sympathetic toward" Rochester, providing as evidence specific examples (with page numbers, where possible).

NOTE: Where possible, supply specific instances from the text to support any general statements you make.

Look through the rest of the essay to see where else Claire uses the text to support her statements.

[4]

Look deeper

On the surface, Claire's claim is justified. However, if we look at the overall presentation of the position of women in the novel, we can see that the novel does at times speak on behalf of 'the oppressed woman'.

In this case, it is literally true that we do not 'hear' others expressing their views in the same way that we 'hear' from Jane and Rochester (through Jane's narration). However, Claire might have looked at how the novel presents additional views to those of Jane and Rochester by considering, for example, the nature of the relationships between the characters and the circumstances of their lives.

[5]

No

No - Jane does express some sympathy for Bertha, in Chapter 26.

It is important to know very well the whole text that you are working on. Even though you might be concentrating on one aspect of a work in your essay, you will need to understand that aspect within the context of the whole.

Therefore, when preparing to write an essay, much of your time should be spent reading and re-reading the text. Listen to Claire's audio comment ("How I researched the essay") for how she went about re-reading the novel with the topic in mind.

[6]

What do you conclude?

Like the introduction, Claire's conclusion seems to waver between two views of Rochester. She has tried to summarise the evidence on both sides of the question, but now she needs to make an additional, definitive statement about how far the novel endorses Rochester's view that he acted for the best.

Given that throughout her essay she has given more reasons for us to condemn Rochester than for us to sympathise with him, her concluding statement should be in keeping with the evidence she has gathered.

[7]

Incorrect referencing

This essay correctly places the publication details of the novel in the bibliography. However, it has left out the place of publication.

It is important to include the details of the particular text used, as there may be some variation in wording and punctuation among the different editions that have been published. Also, other readers need to be able to look up your references to specific pages.

Sometimes you will be required to refer to literary critics (secondary sources) in your essay. If you do use secondary sources and use their ideas in your essay, you'll need to list the publication details in the bibliography.

To see what the lecturer had to say about the use of secondary sources in literature essays, go to the section of this module entitled "Lecturer's Advice".

[8]

Lecturer's overall comment

This essay received a high credit, which is a solid result in English.

As we have seen, Claire's final position on the question is unclear. She needs to provide a clear line of argument that balances the evidence she has gathered and provides a definitive answer to the question of how far the novel endorses Rochester's actions.

The essay also could have examined further Rochester's actions. For example, it could also have considered whether Rochester had any alternatives to his treatment of Bertha after it was decided that she was mad. The essay also needs to address Rochester's attempt to rescue Bertha from the fire - what does this tell us about him and does it serve to support his view that he had acted for the best in his previous treatment of her?

Claire's comments

How I interpreted the topic - VCE vs Uni <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I had done "Jane Eyre" before in VCE in Year 11 literature, and in Year 11 the novel of "Jane Eyre" as a whole was treated in a very different way.

In Year 11 it was lot more structured by your teacher and they expected a very different thing of you. They expected you to just answer the question that they put forth and then answer the next question. And you can do this is a certain amount of detail but you can never really deviate from the question. Whereas as University, rather than VCE, you have a lot more room for your own interpretation of the topic and the thing that you want to include, and don't want to include.And I think initially it brings out the complexity of the novel a lot more. Rather than just being expected to answer a certain question, they're asking you to bring out a lot more of the complexities

Problems with my argument <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I thought the effectiveness of my essay suffered as well because of the type of essay topic it was. Which was asking you to make a judgement about Mr. Rochester. What do we learn about him from this and how far does the novel endorse his claim that he has acted for the best? So the novel is asking you to endorse his claim one way or the other. What I thought was one way or the other; which in reality doesn't have to just be one way or the other way, but rather him take a view that encompasses both ways.

Generally when I have been writing essays, I've been expected to take a view for or against. When as in this essay, it's asking to bring out the complexities of the question and by doing this its hard to take a strictly for or strictly against stance.

In my essay I was arguing Mr. Rochester's manipulative nature showed that he had a darker side of his nature. So the novel didn't endorse that he acted for the best; but when I was doing I said, "Oh, alright, this is my argument", and then I'd read over it and I'd think, "Hang on, what about this; I haven't included this in my essay?"

But it was hard to incorporate your argument and incorporate all the other things that don't really agree with your argument but you don't really know what to do with them. So that was what was really difficult for me. I never ...have a qualified answer, but I didn't really know how to fit it together to do that. I knew that you don't have to say "Yes, I agree with this totally." But I couldn't really fit the points together well enough to make a good argument that was qualified.

How I researched the essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I found other sources not through the reading list; it didn't really come into my head to use the reading list. Just because it hadn't really been mentioned in tutorials and I hadn't had a good look through the subject book since the beginning of term.

So I went to the library and I found a book in the reserved section on Jane Eyre in general and so I went to the reserved section of the library, and there were lots of books there about Jane Eyre so I got a big pile of them, had a good look through all of them; particularly where they made a reference to Mr. Rochester or Bertha Mason or Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre's relationship or Mr. Rochester and Bertha Mason's relationship.

After I read sources that I found in the library, I took quite a few notes on those and then I went back to my lecture notes and I went through those fairly thoroughly - trying to find what was relevant in the lecture notes. So basically things about Mr. Rochester and Bertha Mason.

Then when I compiled all those notes, I went back to the actual novel and read through the chapter the essay topic was concerned, but in a lot more detail. I'd read every sentence and say "Oh alright, what does this mean, what does this say about Mr. Rochester, what does this say about what kind of person he is?" Then I started to write an essay plan and just picked out the most important points from my notes, things that I felt were most relevant to the topic. And I kind of did this by saying, "Looking at my notes, what does this say about Mr. Rochester, what does this say about Mr. Rochester in relevance to the situation, and is this important enough to go into my essay?". So I made quite a few major points by doing that and then just put them into an order that I thought ___ the most.

How I wrote the essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

When I actually came to writing the essay, I looked at my plan and I worked from that. I started with my first topic sentence, which formed my first paragraph after the introduction. I decided to leave the introduction until last and then I worked through the first paragraph, second paragraph, third paragraph and after I'd done all of that, I changed the order around a little bit just to make sure that they flowed as I wanted them. Then I went back and did my introduction when I was clear about exactly what it was that I was saying. I did a little bit of revising but probably not as much as I would have liked. After I read through my essay at the end, I realised that it didn't really fit together as well as I would have liked. The points that I was making were probably not flowing together to form as good an argument as I would have liked. So I made a fair few changes to the introduction mainly just to encompass more of the points from the essay. I didn't do as much revising as I would have liked because I didn't organise my time very well and that was something I think you've just got to learn to do.

Writing essays in VCE and uni <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

In high school, teachers are prepared and willing to look over your drafts and give you comments about them and give you general advice along the way rather than, at Uni I think mainly because there's just so many students they're not really prepared to do that. They're prepared to give you general advice and maybe if you show them some points then they'll comment on them but they're not going to read your whole draft and make lots of comments on your draft and hand you back you draft and then take another draft and along those lines. So, which means that it's more up to you, they're giving you less advice in that way as well. A major difference between high school and Uni also is the fact that at Uni you're supposed, you take a more critical view of sources, or you're encouraged to look at them and read them and understand them and then think, alright, do I believe this? What does this mean to me? Compare them with other sources and really critically analyse them which in high school you read them and you can quote from them or something along those lines but you don't really compare, you're not really encouraged to think, alright, this is what they

Other differences between VCE and uni <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I think the main difference in the process I used between this assignment in Uni and the year 12 assignments was that I needed to, or I went a lot more indepth than I did in year 12, I used a wider range of sources than I would in year 12 and I got less help and advice from teachers than I would have got in year 12. It was a lot more up to me to interpret the topic and decide what I want to do with it and how I want to approach it rather than a teacher telling me how to interpret the question and telling me what approach to take, which could happen in high school. It was also a lot, a matter of organising my own time because there's a lot more free hours in the day and so it's up to the student to figure out when they're going to do it and plan their time, whereas in year 12 and year 11 your assignments are spaced out so you do one and then it's due, and then you do another one and then it's due, which is I think a big difference, because you've got to take a lot more responsibility for yourself and you've got to be a lot more independent. The access to teachers that you have between high school and Uni is a major difference. I've always found it pretty hard at Unit to find my tutors and my lecturers when I'm not in a Tute and I'm not in a lecture. You've got to email them or call them or something along those lines because they're a lot harder to track down, rather than at high school they're pretty much always there so you can just go see them in their staff room or see them in class everyday.

What I think of my essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I thought my research process was effective because I explored a number of different places to research and I felt like I increased my understanding of the novel and I felt that the whole thing of writing an essay plan and kind of formulating your thoughts before you actually start writing is a good idea - because it makes you a lot clearer; but I just didn't think I left myself enough time. Straight after I handed my final piece of work in, mainly because of the feeling of being rushed and not organized and not putting enough time into it. I didn't put as much time into it as I could've, I could've put more time into it, but because I felt so rushed I just probably spent more time feeling rushed and worrying about it than I actually spent doing the essay. I didn't like it at all. Now I read it and I think it's not too bad, but I always felt like I could've done a better job if I'd allowed myself more time and I'd allowed myself to be a bit more organized and allowed myself to have the time to get really interested in it; because you're going to do a better job if you're really interested in something and then you like...

My advice to new students - time <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

Advice I would give new students would be to plan your time well and try and organise yourself as well as possible before you even start. Allow yourself enough time to do things and make use of all your resources, even if they're not right in your face and you're not constantly bombarded by your teachers and your tutors and all that, they are there to help you and they will help you, and I think that would be a good idea to make use of them, which I didn't really do in my essay.

My advice to new students - confidence <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

Another aspect of the writing process that you go through when writing an essay is to do with your level of confidence about writing the essay and how this affects your approach to it, and how you feel about it, because I think that if you're relaxed and confident and you know that you can do it and are positive that you'll do a good job then you spend a lot of time concentrating on the essay and you work harder at it, and you'll put the hours in to do a really good job if you know that you can do it and you know, you like what you're doing, whereas if you're not confident about it and if you're kind of panicky and disorganised and you just want to get it over and done with you're not going to put the same amount of time into it, or even if you do you'll spend more of you time kind of thinking oh no, I've got to get this done, I haven't done this in time and you know, it's due tomorrow, blah, blah, blah, and it's just, it's not as god a use of your

My use of sources <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I didn't use the secondary sources that I took notes on in my essay because of what Alan said about using them interestingly and about finding a view that is contrary to your own - so that you can argue against it. And I didn't feel like there was enough relevant information in the sources that I read to actually make use of them; it was a good idea that I read them because it increased my understanding of the novel and increased my understanding of Mr. Rochester. But I didn't feel like there was enough relevant information on him to include that in the essay...

Download the full interview with Claire (mp3, 9.56 MB). <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/assets/utilities/download.php?file=assets/audio/claire/claire-all.mp3>

Kiren's assignment

Kiren

Kiren is a first-year English student. For her main essay in the subject, Kiren chose the following topic based on the novels, Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea.

Essay topic:

Jane Eyre has often been valued as speaking on behalf of women. To what extent does Wide Sargasso Sea articulate aspects of women's experience that Jane Eyre ignores or suppresses?

  1. Look at the lecturer's expectations <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.2.1.xml> of the essay.
  2. Next read Kiren's essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.2.2.xml> as it was submitted.
  3. Now read the lecturer's comments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.2.3.xml> about Kiren's essay.

Lecturer's expectations

Alan Dilnot, Lecturer

In this section, one of your lecturers - Alan Dilnot - sets out what he expects from student assignments on this topic.

Essay topic:

Jane Eyre has often been valued as speaking on behalf of women. To what extent does Wide Sargasso Sea articulate aspects of women's experience that Jane Eyre ignores or suppresses?

The key phrase in this topic is "women's experience". That by itself would be a huge subject, and it would be sensible for you to state which aspects of women's experience you wanted to concentrate on. But in any case there is a strict requirement to view the topic in relation to the two novels. Since one novel depends upon the other, it is probably wise to give them equal time. A good beginning would be to give a succinct account of the chief ways in which Jane Eyre speaks for women, and then to discuss whether it ignores some important aspects of their experience.

If your argument is that Jane Eyre is insufficiently feminist, you can then go on to ask whether Wide Sargasso Sea is more satisfactory in this regard. If on the other hand you believe that Jane Eyre gives an authentic account of the situation of 19th century middle-class women, you can ask whether the view of Wide Sargasso Sea is complementary to it or contradictory of it.

Kiren's essay

Essay topic:

Jane Eyre has often been valued as speaking on behalf of women. To what extent does Wide Sargasso Sea articulate aspects of women's experience that Jane Eyre ignores or suppresses?


Jean Rhys's literary success, Wide Sargasso Sea, was published in 1966, more than a century after Charlotte Bronte's famous novel, Jane Eyre. Set during the same era, both novels articulate differing aspects of women's experience during the 19th century. At the time of its publication in 1847, Jane Eyre created quite a stir among the literary world, as it controversially spoke on behalf of women. Charlotte Bronte's novel primarily explores the emancipation of a virtuous young woman, Jane Eyre, who is "cast in a different mound to the majority". 1 Jane's significant journey toward selfhood fervently challenged the nineteenth-century acceptance of women's subservient position in society. In contrast, Wide Sargsasso Sea starkly reveals the fate of a disillusioned Creole woman who is powerless and unnerved in post-colonial West Indian society. Jean Rhy's novel articulates some aspects of women's experience that Jane Eyre inevitably suppresses. Whilst Jane's nature is portrayed as unrelenting, Antoinette Cosway is exposed as a white Creole madwoman who is vulnerable and dependent. Jane Eyre presents the ideal situation for a woman during the 19th century - a marriage of choice and of eventual harmony and bliss. Wide Sargasso Sea, on the other hand, reveals the darker side of marriage, where the psychological well being of the woman threatens the marriage. Whilst Jane is looked upon as a heroine, Antoinette is viewed as submissive. Compared with Antoinette's detached narrative voice, Jane's narrative is audacious and precise. Both novels deal with an unforgiving patriarchal society, but Jane and Antoinette have diverse responses to their respective societies.

Wide Sargasso Sea is the prequel to Jane Eyre; it is Jean Rhys's salvage of the insane Creole woman - Bertha Rochester of Thornfield Hall. Wide Sargasso Sea is typical of many of Rhys's novels, as her preoccupation with the suffering of dependent women is reinforced. The novel is set during a significant period in Jamaica history - the time following the passing of the Emancipation Act of 1838. This was a period of immense racial tension, and Rhys depicts this tension in the mind of young Antoinette Cosway. Antoinette is disturbed by her racial identity, as she is ridiculed for being a "white cockroach". As a direct result of her Creole background and upbringing, Antoinette grows up as a misplaced individual. She is a woman who is trapped in her homeland and unable to escape her harsh realities: "I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all" 2. She is often weary of men and she seems to suffer from a kind of sporadic amnesia. 3 Unlike the stable Victorian society of Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea portrays the racial inequalities apparent in many societies.

Antoinette is victimized by society, especially men. Unlike Jane, she is defenceless against an unforgiving era, where the notion of childlike woman and paternal men 4 is strongly apparent. Contrary to Jane, Antoinette lacks ambition and direction. She constantly seems to be meaninglessly floating around in a daze, ceaselessly dreaming and contemplating the state of her troubled mind. Jane is successful; she fights against all odds, despite growing up as an orphan, and she makes something of her existence. She becomes a governess and in the end marries a successful man who deeply loves her. Although her husband, Rochester, is superior to her by virtue of class, wealth and status, their relationship is nevertheless carried out on a somewhat equal level. However, Antoinette's fate is bleak, as her desire to withdraw into her own world transforms her into one of society's misfits. Antoinette's tormented childhood causes her eventual insanity, and the ultimate destruction of her marriage. She is an example of a woman who lacked love as a child and therefore grew up lost, like a zombie. Antoinette is constantly afraid, and as a result, she shuts herself off from the world, lapsing into perpetual darkness. Antoinette is "not used to happiness . . it makes (her) afraid" (p. 57).

Rochester is the dominant masculine subject in both Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette and Rochester's loveless wedlock is representative of many marriages during the mid 19th century. Rochester's motives seem suspiciously mercenary, as his marriage to Antoinette (a prosperous Creole heiress) inevitably makes him incredibly rich according to customary English law. Christophine realizes Rochester's underlying ambitions: "Everyone knows that you marry her for her money and you take it all" (p. 98). Their wedding, as described in Rochester's narrative during Part Two, seems superficial: as Rochester remembers, "It meant nothing to me. Nor did she, the girl I was to marry" (p. 46). Rochester vividly remembers the touch of his bride's hand: "cold as ice in the hot sun" (p. 47). Although Antoinette is "afraid of what may happen" (p. 48), she nevertheless marries him, as the necessity of securing a husband overwhelms her. On the other hand, the autonomous Jane is able to reject a prospective husband, St. John, by audaciously telling him, "I scorn your idea of love" (p. 408). Jane is able to marry for love, not out of necessity. Antoinette's thoughts on marriage represent the norm for many women living in 19th century society. Unlike Jane's experiences in Jane Eyre, the security of marriage together with a masculine figure was the ultimate gain in a woman's life during that patriarchal era.

Antoinette's physical looks are reminiscent of her submission to life. Even Rochester notices her "long, sad, dark alien eyes" (p. 40) and the "sad droop of her lips" (p. 88). At one end of the scale we have Antoinette who is natural and primitive, and on the other end we have Rochester - civilized, lucid and proper. This vast difference in character affects their relationship as Rochester fails to understand Antoinette's surroundings and lifestyle. In Wide Sargasso Sea, the women are seemingly conscious of their appearances. Antoinette seems to have an obsession with the looking-glass, whether it is at the convent or in the attic of Thornfield Hall. Antoinette associates her mother with femininity: she was after all "pretty like pretty self" (p. 5). Even Christophine seems conscious of beauty as she tells the young Antoinette about her wound, "It won't spoil you on your wedding day" (p. 25). This implies the underlying importance of the beauty of the women in the novel, which is also evident in Rochester's many descriptions of Antoinette. However, this contrasts with Jane's belief that the beauty of a woman carries little significance in her ability to succeed in life.

Wide Sargasso Sea vividly portrays a dismal part of women's experience; that is, the absence of motherly affection. Although Jane also lacks the warm touch of a motherly figure, it is Antoinette who is unable to sufficiently cope with this loss. At the core of Antoinette's psychological dilemmas is her mother's rejection of her. Antoinette basically leads a solitary life, as her disturbed mother drifts further away from her grasp. Antoinette views her mother as a zombie, for "her soul is wandering, for it has left her body" (p, 32). Antoinette's inablility to relate to her mother is one dimension of women's experience that Jane Eyre supresses.

It can be said that Jane Eyre is a romance, representing an ideal situation for a Victorian woman during the 19th century. However, Wide Sargasso Sea is contradictory to this ideal, and it therefore could be viewed as an anti-romance, representing a situation that is dreaded by most women. Wide Sargasso Sea is a representation of the consequence of insanity, and how it can ultimately destroy a woman's life. Antoinette believes that she has "slept too long in the moonlight" (p. 51), and it is this belief that eventually destroys her livelihood and her relationship with her husband. Antoinette is a woman who "lives in her own darkness" and thus she is lonely and vulnerable. Her predicament is contrary to Jane's blissful existence. Wide Sargasso Sea articulates many bleak aspects of women's experience that Jane Eyre ultimately ignores.

End notes

  1. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (London: Everyman Paperbacks, 1998), p. 131.
  2. Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (England: Penguin Books, 1997), p. 64.
  3. Joyce Carol Oates, "Romance and Anti-Romance: From Bronte's Jane Eyre to Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea", Virginia Quarterly Review, 41 (1985).
  4. Erika Smilowitz, "Childlike Women and Paternal Men: Colonization in Jean Rys's Fiction", Ariel, 17, No. 4 (1986).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Angier, Carole. Jean Rhys: Life and work. London: Andre Deutsch, 1990.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Everyman Paperbacks, 1998.

Geason, Susan, ed. Regarding Jane Eyre. Milsons Point, N.S.W.: Vintage Books, 1997

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. England: Penguin Books, 1997.

Kendrick, Robert. "Edward Rochester and the Margins of Masculinity in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea". Papers on Language and Literature, 30, No. 3 (1994).

Oates, Joyce Carol. "Romance and Anti-romance: From Bronte's Jane Eyre to Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea". Virginia Quarterly Review, 41 (1985).

Olaussen, Maria. "Jean Rhys's Construction of Blackness as Escape from White Femininity in Wide Sargasso Sea". Ariel, 24, No. 2 (1993).

Smilowitz, Erika. "Childlike Women and Paternal Men: Colonization in Jean Rhys's Fiction". Ariel, 17, No. 4 (1986).

Tiffin, Helen. "The Creole Skeleton in the English Closet". Hecate, 2 (1979).

Wyndham, F. and D. Melly, eds. Jean Rhys: Letters 1931-1966. England: Penguin Books, 1984.

Kiren's essay and what her lecturer thought

Essay topic:

Jane Eyre has often been valued as speaking on behalf of women. To what extent does Wide Sargasso Sea articulate aspects of women's experience that Jane Eyre ignores or suppresses?


Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.


[IMG-1] comment

[1]Jean Rhys's literary success, Wide Sargasso Sea, was published in 1966, more than a century after Charlotte Bronte's famous novel, Jane Eyre. Set during the same era, both novels articulate differing aspects of women's experience during the 19th century. At the time of its publication in 1847, Jane Eyre created quite a stir among the literary world, as it controversially spoke on behalf of women. Charlotte Bronte's novel primarily explores the emancipation of a virtuous young woman, Jane Eyre, who is "cast in a different mound to the majority". 1 Jane's significant journey toward selfhood fervently challenged the nineteenth-century acceptance of women's subservient position in society. In contrast, Wide Sargsasso Sea starkly reveals the fate of a disillusioned Creole woman who is powerless and unnerved in post-colonial West Indian society. Jean Rhy's novel articulates some aspects of women's experience that Jane Eyre inevitably suppresses. Whilst Jane's nature is portrayed as unrelenting, Antoinette Cosway is exposed as a white Creole madwoman who is vulnerable and dependent.


[IMG-2] comment

[2] Jane Eyre presents the ideal situation for a woman during the 19th century - a marriage of choice and of eventual harmony and bliss. Wide Sargasso Sea, on the other hand, reveals the darker side of marriage, where the psychological well being of the woman threatens the marriage. Whilst Jane is looked upon as a heroine, Antoinette is viewed as submissive. Compared with Antoinette's detached narrative voice, Jane's narrative is audacious and precise. Both novels deal with an unforgiving patriarchal society, but Jane and Antoinette have diverse responses to their respective societies.

Wide Sargasso Sea is the prequel to Jane Eyre; it is Jean Rhys's salvage of the insane Creole woman - Bertha Rochester of Thornfield Hall.
[IMG-3] comment

[3] Wide Sargasso Sea is typical of many of Rhys's novels, as her preoccupation with the suffering of dependent women is reinforced. The novel is set during a significant period in Jamaica history - the time following the passing of the Emancipation Act of 1838. This was a period of immense racial tension, and Rhys depicts this tension in the mind of young Antoinette Cosway. Antoinette is disturbed by her racial identity, as she is ridiculed for being a "white cockroach". As a direct result of her Creole background and upbringing, Antoinette grows up as a misplaced individual. She is a woman who is trapped in her homeland and unable to escape her harsh realities: "I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all" 2.
[IMG-4] comment

[4]She is often weary of men and she seems to suffer from a kind of sporadic amnesia. 3 Unlike the stable Victorian society of Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea portrays the racial inequalities apparent in many societies.

Antoinette is victimized by society, especially men. Unlike Jane, she is defenceless against an unforgiving era, where the notion of childlike woman and paternal men 4 is strongly apparent. Contrary to Jane, Antoinette lacks ambition and direction. She constantly seems to be meaninglessly floating around in a daze, ceaselessly dreaming and contemplating the state of her troubled mind. Jane is successful; she fights against all odds, despite growing up as an orphan, and she makes something of her existence. She becomes a governess and in the end marries a successful man who deeply loves her. Although her husband, Rochester, is superior to her by virtue of class, wealth and status, their relationship is nevertheless carried out on a somewhat equal level. However, Antoinette's fate is bleak, as her desire to withdraw into her own world transforms her into one of society's misfits. Antoinette's tormented childhood causes her eventual insanity, and the ultimate destruction of her marriage. She is an example of a woman who lacked love as a child and therefore grew up lost, like a zombie. Antoinette is constantly afraid, and as a result, she shuts herself off from the world, lapsing into perpetual darkness. Antoinette is "not used to happiness . . it makes (her) afraid" (p. 57).

Rochester is the dominant masculine subject in both Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette and Rochester's loveless wedlock is representative of many marriages during the mid 19th century. Rochester's motives seem suspiciously mercenary, as his marriage to Antoinette (a prosperous Creole heiress) inevitably makes him incredibly rich according to customary English law. Christophine realizes Rochester's underlying ambitions: "Everyone knows that you marry her for her money and you take it all" (p. 98). Their wedding, as described in Rochester's narrative during Part Two, seems superficial: as Rochester remembers, "It meant nothing to me. Nor did she, the girl I was to marry" (p. 46). Rochester vividly remembers the touch of his bride's hand: "cold as ice in the hot sun" (p. 47). Although Antoinette is "afraid of what may happen" (p. 48), she nevertheless marries him, as the necessity of securing a husband overwhelms her. On the other hand, the autonomous Jane is able to reject a prospective husband, St. John, by audaciously telling him, "I scorn your idea of love" (p. 408). Jane is able to marry for love, not out of necessity.
[IMG-5] comment

[5]Antoinette's thoughts on marriage represent the norm for many women living in 19th century society. Unlike Jane's experiences in Jane Eyre, the security of marriage
[IMG-6] comment

[6]together with a masculine figure was the ultimate gain in a woman's life during that patriarchal era.

Antoinette's physical looks are reminiscent of her submission to life. Even Rochester notices her "long, sad, dark alien eyes" (p. 40) and the "sad droop of her lips" (p. 88). At one end of the scale we have Antoinette who is natural and primitive, and on the other end we have Rochester - civilized, lucid and proper. This vast difference in character affects their relationship as Rochester fails to understand Antoinette's surroundings and lifestyle. In Wide Sargasso Sea, the women are seemingly conscious of their appearances. Antoinette seems to have an obsession with the looking-glass, whether it is at the convent or in the attic of Thornfield Hall. Antoinette associates her mother with femininity: she was after all "pretty like pretty self" (p. 5). Even Christophine seems conscious of beauty as she tells the young Antoinette about her wound, "It won't spoil you on your wedding day" (p. 25). This implies the underlying importance of the beauty of the women in the novel, which is also evident in Rochester's many descriptions of Antoinette.
[IMG-7] comment

[7]However, this contrasts with Jane's belief that the beauty of a woman carries little significance in her ability to succeed in life.

Wide Sargasso Sea vividly portrays a dismal part of women's experience; that is, the absence of motherly affection. Although Jane also lacks the warm touch of a motherly figure, it is Antoinette who is unable to sufficiently cope with this loss. At the core of Antoinette's psychological dilemmas is her mother's rejection of her. Antoinette basically leads a solitary life, as her disturbed mother drifts further away from her grasp. Antoinette views her mother as a zombie, for "her soul is wandering, for it has left her body" (p, 32).
[IMG-8] comment

[8]Antoinette's inablility to relate to her mother is one dimension of women's experience that Jane Eyre supresses.


[IMG-9] comment

[9]It can be said that Jane Eyre is a romance, representing an ideal situation for a Victorian woman during the 19th century. However, Wide Sargasso Sea is contradictory to this ideal, and it therefore could be viewed as an anti-romance, representing a situation that is dreaded by most women. Wide Sargasso Sea is a representation of the consequence of insanity, and how it can ultimately destroy a woman's life. Antoinette believes that she has "slept too long in the moonlight" (p. 51), and it is this belief that eventually destroys her livelihood and her relationship with her husband. Antoinette is a woman who "lives in her own darkness" and thus she is lonely and vulnerable. Her predicament is contrary to Jane's blissful existence. Wide Sargasso Sea articulates many bleak aspects of women's experience that Jane Eyre ultimately ignores.


[IMG-10] comment

[10]Lecturer's overall comment

End notes

  1. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (London: Everyman Paperbacks, 1998), p. 131.
  2. Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (England: Penguin Books, 1997), p. 64.
  3. Joyce Carol Oates, "Romance and Anti-Romance: From Bronte's Jane Eyre to Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea", Virginia Quarterly Review, 41 (1985).
  4. Erika Smilowitz, "Childlike Women and Paternal Men: Colonization in Jean Rys's Fiction", Ariel, 17, No. 4 (1986).

[IMG-11] comment

[11]BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Angier, Carole. Jean Rhys: Life and work . London: Andre Deutsch, 1990.

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Everyman Paperbacks, 1998.

Geason, Susan, ed. Regarding Jane Eyre. Milsons Point, N.S.W.: Vintage Books, 1997

Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. England: Penguin Books, 1997.

Kendrick, Robert. "Edward Rochester and the Margins of Masculinity in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea". Papers on Language and Literature, 30, No. 3 (1994).

Oates, Joyce Carol. "Romance and Anti-romance: From Bronte's Jane Eyre to Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea". Virginia Quarterly Review, 41 (1985).

Olaussen, Maria. "Jean Rhys's Construction of Blackness as Escape from White Femininity in Wide Sargasso Sea". Ariel, 24, No. 2 (1993).

Smilowitz, Erika. "Childlike Women and Paternal Men: Colonization in Jean Rhys's Fiction". Ariel, 17, No. 4 (1986).

Tiffin, Helen. "The Creole Skeleton in the English Closet". Hecate, 2 (1979).

Wyndham, F. and D. Melly, eds. Jean Rhys: Letters 1931-1966. England: Penguin Books, 1984.

[1]

An excellent opening

Kiren gives equal time to the novels, accurately describing their relationship, while setting out their chief differences, especially those between their heroines. Her paragraph ends with a point which allows her to move on to a more detailed consideration of the set topic. However, the wording of one sentence could be slightly altered.

[2]

Perhaps

Jane Eyre indicates at its close what the ideal situation for a 19 th-century woman might be, but for most of its duration the novel reveals conditions which are the opposite of ideal.

[3]

Provide a source

Kiren should indicate through a footnote her authority for this claim about Rhys's other novels.

[4]

Correctly sourced

In contrast to the above comment, here Kiren has correctly indicated the source of this opinion.

[5]

How do we know?

Kiren needs to show that she realises that the evidence for the "norm" lies outside the pages of this novel. She should consider whether Antoinette is presented as typical of her time and place.

[6]

Expression

This phrase is cumbersome; a simple phrase, such as "to a man", is more appropriate.

[7]

Is this usual?

The essay should make it clear that Jane knows that her view of this matter is unusual.

[8]

Perhaps...

In its way, Jane Eyre confronts the problem by showing us many girls who have mothers 'missing'.

[9]

Is this usual?

The essay should make it clear that Jane knows that her view of this matter is unusual.

[10]

Lecturer's overall comment

Kiren received a Distinction for this essay - a good result in English.

The essay is an elegant and well-ordered contrast of the two novels and their heroines. It could have focused more on the novel's presentation of women's experience in general, however.

The essay meets the expectations (see Lecturer's Expectations in this tutorial) reasonably well. Indeed, the opening paragraph is excellent: It isolates the aspects of women's experience that it wishes to concentrate on; it gives equal time to the novels and recognizes the main similarities and differences between them; and it runs a very effective series of comparisons between Jane and Antoinette at the close.

The essay is well constructed, except for Paragraph 2. Paragraph 2, while it deals generally with Antoinette, loses focus somewhat. It is difficult to decide whether the topic is Rhys's novels, the time setting of the novel, racialism, or Antoinette's "sporadic amnesia".

The essay gets back on track in Paragraph 3 and remains so. However, every so often it makes some assertions which are not adequately supported. For example, in Paragraph 4 it is said that "Antoinette's thoughts on marriage represent the norm for many women living in 19 th-century society." This is too sweeping, but in any case the 'thoughts' ought to be detailed.

The referencing of sources was done properly.

Sometimes the language used is not appropriate, as noted in marginal comments. In Paragraph 1, Line 2, "infamous" is less appropriate than "controversial". In the same paragraph, "both... articulate differing aspects" (Line 2), and "both Jane and Antoinette have diverse responses" (Lines 16 and 17) are tautologous statements. Nevertheless, the essay is well expressed and is worth a Distinction mark.

[11]

Bibliography...

This bibliography has been put together well.

Joseph's assignment

Joseph

Joseph is a first-year English student. For his main essay in the subject, Joseph chose the following topic based on the novel, Wide Sargasso Sea.

Essay topic:

On Page 6 of Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette remembers "Our garden was large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible - the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell".

Comment on the way in which descriptions of landscape and environment in the novel mark stages in the spiritual and psychological journey of the heroine.

  1. Look at the lecturer's expectations <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.3.1.xml> of the essay.
  2. Next read Joseph's essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.3.2.xml> as it was submitted.
  3. Now read the lecturer's comments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/english/3.3.3.xml> about Joseph's essay.

Lecturer's expectations

Alan Dilnot, Lecturer

In this section, one of your lecturers - Alan Dilnot - sets out what he expects from student assignments on this topic.

Essay topic:

On Page 6 of Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette remembers "Our garden was large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible - the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell".

Comment on the way in which descriptions of landscape and environment in the novel mark stages in the spiritual and psychological journey of the heroine.

Expectations of the essay

In tackling this topic, recognize that the essential task is set out in the last sentence (beginning "Comment..."). The exercise is requiring you to show knowledge of the novel's structure, and that structure is seen here mainly as a vehicle for tracing the heroine's psychological development. However, if you were to give a comprehensive account of Antoinette's development, you would require far more space than is available in a short essay. The topic therefore limits your field of enquiry by setting up a twin focus: the correlation between descriptions of landscape and the development of character.

A wise way of proceeding, then, would be to select passages that look at landscape in detail, and usually ones where Antoinette supplies the point of view. The passage that is quoted in the topic is obviously one that repays some attention. The references to the Bible and the Tree of Life could be made to relate the themes of the novel as whole. But the full significance of the quoted passage will only emerge if it is contrasted with other landscape passages in the novel. A good, workable arrangement would be for you to select one passage from Antoinette's childhood years, one from her time with Mr. Edward, and one from the closing stages of the novel.

Joseph's essay

Essay topic:

On Page 6 of Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette remembers "Our garden was large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible - the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell".

Comment on the way in which descriptions of landscape and environment in the novel mark stages in the spiritual and psychological journey of the heroine.


Wide Sargasso Sea, as its title indicates, encompasses a broad range of preoccupations relating to post-colonial society and its mores, race, madness, the relationships of family and the effect of these on women, using a historical and intertextual revelation of the first wife of Mr. Rochester from the novel Jane Eyre. These themes are introduced into the text, without detracting from the sense of narrative, through the use of the landscape and environment to mirror the spiritual and psychological journey of Antoinette. In this tale of mirrors and multiplicity, of family history repeating, and of multiple narrators, landscape and environment also play their part in the mirror-effect, ghosting the story of Antoinette's lonely and isolated childhood, purgatory-like teenage years, marriage and return to Coulibri, culminating in her madness, and the complete circle back to isolation (this time through madness) in Rochester's attic.

"I went to parts of Coulibri that I had not seen, where there was no road, no path, no track. And if the razor grass cut my legs and arms I would think 'It's better than people'. . . . All better than people. . . . Better, better than people" (p.12). Antoinette's childhood is marked by isolation, particularly after cultural strains disintegrate her bond with the black girl, Tia. She is isolated from society and from her own mother, who is wrapped in grief and self-absorption. Hence, Antoinette retreats into the landscape of her mother's large estate, Coulibri, the "large and beautiful garden" which is overgrown (p. 6). This depiction of Coulibri seems to reflect Antoinette's own mess of thoughts and her mother's secretiveness and sullenness. All is in disarray in the Estate; all is worn out. Antoinette's family has become poor and has a lowly status in society as Creoles, "white niggers". Antoinette's own desire to fit into her society, to be like Tia, is hopeless and so she disappears into Coulibri, "(w)atching the red and yellow flowers in the sun thinking of nothing", thus escaping herself, her damned Creole body and life. Upon the marriage of Antoinette's mother, Coulibri is given a renovation, and Antoinette finds it cleaner, "tidy" (p. 14), and different, not in the way it looks, but in the way it feels. This, too, is how she feels about her own standing. She knows things have changed - Coulibri Estate is again brimming with servants and life - but it is not a change Antoinette particularly likes. She dislikes the rifts growing in her society which set her and her mother up as enemies to both black people and, in a more subtle way, to the "pure whites" like Mr. Mason who cannot grasp their circumstances.

This new tension-filled prosperity of Coulibiri is soon remedied when the black people of the area burn Coulibri as a sign of their hatred for the Creoles, who are seen as part of the earlier colonial oppression where slavery of the black peoples was practised. Antoinette feels betrayed, wanting as she did to assimilate. The burning of Coulibri is the very literal representation of this rift between the Creoles and the black people of Jamaica. Antoinette says she knew she "would never see Coulibri again" (p. 34). And she doesn't. Not in the form it once was. The loss of Coulibri and the subsequent shift of environment for Antoinette and her family takes a little of their souls with it.

Life in the educational cloister of the Mount Calvary Convent in Spanish Town reflects the stalemate Antoinette experiences spiritually and psychologically. The neat but empty gardens, "paved path(s)", "sometimes a bright bush or flower" (p. 29) is a world away from the exotic tangle of Coulibri. The convent becomes a "refuge, a place of sunshine and death" (p. 31) where Antoinette tries to forget everything, but cannot shake the memory of her mad mother and the way she was betrayed by society and her own family.

She returns to a rejuvenated Coulibri upon her marriage, but the place seems to Rochester to be shrouded in secrecy, the landscape ambiguous, and the unspoken dominant. No one, Antoinette included, will deliberate on the village name "Massacre" near Coulibri and the landscape of the island seems "quite unreal and like a dream" (p. 49). There is something about Coulibri that disturbs Rochester, "Everything (is) too much", "wild and menacing" colours and shapes and landscapes (p. 42). Antoinette, too, is a mystery and, although she tries to hold this in, her story slowly unravels as Rochester discovers the secrets of Coulibri - its strange, secret paths and mysterious history. In this way he discovers that much of Coulibri is hostile, just like Antoinette, who, caught in two minds about her marriage and direction in life, is often suddenly volatile. At one point, Antoinette describes some of the trees in the garden as "lost" and draws a parallel with her own life of loneliness. The sense of loneliness Coulibri exudes scares Rochester, while it is still beautiful to him. There are haunting reflections of Antoinette in this image.

Like a mirroring of Antoinette's madness, Coulibri becomes subject to Rochester's vision of a place ravaged by hurricanes. His thoughts of Coulibri are exactly equivalent to what happens to Antoinette, much of which occurs through his own doing. She too strikes an image of the royal palms he imagines: "Stripped of branches. . . (but) still . . . stand(ing) defiant". She has been battered into submission by his mind games, just as Coulibri stands stripped but defiant in the face of the hurricane months.

Psychologically battered, spiritually desolate, Antoinette is taken to England. The images are bleak: dampness, cold, olive green waters, narrow rooms and blank countryside. When Antoinette sees, her remaining spirit distorts the bleak English environment into the fiery memories of her homeland. Soon she succumbs to this image, drawing her further into madness and the death that is entailed in Jane Eyre.

Antoinette has a close affinity with her environment. She loves most the sensuous beauty of Coulibri. This is ruined for her by Rochester, who makes it just another place in her psyche holding images of betrayal and loss. In this way, she is mirroring her mother's fractured story: she also came to ruin in Coulibri - the place she nevertheless loved - partly by the ignorance of her husband. Coulibri becomes to Antoinette a paradox, at once enticing, a representation of her happiness in childhood, but at the same time provoking the memory of all that has gone awry in her life: the antagonism of the black people; the madness of her mother; the loss of her own happiness through Rochester's misdeeds; and, eventually, the loss of her sanity. As Angela Smith points out in her introduction to the book, Antoinette's tragic story is a doubling of her mother's. With history repeating itself, she is doomed to be driven mad "by the tensions between (Rochester's) assumptions about her and demands on her, and her precarious sense of where she belongs" in her environment.

Joseph's essay and what his lecturer thought

Essay topic:

On Page 6 of Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette remembers "Our garden was large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible - the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell".

Comment on the way in which descriptions of landscape and environment in the novel mark stages in the spiritual and psychological journey of the heroine.


Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Wide Sargasso Sea, as its title indicates, encompasses a broad range of preoccupations relating to post-colonial society and its mores, race, madness, the relationships of family and the effect of these on women, using a historical and intertextual revelation of the first wife of Mr. Rochester from the novel Jane Eyre. These themes are introduced into the text, without detracting from the sense of narrative, through the use of the landscape and environment to mirror the spiritual and psychological journey of Antoinette.
[IMG-1] comment

[1]In this tale of mirrors and multiplicity, of family history repeating, and of multiple narrators, landscape and environment also play their part in the mirror-effect, ghosting the story of Antoinette's lonely and isolated childhood, purgatory-like teenage years, marriage and return to Coulibri, culminating in her madness, and the complete circle back to isolation (this time through madness) in Rochester's attic.


[IMG-2] comment

[2]"I went to parts of Coulibri that I had not seen, where there was no road, no path, no track. And if the razor grass cut my legs and arms I would think 'It's better than people'. . . . All better than people. . . . Better, better than people" (p.12). Antoinette's childhood is marked by isolation, particularly after cultural strains disintegrate her bond with the black girl, Tia. She is isolated from society and from her own mother, who is wrapped in grief and self-absorption. Hence, Antoinette retreats into the landscape of her mother's large estate, Coulibri, the "large and beautiful garden" which is overgrown (p. 6). This depiction of Coulibri seems to reflect Antoinette's own mess of thoughts and her mother's secretiveness and sullenness. All is in disarray in the Estate; all is worn out. Antoinette's family has become poor and has a lowly status in society as Creoles, "white niggers". Antoinette's own desire to fit into her society, to be like Tia, is hopeless and so she disappears into Coulibri, "(w)atching the red and yellow flowers in the sun thinking of nothing", thus escaping herself, her damned Creole body and life. Upon the marriage of Antoinette's mother, Coulibri is given a renovation, and Antoinette finds it cleaner, "tidy" (p. 14), and different, not in the way it looks, but in the way it feels. This, too, is how she feels about her own standing. She knows things have changed -
[IMG-3] comment

[3]Coulibri Estate is again brimming with servants and life - but it is not a change Antoinette particularly likes. She dislikes the rifts growing in her society which set her and her mother up as enemies to both black people and, in a more subtle way, to the "pure whites" like Mr. Mason who cannot grasp their circumstances.

This new tension-filled prosperity of Coulibiri is soon remedied when the black people of the area burn Coulibri as a sign of their hatred for the Creoles, who are seen as part of the earlier colonial oppression where slavery of the black peoples was practised. Antoinette feels betrayed, wanting as she did to assimilate. The burning of Coulibri is the very literal representation of this rift between the Creoles and the black people of Jamaica. Antoinette says she knew she "would never see Coulibri again" (p. 34). And she doesn't. Not in the form it once was.
[IMG-4] comment

[4]The loss of Coulibri and the subsequent shift of environment for Antoinette and her family takes a little of their souls with it.

Life in the educational cloister of the Mount Calvary Convent in Spanish Town reflects the stalemate Antoinette experiences spiritually and psychologically. The neat but empty gardens, "paved path(s)", "sometimes a bright bush or flower" (p. 29) is a world away from the exotic tangle of Coulibri. The convent becomes a "refuge, a place of sunshine and death" (p. 31) where Antoinette tries to forget everything, but cannot shake the memory of her mad mother and the way she was betrayed by society and her own family.


[IMG-5] comment

[5]She returns to a rejuvenated Coulibri upon her marriage, but the place seems to Rochester to be shrouded in secrecy, the landscape ambiguous, and the unspoken dominant. No one, Antoinette included, will deliberate on the village name "Massacre" near Coulibri and the landscape of the island seems "quite unreal and like a dream" (p. 49). There is something about Coulibri that disturbs Rochester, "Everything (is) too much", "wild and menacing" colours and shapes and landscapes (p. 42). Antoinette, too, is a mystery and, although she tries to hold this in, her story slowly unravels as Rochester discovers the secrets of Coulibri - its strange, secret paths and mysterious history. In this way he discovers that much of Coulibri is hostile, just like Antoinette, who, caught in two minds about her marriage and direction in life, is often suddenly volatile. At one point, Antoinette describes some of the trees in the garden as "lost" and draws a parallel with her own life of loneliness. The sense of loneliness Coulibri exudes scares Rochester, while it is still beautiful to him. There are haunting reflections of Antoinette in this image.

Like a mirroring of Antoinette's madness, Coulibri becomes subject to Rochester's vision of a place ravaged by hurricanes. His thoughts of Coulibri are exactly equivalent to what happens to Antoinette, much of which occurs through his own doing. She too strikes an image of the royal palms he imagines: "Stripped of branches. . . (but) still . . . stand(ing) defiant". She has been battered into submission by his mind games, just as Coulibri stands stripped but defiant in the face of the hurricane months.

Psychologically battered, spiritually desolate, Antoinette is taken to England. The images are bleak: dampness, cold, olive green waters, narrow rooms and blank countryside.
[IMG-6] comment

[6]When Antoinette sees, her remaining spirit distorts the bleak English environment into the fiery memories of her homeland. Soon she succumbs to this image, drawing her further into madness and the death that is entailed in Jane Eyre.

Antoinette has a close affinity with her environment. She loves most the sensuous beauty of Coulibri. This is ruined for her by Rochester, who makes it just another place in her psyche holding images of betrayal and loss. In this way, she is mirroring her mother's fractured story: she also came to ruin in Coulibri - the place she nevertheless loved - partly by the ignorance of her husband. Coulibri becomes to Antoinette a paradox, at once enticing, a representation of her happiness in childhood, but at the same time provoking the memory of all that has gone awry in her life: the antagonism of the black people; the madness of her mother; the loss of her own happiness through Rochester's misdeeds; and, eventually, the loss of her sanity. As Angela Smith points out in her introduction to the book, Antoinette's tragic story is a doubling of her mother's. With history repeating itself, she is doomed to be driven mad "by the tensions between (Rochester's) assumptions about her and demands on her, and her precarious sense of where she belongs" in her environment.


[IMG-7] comment

[7]Lecturer's overall comment

[1]

Unwieldy sentence

The opening paragraph is promising, since it sets the boundaries for the ensuing discussion. However, the last sentence is unwieldy. It deals with three different subjects - the structure of the tale, family history, and Antoinette's personal story. There should be three sentences corresponding to these.

[2]

Good paragraph

This paragraph is effective, centred as it is on Antoinette's experience, with well-selected details from landscapes that she has known.

[3]

Good transition

The transition to Paragraph 3 is well handled. However, the expression is unnecessarily informal toward the end of the paragraph.

[4]

Need transition here

A stronger transition between Paragraphs 3 and 4 is needed here.

[5]

Good Struture and Content

From paragraph 4 onwards Joseph's concentration on the topic is excellent. The writing occasionally suffers from slips in expression, as in the penultimate paragraph, but the essay generally brings out the complexity of the novel.

[6]

Rephrase

"Whenever Antoinette is conscious of this new environment, her overwrought imagination distorts it ..."

[7]

Lecturer's overall comment

Joseph received a Distinction for this essay - a good result in English.

This is a well worked out and convincing essay. It meets the expectations very well (see Lecturer's Expectations in this tutorial). The opening paragraph indicates that the writer is aware of a whole range of important themes in the novel, but he avoids the temptation to digress by supplying an excellent topic sentence: "One way some of these themes are introduced into the text without detracting from the sense of narrative is through the use of the landscape and environment to mirror the spiritual and psychological journey of Antoinette."

Each paragraph thereafter mentions both the landscape and Antoinette's relationship to it. It is true that the essay changes focus slightly when it speaks of Rochester's feelings (Paragraphs 5 and 6), but even here Antoinette is present: "His thoughts of Coulibri run an exact equivalent to what happens to Antoinette, much by his own doing."

It is a slight weakness in the essay that it ends with a tame endorsement of Angela Smith's comments, but overall the essay has brought off the difficult feat of being both focused and inclusive.

Bibliography

A bibliography should be supplied.

History essay

This tutorial contains information about essay writing based on materials from a first-year History subject on World War II. You will also find much of the information to be useful for your other History subjects. Navigate through the tutorial using the Table of Contents on the left. The tutorial's three main sections are outlined below.

Lecturer's advice <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/1.xml>

Get information from the lecturer about what is required for History assignments.

Skills for writing in History <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/2.xml>

Learn to write better assignments through interactive tasks.

Annotated assignments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.xml>

View samples of student work with lecturer and student comments.

Lecturer's advice

Ian Copland, Lecturer Eleanor Hancock, Lecturer In this section, two of your lecturers - Ian Copland and Eleanor Hancock - answer Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about researching and writing essays in first-year History.

FAQs: Click on those topic areas that are of interest to you, or that you need to know more about.

General

  1. What makes a good history essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq1>
  2. What's distinctive about history writing? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq2>
  3. What does it mean to adopt a critical approach in history? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq3>
  4. Why do some essays fail? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq4>
  5. How should I deal with a bad result for an essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq5>

Reading

  1. How much reading should I do for an essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq6>
  2. What type of reading do I need to do for history essays? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq7>
  3. How much is the study of history about learning "the facts" of a period? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq8>
  4. How does the use of primary and secondary sources differ in the researching of an essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq9>
  5. In my reading, should I be looking for the historian who has come up with the "correct" interpretation of events? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq10>
  6. How should I deal with the situation when two historians present conflicting interpretations of events? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq11>
  7. As a student, how can I make my own judgements about the work of professional historians? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq12>
  8. How useful is the internet for history essays? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq13>

Writing

  1. How can I go about developing a structure for an essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq14>
  2. How much should I retell historical events in an essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq15>
  3. What sort of writing style are lecturers looking for? Should I try to make my writing complex? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq16>
  4. Can I write "I think" in an essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq17>
  5. What's a "historical argument"? How can I be sure that I'm "arguing" in an essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq18>
  6. Which referencing system do I use? Footnotes or Harvard? Why? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq19>
  7. What type of information do I need to footnote in an essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq20>
  8. When should I use direct quotes in an essay? What about quoting secondary sources? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq21>
  9. What's plagiarism? How can I avoid it? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq22>
  10. Who's the audience for my essay? Is it just my lecturer? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq23>


1. What makes a good history essay?

Summary:

Eleanor

: The main thing is that we need to see evidence in your writing that you've been grappling with an issue - that you've been thinking about the issue, that you've been reading widely and thinking hard about what you've been reading.

It's also important to remember that often we are marking the work of students we don't know - the student for us may be just a name on the cover sheet. So we are judging work entirely in terms of what's on the page. This means you've got to make things absolutely clear.

Ian

: A good essay will be based on a good range of sources and be thoroughly referenced. And as you read more widely on the topic, we hope you will begin to pick up on the element of opinion in historical writing - that different historians bring different interpretations to the events we are considering. And we hope that your appreciation of these differences will come out in your writing.

Two other points - that really apply to any piece of writing, irrespective of the discipline. The first is structure - you need to show us in your writing that you have planned out the work - that there is a logical flow that the reader can follow. Second, good essays are proofread and edited - you need to sit down with the hard copy and read it through and fix up the obvious flaws.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

2. What's distinctive about history writing?

Summary: Our claims about the past always need to be supported with evidence.

Ian

: A feature of history is that it is above all an "empirical" discipline. By this I mean that it requires its arguments to relate to a factual context. And even though there are difficulties with the idea of "historical fact" (i.e. we can never get to the whole truth or be wholly factual), there is a core belief that in history we are dealing with something that actually happened. We need therefore to defend our statements as statements of truth - and we do this mainly by referring to the primary evidence - evidence generated by people involved at the time.

History is the telling of stories, but it is not a fiction. We need always to document this story - and this is the main reason why footnoting figures so prominently in history writing.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

3. What does it mean to adopt a critical approach in history?

Summary:

Eleanor

: The best way to explain this is to give a concrete example: Let's say you're doing an essay on "Why the Nazis didn't win in the first six months of Operation Barbarossa (the German invasion of Russia)". This is a "Why did X happen (or not happen)?" style of question, which is very common in history.

So there will be a range of reasons for the Nazis' failure - and different historians will have proposed different explanations. What we really like students to do is set out a range of these explanations - say two or three - then to compare them and consider their respective strengths and weaknesses. And then you need to draw your own conclusion. There will be different possibilities here. You might want to show that one explanation is more persuasive than another. Or you might draw out of the different accounts a composite explanation, i.e. that the explanations of Historian A and Historian B have to be considered together. Or you might want to say that none of the explanations seems adequate - that they all leave something out that needs to be investigated further.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

4. Why do some essays fail?

Summary:

Eleanor

: Many essays that fail have something in common - it's clear to us that the student has written it a day or two before it was due. These essays are easy to recognise - they will mainly be copied or paraphrased from a general source like an encyclopaedia; or the student may have read only one or two books. Thus, there will be very few footnotes in the essay.

Some essays also suggest to us that the student has barely bothered to look at the topic. Recently I had to fail an essay because a student devoted the whole essay to discussing the First World War when the topic was the Second World War. So the minimum requirement is to show that you're reading and engaging in a serious way with the question that's been posed.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

5. How should I deal with a bad result for an essay?

Summary:

Eleanor

: Assuming that you have put in the effort, you need to bear in mind that some essays - for whatever reason - just don't work out. You don't want to become demoralised when you get a poor result. The mark is not a judgement of you, but just of this particular piece of work and the approach that's been used. The thing is to learn from the feedback you get - and to work on improving on these things.

I recall one of my students from some years back who had very high expectations in the subject - but whose first essay I felt I had no choice but to fail. The student was most upset. It was a year-long subject and the student went on to get an HD overall. So he didn't say to himself "I've failed this essay and I'm nothing". He had made some obvious mistakes, but once he saw what these were, he did something about them. And he went on to do a doctorate. So a poor mark is not a life sentence - but an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

6. How much reading should I do for an essay?

Summary: A minimum of six texts, but we encourage wide reading

Ian

: We've decided to be quite explicit about this - we work to a rule of a minimum of six texts. These might be the chapter of a book, or a journal article, or a collection of primary sources. But this is a minimum. We hope students will want to explore further - and to go beyond the references we've listed in the handbook. An essay will almost invariably be the better for additional reading. You will be rewarded for going to the library and fossicking around and finding your own material. This is what much of historical research is about.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

7. What type of reading do I need to do for history essays?

Summary:

Eleanor

: Reading for a history essay is a bit different from reading say for philosophy or literature. In these other two subjects you might have to read just a few works. But you need to read them very intensively, because you have to look at the language in great detail.

In history you don't need to read so intensively. It's a broader kind of reading. You need to read a number of texts and what you're looking for is to pick up on the broad differences in interpretations.

What we recommend is that you begin with a simple general text which tells the basic story - e.g. what happened in the first six months of Operation Barbarossa (German invasion of Russia in 1941). And then you turn to works of a more interpretative nature and try to work out the different ways that various historians have explained the issue - e.g. why the Nazis were unsuccessful in the invasion.

Once you have knowledge of the basic events, these more interpretative texts are going to be easier to grasp.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

8. How much is the study of history about learning "the facts" of a period?

Summary:

Eleanor

: Knowing the facts is a first requirement - and we do run small tests to check that you do have this basic knowledge, e.g. "that Hitler became Chancellor in 1933" or "that Operation Barbarossa was launched in 1941". But this is just the starting point.

Our main focus is not on simple, unproblematic questions like when, who, where, but on issues about which there is debate - why something happened, or how much something was successful, etc. These are interpretative questions that take in the views of various historians and also your view of events.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

9. How does the use of primary and secondary sources differ in the researching of an essay?

Summary: Primary source material will be in documents and also embedded in the secondary sources.

Ian

: In our first-year assignments we don't expect students to be gathering primary source material from archives. Much of the primary source material you will need to draw on will be in the subject handbooks and these are a rich resource for your essays.

But there is another repository of this material: secondary sources in the form of textbooks, articles, etc. These texts will contain masses of evidence in the form of statistics, quotations, accounts of events. A lot of this will be primary source material embedded, as it were, in the secondary source.

It is your job to consider how the authors of these texts have marshalled the evidence and used it to draw their own conclusions. So in a secondary text, where Bloggs for example is discussing why the British appeased the Germans in the 1930s, there may be a nice quote from Chamberlain (the British PM at the time) which says: "We need to appease the Germans". And so this becomes primary source material that you are able to draw on for your own purposes.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

10. In my reading, should I be looking for the historian who has come up with the "correct" interpretation of events?

Summary:

Eleanor

: No. Some students are under the misapprehension that there is one particular historian out there - one we're not telling them about - who has the right answer. Students can think that the main job in their research is to work out who this secret historian is. But this isn't it at all!

Our questions are ones that don't have clear-cut answers - they allow for different interpretations. So if you find yourself saying Historian A is absolutely right and all the others are misguided or have the wrong end of the stick or whatever, you're probably on the wrong track.

Also you need to be careful about the labelling of historians. Some students think that once a historian has been identified as, say, a Marxist or a feminist or a revisionist of some kind, then we don't need to take them seriously any more - that they can be dismissed on the grounds of the label alone. When you're reading the arguments of historians who might be identified in a particular way, we say take their stance into account. But that's not to say there's no value in their work - there often is. Some students can have this notion that there is a "pure" historian out there judging things completely objectively and dispassionately and that the student's job is to find them.

Unfortunately no such animal exists. All historians have their own particular perspective on things - and they have their own agendas and biases. Part of your job is to recognise these differences, and then make your own considered judgements about which of the range of interpretations on offer sheds the most light on the issue.

Ian

: But whilst all historians have their own agendas and prejudices, you don't want to overstate this - and use it as an excuse for coming to no conclusion. As a kind of knee-jerk response, some students can say in their work: "There is no correct answer to this question, because all historians are biased." But this is really a bit of a cliche - it doesn't get us anywhere. Your job is to consider the nature of the bias in each case - and to go out on a bit of a limb, making judgements about whether one historical analysis has, in your mind, more value than another.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

11. How should I deal with the situation when two historians present conflicting interpretations of events?

Summary:

Eleanor

: The first point to note is that historians often disagree about things. If you notice differences in your reading, that's great! This is what a lot of historical writing is about - realising that there aren't clear-cut answers - that there is often debate around these questions.

When you notice these differences you then need to work them into your essay in an explicit way. For example you might write: "Historians have differed on the issue of X. Historian A has argued that..., whereas B has argued that..."

The task then is to think about why A and B have come to different conclusions. Is it due for example to different weighting of the evidence? To different motivations? And you often have to ask yourself which of these alternative interpretations you find more convincing.

Ian

: When you pick up on these differences - you first want to lay out what the differences are. Then you should ask questions like: Which account do I find more reasonable? Which is more plausible? Which is more in keeping with what I've already read or what I already know about the subject? So you want to have a bit of a go.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

12. As a student, how can I make my own judgements about the work of professional historians?

Summary:

Ian

: Some of the assignments we set specifically ask students to consider the work of a historian (or historians) and to decide whether it is an adequate account of an issue (e.g. why the Germans failed to defeat the Russians). Some students can feel that this type of task is a bit beyond them. They might say, understandably: "I'm just a student! How can I be expected to stand in judgement of Professor X from Oxford, who has devoted his life to researching this issue?" And I guess the answer is: "Well, what about the views of Professor Y from Cambridge? What does he have to say about the issue? Do you get a sense of them disagreeing? Does one of them persuade you more than the other?" And this is the spirit that you need to get into. But of course, this approach requires that you read your sources in a detailed and careful way.

Eleanor

: Students' anxiety about making these judgements is understandable. But we don't expect you to come up with some new answer that's never been thought of before - you're not in a position to do this. What we hope is that you will just have a go - to look at various accounts and to think, "Well maybe there's a problem here". So maybe a historian will say that the Germans' failure to defeat the Russians was all due to the weather. But then you might note that the Germans were already running into difficulty before the onset of winter. And this observation could form the basis of your critique.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

13. How useful is the internet for history essays?

Summary:

Eleanor

: You need to be very careful when using the internet for history research; unfortunately there's a lot of junk out there. Some sites can look quite official and credible when in fact they're not - like some of the "holocaust denial" sites. That's not to say that there isn't useful material available: Yale University's online library is a worthy example.

The thing to remember about a book though, is that before it's published, it's usually vetted by at least two knowledgeable people in the field - so it will automatically have a degree of credibility. By contrast, anybody can put material on the web, so you always need to approach this material with extra caution.

Ian

: I'm probably showing my age here, but I don't use the internet perhaps as much as I should. We need to be very discriminating. Unfortunately there's no star rating - like three stars indicating that this is a good site. This is, in a sense, what we need to be doing whenever we come across a site: making a quick judgement and applying our own star rating. But my guess is that the majority of sites would get no stars, at least for our purposes as historians.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

14. How can I go about developing a structure for an essay?

Summary:

Ian

: The first thing you need to do is sit down with the assignment question and work out what it means - to spell out the question in terms of a problem and the beginnings of an hypothesis (a possible answer). You then need to expand that into a series of paragraphs which would consist of a main point (topic sentence) and evidence for each point. You should be able to see, going through the plan, how you get from the beginning to the conclusion. There should be some sort of logical progression, which may be chronological or may be related to certain themes you are exploring. So the better writers in our experience lay out for themselves some sort of outline before they launch into the drafting process.

Once you have completed the draft, you then need to check that the structure of your essay is working. The obvious place to look is at the transitions from one paragraph to the next. You need to look for any weak spots, where for the reader there may be no obvious connection between one paragraph and the next.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

15. How much should I retell historical events in an essay?

Summary: Think of the events in your essay not as a story to be told, but as evidence to support your argument

Ian

: Just as far as is necessary. But you need to remember that your history essay is not like a textbook - where you are telling the story for the reader. You should think of it more as an answer to a question - a solution to a historical problem: e.g. why the alliance between the victorious powers in the Second World War (USSR and USA) broke down so soon after the war. So you will be offering your own interpretation of the event: e.g. that it is was due principally to fundamental ideological differences between the two powers. So the events you chose to describe will need to somehow support the argument you are presenting.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

16. What sort of writing style are lecturers looking for? Should I try to make my writing complex?

Summary:

Ian

: No! Always go for clarity. Don't go for the fancy expression - go for the clear and simple one. Some students opt for very long sentences - ones that might extend over quite a few lines. But these can be awfully difficult to follow. It is often the short sentence that has the most power.

Eleanor

: Some students think that their writing has to be colourful and entertaining, a bit like that of a television current affairs presenter. Hence they can fall back in a lazy way on media cliches like:

The finger of blame points at Adolf Hitler.

Or The Nuremburg Trials were for the Allied powers a win-win outcome.

In history essays, you are judged mainly on the quality of your argument and on the evidence you bring to this argument; not by describing events in a sort of racy 60 Minutes style.

It's important to realise that in a university essay, you're dealing with a different style of writing: one that's geared less toward entertaining the reader, and more toward persuading them.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

17. Can I write "I think" in an essay?

Summary:

Eleanor

: Yes, but use it sparingly. The essay shouldn't be "I think", "I think" all the way through - this would suggest an essay that was making too many unnecessary judgements along the way. But there are strategic moments when it is appropriate to use "I". This is especially the case when you are presenting your own argument or when you are making a judgment about other historians. For example, you might say that: Historian A argues X and Historian B argues Y, and my conclusion is that A has the stronger case.

Ian

: But as you can see from this example, you don't necessarily have to write "I think". There are all sorts of ways of signalling that an assertion is your own: "My conclusion is that..." or "It could be argued that..." or "On balance, Historian A would appear to have the stronger case", etc.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

18. What's a "historical argument"? How can I be sure that I'm "arguing" in an essay?

Summary:

Eleanor

: We can think of this in two ways. First, an argument is the topic under debate; that is an issue about which historians do not agree. For example "why the German army was unsuccessful in its invasion of Russia". Our essay topics are often based on the types of debates that professional historians are engaged in.

The other sense of a "historical argument" is your argument: that is, the response you offer to the question being posed. How do you use the "facts" to put forward an argument. So you might want to argue that the German army was unsuccessful principally because of X, whatever X might be (disunity in the German command, the tenacity of the Red Army, etc.).

How can you be sure that you are arguing in an essay? Well, one way is to provide an explicit statement of your position, e.g. " In this essay, I wish to argue that the German army was unsuccessful principally because of X...". In a properly argued essay, these sorts of statements are usually found in the introduction or the conclusion.

Ian

: Another way of recognising whether you are arguing is to look at how you are describing events in your essay. If you are just retelling the story - this happened, then this happened and then this happened - then your essay is probably going to be too descriptive and not sufficiently argumentative. One feature of a well-argued essay is the use of logic words like: hence or it follows that or these events suggest to us that or thus we can conclude..., etc. So you're not just telling the story, you're drawing conclusions about events and presenting them as evidence for the case you are making.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

19. Which referencing system do I use? Footnotes or Harvard? Why?

Summary:

Eleanor

: In history, we always use the footnote system, never Harvard (author-date). Why? Because we are always concerned with the issue of evidence. As readers, we need to know immediately on what evidential basis any assertion is made in a text (i.e. Where did the information come from?, What was the source?, When was it produced?). Footnoting is the most efficient system for providing this information.

Another reason is that in history we use a variety of sources - often unpublished ones like documents and letters - which can't be adequately represented in the Harvard style.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

20. What type of information do I need to footnote in an essay?

Summary:

Eleanor

: In simple terms, you footnote the following:

  1. Any direct quote from a primary source. If you are quoting from a primary source (e.g. one of Hitler's speeches) we need to have all the background details - when the speech was given, where, to whom, etc.
  2. Any "fact" that is not generally known. This is not exactly straightforward; it will require some judgement on your part. For example, it would not normally be necessary to footnote a statement like "The Second World War began on the 3rd September 1939" or "Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Britain during the war years...". These are clearly known and uncontroversial pieces of information. But a more specific assertion like "On the 4th May 1941, Winston Churchill ordered that British troops be held ready for X" would need a footnote.
  3. Any argument taken from a secondary source, i.e. the particular interpretation of an individual historian. Thus the following type of statement - "Historian A has argued that the main cause of the German defeat on the Russian Front was X" - would clearly need a footnote.

The simple rule: if in doubt, footnote. No student ever failed an essay for footnoting too often; but an essay can fail for a lack of it.

Ian

: The best way to pick up on the conventions of footnoting is to have a look at how things are done in a scholarly journal. You'll see that footnotes are there in abundance - it might be that in some cases half the page is devoted to the footnotes.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

21. When should I use direct quotes in an essay? What about quoting secondary sources?

Summary:

Ian

: The first point is that we encourage you to quote directly from primary sources. For example, if Goering or Goebbels said something that is relevant to your work, then their exact words should be quoted. The quoting of a primary source is one of the ways you can support an assertion you're making. It also adds texture to your work - the original words often have a power that can't be conveyed in paraphrase.

For secondary sources, the situation is a little trickier. You should avoid quoting just for information. For example it would not be appropriate to write:

quote " In 1938, Chamberlain embarked on his ill-fated trip to Munich to negotiate with Hitler" unquote.

This information would need a footnote, but it is making too much of it to express it as a direct quote. There is no good reason to quote this statement - better to paraphrase.

So what is appropriate to quote from a secondary source? Essentially it will be broad statements of interpretation offered by the historian. Such quotes will normally have the historian mentioned in the sentence - for example:

Bloggs argues that Britain's appeasement of the Germans in the 1930s was "quite understandable in the context of the time."

This is a good use of direct quote because it shows precisely what Bloggs's view of appeasement is.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

22. What's plagiarism? How can I avoid it?

Summary:

Eleanor

: Obviously, it's plagiarism when you copy from a source and don't acknowledge it. This is deliberate plagiarism and is unacceptable.

But there is also a less deliberate, more "innocent", form of plagiarism. This happens when the student is just a bit too close to their source - when they are just paraphrasing - changing a word here and there. The problem here is that the "voice" that comes across in the essay is not really the student's, but that of the historian they've been reading.

What you need to do is assimilate the ideas you have been reading and to lay them out in your own terms. You need to keep your sources at arm's length, as it were - to allow your own "voice" to come through.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

23. Who's the audience for my essay? Is it just my lecturer?

Summary:

Ian

: Some essays suffer from a sort of "clique-ism" - that is, the student is clearly writing for someone who is in the know, but it's not going to make sense to anyone else. Some students tend to think: "The tutor has set the question; therefore knows what the question means - why should I bother to explain it?" Or "The lecturer has lectured on this point and knows all about this area, so why should I put in the background?"

But you should have a broader readership in mind - someone like an averagely intelligent person. You could think for example that you're writing for a friend doing another subject. Ask yourself: "Could somebody doing, say, Sociology or even Medicine or Engineering read this essay and understand what the issue is, what my argument is, etc.?" If the essay fails this test, then it is probably deficient in some basic way.

In short, you should always seek to be generous and helpful to your reader.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

Skills for writing in History

In this section, you have a chance to learn about and practise different aspects of essay writing in History.

The materials cover three topics and include a range of practice tasks. Select from the topics on the left to develop skills in making claims and supporting them with evidence <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/2.1.xml> , as well as analysing historical arguments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/2.2.xml> .

Select those topics that you think you need to work on. If you wish to explore all the topics, work on them from start to finish.

You can also go to the Historical Studies Essay Writing Guide Opens in a new window <artsonline.monash.edu.au/history-studies/history-department-essay-writing-guide/> for additional tasks on:

Making and supporting claims

We begin this topic by recalling a comment by Dr.Ian Copland from the Lecturer's Advice section.

The first thing you need to do is sit down with the essay question and work out what it means - to spell out the question in terms of a problem, and the beginnings of an hypothesis (a possible answer). You then need to expand that into a series of paragraphs which would consist of a main point (topic sentence) and evidence for each point. You should be able to see, going through the plan, how you get from the beginning to the conclusion. There should be some sort of logical progression, which may be chronological or may be related to certain themes you are exploring. So the better writers in our experience lay out for themselves some sort of outline before they launch into the drafting process.

In this section we focus on an example of successful paragraph writing from a student's essay. We shall see how this paragraph is organised around:

The paragraph comes from an essay on the breakdown of the World War II alliance between the Western powers (the US and Britain) and the Soviet Union in the period after the Nazi defeat. In this paragraph the student mentions how the tensions between these powers first began as a war of words.

The topic sentence

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Look at the first sentence of this paragraph (the topic sentence).

In 1946, an escalation of rhetoric began between the West and the Soviets. [...]

What evidence would you expect the student to provide in the rest of this paragraph to support the claim he is making?

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We would expect a series of examples that illustrated this "escalation in rhetoric". These might include speeches from the leaders or statements made by them to the press.

Supporting evidence

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Now look at the rest of the paragraph.

Would you say that all the sentences in the paragraph are relevant to the main point.



Does the student persuade you that "there was an escalation of rhetoric"? Is sufficient evidence provided?

In 1946, an escalation of rhetoric began between the West and the Soviets. Stalin, the Soviet leader, made a speech on the eve of the election of the Supreme Soviet which, although not particularly threatening or expansionist were misconstrued by many analysts, including Justice William Douglas who believed that it was "the declaration of World War Three" 1.These comments worried Washington, who requested an explanation and background information on the meaning of the speech from the American ambassador in Moscow, George F. Kennan. Kennan then sent back a 5,540-word telegram to Washington on the 22nd of February 1946, outlining his beliefs that the Soviet Union was a "political force committed fanatically to the belief that with [the] US there can be no permanent modus vivendi" 2. He claimed that the Soviets were "highly sensitive to the logic of force." Kennan's telegram was widely circulated throughout the Washington administration, and was followed soon after by the "declarations of Cold War" 3 by Churchill and Stalin. Churchill, now opposition leader in Britain, in his Fulton speech, called for a military alliance between the English-speaking western nations, outside the United Nations, that could resist the "iron curtain [that] has descended across the continent" 4. Stalin responded in an interview with the Russian newspaper Pravda saying that Churchill was sowing "the seeds of dissention among the Allied states" 5. and that the British opposition leader was the heir of Hitler's racial supremacy beliefs. Stalin said "Mr. Churchill's position is a war position, a call for war on the U.S.S.R." 6.


  1. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, fifth edition (New York, 198 pg. 38.
  2. Kennan, George F, Telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946. Reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing of the Axis - A Course Handbook. (Melbourne 2000).
  3. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg 40.
  4. Churchill's Fulton speech, "The Sinews of Peace" 5 March 1946. Reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing of the Axis - A Course Handbook . (Melbourne , 2000), pg 214-215.
  5. Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946. Reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing of the Axis - A Course Handbook . (Melbourne , 2000), pg 214-217.
  6. Ibid

[1]Comments

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Feedback

Ian: This is really good writing, because all the information in the paragraph relates back to that first sentence. Evidence for the student's claim is laid out very clearly.

In history essays, we always need to defend our claims as statements of the truth - and we do this mainly by referring to the primary evidence. A common problem in students' essays is that statements are made about the past, but these statements are often just left hanging - there is little attempt to support them - and so we are unlikely to be persuaded that this is in fact what did happen.

Focusing on primary evidence

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Look over the paragraph again.

List three examples of primary evidence that have been used by the student as support. The first has been done for you.

In 1946, an escalation of rhetoric began between the West and the Soviets. Stalin, the Soviet leader, made a speech on the eve of the election of the Supreme Soviet which, although not particularly threatening or expansionist were misconstrued by many analysts, including Justice William Douglas who believed that it was "the declaration of World War Three" 1.These comments worried Washington, who requested an explanation and background information on the meaning of the speech from the American ambassador in Moscow, George F. Kennan. Kennan then sent back a 5,540-word telegram to Washington on the 22nd of February 1946, outlining his beliefs that the Soviet Union was a "political force committed fanatically to the belief that with [the] US there can be no permanent modus vivendi" 2. He claimed that the Soviets were "highly sensitive to the logic of force." Kennan's telegram was widely circulated throughout the Washington administration, and was followed soon after by the "declarations of Cold War" 3 by Churchill and Stalin. Churchill, now opposition leader in Britain, in his Fulton speech, called for a military alliance between the English-speaking western nations, outside the United Nations, that could resist the "iron curtain [that] has descended across the continent" 4. Stalin responded in an interview with the Russian newspaper Pravda saying that Churchill was sowing "the seeds of dissention among the Allied states" 5. and that the British opposition leader was the heir of Hitler's racial supremacy beliefs. Stalin said "Mr. Churchill's position is a war position, a call for war on the U.S.S.R." 6.


  1. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, fifth edition (New York, 198 pg. 38.
  2. Kennan, George F, Telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946. Reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing of the Axis - A Course Handbook. (Melbourne 2000).
  3. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg 40.
  4. Churchill's Fulton speech, "The Sinews of Peace" 5 March 1946. Reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing of the Axis - A Course Handbook . (Melbourne , 2000), pg 214-215.
  5. Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946. Reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing of the Axis - A Course Handbook . (Melbourne , 2000), pg 214-217.
  6. Ibid

Primary evidence used in paragraph:

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Primary evidence used in paragraph:

Documenting sources with footnotes

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As well as providing evidence for any claims you make, it is important to indicate exactly where you came across this evidence. This is where footnotes come in. One reason for providing footnotes is that if someone wanted to verify your evidence they could do so without too much difficulty.

Look at the footnotes from the sample paragraph.

From what type of sources has the student gathered his evidence? From primary documents? From secondary sources?

  1. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, fifth edition (New York, 198 pg. 38.
  2. Kennan, George F, Telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946. Reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing of the Axis - A Course Handbook. (Melbourne 2000).
  3. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg 40.
  4. Churchill's Fulton speech, "The Sinews of Peace" 5 March 1946. Reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing of the Axis - A Course Handbook . (Melbourne , 2000), pg 214-215.
  5. Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946. Reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing of the Axis - A Course Handbook . (Melbourne , 2000), pg 214-217.
  6. Ibid

[1]Comments

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The student has drawn this evidence from both:

primary documents (in the subject handbook) e.g. Kennan, George F, Telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946. Reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing of the Axis - A Course Handbook. (Melbourne 2000).
secondary sources e.g. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, fifth edition (New York, 1985) pg. 38.

This is how your lecturer explains the way both types of sources can be used in an essay.

Ian: In our first-year assignments we don't expect students to be gathering primary source material from archives. Much of the primary source material you will need to draw on will be in the subject handbooks and these are a rich resource for your essays.

But there is another repository of this material: secondary sources like textbooks, articles, etc. These texts will contain masses of evidence in the form of statistics, quotations, accounts of events. A lot of this will be primary source material which you can also draw on for your essays.

So in a secondary text, where Bloggs for example is discussing why the British appeased the Germans in the 1930s, there may be a nice quote from Chamberlain (the British PM at the time) which says: "We need to appease the Germans". And so this becomes primary source material that you are able to draw on for your own purposes.

Analysing historical arguments

We begin this topic by recalling a comment by Dr. Eleanor Hancock from the Lecturer's Advice section.

Eleanor: "Historians often disagree about things. If you notice differences in your reading, that's great! This is what a lot of historical writing is about: realising that there aren't clear cut answers, that there is often debate around these questions.

When you notice these differences you then need to work them into your essay in an explicit way. For example you might write: Historians have differed on the issue of X. Historian A has argued that... whereas Historian B has argued that...."

This section provides examples of how one student has successfully used this approach in her essay. We shall look at this example in detail.

When you are analysing the argument of a historian, you need to think in the following broad terms:

Summarising the argument

Evaluating the argument

Identifying summary and evaluation

The following two paragraphs come from a student's essay which looks at the issue of how the Holocaust began in the Second World War. Some historians think that the Holocaust was the systematic implementation of a plan that the Nazi regime had already developed. Others however, see it happening in a more haphazard way, driven mainly by military circumstances.

As we have suggested, analysis of a historical argument needs to involve:

  1. a summary of the argument
  2. an evaluation of the argument's merits

Read the following paragraphs from the essay. Here the student analyses the argument of one historian, Richard Breitman.

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

[1] Breitman, in his article Plans for the Final Solution, refers to the controversy about the origins of the Holocaust as the "intentionalist-functionalist" debate; that is one between those who think the Holocaust was a preconceived Nazi plan, and those who think it was improvised hastily, notably after early German victories in the Soviet Union in mid-1941. [2] Brietman, in contrast to Browning, is very much an 'intentionalist', arguing that the 'murderous intentions' of Hitler, Himmler and other key Nazis were well underway before the invasion of the Soviet Union. [3] Whilst he admits that many of the Nazi documents on this issue are "inexact", he suggests that this is not because the Holocaust plan itself was uncertain, but rather because the Nazi leadership wanted to "conceal" and "veil" its real intentions from others (p. 271). [4] To support his case for pre-planning, Breitman relies on two main sources of evidence: memos from two officials in the Nazi Jewish Office at the time - Adolf Eichmann and Theodore Dannecker; and the Nuremberg testimony of Viktor Brack, an official in the Fuhrer Chancellery

[5] The memos in question indicate that high-level discussion of some form of 'final solution' did take place early in 1941. [6] Danneker's memo in January 1941 disclosed that Hitler wanted a 'final solution' of the Jewish question. [7] A month later, Eichmann in a meeting at the Propaganda Office announced to rival bureaucrats that Hitler was determined to implement a 'final evacuation' of the Jews. [8] The problem however, with such evidence is that there is doubt among historians about what these terms actually meant at the time. [9] 'Final solution' and 'final evacuation' may have been code words for mass extermination, but they may equally have referred to some less murderous Nazi policies. [10] It was known for example, that other options being considered around this time were the mass deportations of Jews to Madagascar, and also mass sterilisation. [11] Breitman's argument relies on an assumption that these terms could refer only to what later became the Holocaust. [12] He states that to require 'an unambiguous blueprint for extermination' from the Nazi archives is asking for an impossible standard of proof (p. 274). [13] But, unfortunately no such document has been uncovered by historians and so, we have to be cautious about how we interpret Nazi intentions at the time.

1. Where in the text would you say the student moves from summarising Breitman's argument, to offering some evaluation of it? Write the sentence no. in the box.

Evaluation begins at sentence no

2. Is the student's evaluation of the argument positive or negative?

Positive

Negative

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  1. The student's evaluation begins at sentence 8:
    "The problem however, with such evidence is that there is doubt..."
  2. The evaluation is negative, signalled initially by the word "problem".

Focus on summarising

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Now we shall focus on the summary section of the essay extract.

Any summary you make of a historical argument should clearly outline the contents of the argument to your reader. You should think here of a 'broad readership'.

Ian: Think ... that you're writing for a friend doing another subject. Ask yourself: "Could somebody doing, say, Sociology or even Medicine or Engineering read this ... and understand what the issue is, what the argument is, etc.?" (FAQ #23)

You should also not assume that your reader has read the article.

Have a look again at the student's summary of Breitman's article.

[1] Breitman, in his article Plans for the Final Solution, refers to the controversy about the origins of the Holocaust as the "intentionalist-functionalist" debate; that is one between those who think the Holocaust was a preconceived Nazi plan, and those who think it was improvised hastily, notably after early German victories in the Soviet Union in mid-1941. [2] Brietman, in contrast to Browning, is very much an 'intentionalist', arguing that the 'murderous intentions' of Hitler, Himmler and other key Nazis were well underway before the invasion of the Soviet Union. [3] Whilst he admits that many of the Nazi documents on this issue are "inexact", he suggests that this is not because the Holocaust plan itself was uncertain, but rather because the Nazi leadership wanted to "conceal" and "veil" its real intentions from others (p. 271). [4] To support his case for pre-planning, Breitman relies on two main sources of evidence: memos from two officials in the Nazi Jewish Office at the time - Adolf Eichmann and Theodore Dannecker; and the Nuremberg testimony of Viktor Brack, an official in the Fuhrer Chancellery

[5] The memos in question indicate that high-level discussion of some form of 'final solution' did take place early in 1941. [6] Danneker's memo in January 1941 disclosed that Hitler wanted a 'final solution' of the Jewish question. [7] A month later, Eichmann in a meeting at the Propaganda Office announced to rival bureaucrats that Hitler was determined to implement a 'final evacuation' of the Jews....

Would you say the summary is understandable to:

someone who has not read Breitman?

someone working outside History?

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The summary is understandable to someone who has not read Breitman.

The summary provides good detail about the article's contents:

The summary is understandable to someone working outside History.

The student assumes some knowledge of the Second World War (e.g. what the Holocaust was, who Hitler and Himmler were), which seems reasonable. Note however, that brief background information is provided about lesser figures - those who one would not assume are known to a generalist audience:

"Adolf Eichmann and Theodore Dannecker - two officials in the Nazi Jewish Office at the time..."

"Viktor Brack, an official in the Fuhrer Chancellery"

The language of summary

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An important feature of summary writing is what is called attributive language (e.g. "Brietman refers to..."; "Browning's view is that..."). You will notice that this type of language is used frequently in the student's summary of Breitman.

Write down three examples of attributive expressions from the student's text. (The first has been included as an example.) Why do you think these expressions are so important?

[1] Breitman, in his article Plans for the Final Solution, refers to the controversy about the origins of the Holocaust as the "intentionalist-functionalist" debate; that is one between those who think the Holocaust was a preconceived Nazi plan, and those who think it was improvised hastily, notably after early German victories in the Soviet Union in mid-1941. [2] Brietman, in contrast to Browning, is very much an 'intentionalist', arguing that the 'murderous intentions' of Hitler, Himmler and other key Nazis were well underway before the invasion of the Soviet Union. [3] Whilst he admits that many of the Nazi documents on this issue are "inexact", he suggests that this is not because the Holocaust plan itself was uncertain, but rather because the Nazi leadership wanted to "conceal" and "veil" its real intentions from others (p. 271). [4] To support his case for pre-planning, Breitman relies on two main sources of evidence: memos from two officials in the Nazi Jewish Office at the time - Adolf Eichmann and Theodore Dannecker; and the Nuremberg testimony of Viktor Brack, an official in the Fuhrer Chancellery

[5] The memos in question indicate that high-level discussion of some form of 'final solution' did take place early in 1941. [6] Danneker's memo in January 1941 disclosed that Hitler wanted a 'final solution' of the Jewish question. [7] A month later, Eichmann in a meeting at the Propaganda Office announced to rival bureaucrats that Hitler was determined to implement a 'final evacuation' of the Jews....

Sample attributive expressions:

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Attributive expressions are important because they:

  1. show clearly whose ideas you are dealing with at this point in your essay, e.g. Breitman recalls...
  2. indicate the mode of argumentation being used by the writer, e.g. refers to, argues, supports his case, etc.

Attributive expressions in the sample summary are highlighted and shown in bold.

Breitman, in his article Plans for the Final Solution, refers to the controversy about the origins of the Holocaust as the "intentionalist-functionalist" debate; that is one between those who think the Holocaust was a preconceived Nazi plan, and those who think it was improvised hastily, notably after early German victories in the Soviet Union in mid-1941. Brietman, in contrast to Browning, is very much an 'intentionalist', arguing that the 'murderous intentions' of Hitler, Himmler and other key Nazis were well underway before the invasion of the Soviet Union. Whilst he admits that many of the Nazi documents on this issue are "inexact", he suggests that this is not because the Holocaust plan itself was uncertain, but rather because the Nazi leadership wanted to "conceal" and "veil" its real intentions from others (p. 271). To support his case for pre-planning, Breitman relies on two main sources of evidence: memos from two officials in the Nazi Jewish Office at the time - Adolf Eichmann and Theodore Dannecker; and the Nuremberg testimony of Viktor Brack, an official in the Fuhrer Chancellery

The memos in question indicate that high-level discussion of some form of 'final solution' did take place early in 1941. Danneker's memo in January 1941 disclosed that Hitler wanted a 'final solution' of the Jewish question. A month later, Eichmann in a meeting at the Propaganda Office announced to rival bureaucrats that Hitler was determined to implement a 'final evacuation' of the Jews....

Elements of a summary

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As mentioned above, when you are first coming to grips with the work of a historian, you need to think about the following:

  1. What issue(s) is the historian addressing?
  2. What seems to be the historian's view or argument in relation to this issue?
  3. What evidence does the historian present to support this view?

In a summary of such a work, there will be different things you will want to mention. At a minimum however, your summary should include these elements).

Look once again at the sample summary.

[1] Breitman, in his article Plans for the Final Solution, refers to the controversy about the origins of the Holocaust as the "intentionalist-functionalist" debate; that is one between those who think the Holocaust was a preconceived Nazi plan, and those who think it was improvised hastily, notably after early German victories in the Soviet Union in mid-1941. [2] Brietman, in contrast to Browning, is very much an 'intentionalist', arguing that the 'murderous intentions' of Hitler, Himmler and other key Nazis were well underway before the invasion of the Soviet Union. [3] Whilst he admits that many of the Nazi documents on this issue are "inexact", he suggests that this is not because the Holocaust plan itself was uncertain, but rather because the Nazi leadership wanted to "conceal" and "veil" its real intentions from others (p. 271). [4] To support his case for pre-planning, Breitman relies on two main sources of evidence: memos from two officials in the Nazi Jewish Office at the time - Adolf Eichmann and Theodore Dannecker; and the Nuremberg testimony of Viktor Brack, an official in the Fuhrer Chancellery

[5] The memos in question indicate that high-level discussion of some form of 'final solution' did take place early in 1941. [6] Danneker's memo in January 1941 disclosed that Hitler wanted a 'final solution' of the Jewish question. [7] A month later, Eichmann in a meeting at the Propaganda Office announced to rival bureaucrats that Hitler was determined to implement a 'final evacuation' of the Jews....

Can you identify each of these elements? Indicate which sentence(s) you think summarise the following:

Sentence number
the issue Breitman is addressing
Brietman's argument
the evidence Breitman presents to support his view

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Sentence number
the issue Breitman is addressing 1
Brietman's argument 2
the evidence Breitman presents to support his view 4-7

Focus on evaluating

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Now we shall focus on the evaluation section of the essay extract. To make judgements about what a professional historian has written may seem a daunting task. This is how one of your lecturers sees it:

Eleanor: Students are understandably anxious about making such judgements. But we don't expect you to come up with some new answer that's never been thought of before - you're not in a position to do this. What we hope is that you will just "have a go" - to look at various accounts and to think "Well maybe there's a problem here".

The student writing about Breitman's article has done just this - she has "had a go", and thought "maybe there's a problem here". Read this section of the extract again.

Essay extract

[8] The problem however, with such evidence is that there is doubt among historians about what these terms actually meant at the time. [9] 'Final solution' and 'final evacuation' may have been code words for mass extermination, but they may equally have referred to some less murderous Nazi policies. [10] It was known for example that other options being considered around this time were the mass deportations of Jews to Madagascar, and also mass sterilisation. [11] Breitman's argument relies on an assumption that these terms could refer only to what later became the Holocaust. [12] He states that to require 'an unambiguous blueprint for extermination' from the Nazi archives is asking for an impossible standard of proof (p. 274). [13] But, unfortunately no such document has been uncovered by historians and so, we have to be cautious about how we interpret Nazi intentions at the time.

What problems has the student identified?

[1]Check the answer

[1]

Feedback

The problems are ones of:

  1. interpretation of evidence - Did Nazi references to the "final solution" mean at that time what we know it later became?
  2. a lack of evidence - no "unambiguous" document outlining extermination plans exists from that time.

Approaches to evaluation

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What's involved in "having a go" at judging the work of a historian? There may be a variety of reasons you can think for criticising or praising a work. You may find for example that the writing style is particularly appealing (or unappealing); or that you are attracted (or repelled) by the political position that is being presented.

The starting point in the assessment of any historical work, however, should be the evidence. Historians will make claims about their subject, e.g. "that the Holocaust was planned well before it was implemented" or "that it was principally the weather that defeated the Germans in Russia". The validity of such claims however, must be assessed principally in terms of the evidence that the historian presents.

Ian: "In making these judgements, you can think of your role being akin to a person acting on a jury in court case. Claims are being made and various forms of evidence are being introduced. A juror needs to weigh this evidence up, and decide on the validity of the case".

Think about:

In the following extract from our sample essay, there is further evaluation of Breitman's article.

Essay extract

The other evidence introduced by Breitman is Victor Brack's testimony at the postwar war crime trials. During the war, it seems that Brack an SS official, was a part of a group lobbying for mass deportations and sterilisations as alternatives to mass murder. At Nuremberg, Brack was questioned about how the 'final solution' policy developed. Brack indicated that the alternative suggestions were rejected by Hitler, and that "there was a general program to kill all Jews". When quizzed about when this was, he replied: "It could have been the beginning of 1941". Whilst eye-witness accounts like this would seem to lend support to Breitman's position, there is some doubt about using them as evidence. Breitman admits that Brack was known to have given false testimony at Nuremberg, trying to cast himself in a favourable light. Also, we can see that his statement "it could have been the beginning of 1941" suggests some uncertainty about the date. As Christopher Browning, has pointed out, there are major problems in relying on postwar testimony, and contradictions in these testimonies have created many 'futile debates'.

On what basis is the student framing her evaluation? Select one or more of the following:

[1]Check your answer

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Clearly, the student sees there is a problem with the quality of the evidence:

"...there is some doubt about using [postwar testimony] as evidence."

The student also seems to doubt Breitman's interpretation of the evidence. Whereas Breitman has interpreted Brack's statement ("it could have been the beginning of 1941") as supportive of his view, the student points out the uncertainty in Brack's recollection.

Annotated assignments

These are two first-year students from a subject on World War II the History department. Use the menu on the left to navigate through this tutorial, reading about their lecturer's expectations, and seeing the essays that they wrote for class. The annotated assignments and the writing approaches described by students should not be seen as ideal models for you to copy. They are intended to be a general guide to essay writing in your subject and to help you to reflect on your own approach.

Owen

Topic: "Why did the Grand Alliance fall apart so soon after the victory in Europe and Japan?"


Meg

Topic: "Read the three articles by Christopher Browning, Richard Breitman, and Henry Friedlander on the beginning of the Holocaust. Which of these three interpretations do you find more persuasive, and why?"

Owen's assignment

Owen

Owen is a first-year History student. His main essay in the subject was on the following topic:

Essay topic:

Why did the Grand Alliance fall apart so soon after the victory in Europe and Japan?

  1. Look at the lecturer's expectations <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.1.xml> of the essay.
  2. Next read Owen's essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.2.xml> .
  3. Now read the lecturer's comments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.3.xml> about Owen's essay.
  4. Finally, listen to Owen <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.4.xml> talk about how he wrote his essay and read feedback about how to overcome the difficulties he faced.

Lecturer's expectations

Ian Copland, Lecturer

In this section, one of your lecturers - Ian Copland - sets out what he expects from student assignments on this topic.

Essay topic:

Why did the Grand Alliance fall apart so soon after the victory in Europe and Japan?

What's required?

A good essay on this topic would need to:

This question concerns the period immediately following the Second World War. The so-called Grand Alliance refers to the main victorious powers in the war: Britain, the US, and the Soviet Union. Be clear about the basic details of the topic, i.e. Who, Where, When, etc.

The next step is to understand what precisely the question is asking. This question hinges around the issue of causation - Why did the Alliance fall apart?. Thinking about and understanding why certain events occurred in the past is a fundamental theme in the study of history.

So, an essay on this question would need to be focused on reasons, but try to avoid just saying: "A was a factor, B was a factor, C was a factor, etc.". The problem with this approach is that it leaves it to the reader to work out what was crucial and what was not.

What we are looking for here - and indeed in any history essay - is for you to prioritise: On the basis of your reading and thinking about the topic, tell us what you think is the most important reason that might be proposed for the failure of the Grand Alliance to survive the war. Was it for example, a problem of diplomacy? Or a more fundamental clash of the ideologies of the victorious powers? Or did it just come down to a problem of the competing egos of the various leaders?

One way to get into this argumentative mode is to think about why a particular question might be posed in the first place - why might it be an issue for Second World War historians. In the case of this question, we are dealing with what, on reflection, is an unlikely event. Here is a Grand Alliance that worked so well during the Second World War, and one would expect it to continue - but it doesn't.

So, in your introduction you need to lay out this context - why this is an important question to ask. And then you need to think to yourself: "What's the best explanation I can offer, and what evidence can I bring in to support my explanation?"

How to go about writing the essay?

  1. Think about what this topic means - jot down whatever reasons you can think of.
  2. Next go to a general text on the period - using the contents or index to find the relevant sections. Go for a chapter entitled something like "The end of the alliance". Use this to do the following: a) to be clear about the chronology of events (What happened? In what sequence?); and b) to understand what the general historical issues are (what historians say about the Alliance's break up).
  3. Think about which of these reasons - on the face of it - appears to you the most important, the most fundamental one. This will be the beginning of your argument. (Be quite up-front about why you decide to lean toward one particular reason.)
  4. Next, go hunting in the more detailed specialised books - in the primary and secondary sources - to assemble evidence to support your argument. (Your argument will develop - or even change altogether - as you do this more detailed reading.)

    In your reading of the secondary sources, you also need to be thinking hard about the different positions historians are adopting in their descriptions of events. Is one suggesting the break-up was due fundamentally to a conflict of egos between leaders? Is another suggesting it was all about incompatible ideologies? Don't leave such debate up in the air. Always say which you believe to be the more satisfactory argument - and why.
  5. Try to plan out the structure of your essay into a sequence of paragraphs, maybe 1-10. In your planning you need to think about what the main point of each paragraph is going to be, and also what evidence you might bring in to support each point.

    There should be some sort of logical progression to the essay. Do this structuring as early as possible in the process, and keep going back to it while you are doing your reading.
  6. When you have done enough reading, structuring, and argument formulation, you can begin drafting the essay. In the process of writing, you might also need to go back to some of the things you did in Stages 1-5.
  7. When you have completed your draft, leave it for a day or two, then re-read with "fresh eyes" and edit it.

When editing, always think about your reader. Frame your writing so that the essay will make sense to someone who is not necessarily familiar with the articles you are describing.

Owen's essay

Read the following essay and listen to Owen talk about some aspects of the writing process.

Essay topic:

Why did the Grand Alliance fall apart so soon after the victory in Europe and Japan?

[Listen to Owen talk about choosing his topic] <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.2.xml#audioDiv>


The three great allies of the Second World War, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia together destroyed the Axis powers and shattered their imperial ambitions. Their "shotgun marriage" 1 was always unlikely, given the history of antagonism between them. The union was to be short lived, with the ideological and political differences leading to the collapse of the Grand Alliance within five years of the end of the war. Despite wartime hopes that the great allies may be able to continue in their relationship in peace and provide stability to the world community, the diplomatic and military relationship between the two dominant powers, the United States and Russia, quickly degenerated into the so-called 'Cold War' which was to dominate world politics for the next half a century.

[Listen to Owen talk about presenting an argument] <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.2.xml#audioDiv>

[Listen to Owen talk about writing intros] <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.2.xml#audioDiv>

During the war the allied leaders were aware that victory in Europe and the Pacific meant much more than just the abolition of an intolerable political regime. Talking in 1944, Stalin said: "This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army has power to do so. It cannot be otherwise." 2 Consequently, as the threat of Nazism in Europe was clearly destined for defeat, the attention of the allies turned to post-war Europe. With fear of a Communist dominated Eastern and Central Europe in mind, British army chiefs even went so far as to advocate spearhead assaults on Berlin, Prague and Vienna in order to stop them falling into Soviet hands.

[Listen to Owen talk about using primary sources] <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.2.xml#audioDiv>

When the political leaders of the three countries met, in early February 1945, the end of the war in Europe was imminent. The Yalta conference sought to settle the allies' apprehensions about the post-war period. Despite President Roosevelt's belief that the "relations in peacetime should be as strong as they had been in war" 3 the leaders were nonetheless cautious of the actions and intent of their allies. Soviet officials had often questioned US and British motives in the war, from the appeasement of Hitler to their holding back of a second front 4, and toward the end of the war began to suspect that the US and British diplomats were brokering a separate peace with Nazi leaders. Likewise, Soviet actions in Poland had alarmed the Western allies 5 and the American ambassador to Russia W. Averell Harriman wrote, "There is every indication the Soviet Union will become a world bully" 6.

[Listen to Owen talk about footnoting] <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.2.xml#audioDiv>

Approaching the Yalta conference each of the leaders had differing objectives. Roosevelt wished to pursue the Wilsonian vision of a peaceful and democratic Europe with strong free market economies. Stalin wanted to protect the interests of Russian security, noting that Poland had twice in the past few decades been the route of aggression against the Russian State. Roosevelt returned to Washington with high hopes for the future of Europe and the continuing relationship between the great wartime alliance. Stalin returned to Moscow with the belief that the West accepted a Russian free hand in Eastern Europe.

With the death of President Roosevelt of the 12th April, vice-President Harry Truman succeeded Roosevelt to the Presidency. Possessing an altogether different style to Roosevelt, Stalin viewed Truman as an unpredictable quantity 7. After the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, Truman had said: "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances." 8 Roosevelt had apparently kept Truman in the dark about foreign policy issues and Truman was therefore unaware of both the public and private negotiations between Roosevelt and Stalin 9.

After the German surrender on the 8th May, domestic political pressure forced Truman to swiftly end the lend-lease agreements that the US had with both Russia and Britain, amongst others. The agreements needed to be terminated as they were legally only permitted by Congress under a state of declared war. Although Truman wished to wind down the lend-lease agreement in a diplomatically sensitive manner, a misunderstanding in a government department lead to the severest of withdrawals of this foreign aid, even to the extent of requiring some ships to turn around and return to port. The Soviet outcry was immediate and led to the suspicion amongst the Soviets that the US was provocatively using foreign aid as a tool of coercion. 10

Despite the diplomatic tension and suspicion the Western allies were convinced that Russia needed to be kept on side. The war in the Pacific still needed to be won and the Russian promise to declare war on Japan six weeks after the end of the European war was considered vital in bringing about a swift end to the Pacific war. However, by the Potsdam conference in late July, 1945 Truman had been informed of the successful explosion of an atomic weapon on New Mexico - a development that gave him an appreciable confidence in his negotiations with Stalin. 11 Although Potsdam was intended to help to clarify the post-war issues that still remained unresolved, the negations were frustrating and did not progress noticeably on several key issues. Although Stalin had not been officially informed of the US atomic weapons, Truman, Stalin and Churchill were well aware that the unresolved issues were now to be resolved in a nuclear age. 12

The rhetoric continued to escalate. Stalin made a speech on the eve of the election of the Supreme Soviet which, although not particularly threatening or expansionist were misconstrued by the many analysts, including Justice William Douglas who believed that it was "the declaration of World War Three". 13 These comments worried Washington, who requested an explanation and background information on the meaning of the speech from the American ambassador in Moscow, George F. Kennan. Kennan then sent back a 5,540-word telegram to Washington on the 22nd of February 1946, outlining his beliefs that the Soviet Union was a "political force committed fanatically to the belief that with [the] US there can be no permanent modus vivendi ." 14 He claimed that the Soviets were "highly sensitive to the logic of force." Kennan's telegram was widely circulated throughout the Washington administration, and was followed soon after by the "declarations of Cold War" 15 by Churchill and Stalin. Churchill, now opposition leader in Britain, in his Fulton speech, called for a military alliance between the English-speaking western nations, outside the United Nations, that could resist the "iron curtain [that] has descended across the continent" 16. Stalin responded in an interview with the Russian newspaper Pravda saying that Churchill was sowing "the seeds of dissention among the Allied states" 17 and that the British opposition leader was the heir of Hitler's racial supremacy beliefs. Stalin said "Mr. Churchill's position is a war position, a call for war on the U.S.S.R." 18

The views expressed by Kennan became the "New Orthodoxy" 19. On the 12th of March 1947, President Truman made a speech to Congress calling on them to financially support Greece and Turkey who had been left to fight communist insurrections on their own when the British government had been forced to withdraw aid. In doing so, Truman declared that the US should be committed to "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures." 20 By the time Kennan's anonymous article, "The sources of soviet conduct", was published in the prestigious journal Foreign Policy in July of 1947, with its call for "counterforce" 21 the concept of containment was firmly entrenched in the thinking of the US administration.

Less than three months later, the US government announced that they would lend assistance to a united European plan for economic recovery. They were fearful that the still sluggish European economies would lead to more social instability, and potentially aid the spread of communism in Europe. British and French foreign minsters invited representatives of countries from all across Europe, including Russian foreign minister Molotov, to Paris to discuss the proposed American aid. Several states under Russian influence expressed and interest in the meeting in Paris. However, Soviet officials sensed a ruse, and feared that such a co-ordinated plan would be a "Trojan Horse of the American dollar" 22. Moscow threatened grim consequences for Eastern countries who wished to participate in the plan, and their harsh rejection of the Marshall Plan has been seen the "the moment when the Soviet boot crushed itself into the face of Eastern Europe." 23 Some historians feel that the invitation for Russia to participate in the Marshall Plan was simply an attempt to gain a moral high ground when they refused 24, or for the propaganda value of blaming the Russians for its failure 25. What is certain is that the Marshall Plan simply created a bigger rift between the two rival governments. 26

In June 1948 the political and economic disputes between the emerging western and eastern blocs became militarised when the threat of direct conflict was used to end the Berlin blockade. The blockade was the result of Soviet concerns over western designs for West Germany, including moves to strengthen it economy and militarily. Russia responded by blockading Berlin, which despite being jointly controlled by a committee of wartime allies, was deep inside Russian East Germany. The suggestion from military advisers that the blockade should be forcefully broken down was rejected and an airlift of aid was used for eleven months. But Truman's warning gesture, of sending B-29 'atomic' bombers to London clearly sent the message that the stakes were higher.

The signing of the NATO agreement in April of the following year completed the division of Europe and marked the total breakdown of the wartime Grand Alliance. Although the military agreement was rigorously debated in the US it was clear that "containment had taken a distinct turn to military means" 27 with any provocative military threats potentially triggering a Third general war in Europe, but now under the shadow of nuclear weaponry. Only four months later, in August, the Russian military successfully detonated an atomic weapon themselves.

By the end of 1949 a divided Germany remained as a stark reminder of the division of Europe. The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was declared in May. West Germany were signatories to the NATO agreements and were thoroughly integrated into Western Europe's trade systems. In October, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded, thoroughly under the influence of the Soviet regime.

From the end of the Second World War to autumn 1949 the Grand Alliance that had defeated the Axis powers failed to sustain the working relationship that had won the war. The ideological and political differences were exposed in their attempts to reorder the post-war world in the image of the two rival super-powers. While the United States hoped to encourage and defend democracy (understood as liberal capitalism) in Europe and Asia the Soviet state hoped to extend their influence in Eastern Europe. While the tensions may have started as diplomatic debate, the rhetoric soon escalated, and financial aid and military alliances eventually hardened the distinction between the US and Russian spheres of influence.

[Listen to Owen talk about editing] <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.2.xml#audioDiv>

[Listen to Owen talk about how he felt about his essay] <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.2.xml#audioDiv>

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Primary documents

Kennan, George F, telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Truman H., speech to congress, 12 March 1947, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Churchill, W., speech at Fulton, Missouri, 5 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Secondary documents

Dockrill, Macmillan, The Cold War 1945-1963, (London, 1988)

Edmonds, Robin, The Big Three - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Peace and War, (London, 1991)

Gaddis, John, Lewis, 'Containment: A Reassesment', from Foreign Affairs, 55 (1976-77) pg. 873 - 887

Herring, George C., 'Lend-lease and the Origins of the Cold War 1944-45', from Journal of American History, LVI (June, 1969)

LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, (5th edition, New York, 1985)

McCauley, M The origins of the Cold War 1941-49 (2nd edition, London, 1995)

Paterson TG et al. American Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present, (3rd edition, New York, 1991)

Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, (London, 1993)

Footnotes

  1. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, fifth edition (New York, 1985) pg. 7
  2. Walker, Martin, the Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, (London, 1993) pg. 12
  3. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 9
  4. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 9
  5. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 11
  6. ibid., pg. 12
  7. Dockrill, Macmillan, The Cold War 1945-1963, (London, 1988) pg. 25
  8. LeFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 6
  9. ibid., pg. 23-24
  10. Herring, George C., 'Lend-lease and the Origins of the Cold War 1944-45', from Journal of American History, LVI (June, 1969), pgs. 106 - 108
  11. Paterson T.G. et al. Americn Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present (third edition New York, 1991) pg. 434
  12. Edmonds, Robin, The Big Three - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Peace and War, (London, 1991), pg. 24
  13. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 38
  14. Kennan, George F, telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 219 - 222
  15. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 40
  16. Churchill's Fulton speech, "the Sinews of Peace" 5 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 214 - 215
  17. Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000, pg 215 - 217
  18. ibid.
  19. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 40
  20. Truman H., Speech to congress, 12 March 1947, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 217 - 219
  21. Gaddis, John Lewis, 'Containment: A reassessment' from Foreign Affairs, 55 (1976-77) pg. 877
  22. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 51
  23. ibid. pg. 53
  24. ibid. pg. 51
  25. Paterson T.G. et al. Americn Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present, pg. 453
  26. ibid., pg. 455
  27. ibid., pg. 456

Owen's essay and what his lecturer thought

Read the following essay and click on the red comments or the highlighted text to see the lecturer's detailed feedback on the writing.

Essay topic:

Why did the Grand Alliance fall apart so soon after the victory in Europe and Japan?



[IMG-1] comment

[1]The three great allies of the Second World War, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia together destroyed the Axis powers and shattered their imperial ambitions. Their "shotgun marriage" 1 was always unlikely, given the history of antagonism between them.
[IMG-2] comment

[2]The union was to be short lived, with the ideological and political differences leading to the collapse of the Grand Alliance within five years of the end of the war. Despite wartime hopes that the great allies may be able to continue in their relationship in peace and provide stability to the world community, the diplomatic and military relationship between the two dominant powers, the United States and Russia, quickly degenerated into the so-called 'Cold War' which was to dominate world politics for the next half a century.

During the war the allied leaders were aware that victory in Europe and the Pacific meant much more than just the abolition of an intolerable political regime.
[IMG-3] comment

[3]Talking in 1944, Stalin said: "This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army has power to do so. It cannot be otherwise." 2 Consequently, as the threat of Nazism in Europe was clearly destined for defeat, the attention of the allies turned to post-war Europe.
[IMG-4] comment

[4]With fear of a Communist dominated Eastern and Central Europe in mind, British army chiefs even went so far as to advocate spearhead assaults on Berlin, Prague and Vienna in order to stop them falling into Soviet hands.

When the political leaders of the three countries met, in early February 1945, the end of the war in Europe was imminent. The Yalta conference sought to settle the allies' apprehensions about the post-war period. Despite President Roosevelt's belief that the "relations in peacetime should be as strong as they had been in war"
[IMG-5] comment

[5]3 the leaders were nonetheless cautious of the actions and intent of their allies. Soviet officials had often questioned US and British motives in the war, from the appeasement of Hitler to their holding back of a second front 4, and toward the end of the war began to suspect that the US and British diplomats were brokering a separate peace with Nazi leaders.
[IMG-6] comment

[6]Likewise, Soviet actions in Poland had alarmed the Western allies 5 and the American ambassador to Russia W. Averell Harriman wrote, "There is every indication the Soviet Union will become a world bully" 6.

Approaching the Yalta conference each of the leaders had differing objectives. Roosevelt wished to pursue the Wilsonian vision of a peaceful and democratic Europe with strong free market economies. Stalin wanted to protect the interests of Russian security, noting that Poland had twice in the past few decades been the route of aggression against the Russian State. Roosevelt returned to Washington with high hopes for the future of Europe and the continuing relationship between the great wartime alliance. Stalin returned to Moscow
[IMG-7] comment

[7]with the belief that the West accepted a Russian free hand in Eastern Europe.

With the death of President Roosevelt of the 12th April, vice-President Harry Truman succeeded Roosevelt to the Presidency. Possessing an altogether different style to Roosevelt, Stalin viewed Truman as an unpredictable quantity 7. After the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, Truman had said: "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances." 8 Roosevelt had apparently kept Truman in the dark about foreign policy issues and Truman was therefore unaware of both the public and private negotiations between Roosevelt and Stalin 9.

After the German surrender on the 8th May, domestic political pressure forced Truman to swiftly end the lend-lease agreements that the US had with both Russia and Britain, amongst others. The agreements needed to be terminated as they were legally only permitted by Congress under a state of declared war. Although Truman wished to wind down the lend-lease agreement in a diplomatically sensitive manner, a misunderstanding in a government department lead to the severest of withdrawals of this foreign aid, even to the extent of requiring some ships to turn around and return to port. The Soviet outcry was immediate and led to the suspicion amongst the Soviets that the US was provocatively using foreign aid as a tool of coercion. 10


[IMG-8] comment

[8]Despite the diplomatic tension and suspicion the Western allies were convinced that Russia needed to be kept on side. The war in the Pacific still needed to be won and the Russian promise to declare war on Japan six weeks after the end of the European war was considered vital in bringing about a swift end to the Pacific war. However, by the Potsdam conference in late July, 1945 Truman had been informed of the successful explosion of an atomic weapon on New Mexico - a development that gave him an appreciable confidence in his negotiations with Stalin. 11 Although Potsdam was intended to help to clarify the post-war issues that still remained unresolved, the negations were frustrating and did not progress noticeably on several key issues. Although Stalin had not been officially informed of the US atomic weapons, Truman, Stalin and Churchill were well aware that the unresolved issues were now to be resolved in a nuclear age. 12


[IMG-9] comment

[9]The rhetoric continued to escalate. Stalin made a speech on the eve of the election of the Supreme Soviet which, although not particularly threatening or expansionist were misconstrued by the many analysts, including Justice William Douglas who believed that it was "the declaration of World War Three". 13
[IMG-10] comment

[10]These comments worried Washington, who requested an explanation and background information on the meaning of the speech from the American ambassador in Moscow, George F. Kennan. Kennan then sent back a 5,540-word telegram to Washington on the 22nd of February 1946, outlining his beliefs that the Soviet Union was a "political force committed fanatically to the belief that with [the] US there can be no permanent modus vivendi." 14 He claimed that the Soviets were "highly sensitive to the logic of force." Kennan's telegram was widely circulated throughout the Washington administration, and was followed soon after by the "declarations of Cold War" 15 by Churchill and Stalin. Churchill, now opposition leader in Britain, in his Fulton speech, called for a military alliance between the English-speaking western nations, outside the United Nations, that could resist the "iron curtain [that] has descended across the continent" 16. Stalin responded in an interview with the Russian newspaper Pravda saying that Churchill was sowing
[IMG-11] comment

[11]"the seeds of dissention among the Allied states" 17 and that the British opposition leader was the heir of Hitler's racial supremacy beliefs. Stalin said "Mr. Churchill's position is a war position, a call for war on the U.S.S.R." 18

The views expressed by Kennan became the "New Orthodoxy" 19. On the 12th of March 1947, President Truman made a speech to Congress calling on them to financially support Greece and Turkey who had been left to fight communist insurrections on their own when the British government had been forced to withdraw aid. In doing so, Truman declared that the US should be committed to "support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures." 20 By the time Kennan's anonymous article, "The sources of soviet conduct", was published in the prestigious journal Foreign Policy in July of 1947, with its call for "counterforce" 21 the concept of containment was firmly entrenched in the thinking of the US administration.

Less than three months later, the US government announced that they would lend assistance to a united European plan for economic recovery. They were fearful that the still sluggish European economies would lead to more social instability, and potentially aid the spread of communism in Europe. British and French foreign minsters invited representatives of countries from all across Europe, including Russian foreign minister Molotov, to Paris to discuss the proposed American aid. Several states under Russian influence expressed and interest in the meeting in Paris. However, Soviet officials sensed a ruse, and feared that such a co-ordinated plan would be a "Trojan Horse of the American dollar" 22. Moscow threatened grim consequences for Eastern countries who wished to participate in the plan, and their harsh rejection of the Marshall Plan has been seen the "the moment when the Soviet boot crushed itself into the face of Eastern Europe." 23
[IMG-12] comment

[12]Some historians feel that the invitation for Russia to participate in the Marshall Plan was simply an attempt to gain a moral high ground when they refused 24, or for the propaganda value of blaming the Russians for its failure 25. What is certain is that the Marshall Plan simply created a bigger rift between the two rival governments. 26

In June 1948 the political and economic disputes between the emerging western and eastern blocs became militarised when the threat of direct conflict was used to end the Berlin blockade. The blockade was the result of Soviet concerns over western designs for West Germany, including moves to strengthen it economy and militarily. Russia responded by blockading Berlin, which despite being jointly controlled by a committee of wartime allies, was deep inside Russian East Germany. The suggestion from military advisers that the blockade should be forcefully broken down was rejected and an airlift of aid was used for eleven months. But Truman's warning gesture, of sending B-29 'atomic' bombers to London clearly sent the message that the stakes were higher.

The signing of the NATO agreement in April of the following year completed the division of Europe and marked the total breakdown of the wartime Grand Alliance. Although the military agreement was rigorously debated in the US it was clear that "containment had taken a distinct turn to military means" 27 with any provocative military threats potentially triggering a Third general war in Europe, but now under the shadow of nuclear weaponry. Only four months later, in August, the Russian military successfully detonated an atomic weapon themselves.

By the end of 1949 a divided Germany remained as a stark reminder of the division of Europe. The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was declared in May. West Germany were signatories to the NATO agreements and were thoroughly integrated into Western Europe's trade systems. In October, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded, thoroughly under the influence of the Soviet regime.


[IMG-13] comment

[13]From the end of the Second World War to autumn 1949 the Grand Alliance that had defeated the Axis powers failed to sustain the working relationship that had won the war. The ideological and political differences were exposed in their attempts to reorder the post-war world in the image of the two rival super-powers. While the United States hoped to encourage and defend democracy (understood as liberal capitalism) in Europe and Asia the Soviet state hoped to extend their influence in Eastern Europe. While the tensions may have started as diplomatic debate, the rhetoric soon escalated, and financial aid and military alliances eventually hardened the distinction between the US and Russian spheres of influence.


[IMG-14] comment

[14] [Lecturer's overall comment]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Primary documents

Kennan, George F, telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Truman H., speech to congress, 12 March 1947, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Churchill, W., speech at Fulton, Missouri, 5 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000)

Secondary documents

Dockrill, Macmillan, The Cold War 1945-1963, (London, 1988)

Edmonds, Robin, The Big Three - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Peace and War, (London, 1991)

Gaddis, John, Lewis, 'Containment: A Reassesment', from Foreign Affairs, 55 (1976-77) pg. 873 - 887

Herring, George C., 'Lend-lease and the Origins of the Cold War 1944-45', from Journal of American History, LVI (June, 1969)

LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, (5th edition, New York, 1985)

McCauley, M The origins of the Cold War 1941-49 (2nd edition, London, 1995)

Paterson TG et al. American Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present, (3rd edition, New York, 1991)

Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, (London, 1993)

Footnotes

  1. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, fifth edition (New York, 1985) pg. 7
  2. Walker, Martin, the Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, (London, 1993) pg. 12
  3. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 9
  4. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 9
  5. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 11
  6. ibid., pg. 12
  7. Dockrill, Macmillan, The Cold War 1945-1963, (London, 1988) pg. 25
  8. LeFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 6
  9. ibid., pg. 23-24
  10. Herring, George C., 'Lend-lease and the Origins of the Cold War 1944-45', from Journal of American History, LVI (June, 1969), pgs. 106 - 108
  11. Paterson T.G. et al. Americn Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present (third edition New York, 1991) pg. 434
  12. Edmonds, Robin, The Big Three - Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Peace and War, (London, 1991), pg. 24
  13. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 38
  14. Kennan, George F, telegram from the American Embassy in Moscow, 22 Feb. 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 219 - 222
  15. LaFaber, Walter, America, Russia and the Cold War 1945-1984, pg. 40
  16. Churchill's Fulton speech, "the Sinews of Peace" 5 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 214 - 215
  17. Stalin's interview with Pravda, 13 March 1946, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000, pg 215 - 217
  18. ibid.
  19. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 40
  20. Truman H., Speech to congress, 12 March 1947, reprinted in Copland and Hancock (ed.) World War II: Crushing the Axis - a course handbook, (Melbourne, 2000), pg 217 - 219
  21. Gaddis, John Lewis, 'Containment: A reassessment' from Foreign Affairs, 55 (1976-77) pg. 877
  22. Walker, Martin, The Cold War and the Making of the Modern World, pg. 51
  23. ibid. pg. 53
  24. ibid. pg. 51
  25. Paterson T.G. et al. Americn Foreign Policy: A history - 1900 to Present, pg. 453
  26. ibid., pg. 455
  27. ibid., pg. 456
[1]

Strong opening

This sentence makes it clear who and what we're dealing with. It provides the historical background for the issue being dealt with - the breakdown of the alliance.

[2]

Is this your argument? A bit broad?

The student is expressing here his response to the question - i.e. that the Grand Alliance fell apart because of 'political and ideological differences'.

The argument could have been

[3]

Here in the body of the essay, the student is going straight to the primary source. You'll notice how he uses this quote from Stalin to back up his claim in the previous sentence - that the allied leaders knew that victory in the war meant much more than just the end of intolerable regimes (the Nazi and Japanese Imperial governments).

[4]

Footnote?

This assertion - that British army chiefs wanted to act to prevent territory falling into Soviet hands - is not common knowledge. It is also a bit contentious. It would therefore need to have a footnote and reference, either to a primary or secondary source.

But note that the the first sentence of the following paragraph - that the political leaders met at Yalta does not require a footnote. This is because here we are dealing with an event that, whilst not necessarily common knowledge, is something nobody would dispute.

One way of deciding on the issue of when to footnote is to employ a kind of "But-how-do-you-know-that?" test. If you describe an event and somebody could legitimately ask "But how do you know that?", in all likelihood you will need a footnote.

[5]

Footnoting good - but one missing

The student has supported most of his assertions here with reference to the secondary sources (see footnotes 3, 4, 5, 6). Arguably though, he has missed out one. Notice the assertion that the Soviets suspected the US and British of doing a deal with the Nazis. This is a contentious statement about which we could legitimately ask: "But how do you know that?" So like the other assertions in this paragraph, it really needs a footnote.

[6]

Good quote

Notice here how the student effectively uses the primary source as evidence for his claim.

First he states that Soviet actions had 'alarmed' the Western Allies.



Then he includes a quote from an American official which serves as evidence for this 'alarm':



"There is every indication the Soviet Union will become a world bully."

[7]

More footnotes

There are numerous assertions in this paragraph about the supposed ambitions and thoughts of the leaders - Roosevelt wished to pursue...; Stalin wanted to protect...; Roosevelt returned with high hopes... ; Stalin returned with the belief...

We can apply the "But-how-do-you-know-that?" test. And we need footnotes for many of these assertions, preferably to primary sources such as, in this case, speeches or announcements by the Allied leaders.

[8]

Good use of topic sentence

You will notice how this opening sentence provides a very clear link between paragraphs. In the previous paragraph, there is discussion of problems between the Soviets and the US over lend-lease agreements. This information is neatly summarised in the opening phrase "Despite the diplomatic tension and suspicion...". The student then goes on to discuss efforts made by the US to keep the Soviets onside.

[9]

Strong paragraph opening

This is a great opening sentence - one that gives us a clear sense of what the rest of the paragraph is about. Notice how in the following sentence the student immediately provides an example of this 'escalating rhetoric' - a speech made by Stalin which was construed by one analyst as "the declaration of World War Three". In the remainder of the paragraph, other examples of this rhetoric are given - in a "telegram" from the American Ambassador, in other "speeches" by Stalin and Churchill, in an "interview" by Stalin.

This is good writing, because all the information in the paragraph is well chosen and relates back to that first topic sentence.

[10]

Good detail

It's only a minor point, but it's good the way the student has told us a little bit about the background of the telegram, i.e. that it was written by George Kennan who was at the time "the American Ambassador in Moscow". We also find out that the telegram was "requested" by the US government, so we get a sense of political processes at work.

Many students in their essays will refer to the "Kennan telegram" - which is quite famous - but just mention it as something happening out of the blue. You can see how providing this contextual information makes the material more accessible and also gives a sense of the historical drama.

[11]

Good use of quotes

Notice how the student uses quotes extensively to show how the rhetoric was "escalating" between the various participants:

Kennan: The Soviet union was "a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi".
Churchill: "An iron curtain has descended across the continent".
Stalin: "Mr. Churchill's position is a war position, a call for war on the USSR".

These quotes are very well integrated into the student's description. They also give support to the various assertions made in the paragraph. This paragraph is as good as you could expect from a first-year essay.

[12]

Could be more of this

This is an example of the student identifying an interpretative position in the secondary sources:

Some historians feel that the the invitation for Russia to participate in the Marshall Plan was simply an attempt to gain a moral high ground etc.

This is a good use of secondary sources - although we do need to know precisely who these "some historians" are. If anything, there could be more of this type of "historiographical" material in the essay. So, it would have been good to outline in more detail some of the different interpretations offered by historians for the breakdown of the alliance.

[13]

Conclusion could be stronger

Here the student restates his argument from the Introduction - that the breakdown of the alliance was due to "ideological and political differences". It is good that the student has presented an identifiable argument, which is often lacking in first-year history essays.

However, as mentioned earlier, this argument is a bit broad. The student could have tried to be a little more precise. For example, was the breakdown principally due to irreconcilable ideologies (e.g. that the US was committed to encouraging "liberal capitalism" in Europe and Asia)? Or was it a problem of diplomatic misunderstandings (e.g. that the Soviet government's need for territorial security was construed by the US as a drive "to extend its influence into Eastern Europe")?

The quality of an essay will often depend on how clearly and cogently your argument is constructed and supported.

[14]

Overall comment

This is an excellent essay. In particular, the writing is very well crafted, with paragraphs that have a clear sense of purpose. The student has also provided evidence for most of the assertions he makes.

The only reservations are:

  1. the argument could have been a little more developed - it is pleasing however to see an argument!
  2. more attention could have been paid to the historiographical debate, i.e. what different conclusions have historians come to regarding the breakdown of the alliance
  3. whilst in the main the footnoting is very good, there are several instances where these have been left out.
Description 0 1 2 3 4 5
1. RELEVANCE Does the essay consistently address the question? correct
2. SOURCES Number, range and complexity of books and articles consulted for an essay correct
3. INFORMATION Is the reader given enough background information (names of people,places, dates etc.) to make proper sense of the story? correct
4. STRUCTURE How is the essay set out? Does it have a proper introduction and conclusion? Does the narrative proceed logically? Is there a smooth transition between paragraphs? correct
5. ARGUMENT How is the argument reconciled with opposing viewpoints in the secondary sources? If a synthesis of views expressed in the sources, is it presented in a way that shows independent thought and critical judgement? correct
6. ANALYSIS The concepts and skills used in developing the argument: including models, generalist theories, logic, deduction analogy, comparison, empathy, sensitivity to cause and effect. correct
7. EVIDENCE The data on which the argument rests. This will mostly consist of factual statements but might also include statistics and quotations. Is the data comprehensive? Is it conclusive? Does the essay show a proper regard for the bias of the secondary sources? correct
8. EXPRESSION Is the essay written in a clear, lucid and engaging style, with appropriate grammar and punctuation? correct
9. FORMAT Does the essay observe School requirements about footnotes, bibliography, pagination etc? See Handbook for details. correct
10.PRESENTATION The overall "look" of the essay. correct

Owen's comments

Listen to the whole interview with Owen. You can also read the transcript of his comments below.

Choosing the topic <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

One reason that I found this particular topic interesting was that I knew there would be a lot of scholarly disagreement in what people had written about it for whatever reason. And if nothing else, writing about the scholarly disagreements shows that you're clearly in command of what you're talking about and that you're looking at the events and the history at a deeper level than just narrating what happened, even deeper than just talking about why people think that's significant that you're actually sort of moving a bit further into it and really analysing what they're saying, how they're saying, and why they're saying it.

Writing the introduction <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

In writing the introduction, I was just trying to generally flag my basic arguments without going into too much detail. In the conclusion, I was just trying to summarise - perhaps more specifically - my arguments and, sort of just very basically, their groundings, and try to wrap the whole thing together.

Presenting an argument <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I mention that broad argument, the ideological and political differences in both the introduction and in the conclusion sort of to play that as a theme for the whole essay in introduction and to highlight that argument again in the conclusion.

Footnoting <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

Its important to use primary sources to justify statements you may make. At the end of the third paragraph in my essay I stated that 'Soviet Actions in Poland had alarmed Western Allies'. Although I had taken that directly from a secondary source which I had referenced, I thought it was important to support that by a primary source quote directly from someone, because it just gave a bit of a more solid foundation for what I had said. If I had just left it at the secondary source it isn't quite as strong as backing it up with the primary source. I chose that particular primary source because of who was saying it; it was an American Ambassador to Russia and it seemed like a reasonably authoritative statement.

Missing footnotes <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

The History Lecturers are always trying to impress on us the need for footnotes. I always approach it by making sure I footnote when I directly quote a source and also when I make a statement that might be debateable or contentious, that I derived from a particular source.

Using primary sources <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

It's not always clear exactly when footnotes need to go in. At the end of the second paragraph it said I needed a footnote after the last sentence, which because of the reference to spearhead assaults, is quite a strong statement to make. I had taken that directly from a particular source so I should've said what I was basing that on. Whereas the first sentence of the third paragraph which refers to a particular date of the conference and the fact that the end of the War in Europe was imminent, isn't exactly a contentious statement to make, so I didn't bother to footnote that.

Editing <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

Editing's pretty important I spend a lot of time reading and rereading what I've written. I like to print it out and take it away from the computer so I can see it as a whole essay rather than just see it as bits of text on the screen, see its in its context. I like rereading it out loud because it helps to pick up problems with grammar and also, yeh, conceptual sort of jumps and you know, that sort of thing. As I'm reading through it, I'll mark my corrections on, you know, the paper and just go back to the computer and flick them in.

Finishing up <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

Once I'd finished the essay, I felt reasonably comfortable with it. I felt it was a bit rushed so I was sort of relieved to get it out of the way. It was a bit weak on secondary sources. I felt I hadn't really got a diversity of, sort of, opinions behind it. I mean it looked like I had a few but I sort of felt that might have been a bit of its draw back.

Download the full interview with Owen (mp3, 1.93 MB). <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/assets/utilities/download.php?file=assets/audio/owen/owen-all.mp3>

Meg's assignment

Meg

Meg is a first-year History student. Her main essay in the subject was on the following topic:

Essay topic:

Read the three articles by Christopher Browning, Richard Breitman, and Henry Friedlander on the beginning of the Holocaust. Which of these three interpretations do you find more persuasive, and why?

  1. Look at the lecturer's expectations <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.2.1.xml> of the essay.
  2. Next read Meg's essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.2.2.xml> .
  3. Now read the lecturer's comments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/history/3.2.3.xml> about Meg's essay.

Lecturer's expectations

Ian Copland, Lecturer

In this section, one of your lecturers - Ian Copland - sets out what he expects from student assignments on this topic.

Essay topic:

Read the three articles by Christopher Browning, Richard Breitman, and Henry Friedlander on the beginning of the Holocaust. Which of these three interpretations do you find more persuasive, and why?



What's required?

This assignment is based on the idea that whilst historians agree about many things (e.g. that a certain event occurred), there is also much about which they disagree (why it occurred, how important it was, etc.). In this way, much historical writing needs to be thought of not as "a laying out of the facts", but as the presenting of a particular interpretation (or argument).

When historians present a range of interpretations about an event or period, we think of them participating in a debate - this is what a lot of historical writing is about.

In this assignment, you need to consider three interpretations of an event, in this case "the beginnings of the Holocaust". This type of essay - one involving an analysis of historians' different accounts of an event or period - is known as a historiographical essay.

The articles by Browning, Breitman, and Friedlander were selected because they have recognisably different points of view about the beginnings of the Holocaust, especially those by Browning and Breitman. The issue (or debate) that they're engaged in is:

How to go about writing the essay?

  1. In a historiographical essay, first of all you need to identify what the issue is that historians are debating - in this case, how the Holocaust got going.
  2. Next, you have to work out where each writer is coming from - what their "take" on the issue is. What is their argument? What kind of evidence are they drawing on? In coming to grips with Writer A's account, you need to be thinking about how it differs from Writer B's. This requires very close and careful reading of the texts.
  3. The next part is probably the hardest. This is where you need to start making your own judgments about each interpretation - in this case, which interpretation of the Holocaust seems to you the most persuasive?

    How does one go about making these judgments? Well, a bit like a juror in a criminal trial, you need to look at the evidence each writer is drawing on:

    Next, you need to start planning out the structure of your essay. Broadly speaking, the structure of a historiographical essay will be based on the individual discussion of each of the historical accounts you are considering. Thus a conventional structure would be:

    Give some thought to the order in which you discuss these accounts. For example, you might like to begin with what is, for you, the weaker account and then move on to others that are more convincing.

    Alternatively, the sequence might be based on a grouping of accounts that seem similar to you. What you should avoid is a structure that has no underlying coherence: e.g. one that merely reflects the order in which you read the articles.

    Your discussion of each account should contain your summary of the writer's position in the debate, including the type of evidence they have drawn on and your evaluation of this position. The notetaking you do for each article should reflect this distinction.

  4. When you have done enough reading, structuring, and argument formulation, you can begin drafting the essay. In the process of writing, you might need to go back to some of the things you did in Stages 1-4.
  5. When you have completed your draft, leave it for a day or two, then re-read and edit it.

When editing, always think about your reader. Frame your writing so that the essay will make sense to someone who is not necessarily familiar with the articles you are describing.

Meg's essay

Essay topic:

Read the three articles by Christopher Browning, Richard Breitman, and Henry Friedlander on the beginning of the Holocaust. Which of these three interpretations do you find more persuasive, and why?


The beginnings of the Holocaust, that is to say the point at which it was decided that a program of mass murder would be undertaken against Europe's 11 million Jews, has been a much debated topic among historians. Was it always the direction in which the Nazi leadership was headed, or was the final decision not made until 1941 when Operation Barbarosa was well under way? Christopher Browning, Richard Breitman and Henry Friedlander present differing views as to when the Final Solution was adopted, none of which are overwhelmingly convincing. However, it is Browning who pieces together the most concrete of opinions, as Breitman and Friedlander become bogged down in speculative and simplistic assumptions.

It is Friedlander, in his article "Step by Step: The Expansion of Murder, 1939-1941" 1, who offers a very simplistic answer as to when the Final Solution began. Friedlander factually describes the lead-up to the decision to start killing the handicapped in late 1938. However, his omission of dates and his simplistic account lead to conclusions which fail to consider the reasons behind certain events, and how their preceding events unfolded: "As the T4 killing centres closed, the murder of the Jews had commenced...in the East" 2. Consequently, his opinion that mass murder was decided on back in 1938 is contradicted by the stages of the Holocaust that preceded the killing ones. Ghettoisation, which occurred in 1939-1940, shows that murder was not always the option favoured by the Nazis. 3 Furthermore, Friedlander's attempts to connect the Final Solution to the handicapped program, in a bid to show that the Holocaust was a step by step process first started in 1938, are too simplistic. He uses his factual account of the Nazis' racial beliefs to unsuccessfully justify his contention that the two events, along with the killing of the Gypsies, were linked together in one large Final Solution. It is true that the Nazis modelled the industrialised Jewish genocide on the handicapped killings. However, the introduction of gassings and the high number of extermination camp staff with experience in T4 killing centres hardly shows the Jewish murders to be the next step in a Holocaust process - one that started with the handicapped killings.

If Friedlander is too simplistic, then Breitman, in his article "Plans for the Final Solution in Early 1941" 4, gets himself bogged down in events which leads him to draw speculative conclusions. Breitman argues that the Final Solution was finalised in early 1941, if not late 1940, well before the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union. He, like Friedlander, also believes that mass murder was seen as a partial solution to the Jewish question, along with the handicapped one, before the war began. However, Breitman's assertion that these early killings, combined with the ones committed by the Einsatzgruppen during Barbarosa, signified the long-term intentions of Hitler, fails to consider that the orders given to the killing squads initially didn't include the murder of all Jews. 5

From here, Breitman's argument lacks credibility, with its talk of secret plans and a reliance on speculative evidence. Breitman writes of Eichmann's announcement that Heydrich had already been entrusted with the 'final evacuation' of Jews in March 1941, saying this "may have referred to a general policy that was still secret" 6. Thus, he suggests something of which he has no proof. Moreover he does this constantly, asking whether Hitler, Himmler and Heydrich wouldn't have conspired over the Final Solution and kept the more 'lethal' plans for all Europe's Jews secret; again highly speculative inferences considering that the Holocaust progressed in stages.

Furthermore, Breitman uses the testimony of Viktor Brack, who he notes as having lied at his trial, to try and substantiate his claims that mass murder was always the preferred option. He admits that looking toward Goebbels or Hans Frank for evidence would be misleading, and the "perfect example" he uses to prove his case actually occurred in August 1941, seven months after he believes that the Final Solution was adopted.

Breitman argues that just because Eichmann and Theodor Dannecker talked of a final solution in early 1941, this meant that they were naturally talking about mass murder. He substantiates this by saying that Heydrich had submitted a proposal to Hitler before the end of January, and thus this must have been the time that the Final Solution was concretely adopted. However, this contention overlooks that in July 1941, Goring authorised Heydrich to draw up another plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" 7. Considering this request came after the expansion of the Einsatzgruppen's orders to include the killing of all Jews 8, it is more logical to believe that the Final Solution was in fact adopted in mid-1941.

Evidence for a later starting date is central to Browning's article, "The Euphoria of Victory and the Final Solution: Summer-Fall 1941 9". Browning doesn't suggest that Hitler had never previously considered exterminating the Soviet Jews. Indeed he sees this as a reason why so many SS units were at Himmler's disposal once Hitler declared the Soviet Union to be a future German "Garden of Eden" 10. However, Browning, unlike Friedlander and Breitman, uses several separate sources to show that the order to kill all Soviet Jews was taken after Operation Barbarosa appeared to be a success. Thus, the first concrete evidence of the decision to consequently apply a Final Solution to all of Europe's Jews is Goring's request to Heydrich to devise a plan for a "total solution".

Furthermore, Browning sees Hitler as viewing the Jewish question as a "problem of the future" in the time leading up to the Barbarosa success. Browning's argument appears valid. The Holocaust, we know, went through many stages, as seen for example in the Madagascar plan 11. It would appear that a variety of plans were devised as solutions to the ever-increasing Jewish problem, before mass murder option was decided on.

However, while Browning's argument over the date of the Final Solution is the most credible, his argument is flawed by his insistence that this decision, and subsequent ones regarding the Holocaust, were based on military victories alone. While military success facilitated the implementation of the Final Solution, it didn't solely contribute to the decision to adopt and carry it out. We see for example, no significant policy shift in subsequent years when the regime was then facing military failure. The Nazis adopted the policy because they believed in it, and viewed it as the best solution to the Jewish problem - something they had been searching for since Dachau was established in 1933 12.

Overall, Browning's argument offers the most concrete explanation of the beginnings of the Holocaust and when the decision was made to implement the Final Solution. Both Breitman and Friedlander, by viewing mass murder as an option chosen in the late 1930s, contradict the historical record of the Holocaust itself - that it occurred in stages with mass killings only marking the last few. With a lack of evidence, and indeed a firm amount levelled against them, these two authors speculate and attempt to visualise connections that are unable to be proved. Browning, by way of his weaknesses, serves to emphasise the difficulties that all historians face in trying to piece together the mystery that was the Nazi regime and its Holocaust. However, he rleies on actual documented evidence and doesn't ignore facts in order to try and support his assumptions. Thus, it can be concluded that his article is the most persuasive version of when the decision was made to adopt the Final Solution: in mid-1941.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Secondary sources

Breitman, Richard, "Plans for the Final Solution in Early 1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.

Browning, Christopher, "The Euphoria of Victory and the Final Solution:Summer-Fall 1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.

Friedlander, Henry, "Step by Step: The Expansion of Murder, 1939-1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.

Kitchen, M., A World In Flames, in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.

Books

"Location of Concentration and Extermination Camps in Europe and Total Number of Jewish People Killed (By Country), Copland, I. and Hancock, E. (eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook, Monash University, Melbourne, 2000, p. 52.

Footnotes

  1. Friedlander, Henry, "Step by Step: The Expansion of Murder, 1939-1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook . Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  2. Ibid, p. 278
  3. Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000. p. 49.
  4. Breitman, Richard, "Plans for the Final Solution in Early 1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  5. Kitchen, M., A World In Flames, in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  6. Breitman, Richard, "Plans for the Final Solution in Early 1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  7. Browning, Christopher, "The Euphoria of Victory and the Final Solution:Summer-Fall 1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook . Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  8. Ibid, p. 266
  9. Ibid, p. 267
  10. Ibid, p. 266
  11. Kitchen, M., A World In Flames, in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  12. "Location of Concentration and Extermination Camps in Europe and Total Number of Jewish People Killed (By Country), Copland, I. and Hancock, E. (eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook, Monash University, Melbourne, 2000, p. 52.

Meg's essay and what her lecturer thought

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Essay topic:

Read the three articles by Christopher Browning, Richard Breitman, and Henry Friedlander on the beginning of the Holocaust. Which of these three interpretations do you find more persuasive, and why?



[IMG-1] comment

[1]The beginnings of the Holocaust, that is to say the point at which it was decided that a program of mass murder would be undertaken against Europe's 11 million Jews, has been a much debated topic among historians. Was it always the direction in which the Nazi leadership was headed, or was the final decision not made until 1941 when Operation Barbarosa was well under way? Christopher Browning, Richard Breitman and Henry Friedlander present differing views as to when the Final Solution was adopted, none of which are overwhelmingly convincing. However, it is Browning who pieces together
[IMG-2] comment

[2]the most concrete of opinions, as Breitman and Friedlander become bogged down in speculative and simplistic assumptions.

It is Friedlander, in his article "Step by Step: The Expansion of Murder, 1939-1941" 1, who
[IMG-3] comment

[3]offers a very simplistic answer as to when the Final Solution began. Friedlander factually describes the lead-up to the decision to start killing the handicapped in late 1938. However, his omission of dates and his simplistic account lead to conclusions which fail to consider the reasons behind certain events, and how their preceding events unfolded:
[IMG-4] comment

"As the T4 killing centres closed, the murder of the Jews had commenced...in the East" 2. Consequently, his opinion that mass murder was decided on back in 1938 is contradicted by the stages of the Holocaust that preceded the killing ones. [4]Ghettoisation, which occurred in 1939-1940, shows that murder was not always the option favoured by the Nazis. 3
[IMG-5] comment

[5]Furthermore, Friedlander's attempts to connect the Final Solution to the handicapped program, in a bid to show that the Holocaust was a step by step process first started in 1938, are too simplistic. He uses his factual account of the Nazis' racial beliefs to unsuccessfully justify his contention that the two events, along with the killing of the Gypsies, were linked together in one large Final Solution. It is true that the Nazis modelled the industrialised Jewish genocide on the handicapped killings. However, the introduction of gassings and the high number of extermination camp staff with experience in T4 killing centres hardly shows the Jewish murders to be the next step in a Holocaust process - one that started with the handicapped killings.


[IMG-6] comment[06.gif]

[6]If Friedlander is too simplistic, then Breitman, in his article "Plans for the Final Solution in Early 1941" 4, gets himself bogged down in events which leads him to draw speculative conclusions. Breitman argues that the Final Solution was finalised in early 1941, if not late 1940, well before the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union. He, like Friedlander, also believes that mass murder was seen as a partial solution to the Jewish question, along with the handicapped one, before the war began. However, Breitman's assertion that these early killings, combined with the ones committed by the Einsatzgruppen during Barbarosa, signified the long-term intentions of Hitler, fails to consider that the orders given to the killing squads initially didn't include the murder of all Jews. 5


[IMG-7] comment

From here, [7]Breitman's argument lacks credibility, with its talk of secret plans and a reliance on speculative evidence. Breitman writes of Eichmann's announcement that Heydrich had already been entrusted with the 'final evacuation' of Jews in March 1941, saying this "may have referred to a general policy that was still secret" 6. Thus, he suggests something of which he has no proof. Moreover he does this constantly, asking whether Hitler, Himmler and
[IMG-8] comment

[8]Heydrich wouldn't have conspired over the Final Solution and kept the more 'lethal' plans for all Europe's Jews secret; again highly speculative inferences considering that the Holocaust progressed in stages.

Furthermore, Breitman uses the testimony of Viktor Brack, who he notes as having lied at his trial, to try and substantiate his claims that mass murder was always the preferred option. He admits that looking toward Goebbels or Hans Frank for evidence would be misleading, and the "perfect example" he uses to prove his case actually occurred in August 1941, seven months after he believes that the Final Solution was adopted.

Breitman argues that just because Eichmann and Theodor Dannecker talked of a final solution in early 1941, this meant that they were naturally talking about mass murder. He substantiates this by saying that Heydrich had submitted a proposal to Hitler before the end of January, and thus this must have been the time that the Final Solution was concretely adopted.
[IMG-9] comment

[9]However, this contention overlooks that in July 1941, Goring authorised Heydrich to draw up another plan for a "total solution of the Jewish question" 7. Considering this request came after the expansion of the Einsatzgruppen's orders to include the killing of all Jews 8, it is more logical to believe that the Final Solution was in fact adopted in mid-1941.


[IMG-10] comment

[10]Evidence for a later starting date is central to Browning's article, "The Euphoria of Victory and the Final Solution: Summer-Fall 1941 9". Browning doesn't suggest that Hitler had never previously considered exterminating the Soviet Jews. Indeed he sees this as a reason why so many SS units were at Himmler's disposal once Hitler declared the Soviet Union to be a future German "Garden of Eden" 10. However, Browning, unlike Friedlander and Breitman, uses several separate sources to show that the order to kill all Soviet Jews was taken after Operation Barbarosa appeared to be a success. Thus, the first concrete evidence of the decision to consequently apply a Final Solution to all of Europe's Jews is Goring's request to Heydrich to devise a plan for a "total solution".


[IMG-11] comment

[11]Furthermore, Browning sees Hitler as viewing the Jewish question as a "problem of the future" in the time leading up to the Barbarosa success. Browning's argument appears valid. The Holocaust, we know, went through many stages, as seen for example in the
[IMG-12] comment

[12]Madagascar plan 11. It would appear that a variety of plans were devised as solutions to the ever-increasing Jewish problem, before mass murder option was decided on.


[IMG-13] comment

[13]However, while Browning's argument over the date of the Final Solution is the most credible, his argument is flawed by his insistence that this decision, and subsequent ones regarding the Holocaust, were based on military victories alone. While military success facilitated the implementation of the Final Solution, it didn't solely contribute to the decision to adopt and carry it out. We see for example, no significant policy shift in subsequent years when the regime was then facing military failure. The Nazis adopted the policy because they believed in it, and viewed it as the best solution to the Jewish problem - something they had been searching for since Dachau was established in 1933 12.


[IMG-14] comment

[14]Overall, Browning's argument offers the most concrete explanation of the beginnings of the Holocaust and when the decision was made to implement the Final Solution. Both Breitman and Friedlander, by viewing mass murder as an option chosen in the late 1930s, contradict the historical record of the Holocaust itself - that it occurred in stages with mass killings only marking the last few. With a lack of evidence, and indeed a firm amount levelled against them, these two authors speculate and attempt to visualise connections that are unable to be proved. Browning, by way of his weaknesses, serves to emphasise the difficulties that all historians face in trying to piece together the mystery that was the Nazi regime and its Holocaust. However, he rleies on actual documented evidence and doesn't ignore facts in order to try and support his assumptions. Thus, it can be concluded that his article is the most persuasive version of when the decision was made to adopt the Final Solution: in mid-1941.


[IMG-15] comment

[15] [Lecturer's overall comment]


[IMG-16] comment

[16] [Assignment checklist]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Secondary sources

Breitman, Richard, "Plans for the Final Solution in Early 1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.

Browning, Christopher, "The Euphoria of Victory and the Final Solution:Summer-Fall 1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.

Friedlander, Henry, "Step by Step: The Expansion of Murder, 1939-1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.

Kitchen, M., A World In Flames, in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.

Books

"Location of Concentration and Extermination Camps in Europe and Total Number of Jewish People Killed (By Country), Copland, I. and Hancock, E. (eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook, Monash University, Melbourne, 2000, p. 52.

Footnotes

  1. Friedlander, Henry, "Step by Step: The Expansion of Murder, 1939-1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook . Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  2. Ibid, p. 278
  3. Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000. p. 49.
  4. Breitman, Richard, "Plans for the Final Solution in Early 1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  5. Kitchen, M., A World In Flames, in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  6. Breitman, Richard, "Plans for the Final Solution in Early 1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  7. Browning, Christopher, "The Euphoria of Victory and the Final Solution:Summer-Fall 1941", in German Studies Review, vol xvii, no 3, (oct 1994), in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook . Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  8. Ibid, p. 266
  9. Ibid, p. 267
  10. Ibid, p. 266
  11. Kitchen, M., A World In Flames, in Copland, I., and Hancock, E. (Eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook. Monash University, Melbourne, 2000.
  12. "Location of Concentration and Extermination Camps in Europe and Total Number of Jewish People Killed (By Country), Copland, I. and Hancock, E. (eds), World War II: The Crushing of the Axis, A Course Handbook, Monash University, Melbourne, 2000, p. 52.
[1]

Good introduction

This is a good, clear introduction. It does a number of things:

[2]

Vague

This expression - "the most concrete of opinions" is vague. Does "concrete" here mean Browning's opinion is more definite, that it is better supported, etc?

This is an example of a student providing a judgement of a historical work - this is good. But it is important to express judgements like this as clearly and precisely as you can.

[3]

A bit strong

To describe Friedlander's account as "very simplistic " is probably too strong. The student is dealing, after all, with the work of a reputable historian.

So whilst it is good to offer judgements of historical works, you also need to find the right language to express this judgement. A better phrasing here would be:

Friedlander offers an arguably rather simplistic answer as to when the Holocaust began.
[4]

Good use of counter-evidence

The student wishes to challenge Friedlander's claim that "mass murder was decided on in 1938". She does this by referring to the policy of ghettoisation - which she suggests shows that murder was not the only option pursued by the Nazis at this point in the war. (Note here also that the student provides a footnote for this information.)

This is good use of counter-evidence. In an essay, if you are critiquing a historian's claim, the onus is then on you to support your position with appropriate evidence, and with appropriate footnoting of this evidence.

[5]

Good structuring of critique

The use of "furthermore" indicates that the student is going to provide an additional criticism of Freidlander. In this case, it is that Freidlander provides insufficient evidence to show the link between the killings of handicapped civilians and the mass extermination of the Jews.

The student thus provides a clear and well sustained critique of Friedlander's account.

[6]

Good link

The student shows clearly here that she is moving from Freidlander's account to Breitman's. She also indicates here that, as with Friedlander, Breitman has problems.

In any essay, the opening sentence of each paragraph (or topic sentence) has a very important function. A good topic sentence signals clearly to your reader the connection between a new paragraph and the one preceeding. It also indicates the way your argument is running.

[7]

A bit strong, but nevertheless...

The student's judgement - that Breitman's argument 'lacks credibility' - is again a bit strong, a bit too dismissive. The tone is similar to her earlier assertion that Friedlander's account is 'very simplistic'. Better would be something a little less blunt like:

"Breitman's argument appears overstated, because..."

Nevertheless, the student is having a go at critiquing a historical interpretation, and this is good. In the rest of this paragraph (and in the next one), she justifies this criticism, focusing again on the issue of evidence. Where the problem in Friedlander was insufficient evidence, in Breitman it is a problem of unreliable evidence (his references to "a secret policy" to which historians have no access, and the testimony of a witness who is known to have lied).

[8]

Who are these people?

This problem relates to the issue of audience. The lecturer will certainly know who these people are, and how they are connected to each other. But it's better to think of a broader readership - what we might think of as 'the averagely intelligent person'. Thus the student should have provided some brief identifying information to make things clearer - and to demonstrate their own understanding:

e.g. Breitman writes of an announcement by senior SS officer Eichmann that his superior Heydrich had already been entrusted ... etc.
[9]

Good use of counter-evidence

This is good stuff. The student outlines Breitman's argument - that "the Final Solution must have been concretely adopted" at the beginning of 1941. But she then refers to a document (Goering to Heydrich) which suggests the plan was still being devised six months later in July 1941.

Again, this is good use of counter-evidence.

[10]

Good structuring

This paragraph makes it clear that the student finds Browning's account the most acceptable. We can see at this point that the essay has been structured thus:

This is a very clear and logical structure.

[11]

Well-argued

In supporting Browning's argument, the student points to the quality of evidence that has been drawn on - "Goering's request to Heydrich" and "the Madagascar Plan".

You will notice how this section is organised around discussion of these two sources of evidence. The furthermore at the beginning of the second Browning paragraph indicates clearly a move from the first source to the second.

[12]

What was this?

Again, for the general reader, some explanatory information is necessary here. Any essay needs to be self contained and make sense on its own.

[13]

Solid conclusion

This conclusion provides a clear summary of the essay. It goes back to the original question, spells out exactly what the response to the question is, and also on what basis this conclusion was reached.

A good way of extending a conclusion to an essay - beyond a simple summary - is to identify some gaps in the research, that is other issues that haven't been taken up, but which need to be. An example here would be to mention the problem of the 'secret plans' from the SS bureaucracy, and to talk about how this evidence would really need to be uncovered before any definitive answers can be arrived at.

Thus, it's a good move in a conclusion to be thinking in terms of broader historiographical issues. But this of course is asking a lot at first-year level.

[14]

Why two ticks?

You can see here that whilst the student finds Browning's account the 'more persuasive', she still recognises that it isn't without its problems. Thus, she argues that Browning tends to overstate the role of military events in the shaping of the Holocaust. The however at the beginning of this paragraph signals clearly this change of tack.

This is most impressive. Sometimes in this type of exercise, students can be inclined to "go all the way" with one historian - to suggest that everything about their interpretation is fine, and that everything about the others is flawed. This student is able to recognise that even the "more persuasive account" does not necessarily constitute the last word on the issue.

[15]

Overall comment

This is an excellent analysis. The student has understood well the interpretations provided in each text - and has done a good job of evaluating these interpretations, basing her comments on the quality of the evidence used. The essay is also very clearly structured.

The only very minor reservations are:

  1. there is a slightly condescending attitude toward some of the historians, who are after all pretty eminent scholars. But, the student has "had a go", and this is to be commended.
  2. the essay is not always "self contained" - that is, not all the people mentioned are fully identified (e.g. Victor Brack, Theodor Dannecker). An essay always needs to make sense on its own. This is one of the qualities of really good writing.

Grade: A+

[16]

Assignment Checklist

Description 0 1 2 3 4 5
1. RELEVANCE Does the essay consistently address the question? correct
2. SOURCES Number, range and complexity of books and articles consulted for an essay not applicable
3. INFORMATION Is the reader given enough background information (names of people,places, dates etc.) to make proper sense of the story? correct
4. STRUCTURE How is the essay set out? Does it have a proper introduction and conclusion? Does the narrative proceed logically? Is there a smooth transition between paragraphs? correct
5. ARGUMENT How is the argument reconciled with opposing viewpoints in the secondary sources? If a synthesis of views expressed in the sources, is it presented in a way that shows independent thought and critical judgement? correct
6. ANALYSIS The concepts and skills used in developing the argument: including models, generalist theories, logic, deduction analogy, comparison, empathy, sensitivity to cause and effect. correct
7. EVIDENCE The data on which the argument rests. This will mostly consist of factual statements but might also include statistics and quotations. Is the data comprehensive? Is it conclusive? Does the essay show a proper regard for the bias of the secondary sources? correct
8. EXPRESSION Is the essay written in a clear, lucid and engaging style, with appropriate grammar and punctuation? correct
9. FORMAT Does the essay observe School requirements about footnotes, bibliography, pagination etc? See Handbook for details. correct
10.PRESENTATION The overall "look" of the essay. correct

Philosophy essay

This tutorial contains information about essay writing based on materials from the first-year Philosophy subject, Introduction to Philosophy. You will also find much of the information to be useful for your other Philosophy subjects. Navigate through the tutorial using the Table of Contents on the left. The tutorial's three main sections are outlined below.

Lecturer's advice <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/1.xml>

Get information from the lecturer about what is required for Philosophy assignments.

Skills for writing in Philosophy <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/2.xml>

Learn to write better assignments through interactive tasks.

Annotated assignments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.xml>

View samples of student work with lecturer and student comments.

Lecturer's advice

Graham Oppy, Lecturer Karen Green, Lecturer In this section, your lecturers - Graham Oppy and Karen Green - answer Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about researching and writing essays in first-year Philosophy.

FAQs: Click on those topic areas that are of interest to you, or that you need to know more about.

Writing in philosophy

  1. What's distinctive about Philosophy writing? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq1>
  2. What makes a good first-year Philosophy essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq2>
  3. What are the assessment criteria? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq3>
  4. How can I be "original" in Philosophy essays? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq4>
  5. What are the main difficulties students have in Philosophy? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq5>
  6. Is the approach to writing different from VCE? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq6>
  7. What is philosophical terminology? How can I learn it? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq7>

Reading for essays

  1. How much reading should students do for an essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq8>
  2. How useful is the internet for philosophy essays? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq9>
  3. How should students approach the reading of a difficult Philosophy text? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq10>
  4. How should students take notes from texts? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq11>
  5. What's plagiarism? How can it be avoided? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq12>

Essay style

  1. Should I try to imitate the writing style of philosophers I read? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq13>
  2. Can I write "I think" in my essays? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq14>
  3. Should I include biographical information about philosophers in my essays? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq15>
  4. Who's the target audience for a Philosophy essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq16>

Summary

  1. What's a good overall approach to researching and writing essays? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq17>


1. What's distinctive about philosophy writing?

Summary:

Karen: Philosophical writing in broad terms is largely about dialogue. For example, someone puts up a proposal (e.g. "Might is right") and then somebody else objects and says that that doesn't follow (e.g. "If might is right, then it is alright for someone to murder children"). So then the first person comes back and provides a qualification (e.g. "Might is right, if such and such a condition"). And so you get a dialogue. But it's not an endless to and fro - there is also a commitment in this dialogue to the possibility of discovering the truth, or at least getting closer to it.

For students new to Philosophy, part of their aim is to participate in some small way in this dialogue.

Graham: In Philosophy, there are two key elements: having a clearly identified case or thesis to argue and having a logical structure to the writing that supports what's being argued. In other subjects, there may be an interest in other aspects of the writing - so that it should be literary in some respect. This is not really required in Philosophy. You need to be direct and to the point.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

2. What makes a good first-year philosophy essay?

Summary:

Karen: Writing in Philosophy is much more precise than writing in some other disciplines. It focuses more on the structure of arguments than on information you gather on a topic. We do not require a vast bibliography, but where articles are cited, we like citations to be to the precise page in which an argument occurs. It is quite possible for a very good and long philosophy essay to be written about a quite short argument. In philosophy, we value analytical skills which focus on finding ambiguities in arguments, discussion of the plausibility of the premises, recognition of the implications of accepting the argument as a good one, and counter-arguments which show that arguments which look plausible are not valid (that is to say their conclusions do not follow from their premises).

Graham: A good essay will have a clearly identified thesis that will be argued for - and a logical structure that supports the argument.

We generally make a distinction between serious attempts and "the night before" jobs.

In essays that have been rushed, there is usually a lack of a clear thesis (or case) that is being argued for. That comes from throwing it together - taking bits and pieces from the lecture notes and the tutorial guide - and not having thought about your argument and the essay's overall structure.

If you write the essay at the last minute and say there are considerations on this side and on the other side and it's hard to draw a conclusion, that's not really acceptable in Philosophy. You don't have to come up with some wonderful new argument - but there should be at least some sense that you've tried to work things out for yourself.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

3. What are the assessment criteria?

Summary: Presentation, Reading, and Argument - most importantly the last of these

Karen: With first-year essays we append a cover sheet which makes explicit the various elements that contribute to assessment. They are:

The difference between a merely good essay and an extremely good essay comes down to the student's capacities in the argument category. A clear and grammatical essay that shows good comprehension will normally get a mark of 13 or 14 out of 20 (a Credit or low Distinction). In order to do better than this, a student needs to show the capacity to develop the argument in their own words, with clarity and with originality.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

4. How can I be "original" in philosophy essays?

Summary:

Graham: Students need to realise that they don't have to come up with something startlingly new. In this context, originality just means demonstrating that you've been thinking for yourself.

How do I spot originality in an essay? If a student seems to be saying something that wasn't said in the lectures or in the course readings - and I can't source it to texts in the bibliography - that's a reasonable indication of originality.

You can often tell in the student's language that they're grappling with something themselves. This originality can come out in just one or two critical comments they make about arguments they've read. Or it might come out in the examples they draw on to demonstrate a point - these might be ones that they've drawn from their own sources, like novels they've read. Or they might even have thought of the example entirely by themselves. Sometimes this originality shows up because the student makes a point that's not exactly right. But they get credit for this (if it's not outrageously bad) for at least trying to put things in their own terms.

Karen: Hardly anyone in first year can achieve genuine originality, and we don't expect it. The important thing is to show you've understood the material - and that you've thought about it enough to come up with your own view. I often reward students who express some "unease" about an argument - rather than just accepting that what the text says is true. If you can say that this doesn't seem to follow because of this, then that is a sign you've engaged independently. But it is hard.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

5. What are the main difficulties students have in philosophy?

Summary:

Karen: Some students find the emphasis on argument in Philosophy difficult to come to grips with. They may be more used to subjects where they mainly need to gather information about the topic. Philosophers raise difficult questions like, "What is the truth?" "What is the nature of right or wrong?" "What is wrong with killing?" "Does God exist?" These are questions that do not have simple uncontested answers. And we are not so much interested in the answers that students give to these questions. What's important is the arguments that they give for their answers, and their ability to comprehend the arguments that others have given and deciding whether these are good arguments. Sometimes philosophy can be confusing. A good philosopher can develop a very persuasive argument for one conclusion, and then offer an equally persuasive argument for another conclusion. Some students find this frustrating at first, but often the same students come to appreciate the analytical skills that philosophy provides.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

6. Is the approach to writing different from VCE?

Karen: Students at VCE have often been given a structure (or template) for their writing by their teacher. To a certain extent we attempt to provide such templates, but ideally we are looking for more autonomy. We want to see evidence that you're doing more than just following instructions; you need to show that you've done the reading carefully enough to have understood it, and that you've spent some time thinking about it independently. So the main transition is from doing what one is told to do, to using one's own skills and judgement to produce something worthwhile.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

7. What is philosophical terminology? How can I learn it?

Summary:

Karen: Philosophy, like all other disciplines, has its own special vocabulary. To be a successful student you need to learn this vocabulary. Some of the more important terms that students have particular difficulty with are:

Argument: We don't mean here a confrontation between people, as in "I had an argument with my boyfriend last night". Rather it is the sorts of reasons people have for believing something. In Philosophy, an argument is typically made up of certain statements ( premises), plus a conclusion that follows on from these premises.

As we have said, in Philosophy, students need to make their own judgements about arguments. There are three terms that are very important in this type of activity: truth, validity, and soundness.

Truthfulness is the concept we apply when we make judgements about premises; that is a premise is true, if the state of affairs it describes is thought to be the case in the real world. For example the premise "All men are mortal" is arguably true, at least in the way we normally interpret this statement; that is, all human life physically comes to an end.

Validity is a fairly technical term. Often students use valid to mean true. For example, "That's a valid fact". But we use valid as a term of appraisal for arguments. So an argument is valid if the conclusion follows on logically from the premises. In the following:

All men are mortal (Premise 1)

Socrates is a man (Premise 2)

Socrates is mortal (Conclusion)

the argument is valid because the conclusion follows on from the premises.

There is a distinction between an argument being valid and it being sound. For an argument to be valid , the premises don't necessarily have to be true. So in the example above, if the Socrates we are referring to is not Socrates the philosopher, but a dog named Socrates, then the premise "Socrates is a man" would be false. The argument nevertheless would still be valid. But it would not be sound. The requirements of a sound argument are that: i) the premises are true; and ii) the conclusion follows on from the premises.

One other term that is worth mentioning in relation to arguments is persuasive. This is a looser term - there are all sorts of devices and techniques people can use to make their arguments persuasive . For example an appeal to the emotions may make an argument persuasive to some. So a persuasive argument is not necessarily valid or sound. Part of the job of philosophers is to show that arguments that appear persuasive are really flawed because on analysis they are not valid.

You need to learn how to use these terms. Probably the best way to do this is to read a lot in the area, and cumulatively absorb how the terminology works. In your writing, if you aren't sure about the technical vocabulary it is better not to risk making major errors - initially it may be best to use a nontechnical vocabulary and express yourself in words you are sure you understand.

Graham: To learn these terms, you need to practise using them - and to figure out how they're being used in the course readings. You should also pay close attention to the feedback you get on your essays.

All disciplines in the faculty have their own vocabularies, which you have to learn. You need to remember too that different disciplines may not make the same distinctions between terms. For example in some subjects there may not be a big difference between say statement and argument; in Philosophy it is crucial.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

8. How much reading should a student do for an essay?

Summary:

Karen: In essays, we want students to deal intensively with specific arguments, so you will usually only need to deal with several texts - the required readings. We do not encourage large amounts of further reading for essays. It is more important to understand a few articles well than to have a confused impression of the positions that may be taken from having read a lot with little comprehension.

That's in the essay, but in the course generally we encourage wider reading - as much as possible really. This is so you can understand where an argument fits. For example, if we are dealing with utilitarianism - a key ethical theory - we will discuss it in relation to a number of issues. If you haven't got a broad understanding of the utilitarian way of seeing things it will be difficult for you to deal with when it comes up, say, in the abortion issue.

Graham: Generally for Philosophy essays, it's enough just to look at the course readings and lecture notes. There is probably a difference here with other subjects in Arts. Surprisingly, in Philosophy extra reading can make an essay worse. So it is not really a good idea to go to the library and just search for books generally on the topic. Usually we want you to focus on specific arguments.

So what's a reasonable number of texts to read? It will depend on the essay topic, but it could be just one or two or three. Generally you will need to look at at least one primary text (e.g. Aquinas) and then it may be reasonable to look at several secondary sources - that is, commentaries on the primary text. There will have been mentioned in the lectures of at least one or two important critics.

But there is another type of reading that we do encourage. It's good to read a variety of things roughly around the subject - but not necessarily with a view to incorporating them into the essay - just so you know more about the area. In this case, just focus on whatever you're interested in. You shouldn't think that all of the reading you do in Philosophy is just for the purpose of completing the essay task before you.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

9. How useful is the internet for philosophy essays?

Summary: Most philosophy-related websites will not be helpful. Consult your tutor first if you are interested in web resources.

Graham: There are many websites which house valuable philosophical resources: texts, discussions, papers, class notes, and so on. However, there are also a lot which contain nothing but rubbish. And it is not always easy to tell the difference between the two. It seems to me that the "not likely to be helpful or useful" sites far outnumber the "likely to be helpful or useful" - so that I would recommend against surfing the Net (or even browsing in the library for that matter) when given an assignment. If you are interested in web resources, you should talk to your lecturer or tutor to get recommendations of sites which are worth having a look at.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

10. How should students approach the reading of a difficult philosophy text?

Summary:

  1. Skim read the text to get an overview
  2. Read slowly and try to work out the text's logical structure
  3. Try to work out what you think of the text

Karen: Since the structure of the argument in some articles can be quite complex, it is of great benefit to read the articles more than once. A good practice is to read the readings relevant to a particular lecture or tutorial fairly quickly before the lecture or tutorial. Then, in the light of the discussion, to reread the article, reading carefully those portions which now seem most relevant to the issues raised.

Graham: It depends a bit on whether it's a primary text for the essay (e.g. Aquinas' Five Ways) or if it's some secondary material (e.g. a commentary on Aquinas).

If it's Aquinas for example, it will be only a short text and what you've got to do is take the text apart. You need to work out what the argument is - work out the logical structure, its premises and conclusions, any sub-arguments. For this you need to read slowly.

If you're reading secondary sources, it will be more like reading the newspaper - skimming to find out what you want. Once you've found an argument that you're interested in (that's relevant to your essay), then you've got to slow down again.

It's hard to separate the reading from the reflection - you really have to do both at once. You're trying to work out the argument being presented and you're also thinking about what you think of it.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

11. How should students take notes from texts?

Summary: Once you have come to an understanding of the text, put the text aside and try setting out its argument in your own words.

Karen: The way a student takes notes has a big bearing on how they write their essays. There is a way of writing where the student more or less copies what they've read - not quite word for word - but changing a bit of sentence structure here and putting a few words in there. The problem here is that we're not entirely convinced that the student has understood the material. Writing in your own words means reading the material, going away and thinking about it - and then setting down the ideas as you've understood them . There will be times when you need to look back over the text - at something important or when the vocabulary is unfamiliar - or there'll be a phrase that is crucial. But fundamentally you want to be writing it out of your own head, not just copying it. This comes down to having a bit of mental distance between you and the text.

Graham: In reading and notetaking, what students need to do is work out the logical structure of the texts they read. That means you have to read texts several times and then make some notes and try to set out the structure of the text in your own terms. So you may write:

First of all he states the argument... and then he considers some objections to this premise... and then in the next section he considers some objections to that premise and then... The next section is an elaboration of his original argument... and then he gives a hypothetical example to support this argument, and so on.

Karen: In general a good practice for reading philosophy papers is to read once quickly, to get an overall feeling for the structure of the article. Then you should re-read slowly, concentrating on those parts of the article which the quick reading has shown to be most important for the overall argument. Then you should put the article aside and try to lay it out in your own terms.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

12. What's plagiarism? How can it be avoided?

Summary:

Graham: The subject's view of plagiarism is set out in the Green Guide:

Plagiarism occurs where someone fails to acknowledge that ideas have been borrowed from any source such as the internet, published books or periodicals, or another student's work.

Where students are taking notes from a primary source and they put those down in an essay, even if it's in their own words, but they're presenting someone else's position, then they've got to realise they're borrowing this - and they need to acknowledge their sources.

To avoid plagiarism, students need to use language like "In The Five Ways, Aquinas thinks that..." or "Aquinas says that..." This also applies to secondary sources. For example "Brown says that Aquinas' argument about X is..." And when you're doing this, you have to cite the original source and page number.

Some students also have a problem where the summary extends over several paragraphs. If you've got "Aquinas says..." in the first paragraph and then you get a few more paragraphs, it may not be clear whether we've got more of Aquinas or whether it's another writer's views or even the student's view. It's important to clearly indicate whose views you're dealing with, because this won't be immediately apparent to the reader.

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13. Should I try to imitate the writing style of philosophers I read?

Summary: No, you should really just try to write to make yourself clear.

Graham: Not really. Unfortunately, there are too many writers who set a bad example. There are some contemporary philosophers whose sentences can run on for a whole paragraph - and they can be awfully difficult to understand. You should really just try to write to make yourself clear.

Problems in grammar often arise if you try to write in long sentences and you have bits in sentences that keep referring back to something you said earlier. But problems also occur if you haven't thought about things enough and they're not really clear in your mind. So you need to work on two things: keeping your language straightforward and being clear about what you want to say.

Karen: Some students think they should try to use the same complex writing in the readings that we prescribe, rather than aiming to produce a clear piece of writing that demonstrates their understanding. This is not a good approach. Using complex sentences which are beyond their control causes problems. A student may have a basic comprehension of the issues, but end up saying silly things which they did not intend. As a broad principle you want to make your ideas complex, and your language simple - not the other way round!

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14. Can I write " I think..." in my essays?

Summary: Yes, especially to express your own view of a philosophical argument.

Graham: Absolutely! It's curious that there is such a barrier against using "I" in some subject areas. In philosophy essays, we want students to express a view, and the easiest way to do this is to write: " I think that...". It makes things clear that at this point in your essay you're not presenting someone else's view (e.g. Aquinas). So it may be important in the essay to have one paragraph which has expressions like " Aquinas thinks that..." and then in the next paragraph - " I think that..."

In Philosophy we're interested in getting students to develop their own views on a particular subject. If you get out the journals, it's common to find philosophers using expressions like " I think that..." or "I wish to argue that...". But there are of course other ways of signalling a personal view like - " It would appear that..." or just come out directly and say " There is a problem in X's argument".

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15. Should I include biographical information about philosophers in my essays?

Summary: No, keep your focus on a philosopher's ideas, not on their personal circumstances.

Graham: Some students are inclined to put in this type of detail - for example " Thomas Aquinas was born on such and such a date, and lived in Rome and Paris where he..." etc. In an essay where you're asked to assess the validity of arguments, this type of information is really going to be a waste of words. If you've only got 1,000 words, and use 30 of them to give dates, that's another few sentences you could have written about the argument. As a rule, keep your focus on a philosopher's ideas, not on their personal circumstances.

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16. Who's the target audience for a philosophy essay?

Summary: A broader audience than your lecturer. Don't presuppose too much background knowledge.

Karen: It's best not to imagine you are writing just for your lecturer. I suggest a broader approach - perhaps aiming the essay at another student, more or less at the same level. You need then to be able to explain clearly the issues you are dealing with and your solutions to them. The main thing is not to presuppose that your audience has all the background you have.

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17. What's a good overall approach to researching and writing essays?

Summary:

  1. Be clear what the topic is asking
  2. Select and carefully read relevant articles
  3. Decide what your argument is going to be
  4. Structure your writing so that the argument comes through clearly
  5. Always re-read the completed essay

Karen: First, be clear about exactly what the topic is asking you to consider, and what you are expected to form a judgement on (e.g. "Is abortion murder?" or "The existence of evil shows that God does not exist"). You might also begin by thinking about a very provisional response to the topic to focus your reading (e.g. "Yes, abortion probably is murder in such and such a circumstance" or "No, the existence of evil does not preclude God's existence).

Second, you need to select which articles and book chapters are going to be relevant to the topic. You need to read these texts very carefully and be clear about the arguments on the issue. This is actually the hard bit. Some texts will present arguments in favour of the proposition to be discussed; others will be counter-arguments to earlier arguments. Further arguments will be replies to counter-arguments. You need to get clear on this kind of structure both within articles and between articles.

Third, after your reading, you need to decide exactly how you are going to argue (what position you are going to take). This will be which of the arguments presented you are going to endorse. So long as you show that you are familiar with the arguments in the readings, further arguments can be your own. Deciding how to argue is often very difficult because the articles chosen will often be inconclusive. There might be good arguments for a position and good arguments against it. This often leads students to write essays which have the structure: X argues in this way for proposition P, and Y argues in this way against proposition P, and I can't decide either way. This is honest, but rather uninteresting. A better strategy is to decide that you are going to argue for a particular conclusion, even if you are not absolutely certain that this is the right one. So, for instance, you might decide to argue for the proposition that "abortion is always murder", or that "it never is", or that "it sometimes is". One usually does best to choose to argue for what seems most plausible - this can then help you to clarify why.

Fourth, think carefully how you are going to structure your essay. Begin with a short introduction in which you spell out the question or proposition being dealt with, and say what you are going to conclude. In the body, deal with arguments and objections in a fairly ordered sequence. Exactly how you do this depends on what you think about the issue.

Finally, always re-read the essay to make sure that you have in fact said what you intended to say.

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Skills for writing in Philosophy

In this section, you have the chance to learn and practise different aspects of essay writing in Philosophy.

The materials are organised around six topics. Select those you think you need to work on.

The materials cover the following topic areas:

Terminology

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Like all disciplines, Philosophy has its own special terminology. To be a successful Philosophy student, you will need to learn this terminology and be able to use it appropriately in your writing.

To complete the tasks in this section, you will first need to study the following terms and their accompanying explanations.

A short glossary of terms:

[1]

Proposition

A proposition is the content of an utterance or a belief. That is, a proposition is what is said when a sentence is uttered, or what is believed when a belief is entertained. A proposition is the kind of thing which can be assessed for truth and falsity. Some propositions are uncontroversially true or false, for example 'All Greeks are mortal' or 'All Greeks are immortal'. For other propositions, however, their truth or falsity may be harder to establish, e.g. 'All Greeks are lucky'.

[2]

Premise

A premise of an argument is one of the propositions from which the conclusion is jointly derived. In the following argument:

All Greeks are mortal

Socrates is Greek

Therefore Socrates is mortal

the premises are that "all Greeks are mortal" and that "Socrates is Greek".

[3]

Validity

Generally, an argument is valid if its conclusion follows from its premises. Thus, the validity of the argument is concerned with the structure of the argument, in particular about the connections which hold between the premises and the conclusion. Consider the following argument:

All Barbarians are immortal

Socrates is a Barbarian

Therefore Socrates is immortal.

Even though the premises themselves are false, they do guarantee the conclusion. So, this argument is valid.

[4]

Evidence

Evidence is information that can be introduced to support the truth or falsity of a given proposition or claim. Evidence may be drawn from a variety of sources, e.g. sensory observation, testimony of others, chains of reasoning, and so forth. Invoking evidence in support of a proposition like 'All Greeks are mortal' would be straightforward enough; for a claim like 'All Greeks are lucky', it would be more difficult.

[5]

Conclusion

A conclusion for an argument is the proposition which is derived from the premises of the argument. More generally, a conclusion is the end product of an operation performed with propositions: reasoning, arguing, and the like. In the following argument:

All Greeks are mortal

Socrates is Greek

Therefore Socrates is mortal

the conclusion is that 'Socrates is mortal'.

[6]

Soundness

An argument is sound only in the case that: 1) the argument is valid; and 2) all of the premises of the argument are true. (Sometimes, 2 may be weakened to the requirement that all of the premises of the argument are rationally acceptable, or the like.) So whilst the argument above ('All Barbarians are immortal; Socrates is a Barbarian; therefore Socrates is immortal.') may be valid, it is not sound.

[7]

Argument

In philosophy, an argument is typically a collection of propositions that lead, by some pattern of inference, to a conclusion. A simple example of an argument is the following:

All Greeks are mortal

Socrates is Greek

Therefore Socrates is mortal

[8]

Objection

An objection to an argument is a reason for rejecting the argument. In philosophy, an argument typically may be objected to on the grounds that it is:

  1. invalid,
  2. unsound, or
  3. unpersuasive.
[9]

Persuasiveness

Persuasiveness is the highest standard of acceptability for arguments. An argument is persuasive only in the case that: 1) it is sound; and 2) it does not suffer from some other kind of defect which would allow someone to reasonably reject its conclusion. In particular, a persuasive argument cannot be question-begging, i.e. it cannot assume what it is intended to establish. Clearly, the argument 'Socrates is Greek; therefore Socrates is Greek' cannot be persuasive, since it runs around in a very small circle.

Explanation of terms

Your first task is to try to match each of the following explanations with the correct term.

Select the correct term from the dropdown options for each explanation.

Explanation of terms quiz
Explanation Term (your answers)
a collection of propositions that lead, by some pattern of inference, to a conclusion input
propositions in an argument from which the conclusion is jointly derived input
a reason for rejecting an argument input
a property of arguments - the requirement that the argument's conclusion follows from its premises input
a property of arguments - the requirement that 1) the argument's conclusion follows from its premises, and 2) all of the premises in the argument are true input
information which is introduced to support the truth or falsity of a given proposition or claim input

Understanding philosophical terms

Now test your understanding of some key terms. Consider the following set of sentences.

Sentence 1: It is always and everywhere wrong to kill an innocent human being.

Sentence 2: A human foetus is an innocent human being.

Sentence 3: So it is always and everywhere wrong to kill a human foetus.

Complete the following six statements by selecting the most appropriate term.

Philosophical terms quiz
statement term (your answers)
In Philosophy, Sentence 1 is considered: input
In Philosophy, Sentence 3 is considered: input
Taken together, Sentences 1, 2, and 3 constitute: input
If Sentence 3 is thought to follow on logically from Sentences 1 and 2, we say that the argument is: input
If we thought we had a good reason for believing that 'a human foetus is not an innocent human being', we would say that Sentence 2 is not: input
If we thought we had a good reason for believing that 'a human foetus is not an innocent human being', we would say that the argument overall is not: input

Using philosophical terms in an essay

The following extract is from an essay that deals with the debate between creationists and evolutionists about the occurrence of a worldwide flood. In this extract, the student is assessing the views of one flood proponent - Walter Brown. The student (who received an HD for her essay) has done a particularly good job of using philosophical terminology.

Read the extract. See if you can do the same good job by choosing the appropriate term from the alternatives given.

Essay extract

The first premise in Brown's input can be summarised thus: archaeological evidence confirms the existence of Noah's Ark. As evidence, Brown provides a list of so-called 'categories' including reports of the Ark's existence; reports of the Ark protruding from ice on Mt. Ararat and the reported existence of photographs showing the Ark protruding from ice.

On closer analysis however, we can see that this input is not necessarily input . If, for the sake of argument, we wanted to express Brown's 'categories' scientifically, we might say that Person A saw something sticking out of the ice on Mt Ararat. Person A explained the existence of this something by saying that it was Noah's Ark. This would be A's input . Now the crux of the issue is whether Person A tested this input . Not according to Brown's account: hence A's belief does not constitute scientific evidence. By this reasoning, none of Brown's evidence offers scientific proof, and we can say that they certainly don't input the existence of Noah's Ark.

Essay questions

Most Philosophy essay questions require you to make your own judgements about arguments advanced by certain writers. For example you may be asked to decide whether Philosopher A's argument about Issue X is valid; or to compare Philosophers B's account of Issue Y with that of Philosopher C and then decide which is argued the more persuasively.

When you are analysing an essay topic, there are a number of probe questions you can consider to be sure you are on the right track

  1. What precisely do I need to make a judgment about?
  2. What type of judgement do I need to make?
  3. What are some possible judgments?

Consider the following sample essay topic about the philosopher Thomas Aquinas:

Essay topic

What is the argument of Aquinas' "fifth way"? Is this argument valid? Is it sound? Is it persuasive?

Interpreting this essay topic is relatively straightforward (which is not to say it will necessarily be easy to write about). Notice how the topic can be analysed in terms of the three probing questions above.

Analysis information quiz
probing questions analysis
  1. What do I need to make a judgment about?
  • The argument of Aquinas' "fifth way"
  1. What type of judgment(s) do I need to make?
  • Whether the argument is valid
  • Whether it is sound
  • Whether it is persuasive
  1. What are some possible judgements?
  • The argument is/is not valid - why/why not?
  • The argument is/is not sound, etc.

Interpreting questions 1

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Consider the following essay question about the ethical philosopher, Peter Singer.

Using the analysis of the [1]Aquinas question as a guide, write your own analysis of this question in the table below. (A response to the first question is given as an example.)

Essay topic

Singer makes a strong prima facie case for a utilitarian approach to ethical decision making. But it is a case that is seriously flawed, for utilitarianism seems to be morally indefensible.

Do you agree? If so, where is the weakness in his argument? If not, how do you answer the intuitive objections to utilitarianism?

Analysis information quiz
probe questions analysis
  1. What do I need to make a judgment about?
  • Singer's case for a utilitarian approach to ethical decision making
  1. What type of judgment(s) do I need to make?
  1. What are some possible judgements?

[2]Check your answers

[1]

Essay topic

What is the argument of Aquinas' "fifth way"? Is this argument valid? Is it sound? Is it persuasive?

Interpreting this essay topic is relatively straightforward (which is not to say it will necessarily be easy to write about). Notice how the topic can be analysed in terms of the three probing questions above.

Analysis information quiz
probing questions analysis
  1. What do I need to make a judgment about?
  • The argument of Aquinas' "fifth way"
  1. What type of judgment(s) do I need to make?
  • Whether the argument is valid
  • Whether it is sound
  • Whether it is persuasive
  1. What are some possible judgements?
  • The argument is/is not valid - why/why not?
  • The argument is/is not sound, etc.
[2]

Sample analysis only. Note that there may be other ways of interpreting this question.

Analysis information quiz
probing questions analysis
  1. What do I need to make a judgment about?
  • Singer's case for a utilitarian approach to ethical decision making
  1. What type of judgment(s) do I need to make?
  • Whether this case is morally defensible
  1. What are some possible judgements?
  • The case overall is/is not morally defensible - why/why not

Interpreting questions 2

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

The following essay topic is concerned with the work of two thinkers.

Using the [1]Aquinas question as a guide, write your own analysis of this question in the table below.

Essay topic

Walter Brown argues that there is scientific evidence for a worldwide flood. What is your assessment of the alleged evidence? Do you think that Schadewald's arguments provide compelling objections to the flood hypothesis?

Do you agree? If so, where is the weakness in his argument? If not, how do you answer the intuitive objections to utilitarianism?

Analysis information quiz
probing questions analysis
  1. What do I need to make a judgment about?
  • Walter Brown's evidence for a worldwide flood
  1. What type of judgment(s) do I need to make?
  1. What are some possible judgements?

[2]Check your answers

[1]

Essay topic

What is the argument of Aquinas' "fifth way"? Is this argument valid? Is it sound? Is it persuasive?

Interpreting this essay topic is relatively straightforward (which is not to say it will necessarily be easy to write about). Notice how the topic can be analysed in terms of the three probing questions above.

Analysis information quiz
probing questions analysis
  1. What do I need to make a judgment about?
  • The argument of Aquinas' "fifth way"
  1. What type of judgment(s) do I need to make?
  • Whether the argument is valid
  • Whether it is sound
  • Whether it is persuasive
  1. What are some possible judgements?
  • The argument is/is not valid - why/why not?
  • The argument is/is not sound, etc.
[2]

Sample analysis only. Note that there may be other ways of interpreting this question.

Analysis information quiz
probing questions analysis
  1. What do I need to make a judgment about?
  • Walter Brown's evidence for a worldwide flood
  • Schadewald's arguments against the flood hypothesis
  1. What type of judgment(s) do I need to make?
  • Whether Brown's evidence is scientifically sound
  • Whether Schadewald's arguments are compelling
  1. What are some possible judgements?
  • Brown's evidence overall is/is not scientifically sound
  • Schadewald's arguments overall are/not compelling

Different interpretations

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Consider the following essay topic on the ethics of abortion. Then look at interpretations of the topic made by two students (A and B).

Whose interpretation, in your view, is more adequate?

Essay topic

Is the right to choose abortion just the right to choose what happens in and to one's own body - as Judith Jarvis Thomson suggests - or is it the right to choose the death of the foetus? Discuss with reference to the unconscious violinist.

Student A's interpretation:

This question is asking about whether abortion is justified or not. In my essay I would consider the arguments on both sides of the debate - the right-to-lifers and the pro-choice lobby - and then present my opinion. I believe that women should have the right to choose. I would also mention the unconscious violinist by Judith Jarvis Thomson.

Student B's interpretation:

This question is concerned with a specific issue in the abortion debate - whether the argument about an individual having rights over their own body is sufficient to justify abortion. This is Judith Jarvis Thomson's position as laid out in 'the unconscious violinist'. In my essay, I will carefully analyse Thomson's argument, along with some objections to it put forward by other philosophers. My tentative position is that whilst 'the unconscious violinist' is a valid enough argument, on its own it does not provide sufficient justification.

Whose is the more adequate interpretation? Why?









Because:

[1]Check your answers

[1]

Student A's interpretation:

This is not an adequate interpretation of the topic. First note how this student plans to focus on the abortion issue in general, rather than on the specific issue raised in the question: whether the rights of the carrier of the foetus are the only consideration.

Further, the student doesn't seem to have thought about how 'the unconscious violinist' argument relates to the topic as a whole. One can imagine from this interpretation, that Thomson's argument will be tacked on at the end of the essay, instead of being integrated into the whole work.

The problem with Student A's interpretation can be seen in the following summary:

Analysis information quiz
probing questions analysis
  1. What do I need to make a judgment about?
  • Abortion
  1. What type of judgment(s) do I need to make?
  • Whether abortion is justified
  1. What are some possible judgements?
  • Abortion is justified

Student B's interpretation:

This is a well-considered interpretation of the topic; it can be summarised thus:

Analysis information quiz
probing questions analysis
  1. What do I need to make a judgment about?
  • Judith Jarvis Thomson's unconscious violinist argument
  1. What type of judgment(s) do I need to make?
  • Whether the unconscious violinist is:
    1. a valid argument
    2. a sufficient argument to justify abortion
  1. What are some possible judgements?
  • The unconscious violinist is:
    1. a valid argument?
    2. but is not a sufficient argument

Note that there may be other valid ways of approaching this topic. These however, would need to be based on a careful reading of the topic.

Introductions

In Philosophy essays - as in all essays - the introduction needs to be well constructed, both to orient readers to your content, and to give them a good overall impression of the piece.

Generally, a Philosophy introduction should:

  1. introduce briefly the broad debate with which your essay is concerned, e.g. the ethics of abortion
  2. introduce briefly the arguments of the philosopher(s) you will be dealing with in the essay
  3. state clearly the case you will be arguing, i.e. your response to their arguments

Note that this sequence should not be thought of as a strict formula to be applied to all philosophy essays; instead you should treat it as a rough guide that can help you to get started. Later in your course, when you feel more confident about introducing your work, you may wish to try other approaches.

Analysing a sample introduction

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Study the sample introduction below from an essay on the Judith Jarvis Thomson [1]essay topic considered in the previous section:

Sample introduction

[1] Decisions made about abortion crucially affect the lives of women as well as foetuses and babies. [2] The rights, obligations and interests of all parties involved have to be taken into consideration when deliberating on the morality of the operation. [3] In her argument, Judith Jarvis Thomson concentrates on the issue of the right of a woman, in a situation of unwanted pregnancy, to decide what happens in and to her body. [4] She believes that the right to choose abortion should be based on this. [5] In this essay, I will show that Thomson's argument is certainly a major issue in the abortion debate, but that the issue must also take in the right to choose the death of the foetus. [6] I will also argue that these considerations, whilst important are outweighed by another issue - that of the choice of whether to accept the role of mother.

Can you identify the three elements of an introduction mentioned above?

Which sentences are concerned with:

Analysis information quiz
element sentence numbers
  1. introducing briefly the broad debate?
input
  1. introducing briefly the arguments of the Philosopher(s) being dealt with in the essay?
input
  1. stating clearly the case to be argued?
input
[1]

Essay topic

Is the right to choose abortion just the right to choose what happens in and to one's own body - as Judith Jarvis Thomson suggests - or is it the right to choose the death of the foetus? Discuss with reference to the unconscious violinist.

Stating your case

Have a look again at the final two sentences of the sample introduction to the Judith Jarvis Thomson essay. In these sentences the student indicates clearly what his case will be.

Sample introduction

[5] In this essay, I will show that Thomson's argument is certainly a major issue in the abortion debate, but that the issue must also take in the right to choose the death of the foetus. [6] I will also argue that these considerations, whilst important are outweighed by another issue - that of the choice of whether to accept the role of mother.

Write down the expressions that are used in each sentence to signal the two parts of the student's case.

1. Sentence 5 input
2. Sentence 6 input


Strong and weak cases

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Look at another sample introduction - this time a response to the flood hypothesis [1]essay topic considered in the previous section. In this sample, there are two alternative final sections - where the student's case is introduced.

Sample introduction

This essay is concerned with the often acrimonious debate between those who believe in biblical explanations of major events in the archaeological record and those who draw on a paradigm of natural forces. Walter Brown proposes a 'scientific case for creation', as it is described in Genesis. Within this argument, he attempts to demonstrate that the Bible's account of a worldwide deluge is accurate. Robert Schadewald's tract - Six "Flood" Arguments Creationists Can't Answer disputes particular creationist views as a means of demonstrating the lack of testing behind creationist theories and hence their scientific foundations.

Case 1

... In this essay I shall argue that the ideas of both writers have merit and it is very difficult to come to a judgment about who has the stronger case. Answers to these questions cannot really be decided on until further evidence is unearthed.

Case 2

... In this essay, I shall argue that, in relation to these texts, Schadewald's arguments are clearly more substantial than Brown's. But I shall also argue that Schadewald's use of selective evidence detracts from the merit of his objections, both to specific flood hypotheses and to creationist methods in general.

Which is better?

[2]Check your answers

[1]

Essay topic

Walter Brown argues that there is scientific evidence for a worldwide flood. What is your assessment of the alleged evidence? Do you think that Schadewald's arguments provide compelling objections to the flood hypothesis?

[2]

Case 2 is better. You will notice that in Case 1, the student has avoided making his own clear judgement - asserting that 'the ideas of both writers have merit'. This is a good example of fence-sitting - a position that is not normally encouraged in Philosophy essays.

In Case 2, the student has been bolder - she has made a clear judgement about the relative merits of the two writers' ideas, but goes on to point out that the stronger ideas are also not without their problems.

For more information about stating a case, see FAQ 2 in Lecturer's Advice.

Summarising

As we have mentioned, the main task in Philosophy essays is to make your own judgements about the acceptability of one (or a number) of philosophical arguments. However, before these judgments can be presented in an essay, it is necessary to provide an adequate summary of the arguments.

Summary sections in Philosophy essays should:

  1. Outline clearly to the reader the contents of the argument you are dealing with. (Whilst you can assume that your lecturer will be familiar with the argument, it is best to write your summaries for someone who has not necessarily read it, or who may have read it some time ago and forgotten its precise contents.)
  2. Show that you have clearly understood the argument. This is best done by summarising in your own words (with optional direct quoting of the most important phrases, sentences, etc. from the text).
  3. Contain reporting language (e.g. Plato argues that...; Singer's view is that...; Schadewald's response to Brown's argument is that...) to indicate clearly whose ideas you are dealing with.

For the tasks in this section, you will need to consider the following summary from a student's essay. The summary is of Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous 'unconscious violinist' argument used to justify abortion.

Briefly read this summary.

Sample summary from student essay

In her argument, Judith Jarvis Thomson concentrates on the issue of the right of a woman, in a situation of unwanted pregnancy, to decide what happens to her body. She believes that choosing abortion, or the death of the foetus, is justifiable. In arguing for this position, she begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - to find yourself plugged into another person. The Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you after discovering that you are the only medically compatible person available to save their best violinist. They connected his circulatory system to your kidneys to extract poison form his system, and if you unplug him he will die.

The point of Thomson's example is to show that if you voluntarily find yourself in a position where someone's survival depends on your continuing to support them for an extended period, you are not morally obliged to continue unless you implicitly or explicitly agree. In relation to pregnancy, she likens this idea to being pregnant through coercion or even failed contraception. If the pregnancy was not actively sought or wanted, the mother should be under no obligation to continue because, although she may not accept that the foetus is a person like the violinist, its right to life should not be at the expense of the rights of an unwilling 'body donor'. In attempting to explain the similarities of a situation of dependence, Thomson aims to establish that a person's right to life is not necessarily strong enough to override someone's right over their own body.

Writing a clear summary

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

As we have said, summaries of philosophical arguments need to be clear, so that they can be understood by someone not familiar with the original text.

Refer to the [1]student's summary of Judith Jarvis Thomsons argument.

Would you say this is a clear summary?

[2]Check your answers

[1]

Sample summary from student essay

In her argument, Judith Jarvis Thomson concentrates on the issue of the right of a woman, in a situation of unwanted pregnancy, to decide what happens to her body. She believes that choosing abortion, or the death of the foetus, is justifiable. In arguing for this position, she begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - to find yourself plugged into another person. The Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you after discovering that you are the only medically compatible person available to save their best violinist. They connected his circulatory system to your kidneys to extract poison form his system, and if you unplug him he will die.

The point of Thomson's example is to show that if you voluntarily find yourself in a position where someone's survival depends on your continuing to support them for an extended period, you are not morally obliged to continue unless you implicitly or explicitly agree. In relation to pregnancy, she likens this idea to being pregnant through coercion or even failed contraception. If the pregnancy was not actively sought or wanted, the mother should be under no obligation to continue because, although she may not accept that the foetus is a person like the violinist, its right to life should not be at the expense of the rights of an unwilling 'body donor'. In attempting to explain the similarities of a situation of dependence, Thomson aims to establish that a person's right to life is not necessarily strong enough to override someone's right over their own body.

[2]

The summary is very clear and understandable to someone unfamiliar with the text. Notice how in the summary, the student first provides an OVERVIEW of Thomson's position:

Sample summary from student essay

In her argument, Judith Jarvis Thomson concentrates on the issue of the right of a woman, in a situation of unwanted pregnancy, to decide what happens to her body. She believes that choosing abortion, or the death of the foetus, is justifiable.....

In arguing for this position, Thomson begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - etc...

Using your own words

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

As mentioned, your summarising of a philosophical argument should be mainly in your own words. Is this the case with the summary of Judith Jarvis Thomson's argument?

  1. Scan quickly [1]Thomson's original text.
  2. Study the [2]student's summary again

Has the student done a good job of using his own words in the summary?

[3]Check your answers

[1]

Extract from A defence of abortion: J. Thomson

Now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidney can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, 'Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you - we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him...

[2]

Sample summary from student essay

In her argument, Judith Jarvis Thomson concentrates on the issue of the right of a woman, in a situation of unwanted pregnancy, to decide what happens to her body. She believes that choosing abortion, or the death of the foetus, is justifiable. In arguing for this position, she begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - to find yourself plugged into another person. The Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you after discovering that you are the only medically compatible person available to save their best violinist. They connected his circulatory system to your kidneys to extract poison form his system, and if you unplug him he will die.

The point of Thomson's example is to show that if you voluntarily find yourself in a position where someone's survival depends on your continuing to support them for an extended period, you are not morally obliged to continue unless you implicitly or explicitly agree. In relation to pregnancy, she likens this idea to being pregnant through coercion or even failed contraception. If the pregnancy was not actively sought or wanted, the mother should be under no obligation to continue because, although she may not accept that the foetus is a person like the violinist, its right to life should not be at the expense of the rights of an unwilling 'body donor'. In attempting to explain the similarities of a situation of dependence, Thomson aims to establish that a person's right to life is not necessarily strong enough to override someone's right over their own body.

[3]

Yes, the student does a good job of using his own words. Notice for example how the following words in the original text have been summarised in the student's essay below:

Extract from A defence of abortion: J. Thomson

Now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidney can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, 'Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you - we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. ...

Student essay (EXTRACT)

In arguing for this position, Thomson begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - to find yourself plugged into another person. The Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you after discovering that you are the only medically compatible person available to save their best violinist. They connected his circulatory system to your kidneys to extract poison from his system, and if you unplug him he will die.

The point of Thomson's example is to show that...

Using reporting language in summaries

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

As mentioned, a necessary feature of a summary is the use of reporting words (e.g. "Plato argues that..."; "Singer's view is that...").

Study the sample summary of Judith Jarvis Thomson's argument again. Can you identify any examples of reporting?

Sample summary from student essay

[1] In her argument, Judith Jarvis Thomson concentrates on the issue of the right of a woman, in a situation of unwanted pregnancy, to decide what happens to her body. [2] She believes that choosing abortion, or the death of the foetus, is justifiable. [3] In arguing for this position, she begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. [4] Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - to find yourself plugged into another person. [5] The Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you after discovering that you are the only medically compatible person available to save their best violinist. [6] They connected his circulatory system to your kidneys to extract poison form his system, and if you unplug him he will die.

[7] The point of Thomson's example is to show that if you voluntarily find yourself in a position where someone's survival depends on your continuing to support them for an extended period, you are not morally obliged to continue unless you implicitly or explicitly agree. [8] In relation to pregnancy, she likens this idea to being pregnant through coercion or even failed contraception. [9] If the pregnancy was not actively sought or wanted, the mother should be under no obligation to continue because, although she may not accept that the foetus is a person like the violinist, its right to life should not be at the expense of the rights of an unwilling 'body donor'. [10] In attempting to explain the similarities of a situation of dependence, Thomson aims to establish that a person's right to life is not necessarily strong enough to override someone's right over their own body.

1. In which sentences from the summary above can you find examples of reporting expressions? (The first has been done for you, but be careful because not all sentences have reporting words.)





















2. Why do you think these expressions are so important in a summary?



[1]Check your answers

[1]

Reporting expressions are important:

  1. to show clearly whose idea you are dealing with at this point in your essay
  2. to indicate the mode of argumentation being used by the writer, e.g. believing; conceding; using analogies, giving examples, etc.

Reporting expressions can be found in Sentences 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, and 10. In the sample summary they are shown in bold.

Sample summary from student essay

[1] In her argument, Judith Jarvis Thomson concentrates on the issue of the right of a woman, in a situation of unwanted pregnancy, to decide what happens to her body. [2] She believes that choosing abortion, or the death of the foetus, is justifiable. [3] In arguing for this position, she begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. [4] Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - to find yourself plugged into another person. [5] The Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you after discovering that you are the only medically compatible person available to save their best violinist. [6] They connected his circulatory system to your kidneys to extract poison form his system, and if you unplug him he will die.

[7] The point of Thomson's example is to show that if you voluntarily find yourself in a position where someone's survival depends on your continuing to support them for an extended period, you are not morally obliged to continue unless you implicitly or explicitly agree. [8] In relation to pregnancy, she likens this idea to being pregnant through coercion or even failed contraception. [9] If the pregnancy was not actively sought or wanted, the mother should be under no obligation to continue because, although she may not accept that the foetus is a person like the violinist, its right to life should not be at the expense of the rights of an unwilling 'body donor'. [10] In attempting to explain the similarities of a situation of dependence, Thomson aims to establish that a person's right to life is not necessarily strong enough to override someone's right over their own body.

Analysing reporting and direct quotes in a summary

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

This task is based on another example of summary writing from a student essay. This time it is a summary of a section of Thomas Aquinas' The Five Ways, a famous tract that seeks to prove the existence of God.

  1. How many reporting expressions can you identify in this short summary?.

  2. You will notice that the student has included some of Aquinas' original words? How have these been incorporated into the essay?

Student summary of Aquinas' Fourth Way

The fourth way examines the gradation which is found in things. Aquinas draws our attention to details in things; that some are better than others, and other things are less so, in comparison to one thing which must be the maximum. For example, that which is hotter in comparison to that which is hottest. This he applies also, to qualities such as nobility, perfection, truth. He then quotes a passage from Metaph ii, which claims that the maximum of, say heat, is also the cause of all hot things. Aquinas concludes:

... there must be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God ( The Five Ways, p.85)

[1]Check your answers

[1]

The student included four reporting expressions, highlighted in bold:

Student summary of Aquinas' Fourth Way

The fourth way examines the gradation which is found in things. Aquinas draws our attention to details in things; that some are better than others, and other things are less so, in comparison to one thing which must be the maximum. For example, that which is hotter in comparison to that which is hottest. This he applies also, to qualities such as nobility, perfection, truth. He then quotes a passage from Metaph ii, which claims that the maximum of, say heat, is also the cause of all hot things. Aquinas concludes:

... there must be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God ( The Five Ways, p.85)

Notice that the student has included Aquinas' original words as an indented quotation (with title and page number).

Notice also that the student's essay contains a summary of a summary (shown in italics).

Writing your own summary

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

You now have an opportunity to practise writing your own summary of a philosophical argument. We have looked at a summary of Aquinas' ' [1]fourth way'.

A note on length: It is difficult to say how long any summary should be in an essay - the length will depend on the complexity and length of the original argument, but also the purpose you have for summarising the argument in your essay. In this exercise, try to limit your summary to the length of The Fourth Way summary - about 100 words.

Read Aquinas's ' [2]Fifth Way' now.

Write a summary of the fifth way in the box below.



Word count: 0

[3]Check your answer

[1]

Student summary of Aquinas' Fourth Way

The fourth way examines the gradation which is found in things. Aquinas draws our attention to details in things; that some are better than others, and other things are less so, in comparison to one thing which must be the maximum. For example, that which is hotter in comparison to that which is hottest. This he applies also, to qualities such as nobility, perfection, truth. He then quotes a passage from Metaph ii, which claims that the maximum of, say heat, is also the cause of all hot things. Aquinas concludes:

... there must be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God ( The Five Ways, p.85)
[2]

Aquinas' Fifth Way

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move toward an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

From The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas

[3]

Have a look at the following student summary. How does it compare with your own? Are there any substantial differences? Bear in mind that every student will summarise a text slightly differently.

Sample student summary of Aquinas' Fifth Way

The fifth and final proof Aquinas has for the existence of God relates to what he calls 'the governance of the world'. He deduces that things that lack knowledge - that is birds, plants natural bodies - behave as if with purpose, and achieve or work toward certain ends. These natural bodies, Aquinas suggests, utilise the best means available to them, and almost always behave in the same way to produce these ends. This, Aquinas claims, is evidence of design. For:

...whatever lacks knowledge cannot move toward an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence... ( ibid, p 85)

Aquinas concludes that there is an intelligent being who directs all these bodies to their end. This is God.

Evaluating

As we have mentioned, the main task in Philosophy essays is to make your own judgements about philosophical arguments you have read, to make your own evaluations. In your essays, you will be rewarded for efforts you make to express your own evaluations (see FAQ 1 in Lecturer's Advice).

In general, evaluative writing in Philosophy involves the following elements:

  1. summarising the argument(s) you are going to evaluate
  2. indicating what your position is in relation to this argument
  3. giving reasons for your position.

Identifying evaluation in writing

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Below is an extract from an essay written on the 'flood hypothesis' [1]essay question considered earlier. In this extract, the student provides evaluation of the views of one flood proponent - Walter Brown.

Essay extract

[1] The first premise in Brown's argument can be summarised thus: archaeological evidence confirms the existence of Noah's Ark. [2] As evidence, Brown provides a list of so-called 'categories' including reports of the Ark's existence; reports of the Ark protruding from ice on Mt. Ararat and the reported existence of photographs showing the Ark protruding from ice.

[3] On closer analysis however, we can see that this premise is flawed. [4] If, for the sake of argument, we wanted to express Brown's 'categories' scientifically, we might say that person A saw something sticking out of the ice on Mt Ararat. [5] A explained the existence of this something by saying that it was Noah's Ark. This would be A's hypothesis. [6] Now the crux of the issue is did A test this hypothesis? Not according to Brown's account, hence A's belief does not constitute scientific evidence. [7] By this reasoning, none of Brown's categories offers scientific proof, and we can say that they certainly don't entail the existence of Noah's Ark.

Read the extract. What position does the student adopt? Does she support or reject Brown's argument?


What reasons does the student give for this position?

[2]Check your answers

[1] Walter Brown argues that there is scientific evidence for a worldwide flood. What is your assessment of the alleged evidence? Do you think that Schadewald's arguments provide compelling objections to the flood hypothesis?
[2]
  1. The student is assessing Brown's premise - that archaeological evidence confirms the existence of Noah's Ark. She rejects this premise.
  2. The student argues that the truth of this premise has not been established, and thus she suggests has the status of a hypothesis only. The point is well argued.

Structuring evaluation in writing

It is important to structure your evaluations clearly in an essay. Can you identify the three elements of evaluative writing mentioned below?

Essay extract

[1] The first premise in Brown's argument can be summarised thus: archaeological evidence confirms the existence of Noah's Ark. [2] As evidence, Brown provides a list of so-called 'categories' including reports of the Ark's existence; reports of the Ark protruding from ice on Mt. Ararat and the reported existence of photographs showing the Ark protruding from ice.

[3] On closer analysis however, we can see that this premise is flawed. [4] If, for the sake of argument, we wanted to express Brown's 'categories' scientifically, we might say that person A saw something sticking out of the ice on Mt Ararat. [5] A explained the existence of this something by saying that it was Noah's Ark. This would be A's hypothesis. [6] Now the crux of the issue is did A test this hypothesis? Not according to Brown's account, hence A's belief does not constitute scientific evidence. [7] By this reasoning, none of Brown's categories offers scientific proof, and we can say that they certainly don't entail the existence of Noah's Ark.

In which sentences does the student:

Analysis information quiz
element sentence numbers
  1. summarise Brown's argument?
input
  1. indicate her own position in relation to this argument?
input
  1. give reasons for this position?
input

Evaluation in philosophical debates

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Have a look at another sample of evaluative writing below. In this extract the student provides evaluation of two philosophers - Judith Jarvis Thomson and Jonathon Glover. Thomson and Glover are engaged in debate about whether it is reasonable to say that we have rights over our own bodies.

Essay extract

Responding to Thomson's argument, Jonathon Glover states that it is morally objectionable to attach such weight to property rights' when lives are at stake (1977: 131). Glover obviously believes that ownership as a term cannot apply to attachment of a person to their body. Thomson's reply is that if a human has any claim on anything, surely it is his/her body, and I have to agree with this. I believe it isn't even a question of legal ownership. Property can be disposed of by the owner or given away, so maybe our hair could be described as property because it can be disposed of with no harm except strange looks, but we cannot do this with our whole bodies. We can't even donate essential organs until after death so we don't exactly 'own' our bodies - we are our bodies - we need them in order to continue existence as a person, so I don't think Glover's argument is relevant.

Notice how the student both summarises the views of these two philosophers and indicates her own position in this debate.

Whose argument does the student favour?


What reasons does the student give to support this position?

[1]Check your answers

[1]
  1. Whose argument does the student favour?



    Thompson's
  2. How does the student support this position?



    The student seeks to show that Glover's argument - that the concept of ownership does not apply to a person's body - is not valid. She does this by giving her own examples of body parts (essential organs) that are indispensably a part of us.

Indicating your position

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

In the Thomson vs Glover essay extract below, the student uses various reporting expressions to summarise the two philosophers' arguments. For example:

Jonathon Glover states that...



Glover obviously believes that...



Thomson's reply is that...

The student also uses a number of expressions to clearly indicate her own position.

Essay extract

Responding to Thomson's argument, Jonathon Glover states that it is morally objectionable to attach such weight to property rights' when lives are at stake (1977: 131). Glover obviously believes that ownership as a term cannot apply to attachment of a person to their body. Thomson's reply is that if a human has any claim on anything, surely it is his/her body, and I have to agree with this. I believe it isn't even a question of legal ownership. Property can be disposed of by the owner or given away, so maybe our hair could be described as property because it can be disposed of with no harm except strange looks, but we cannot do this with our whole bodies. We can't even donate essential organs until after death so we don't exactly 'own' our bodies - we are our bodies - we need them in order to continue existence as a person, so I don't think Glover's argument is relevant.

Study the extract again and write down these expressions in the boxes below (the first has been done as an example).

Expressions to indicate student's position:

[1]Check your answers

[1]

Essay extract

Responding to Thomson's argument, Jonathon Glover states that it is morally objectionable to attach such weight to property rights' when lives are at stake (1977: 131). Glover obviously believes that ownership as a term cannot apply to attachment of a person to their body. Thomson's reply is that if a human has any claim on anything, surely it is his/her body, and I have to agree with this. I believe it isn't even a question of legal ownership. Property can be disposed of by the owner or given away, so maybe our hair could be described as property because it can be disposed of with no harm except strange looks, but we cannot do this with our whole bodies. We can't even donate essential organs until after death so we don't exactly 'own' our bodies - we are our bodies - we need them in order to continue existence as a person, so I don't think Glover's argument is relevant.

You will notice that in these sentences, the student has used the first-person pronoun ' I'. Whilst in some disciplines (and in some circumstances) the use of 'I' is not encouraged, it is quite acceptable here. The first person pronoun makes it clear to the reader that you are presenting your own position. (see FAQ 14 in Lecturer's Advice.)

Writing your own evaluation

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

You now have a chance to attempt your own evaluation of a philosophical argument. The task in the Summarising section was to write a summary of Aquinas' 'Fifth Way'.

Read over Aquinas' ' [2]Fifth Way' again and try writing your own comments on his arguments.

(For this exercise, limit your evaluation to about 100 words - a mini evaluation; bear in mind that the evaluation sections in Philosophy essays will normally need to be longer than this).



Word count: 0

[1]Check your answer

[1]

Have a look at the following student evaluation of Aquinas' 'Fifth Way'. Note that we have combined the student's summary text of the 'Fifth Way' (from the summary writing task in the Summarising section) with his evaluation of it.

Can you identify where the student's summary stops and where the evaluation begins?

Sample summary and evaluation of Aquinas' Fifth Way

The fifth and final proof Aquinas has for the existence of God relates to what he calls 'the governance of the world'. He deduces that things that lack knowledge - that is birds, plants natural bodies - behave as if with purpose, and achieve or work toward certain ends. These natural bodies, Aquinas suggests, utilise the best means available to them, and almost always behave in the same way to produce these ends. This, Aquinas claims, is evidence of design. For:

...whatever lacks knowledge cannot move toward an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence... ( ibid, p 85)

Aquinas concludes that there is an intelligent being who directs all these bodies to their end. This is God.

I believe Aquinas' 'fifth way' can be challenged on several grounds. First there is an assumption in his argument that nothing in the natural world can be goal directed without the direction of something with 'knowledge and intelligence'. This is not necessarily the case - evolutionary theory for example seems to offer a perfectly naturalistic explanation of goal directedness in the natural world. Another problem is the assumption that, if there is an intelligent 'something' directing the world, that this is necessarily one single intelligence - what Aquinas calls 'God'. There is no particular reason for believing this is the case. Followers of animistic or polytheistic religions would say for example that this directing comes from a multiplicity of intelligences. Thus Aquinas' fifth proof for the existence of God appears flawed to me because it relies on several premises that are quite contestable.

[2]

Aquinas' Fifth Way

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move toward an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

From The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas

Structuring

As mentioned in the section Introductions, it is most important that your essay argues for a case. Equally important is the need for the essay to have a clear, logical structure - one that allows your case to come through.

Typically a Philosophy essay will be made up of the following elements:

  1. introduction
  2. body comprising
  3. conclusion

It is difficult to say how the summary and evaluation sections should be organised in the body. This will depend on the topic you are dealing with and the argument you intend to make. What is most important however, is that you spend time at the prewriting stage thinking and planning out a possible structure for your essay.

Exploring essay structure

The table below shows the structure of a sample essay written on the 'flood hypothesis' topic. The essay is generally well organised with the following overall structure:

  1. Introduction
  2. Brown's argument
  3. Schadewald's argument
  4. Conclusion

Scan the paragrah structure within B and C (the body). You will notice they are made up mainly of summary sections and evaluation sections, or a combination of the two ( summary + evaluation).

You will also notice a number of gaps to be filled in.

  1. Click on the highlighted text to view the paragraph content.
  2. Decide whether the content of the paragraph is summary, evaluation, or summary + evaluation.
  3. Select the appropriate item for your answer.
Essay structure quiz
Sample essay
paragraph structure
A. Introduction
[1]1 Introduction to Brown and Schadewald's arguments
[2]2 Definition of scientific evidence
B. Brown's argument
[3]3 Introduction to Brown's argument
[4]4 Summary of argument
[5]5 input
[6]6 input
[7]7 Summary + Evaluation of P3
[8]8 input
C. Schadewalds' argument
[9]9 Introduction to Schadewald's arguments
[10]10 input
[11]11 input
[12]12 Evaluation of P3 and P4
[13]13 Evaluation of other arguments
[14]14 D. Conclusion
[1]

Paragraph 1

Walter Brown proposes a "scientific case for creation" as it is described in Genesis. Within this argument he attempts to demonstrate that the Bible's account of a worldwide deluge is accurate. Robert Schadewald's "Six 'Flood' Arguments Creationists Can't Answer", disputes particular creationist views, but only as a means of demonstrating the lack of testing behind creationist theories and hence their unscientific foundations.

[2]

Paragraph 2

What constitutes scientific foundations? Perhaps something originating from a process of observation, formation of an explanation or hypothesis, and conduction of controlled, repeatable testing of this hypothesis. Scientific evidence could be defined as the results obtained from such a process.

[3]

Paragraph 3

Since Brown's flood argument serves as a premise toward his overall conclusion that "the scientific evidence concerning origins supports the creation model", assessment of his evidence (presented as numbered categories) will depend largely on how scientifically reliable it is. For these purposes every effort will be made to ignore the multitude of flaws within his argument which are irrelevant to the issue of scientific evidence.

[4]

Paragraph 4

The basic outline of Brown's argument can be summarised as follows:

P1: Archaeological evidence indicates that Noah's Ark probably exists

P2: Many of the Earth's previously unexplainable features can be explained only by this flood.

P3: The Seemingly Impossible Events of a Worldwide Flood Are Really Quite Plausible if Examined Closely.

C1: The Earth has experienced a worldwide flood

...[other premises]
[5]

Paragraph 5

P1 depends on Brown's categories 83-91. These categories rely on mentions and reports of the Ark's existence (83), reports of sightings of the Ark protruding from ice on Mt. Ararat (84, 86, 87,88,89), and the reported existence of photographs depicting the Ark protruding from ice (90, 91). If, for the sake of argument, we attempted to express these categories scientifically, we might say that person A saw something sticking out of ice on Mr. Ararat. A explained the existence of this something by saying that it was Noah's Ark. This would be A's hypothesis. Now the crux of the issue is did A test this hypothesis? Not according to Brown's categories, hence A's belief does not constitute scientific evidence. By this reasoning none of categories 83-91 offers scientific proof, and they certainly don't entail the existence of Noah's Ark.

[6]

Paragraph 6

P2 asserts that that a worldwide flood is the only explanation for certain geological features of Earth, including "continental drift, mountains, and ocean trenches". Neglecting that these features are in fact explained by the theories of plate tectonics (so a deluge is not the only explanation), a declaration that these phenomena "can be viewed as direct consequences of a ... [worldwide] flood" may (if we are feeling particularly generous) constitute a hypothesis, but certainly not scientific evidence.

[7]

Paragraph 7

The categories supporting P3 suffer similar flaws. That "every mountain range on the earth contains fossils of sea life" is a scientifically proven and accepted fact. This sentence doesn't even constitute a hypothesis, because it doesn't aim to explain anything. No stretch of the imagination can label it 'scientific evidence'.

[8]

Paragraph 8

In short, Brown's 'categories' are not scientific evidence (it could even be argued that they aren't evidence, but that's another matter). They do not entail the premises which they are intended to support, hence we cannot accept Brown's conclusion, that "the earth has experienced a worldwide flood".

[9]

Paragraph 9

Brown's weakness, his lack of scientific evidence, is Robert Schadewald's subject. Schadewald attempts to draw attention to the lack of scientific foundation in creationist doctrines by actually testing creationist hypotheses. Schadewald leads us from specific "well-known creationist" hypotheses, through calculations based on simple mathematical or physical laws and from these tests, concludes the hypotheses are fallacious. Upon first glance this may seem compelling, but let us consider one example in more depth.

[10]

Paragraph 10

Schadewald's first objection to creationist explanations can be summarised thus:

P1: Creationists believe the number of fossils in 'fossil graveyards' is evidence for the flood.

P2: Fossils indicate there were n creatures

P3: If n creatures were simultaneously resurrected, they would take up x amount of space.

P4: The Earth's surface area is less than x

C1: Creationists are wrong.
[11]

Paragraph 11

Firstly, can we accept P1? Do creationists actually hold this view? Walter Brown offered us 108 views (and those final few were certainly grasping at straws), surely he would have included this one if he had considered it legitimate. Suppose we accept that P1 is a creationist doctrine. Taken out of context as it is, we cannot interpret how creationists see the number of fossils in 'fossil graveyards' as evidence. Schadewald could easily be misrepresenting the creationist stance here and go undetected.

[12]

Paragraph 12

P3 assumes that all the fossilised creatures were alive simultaneously. As observed by Martin Doepke, Schadewald hasn't accounted for creatures dying (and becoming fossilised) before or after the alleged flood. As this would decrease the number of creatures resurrected at the time of the flood, overcrowding may no longer be an issue. P4 would be false, and the premises would not entail the conclusion. It emerges that without careful definition of P3, this argument is invalid: it is possible for all premises to be true and the conclusion false.

[13]

Paragraph 13

In this light, at least the first of Schadewald's arguments is not particularly compelling. His second argument (and the third to a lesser extent) suffers the same flaw. His fourth and fifth arguments seem credible, but his sixth argues as Brown attempted to. Schadewald asserts that geologists have a good explanation for overturned strata. However he stops here, without offering this alleged explanation for us to judge.

[14]

Paragraph 14

Certainly Schadewald's arguments offer more substance than Brown's: he actually makes some attempt to explain his beliefs. Brown's 'evidence' is little more than a series of declarations and circumstances. It is the selective nature of Schadewald's explanations which detract from the merit of his objections, both to specific flood hypotheses and to unscientific creationist methods.

Annotated assignments

These are three first-year students from Philosophy. Use the menu on the left to navigate through this tutorial, reading about their lecturer's expectations, and seeing the essays that they wrote for class. The annotated assignments and the writing approaches described by students should not be seen as ideal models for you to copy. They are intended to be a general guide to essay writing in your subject and to help you to reflect on your own approach.

Roslyn

Topic:

Worldwide Flood Essay Essay


Ben

Topic:

Abortion Essay


Chloe

Topic:

Thomas Aquinas Essay




Roslyn's assignment

Roslyn

Roslyn is a first-year Philosophy student. For her main essay in the subject, she chose to write on a topic dealing with the issue of whether there has been a worldwide flood.

Essay topic:

Walter Brown argues that there is scientific evidence for a worldwide flood. What is your assessment of the alleged evidence? Do you think that Schadewald's arguments provide compelling objections to the flood hypothesis?

  1. Look at the lecturer's expectations <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.1.1.xml> of the essay.
  2. Next read Roslyn's essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.1.2.xml> .
  3. Now read the lecturer's comments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.1.3.xml> about Roslyn's essay.

Lecturer's expectations

Graham Oppy, Lecturer

In this section, your lecturer - Graham Oppy - sets out what he expects from student assignments on this topic.

Essay topic:

Walter Brown argues that there is scientific evidence for a worldwide flood. What is your assessment of the alleged evidence? Do you think that Schadewald's arguments provide compelling objections to the flood hypothesis?

What's required?

This topic requires students to take up the broad issue of the type of evidence that is necessary before we can assert with certainty that something has happened. Specifically, students need to look in detail at the evidence provided by Brown for a worldwide flood and decide whether it is adequate. Then they would need to consider Schadewald's objections and decide whether he convincingly dismisses the flood hypothesis.

A good essay on this topic would need to:

How to go about writing the essay

  1. Think generally about the issue (e.g. What is scientific evidence? What sort of evidence you would need to be convinced that a worldwide flood occurred?)
  2. Read Brown - maybe several times. Summarise his text in your own words. Think about faults, problems, difficulties in his argument.
  3. Read Schadewald - maybe several times. Summarise his text in your own words. Think about faults, problems, difficulties in his argument.
  4. Decide what your argument is going to be, i.e. whose arguments will you favour? This decision may require repeating Stages 2 and 3.
  5. Try to plan out the structure of your essay into a sequence of paragraphs. Decide whether i) you will deal with Brown first in the essay and then move on to Schadewald or ii) use some other sequence, e.g. a series of different themes discussed by the two writers.
  6. When you have done enough reading, planning, and argument formulation, begin drafting the essay. Repeat any of Stages 1-5, as necessary.
  7. When you have completed your draft, leave it for a day or two - then reread and edit it.

General essay marking criteria

Essay marking quiz
1 2 3 4 5
Presentation:
  • legibility and layout
  • spelling, punctuation, and grammar
Reading:
  • bibliography and citation
  • comprehension and exposition
Argument:
  • clarity
  • logical development
  • originality

Roslyn's essay

Essay topic:

Walter Brown argues that there is scientific evidence for a worldwide flood. What is your assessment of the alleged evidence? Do you think that Schadewald's arguments provide compelling objections to the flood hypothesis?


Walter Brown proposes a "scientific case for creation" 1 as it is described in Genesis 2. Within this argument he attempts to demonstrate that the Bible's account of a worldwide deluge 3 is accurate. Robert Schadewald's "Six 'Flood' Arguments Creationists Can't Answer" 4, disputes particular creationist views, but only as a means of demonstrating the lack of testing behind creationist theories and hence their unscientific foundations.

What constitutes scientific foundations? Perhaps something originating from a process of observation, formation of an explanation or hypothesis, and conduction of controlled, repeatable testing of this hypothesis. Scientific evidence could be defined as the results obtained from such a process.

Since Brown's flood argument serves as a premise toward his overall conclusion that "the scientific evidence concerning origins supports the creation model" 5, assessment of his evidence (presented as numbered categories) will depend largely on how scientifically reliable it is. For these purposes every effort will be made to ignore the multitude of flaws within his argument which are irrelevant to the issue of scientific evidence.

The basic outline of Brown's argument can be summarised as follows 6 :

P1: Archaeological evidence indicates that Noah's Ark probably exists
P2: Many of the Earth's previously unexplainable features can be explained only by this flood.
P3: The Seemingly Impossible Events of a Worldwide Flood Are Really Quite Plausible if Examined Closely.
C1: The Earth has experienced a worldwide flood
...[other premises]

P1 depends on Brown's categories 83-91. These categories rely on mentions and reports of the Ark's existence (83), reports of sightings of the Ark protruding from ice on Mt. Ararat 7 (84, 86, 87,88,89), and the reported existence of photographs depicting the Ark protruding from ice (90, 91). If, for the sake of argument, we attempted to express these categories scientifically, we might say that person A saw something sticking out of ice on Mr. Ararat. A explained the existence of this something by saying that it was Noah's Ark. This would be A's hypothesis. Now the crux of the issue is did A test this hypothesis? Not according to Brown's categories, hence A's belief does not constitute scientific evidence. By this reasoning none of categories 83-91 offers scientific proof, and they certainly don't entail the existence of Noah's Ark.

P2 asserts that that a worldwide flood is the only explanation for certain geological features of Earth, including "continental drift, mountains, and ocean trenches". Neglecting that these features are in fact explained by the theories of plate tectonics (so a deluge is not the only explanation), a declaration that these phenomena "can be viewed as direct consequences of a ... [worldwide] flood" 8 may (if we are feeling particularly generous) constitute a hypothesis, but certainly not scientific evidence.

The categories supporting P3 suffer similar flaws. That "every mountain range on the earth contains fossils of sea life" 9 is a scientifically proven and accepted fact. This sentence doesn't even constitute a hypothesis, because it doesn't aim to explain anything. No stretch of the imagination can label it 'scientific evidence'.

In short, Brown's 'categories' are not scientific evidence (it could even be argued that they aren't evidence, but that's another matter). They do not entail the premises which they are intended to support, hence we cannot accept Brown's conclusion, that "the earth has experienced a worldwide flood".

Brown's weakness, his lack of scientific evidence, is Robert Schadewald's subject. Schadewald attempts to draw attention to the lack of scientific foundation in creationist doctrines by actually testing creationist hypotheses. Schadewald leads us from specific "well-known creationist" 10 hypotheses, through calculations based on simple mathematical or physical laws and from these tests, concludes the hypotheses are fallacious. Upon first glance this may seem compelling, but let us consider one example in more depth.

Schadewald's first objection to creationist explanations can be summarised thus:

P1: Creationists believe the number of fossils in 'fossil graveyards' is evidence for the flood.
P2: Fossils indicate there were n creatures
P3: If n creatures were simultaneously resurrected, they would take up x amount of space.
P4: The Earth's surface area is less than x
C1: Creationists are wrong.

Firstly, can we accept P1? Do creationists actually hold this view? Walter Brown offered us 108 views (and those final few were certainly grasping at straws), surely he would have included this one if he had considered it legitimate. Suppose we accept that P1 is a creationist doctrine. Taken out of context as it is, we cannot interpret how creationists interpret the number of fossils in 'fossil graveyards' as evidence. Schadewald could easily misrepresent the creationist stance and go undetected.

P3 assumes that all the fossilised creatures were alive simultaneously. As observed by Martin Doepke 11, Schadewald hasn't accounted for creatures dying (and becoming fossilised) before or after the alleged flood. As this would decrease the number of creatures resurrected at the time of the flood, overcrowding may no longer be an issue. P4 would be false, and the premises would not entail the conclusion. It emerges that without careful definition of P3, this argument is invalid: it is possible for all premises to be true and the conclusion false.

In this light, at least the first of Schadewald's arguments is not particularly compelling. His second argument (and the third to a lesser extent) suffers the same flaw. His fourth and fifth arguments seem credible, but his sixth argues as Brown attempted to: Schadewald asserts that geologists have a good explanation for overturned strata. However, he stops here, without offering this alleged explanation for us to judge.

Certainly Schadewald's arguments offer more substance than Brown's: he actually makes some attempt to explain his beliefs. Brown's 'evidence' is little more than a series of declarations and circumstances. It is the selective nature of Schadewald's explanations which detract from the merit of his objections, both to specific flood hypotheses and to unscientific creationist methods.

Footnotes

  1. Brown, Walter. "The Scientific Case for Creation: 108 Categories of Evidence" in Monash University PHL1010 course readings, Semester 1, 2000, p. 90.
  2. First book of the Old Testament of The Holy Bible.
  3. Chapter 7.
  4. Schadewald, Robert University PHL1010 course readings, Semester 1, 2000, p. 103.
  5. Brown, op. cit. p. 90.
  6. These sentences are taken from Brown op. cit., but their formatting is the author's.
  7. According to Genesis 8:4, "the ark rested on the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat", from the King James version of The Holy Bible, Zondervan Publishing.
  8. Brown, op. cit. p. 98.
  9. Category 105, ibid.
  10. Schadewald, op. cit. p. 105.
  11. Acquaintance, and fellow first year philosophy student at Monash Clayton campus.

Roslyn's essay and what her lecturer thought

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Essay topic:

Walter Brown argues that there is scientific evidence for a worldwide flood. What is your assessment of the alleged evidence? Do you think that Schadewald's arguments provide compelling objections to the flood hypothesis?



[IMG-1] comment

[1]Walter Brown proposes a "scientific case for creation" 1 as it is described in Genesis 2. Within this argument he attempts to demonstrate that the Bible's account of a worldwide deluge 3 is accurate. Robert Schadewald's "Six 'Flood' Arguments Creationists Can't Answer" 4, disputes particular creationist views, but only as a means of demonstrating the lack of testing behind creationist theories and hence their unscientific foundations.


[IMG-2] comment

[2]What constitutes scientific foundations? Perhaps something originating from a process of observation, formation of an explanation or hypothesis, and conduction of controlled, repeatable testing of this hypothesis. Scientific evidence could be defined as the results obtained from such a process.

Since Brown's flood argument serves as a premise toward his overall conclusion that "the scientific evidence concerning origins supports the creation model" 5, assessment of his evidence (presented as numbered categories) will depend largely on how scientifically reliable it is. For these purposes every effort will be made to ignore the multitude of flaws within his argument which are irrelevant to the issue of scientific evidence.


[IMG-3] comment

[3]The basic outline of Brown's argument can be summarised as follows 6 :

P1: Archaeological evidence indicates that Noah's Ark probably exists
P2: Many of the Earth's previously unexplainable features can be explained only by this flood.
P3: The Seemingly Impossible Events of a Worldwide Flood Are Really Quite Plausible if Examined Closely.
C1: The Earth has experienced a worldwide flood
...[other premises]

P1 depends on Brown's categories 83-91. These categories rely on mentions and reports of the Ark's existence (83), reports of sightings of the Ark protruding from ice on Mt. Ararat 7 (84, 86, 87,88,89), and the reported existence of photographs depicting the Ark protruding from ice (90, 91).
[IMG-4] comment

[4]If, for the sake of argument, we attempted to express these categories scientifically, we might say that person A saw something sticking out of ice on Mr. Ararat. A explained the existence of this something by saying that it was Noah's Ark. This would be A's hypothesis. Now the crux of the issue is did A test this hypothesis? Not according to Brown's categories, hence A's belief does not constitute scientific evidence. By this reasoning none of categories 83-91 offers scientific proof, and they certainly don't entail the existence of Noah's Ark.


[IMG-5] comment

[5]P2 asserts that that a worldwide flood is the only explanation for certain geological features of Earth, including "continental drift, mountains, and ocean trenches". Neglecting that these features are in fact explained by the theories of plate tectonics (so a deluge is not the only explanation), a declaration that these phenomena "can be viewed as direct consequences of a ... [worldwide] flood" 8 may (if we are feeling particularly generous) constitute a hypothesis, but certainly not scientific evidence.

The categories supporting P3 suffer similar flaws. That "every mountain range on the earth contains fossils of sea life" 9 is a scientifically proven and accepted fact. This sentence doesn't even constitute a hypothesis, because it doesn't aim to explain anything. No stretch of the imagination can label it 'scientific evidence'.

In short, Brown's 'categories' are not scientific evidence (it could even be argued that they aren't evidence, but that's another matter). They do not entail the premises which they are intended to support, hence we cannot accept Brown's conclusion, that "the earth has experienced a worldwide flood".

Brown's weakness, his lack of scientific evidence, is Robert Schadewald's subject. Schadewald attempts to draw attention to the lack of scientific foundation in creationist doctrines by actually
[IMG-6] comment

[6]testing creationist hypotheses. Schadewald leads us from specific "well-known creationist" 10 hypotheses, through calculations based on simple mathematical or physical laws and from these tests, concludes the hypotheses are fallacious. Upon first glance this may seem compelling, but let us consider one example in more depth.

Schadewald's first objection to creationist explanations can be summarised thus:

P1: Creationists believe the number of fossils in 'fossil graveyards' is evidence for the flood.
P2: Fossils indicate there were n creatures
P3: If n creatures were simultaneously resurrected, they would take up x amount of space.
P4: The Earth's surface area is less than x
C1: Creationists are wrong.

[IMG-7] comment

[7]Firstly, can we accept P1? Do creationists actually hold this view? Walter Brown offered us 108 views (and those final few were certainly grasping at straws), surely he would have included this one if he had considered it legitimate. Suppose we accept that P1 is a creationist doctrine. Taken out of context as it is, we cannot interpret how creationists interpret the number of fossils in 'fossil graveyards' as evidence. Schadewald could easily misrepresent the creationist stance and go undetected.

P3 assumes that all the fossilised creatures were alive simultaneously. As observed by Martin Doepke 11, Schadewald hasn't accounted for creatures dying (and becoming fossilised) before or after the alleged flood. As this would decrease the number of creatures resurrected at the time of the flood, overcrowding may no longer be an issue. P4 would be false, and the premises would not entail the conclusion. It emerges that without careful definition of P3, this argument is invalid: it is possible for all premises to be true and the conclusion false.


[IMG-8] comment

[8]In this light, at least the first of Schadewald's arguments is not particularly compelling. His second argument (and the third to a lesser extent) suffers the same flaw. His fourth and fifth arguments seem credible, but his sixth argues as Brown attempted to: Schadewald asserts that geologists have a good explanation for overturned strata. However, he stops here, without offering this alleged explanation for us to judge.


[IMG-9] comment

[9]Certainly Schadewald's arguments offer more substance than Brown's: he actually makes some attempt to explain his beliefs. Brown's 'evidence' is little more than a series of declarations and circumstances. It is the selective nature of Schadewald's explanations which detract from the merit of his objections, both to specific flood hypotheses and to unscientific creationist methods.


[IMG-10] comment

[10] [Lecturer's overall comment]

Footnotes

  1. Brown, Walter. "The Scientific Case for Creation: 108 Categories of Evidence" in Monash University PHL1010 course readings, Semester 1, 2000, p. 90.
  2. First book of the Old Testament of The Holy Bible.
  3. Chapter 7.
  4. Schadewald, Robert University PHL1010 course readings, Semester 1, 2000, p. 103.
  5. Brown, op. cit. p. 90.
  6. These sentences are taken from Brown op. cit., but their formatting is the author's.
  7. According to Genesis 8:4, "the ark rested on the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat", from the King James version of The Holy Bible, Zondervan Publishing.
  8. Brown, op. cit. p. 98.
  9. Category 105, ibid.
  10. Schadewald, op. cit. p. 105.
  11. Acquaintance, and fellow first year philosophy student at Monash Clayton campus.
[1]

What is your argument?

In the introduction to Philosophy essays, it is a good idea to state the case you are going to argue. This lets the reader know where they are going.

[2]

Very good paragraph

The student here provides a definition of a concept that is central to the essay - 'scientific foundations'. She has attempted to come up with her own formulation of this concept - " Scientific evidence could be defined as..." This is good - it shows evidence of her thinking for herself.

[3]

A brave attempt

This is good because the student has provided a clear outline of the argument she is going to assess. It is a 'brave attempt', because she has chosen to represent the argument formally as a sequence of premises and a conclusion. (Note that is not always necessary to use this strict format - sometimes it is just as good to summarise the argument in your own words.)

[4]

Well argued

This paragraph is good because the student has made a clear attempt to EVALUATE the argument of a particular writer - in this case it is Brown's first premise. The student's evaluation is well put - she is arguing that what Brown presents is not a 'proof', but only a 'hypothesis'.

[5]

Also well argued

This paragraph is another good example of a student evaluating ideas - in this case Brown's second premise.

[6]

Not really 'testing'

'Testing' is not the right term - better would be 'drawing out the consequences of' (Schadewald is not conducting - or even proposing to conduct - experiments). In philosophy essays, you have to be very careful with terminology. When you are writing you need to be sure the term you are using is the right one.

[7]

Fair enough

The student provides an objection to Schadewald here which seems to be a reasonable one. This helps to support her main argument - which is that 'whilst Schadewald's arguments offer more substance than Brown's, they still have problems'.

[8]

Too brief

It is not so helpful to mention other arguments (and their flaws) without explaining what these arguments are. When you have a word limit of only 1000 words or so, you will often need to limit your discussion to only a few arguments. It is best to indicate your intention in your introduction - e.g. "In this essay I will confine myself to Schadewald's first argument - and then stay clear of additional arguments that you are not going to be able to elaborate on."

[9]

A clear conclusion

The student has expressed a clear point of view here - clearly she is more convinced by Schadewald's arguments than Brown's, but notes that Schadewald also has problems. Expressing a clear point of view is exactly what we want students to do in their essays. As a minor criticism though, it would have been helpful if the student had signalled her position in the introduction (e.g. In this essay I shall argue that...).

[10]

Lecturer's overall comment

Comment:

This is an outstanding essay.

Strengths:

The essay received a High Distinction because:

  1. it presents a clear point of view - i.e. 'that Schadewald's arguments offer more substance than Brown's'.
  2. it is very well structured: First Brown's arguments are clearly outlined and then evaluated; next Schadewald's argument are outlined and then evaluated; finally the essay provides a clear conclusion.

Weaknesses:

The only minor criticism is that there is mention of Schadewald's other arguments (2-6), without adequate discussion of these.

Grade:

High Distinction

Ben's assignment

Ben

Ben is a first-year Philosophy student. For his main essay in the subject, he chose to write on a topic concerned with one specific argument proposed against the practice of abortion.

Essay topic:

It is always and everywhere wrong to kill an innocent human being. A human foetus is an innocent human being. So it is always and everywhere wrong to kill a human foetus. Discuss.

  1. Look at the lecturer's expectations <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.1.xml> of the essay.
  2. Next read Ben's essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.2.xml> .
  3. Now read the lecturer's comments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.3.xml> about Ben's essay.
  4. Finally, listen to Ben <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml> talk about how he wrote his essay and read feedback about how to overcome the difficulties he faced.

Lecturer's expectations

Karen Green, Lecturer

In this section, your lecturer - Karen Green - sets out what she expects from student assignments on this topic.

Essay topic:

It is always and everywhere wrong to kill an innocent human being. A human foetus is an innocent human being. So it is always and everywhere wrong to kill a human foetus. Discuss.

What's required?

This topic presents an argument made up of two premises and a conclusion

P1. It is always and everywhere wrong to kill an innocent human being



P2. A human foetus is an innocent human being



C So it is always and everywhere wrong to kill a human foetus

The ' Discuss' part of the question means that students need to assess whether the argument is a reasonable one. This would involve considering:

  1. whether each of the premises can be held to be true, and
  2. whether the conclusion follows on from the premises

If you were writing this essay, you would need to indicate clearly whether you find the argument acceptable, giving reasons based on your analysis of i) and ii).

How to go about writing the essay

Students should first think about their own provisional response to the topic - i.e. Is the argument acceptable? Why? Why not?

Next they would need to identify the relevant readings for this essay - from the course notes and lectures. In this case, it would be Peter Singer's Practical Ethics already discussed in classes, along with the other prescribed material on abortion in the course notes - and not necessarily anything else.

Students would need to spend a fair amount of time carefully reading and taking notes on this material (up to 10 hours). Some material would need to be read more than once. Once the reading was done, the essay should take about five hours - so the reading and thinking component would take longer than the writing. The essay should however, be put aside and rewritten, which would take a few more hours.

A Credit/Pass essay would need to give a solid account of Singer's text - which provides an objection to the argument. A High Distinction essay would need to take the argument a bit further. For instance it could develop an objection to Singer's argument. Or it could attempt to patch up the argument in the light of Singer's objections.

General essay marking criteria

Essay marking quiz
1 2 3 4 5
Presentation:
  • legibility and layout
  • spelling, punctuation and grammar
Reading:
  • bibliography and citation
  • comprehension and exposition
Argument:
  • clarity
  • logical development
  • originality

Ben's essay

Essay topic:

It is always and everywhere wrong to kill an innocent human being. A human foetus is an innocent human being. So it is always and everywhere wrong to kill a human foetus. Discuss.


The right to life of the human foetus has been the topic of intensely fierce debates by philosophers, theologians, and academics for several decades. Does the foetus' right to life override the mother's right to choose how she will control her body? If so, are there any circumstances in which an abortion is justified? I shall argue that ultimately it is the mother's choice how she will control her body, and thus, in many cases, that an abortion is justified.

The abortion debate focuses on the argument that follows:



P1: It is always wrong to kill an innocent human being

P2: A human foetus is an innocent human being

C: It is always wrong to kill a human foetus

The validity of this argument relies on the truth value of the first two premises, and by dismissing the conclusion when the premises are assumed to be true, the argument becomes invalid. Thus, in order to show that it is not always wrong to kill an human foetus, it must be shown that the premises or conclusion are not always true. Throughout this essay I shall attempt to dismiss both premises and thus invalidate the argument.

A woman has a right to control her own property, and thus her body. It is this ideology on which many laws have developed, with regards to theft and assault. By ignoring this right, many crimes are no longer immoral. Thus, in the same vein, if a woman is pregnant, she has the right to use her "control" right, to outweigh the right to life of the foetus. The right to autonomy of the woman outweighs the right to life of the foetus, which is not yet even a person. Philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson, has argued this point with a famous example. Suppose you wake one morning to find yourself hooked up to an unconscious, famous musician. His kidneys have failed and he needs to be hooked up to a person with healthy kidney's, you, for nine months to survive. You have been kidnapped by a group of music lovers, and hooked up to the ailing musician. To be disconnected now would kill him. Thomson argues that you are not morally obliged not to disconnect. To ask you to give up nine months to save someone else is too much to ask. So too, it is too much to ask a woman to give up herself for nine months (more including upbringing) in order to have a baby. (Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defence of Abortion", p38-39). Thus, by following this argument, the conclusion is dismissed, invalidating the initial argument.

A further angle of this suggestion will now be explored. If a mother has the right to complete control of the autonomy of her own body then she may also refuse to follow through with an accidental or ill-thought out pregnancy, for it is morally unjust to require that she be restrained for nine months in such a circumstance. Singer has adapted Thomson's argument to highlight such a situation (Peter Singer, "Practical Ethics", 2nd ed., p 147). Suppose that instead of being kidnapped by crazed, over zealous music lovers, you stumbled into a section of the hospital for volunteers to save the musician. Expecting the next volunteer, the doctors anaesthetize you and hook you in to the musician. Are you still obligated to stay? Unfortunately, this argument may then be extended to allow for unwanted pregnancies, for example, children that are the wrong sex, or simply inconvenient.

A further step on this argument, beyond the woman's right to autonomy, is any situation in which the bearing of the child would, or could, adversely affect the health of the mother. As stated by Mackie (J L Mackie, "Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, p197), abortion is justified if "it may be needed to prevent a grave risk to the mother's life or health." Is a woman morally obligated to risk her life for the potential life of a child? Is a woman also expected to bear a child that is the result of a rape, that could seriously affect her mental health? Surely it may be agreed that the mother is in no way required risk her own health in order to nurture a child that may not even survive anyway. It may also be said that a mother may abort a child if it's quality of life is going to be exceedingly low. For example a seriously disabled child.

Now, extending from the fact that a woman has the right to autonomy, a different problem exists in the argument as it stands. It is speciesist to suggest Homo Sapiens have any particular right to life, above and beyond that of an equivalently developed animal, and so rebutting P1. So, if it is in itself morally "wrong", to kill a member of the species Homo Sapiens, then we are making our decision with a bias toward our own species. Otherwise, without a modification of the initial argument (as in the next paragraph), the premises do not give an unbiased and justifiable conclusion that it is always morally unacceptable to abort a foetus of the species Homo Sapiens.

Singer suggests a justification for abortion in that we kill animals of equivalent development for food, and so, why should a foetus, without being speciesist, be any different (Peter Singer, "Practical Ethics", 2nd ed. p151). Opponents of this idea suggest interchanging the word Homo Sapiens in P1, for person, defining a person, as stated by Locke, "a thinking, intelligent being that has reason and reflection and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places" (Peter Singer, "Practical Ethics", 2nd ed. ,p87). This brings about a further problem for the anti-abortionists: person cannot simply be substituted into P2, and without this substitution in P2, the premises will not entail the conclusion. In response to this, the conservatives then change the argument entirely:

P1: It is always wrong to kill anything that will be a person

P2: A human foetus is a future person

C: It is always wrong to kill a human foetus

Then, this may be criticized by emphasizing that the rights of a real person (the woman) outweigh the rights of the potential person, and thus it is once again the mother's decision as to whether to abort the child, thus making P1 untrue.

But not every abortion is justified. For example, if the child has already been carried for some time does the mother have the right to withdraw herself at whim. Surely if the woman has committed herself for too long to plead autonomy now. Another instance is when the child is simply undesirable, due to gender, or if the mother would like to go on a hiking holiday. These examples are unjust for abortions as although the right to autonomy is paramount to the right to life of the foetus, it is intuitively wrong to end a life, even a possible one if the reason is not legitimate. Thus, it would be best, to adopt some form of rule restriction on claiming "right to autonomy" as the reason for abortion. Some form of rule system may be applied in the way that utilitarianism was rectified by a rule system.

Abortion is a complex and emotional moral issue that cannot be explained completely in one essay. Every instance in which abortion is considered differs from the last and so requires an independent evaluation. Every abortion may not be dictated by a single rule. Given the argument shown early in this essay, since the premises are not necessarily true, then the conclusion may not simply be blindly accepted as true. So, too, the argument is not valid, since if the premises are true the conclusion is contingently false. Thus it is not true that it is always and incontrovertibly wrong to have an abortion.

Bibliography

  1. Judith Jarvis Thomson, " A Defence of Abortion"
  2. Peter Singer, " Practical Ethics", 2nd ed
  3. J L Mackie, " Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong"
  4. Jonathan Glover, " Causing Death and Saving Lives"

Ben's essay and what his lecturer thought

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Essay topic:

It is always and everywhere wrong to kill an innocent human being. A human foetus is an innocent human being. So it is always and everywhere wrong to kill a human foetus. Discuss.


The right to life of the human foetus has been the topic of intensely fierce debates by philosophers, theologians, and academics for several decades. Does the foetus' right to life override the mother's right to choose how she will control her body? If so, are there any circumstances in which an abortion is justified?
[IMG-1] comment

[1]I shall argue that ultimately it is the mother's choice how she will control her body, and thus, in many cases, that an abortion is justified.

The abortion debate focuses on the argument that follows:



P1: It is always wrong to kill an innocent human being

P2: A human foetus is an innocent human being

C: It is always wrong to kill a human foetus


[IMG-2] comment

[2]The validity of this argument relies on the truth value of the first two premises, and by dismissing the conclusion when the premises are assumed to be true, the argument becomes invalid. Thus, in order to show that it is not always wrong to kill an human foetus, it must be shown that the premises or conclusion are not always true. Throughout this essay I shall attempt to dismiss both premises and thus invalidate the argument.


[IMG-3] comment

[3]A woman has a right to control her own property, and thus her body. It is this ideology on which many laws have developed, with regards to theft and assault. By ignoring this right, many crimes are no longer immoral. Thus, in the same vein, if a woman is pregnant, she has the right to use her "control" right, to outweigh the right to life of the foetus. The right to autonomy of the woman outweighs the right to life of the foetus, which is not yet even a person. Philosopher Judith Jarvis
[IMG-4] comment

Thomson, has argued this point with a famous example. Suppose you wake one morning to find yourself hooked up to an unconscious, famous musician. His kidneys have failed and he needs to be hooked up to a person with healthy kidney's, you, for nine months to survive. You have been kidnapped by a group of music lovers, and hooked up to the ailing musician. To be disconnected now would kill him. Thomson argues that you are not morally obliged not to disconnect. To ask you to give up nine months to save someone else is too much to ask. So too, it is too much to ask a woman to give up herself for nine months (more including upbringing) in order to have a baby. (Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defence of Abortion", p38-39). [4]Thus, by following this argument, the conclusion is dismissed, invalidating the initial argument.


[IMG-5] comment

[5]A further angle of this suggestion will now be explored. If a mother has the right to complete control of the autonomy of her own body then she may also refuse to follow through with an accidental or ill-thought out pregnancy, for it is morally unjust to require that she be restrained for nine months in such a circumstance. [6]Singer has adapted Thomson's argument to highlight such a situation (Peter Singer, "Practical Ethics", 2nd ed., p 147).
[IMG-6] comment

Suppose that instead of being kidnapped by crazed, over zealous music lovers, you stumbled into a section of the hospital for volunteers to save the musician. Expecting the next volunteer, the doctors anaesthetize you and hook you in to the musician. Are you still obligated to stay? Unfortunately, this argument may then be extended to allow for unwanted pregnancies, for example, children that are the wrong sex, or simply inconvenient.


[IMG-7] comment

[7]A further step on this argument, beyond the woman's right to autonomy, is any situation in which the bearing of the child would, or could, adversely affect the health of the mother. As stated by Mackie (J L Mackie, "Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, p197), abortion is justified if "it may be needed to prevent a grave risk to the mother's life or health." Is a woman morally obligated to risk her life for the potential life of a child? Is a woman also expected to bear a child that is the result of a rape, that could seriously affect her mental health? Surely it may be agreed that the mother is in no way required risk her own health in order to nurture a child that may not even survive anyway. It may also be said that a mother may abort a child if it's quality of life is going to be exceedingly low. For example a seriously disabled child.

Now, extending from the fact that a woman has the right to autonomy, a different problem exists in the argument as it stands. It is speciesist to suggest Homo Sapiens have any particular right to life, above and beyond that of an equivalently developed animal, and so rebutting P1. So, if it is in itself morally "wrong", to kill a member of the species Homo Sapiens, then we are making our decision with a bias toward our own species. Otherwise, without a modification of the initial argument (as in the next paragraph), the premises do not give an unbiased and justifiable conclusion that it is always morally unacceptable to abort a foetus of the species Homo Sapiens.


[IMG-8] comment

[8]Singer suggests a justification for abortion in that we kill animals of equivalent development for food, and so, why should a foetus, without being speciesist, be any different (Peter Singer, "Practical Ethics", 2nd ed. p151). Opponents of this idea suggest interchanging the word Homo Sapiens in P1, for person, defining a person, as stated by Locke, "a thinking, intelligent being that has reason and reflection and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places" (Peter Singer, "Practical Ethics", 2nd ed. ,p87). This brings about a further problem for the anti-abortionists: person cannot simply be substituted into P2, and without this substitution in P2, the premises will not entail the conclusion. In response to this, the conservatives then change the argument entirely:



P1: It is always wrong to kill anything that will be a person

P2: A human foetus is a future person

C: It is always wrong to kill a human foetus



Then, this may be criticized by emphasizing that the rights of a real person (the woman) outweigh the rights of the potential person, and thus it is once again the mother's decision as to whether to abort the child, thus making P1 untrue.

But not every abortion is justified. For example, if the child has already been carried for some time does the mother have the right to withdraw herself at whim. Surely if the woman has committed herself for too long to plead autonomy now. Another instance is when the child is simply undesirable, due to gender, or if the mother would like to go on a hiking holiday. These examples are unjust for abortions as although the right to autonomy is paramount to the right to life of the foetus, it is intuitively wrong to end a life, even a possible one if the reason is not legitimate. Thus, it would be best, to adopt some form of rule restriction on claiming "right to autonomy" as the reason for abortion. Some form of rule system may be applied in the way that utilitarianism was rectified by a rule system.


[IMG-9] comment

[9]Abortion is a complex and emotional moral issue that cannot be explained completely in one essay. Every instance in which abortion is considered differs from the last and so requires an independent evaluation. Every abortion may not be dictated by a single rule. Given the argument shown early in this essay, since the premises are not necessarily true, then the conclusion may not simply be blindly accepted as true. So, too, the argument is not valid, since if the premises are true the conclusion is contingently false. Thus it is not true that it is always and incontrovertibly wrong to have an abortion.


[IMG-10] comment

[10] [Lecturer's overall comment]

Bibliography

  1. Judith Jarvis Thomson, " A Defence of Abortion"
  2. Peter Singer, " Practical Ethics", 2nd ed
  3. J L Mackie, " Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong"
  4. Jonathan Glover, " Causing Death and Saving Lives"
[1]

Case clearly stated

This is good - the student has clearly identified the argument to be tackled, and makes it clear what position he will adopt.

[2]

Problem with terminology

The strategy that the student discusses in this paragraph is not quite right, mainly because he has confused certain terms. He says he 'will invalidate the argument by dismissing the premises', by which I take to mean, 'show the argument to be invalid' (that is show that the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises). But in fact the student is not going to do this - he is intending to show that the premises themselves are not true.

Getting this kind of technical vocabulary right is one of the things that distinguishes an excellent essay from a good essay.

[3]

Are you dealing with P1 here?

It is not clear what this paragraph is concerned with. In the previous sentence, the student sets out a strategy to be employed in the essay - 'to dismiss both premises in the argument'. This strategic approach is good, but it then needs to be followed through clearly in subsequent sections of the essay.

A better way to proceed at this point would be to deal explicitly with P1 and to signal this clearly in the opening sentence of this paragraph.

[4]

Awkward

The 'arguments' mentioned in this sentence refer to two different arguments - the one in the topic and Jarvis Thomson's. This is a bit confusing. Also Thomson's argument really involves denying P1, rather than showing that the argument in the topic is not valid. Again there is a problem with terminology.

[5]

Watch connectors

At the beginning of some paragraphs, the student uses connectors like:

A further angle of this suggestion...

A further step on this argument...

Now extending from the fact that...

These connectors are a bit vague - in the essay it is not clear what 'this suggestion' or 'this argument' is referring to. In your writing, you always need to be precise about these references. Use expressions like:

Further to Premise 1...

With respect to the conclusion of this argument...

And if there is any potential for confusion, restate the idea you are dealing with:

In relation to the second premise ('that a human foetus is an innocent human')

[6]

End of Thomson discussion?

The coverage of Thomson is too brief here. The student chooses at this point to move on to Singer, who is also covered fairly briefly. It would have been better to mention Singer's objections briefly first, and to then say that the essay was going to concentrate on Thomson's objections to P1. This would have given the student space to develop the discussion of Thomson further, and would have constituted a more logical development of the subject.

In Philosophy essays, it is generally better to devote yourself to discussing a single argument in detail - i.e. the argument itself, objections to the argument, responses to objections, etc.

[7]

Watch connectors

At the beginning of some paragraphs, the student uses connectors like:

A further angle of this suggestion...

A further step on this argument...

Now extending from the fact that...

These connectors are a bit vague - in the essay it is not clear what 'this suggestion' or 'this argument' is referring to. In your writing, you always need to be precise about these references. Use expressions like:

Further to Premise 1...

With respect to the conclusion of this argument...

And if there is any potential for confusion, restate the idea you are dealing with:

In relation to the second premise ('that a human foetus is an innocent human')

[8]

Well discussed

This paragraph shows good understanding of some of the various arguments and counterarguments around P1 and P2. The structure here is quite tight:

Singer's objection that it is specieist to assert it is only wrong to kill a human being
Opponent's defence that in P1, ' human being' can be replaced by ' person'
Additional objection that ' person' cannot simply replace ' human being' in P2
Additional defence that ' person' in P2, should be a future person
Final objection that it is wrong to suggest that a future person has rights over an existing person

If there is a problem with this section however, it is that we are uncertain about its connection to the earlier discussion.

[9]

Conclusion - a good attempt

The problems with terminology aside, the student makes a good fist attempt here of bringing the threads of his argument together - to show that it is not always and everywhere wrong to have an abortion.

[10]

Lecturer's overall comment

Comment:

This is a solid essay, but one that would have benefited from additional planning.

Strengths:

  1. The essay provides a clear answer to the question - 'that it is not always and everywhere wrong to have an abortion'.
  2. It demonstrates a fairly good understanding of the material read.

Weaknesses:

  1. The essay shows a degree of confusion about terminology - validity, truth, etc. - which means the student's strategy for dealing with the issue is not quite correct.
  2. It deals with two very different arguments - Thomson's and Singer's - rather than concentrating on one argument. Because these two arguments are dealt with briefly, neither is developed very far.
  3. The essay's structure is not always clear.

Grade:

Distinction

Ben's comments

Writing in philosophy <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

I'm a Science/Arts student, and when I graduate I would probably like to do something Maths or Physics orientated. So I am used to doing Sciences probably more than I am Arts. But Sciences and Maths are different to Arts, particularly Philosophy in that Maths always has a definite and finite answer. It's a right or wrong situation in Maths, whereas in Philosophy although it can be wrong there's no definite answer, so long as you have points to justify your point of view you can say the most outlandish thing so long as it is justifiable and your argument...

How I chose the topic <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

When I get an essay I decide on the topic based on which of the options jumps out at me and appears to be the most interesting to me. If the topic is interesting to you, you can write more about it. I think that if you're interested in it it's easier to write a 1000 word essay than it is to write a 1000 word essay about something where you're just writing because you're obliged to. It's better to be interested, because that way you can sustain more of the essay and make it more like you're actually saying it rather than...

How I interpreted the topic <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

In my essay topic I felt that the main words that jumped out at me were always and everywhere and innocent human being; and the defeatist is an innocent human being. These jumped out at me as keywords because they emphasized they were always and everywhere in that they were never long, they were unbreakable.

Developing the argument <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

My essay topic was that it was always and everywhere wrong to kill an innocent human being: A human foetus is an innocent human being, so it is always and everywhere wrong to kill a human foetus - discuss.

From this essay topic, I analyzed the keywords as being always and everywhere and innocent human being. By feeling that always and everywhere were so important I could see that I felt that I could argue more convincingly that it is not always and everywhere wrong to kill an innocent human being or in this case a foetus. The question says discuss, so you can say your point of view. Since this is always and everywhere, that's really a large comment, it forces you to be one specific. If you say that it's true, then you're forced to say that it is always and everywhere wrong. By saying that it's not true, I could say that in some cases yes...

Planning my essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

I think that an essay plan is one of the most important things for an essay. When you're writing an essay, it's very important to have a plan, as it guides the way that you take the essay. From the essay plan, you can using your argument, your point of view-the point of view that you plan on taking in your essay, you can expand and make the points of your argument and justify whatever conclusion you draw from the argument you're making in the essay. Using a plan you can outline what will be in your introduction, each of your paragraphs and your conclusion. Using this you can pretty much just write the essay just from that rather than writing it 'off the cuff'.

Using quotes <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

I feel that quotes are necessary for any essay, particularly in Philosophy and Arts based essays, because it shows that you've done the research rather than just writing the essay. You can use quotes to back up your points, but it is important to not include too many quotes. If you include too many, the flow of your essay will be interrupted and the essay won't be as easy to read. I like to include quotes just in every second or maybe third paragraph, that way you have quotes to back up your point of view without slowing down the essay.

Writing the essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

When I have done my essay, the first thing that I always do is proof-read it myself. Just to check for any glaringly obvious errors. After that I usually get a friend or a parent or my brother or sister to read it. That way they can check over it and check for any mistakes I might miss. Because if you write something or I miss something, chances are I'll miss it when I read it again, because I'll see that error and think that it's natural; whereas if someone else reads it, they can pick up the mistakes. It also would've probably been a good idea for me in retrospect to get another Philosophy student to read it, another student doing the same material, just to check it...

Writing the introduction <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

In the main paragraph of the essay, when you're writing your plan, it's a good idea just to have dot points of what you wish to include. That way you won't forget anything when you come back to writing the essay. It's just a good idea to include dot points if your basic headings for example, my essay included, ' Does a woman's right to autonomy always over-ride the life of a baby, therefore or vice-versa does the baby always over-ride the mother's rights?' That was just one example of one of my dot points for paragraph one. And then in each successive paragraph, you just outline a main point of view that you're going to propose in that paragraph.

Writing the body <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

The introduction is the most important part of the plan, and one of the first elements that you have to add in. In the introduction you basically have to outline the point of view that you'll take, highlight the question itself and the argument that you're going to propose in the essay. It's a good idea to illustrate the points that you'll have and the way that you're going to lead with those points.

The conclusion <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

In the conclusion, it's important to sum up your argument. Just in like a speech or a debate, in a conclusion, you can't introduce any new information, you have to sum up your argument and basically play everything up and cover all your loose ends. The main point of the conclusion is just so that you don't leave the reader hanging; you've led the reader through your essay, and they've seen all your points and now the conclusion is just a ...so that the reader isn't just left.

Editing my essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

I feel that it's a good idea when writing an essay, even if it's only a 1000 words to do it in a couple of intervals rather than one. That way rather than writing for a solid time interval, you're writing over separate intervals, you get refreshed in-between, you've got more focus on the task. If you have a break in between, you can just go outside, kick around the football-what I did with my brother. Just continue with your essay after that, then you've re-charged, your brain has had a rest, rather than just writing solidly for x amount of hours going, "Ah, I really can't be bothered doing this."

Problems in my essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

One flaw with my essay was that in the second paragraph I slightly ambiguously and possibly incorrectly worded some philosophical terms. It's important that you get these right when writing you're essay, as having them wrong can be glaringly obvious to the marker, whereas not necessarily to you or to someone else on your level. Terminology is important in a philosophy essay, as it's a main component in first year Philosophy. The terms validity, soundness, premises, and conclusion are all necessary in your essay. Although, if you feel you're uncomfortable with one specific type you can put emphasis on the others rather than the one you're uncomfortable with; or you can always if you're unsure ask your ...

My lecturer's comments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.2.4.xml#audioDiv>

I felt that the comments on my essay were justified, and in retrospect I can see how for example in the second paragraph I had a slight confliction with my references to certain terminology. Terminology is very important in Philosophy essays, therefore by looking at the feedback that you received from your tutor about your essay, you can reflect on what you've done wrong and be in better stead for the exam. For example in my essay, I looked at what the tutor had said about my second paragraph and using that I did some extra studying on that component of the course and was prepared for that when the exam came around.

Download the full interview with Ben (mp3, 5.21 MB). <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/assets/utilities/download.php?file=assets/audio/ben/ben-all.mp3>

Chloe's assignment

Chloe

Chloe is a first-year Philosophy student. For her main essay in the subject, she chose to write on the following topic based on a short text by Thomas Aquinas - 'The Fifth Way'.

Essay topic:

What is the argument of Aquinas' fifth way? Is this argument valid? Is it sound? Is it persuasive?

  1. Look at the lecturer's expectations <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.3.1.xml> of the essay.
  2. Next read Chloe's essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.3.2.xml> .
  3. Now read the lecturer's comments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/philosophy/3.3.3.xml> about Chloe's essay.

Lecturer's expectations

Graham Oppy, Lecturer

In this section, your lecturer - Graham Oppy - sets out what he expects from student assignments on this topic.

Essay topic:

What is the argument of Aquinas' fifth way? Is this argument valid? Is it sound? Is it persuasive?

What's required?

This topic requires students to engage closely with a single philosophical argument - Thomas Aquinas' 'fifth way'. The 'fifth way' is part of a longer argument - The Five Ways - which seeks to establish the existence of God.

Students writing this essay would first need to carefully summarise the argument structure of 'the fifth way'. They would then need to evaluate the argument according to the three criteria given:

How to go about writing the essay

  1. Think generally about the issue, e.g. Does God exist? What sort of evidence would you need to be convinced of God's existence? etc
  2. Carefully read Aquinas' fifth way. Also read briefly Aquinas' full text - i.e. The Five Ways to understand the context of the specific argument of the fifth way.
  3. Summarise in your own words the argument of the fifth way - aim to identify its premises and its conclusions.
  4. Think about Aquinas' argument in relation to the criteria mentioned, i.e. i) validity, ii) soundness, iii) persuasiveness. Think about lecture and tutorial discussions about Aquinas' arguments. Decide whether the argument is acceptable in terms of any of these criteria. Decide what your position is going to be. For example, you may wish to argue 'that whilst Aquinas' argument may be valid, it is not sound', etc.
  5. Try to plan out the structure of your essay as a sequence of paragraphs.
  6. When you have done enough reading, planning, and argument formulation, begin drafting the essay. Repeat any of Stages 1-5, as necessary.
  7. When you have completed your draft, leave it for a day or two - then reread and edit it.

General essay marking criteria

1 2 3 4 5
Presentation:
  • legibility and layout
  • spelling, punctuation and grammar
Reading:
  • bibliography and citation
  • comprehension and exposition
Argument:
  • clarity
  • logical development
  • originality

Chloe's essay

Essay topic:

What is the argument of Aquinas' fifth way? Is this argument valid? Is it sound? Is it persuasive?


St. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 in the ancient kingdom of Sicily. After being ordained as a priest in 1250, he began teaching and writing at the University of Paris in 1252. Aquinas was to become one of the leading philosophers of his day, writing extensively on theological issues, and laying down many of the principles of modern philosophy.

Aquinas' aim in The Five Ways was to provide proof for the existence of God 1. The text takes the form of a cosmological argument, made up of five points: the nature of motion; the efficiency of causes; the existence of non-contingent beings; the gradation of beings; the evidence of design. For Aquinas each of these points taken individually and in combination leads to one conclusion - that God exists. In this essay I shall consider Aquinas' arguments in more detail.

In the 'first way', Aquinas begins by considering motion and that things change. For example, wood is potentially hot. Fire changes wood, and also is potentially cold. Motion is described as that which changes something from what it could be potentially, to that actuality. Yet motion cannot cause itself, and a thing cannot both be moved, and be the mover i.e. things cannot move themselves. From this Aquinas concludes:

... what ever is moved must be moved by another. ( The Five Ways, p. 83).

This process cannot go on backwards forever, one thing being moved by the thing before it, the latter being moved by the thing before it etc. If there were an infinite regress, there would be no first mover, and so no other movers as everything is caused by a first mover. And this first mover, Aquinas says, is God.

Aquinas' 'second way' considers efficient causes. Here Aquinas draws attention to the idea that there is an order of efficient causes, and that one thing is caused to exist by another. He states:

There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself. ( ibid, p. 83).

Aquinas continues, explaining there cannot be an infinite regress of causes, tracing back the existence of a particular thing forever. This, Aquinas says, is impossible because without a first efficient cause, there will not be anything in existence. And so there is a first cause of existence, which Aquinas says is God.

The focus of the 'third way' is on the possibility and necessity of things in nature. Aquinas says things in nature are possible to be and not be; they can be generated or corrupted. These are contingent beings. He thus reasons that:

If everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence. ( ibid. p. 84).

If this were true, there would be nothing in existence now, as things exist now, and everything in existence now was caused by something in existence all ready. So if everything can not-be at some time, there would be nothing in existence now - which is not true. Aquinas concludes from this, that not all beings are contingent beings; that there are some beings which are necessary beings. He says an infinite regress of necessary beings is impossible, as proven in the 'second way' with regards to efficient causes. So

... we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. ( ibid. p. 84).

Aquinas concludes that this necessary being must be God.

The 'fourth way' examines the gradation which is found in things. Here Aquinas focuses on the details in things; that some are better than others, and other things are less so. This is in contrast to one thing which must be the maximum. For example, that which is hotter in comparison to that which is hottest. This he applies also, to qualities such as nobility, perfection, truth. He then quotes a passage from Metaph ii, which claims that the maximum of, say heat, is also the cause of all hot things. He concludes:

Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God. ( ibid. p. 85).

The fifth and final proof Aquinas offers for the existence of God stems from the governance of the world. He deduces that things that lack knowledge, that is birds, plants, natural bodies, behave as if with purpose, and achieve, or work toward, certain ends. The natural bodies utilise the best means available to them, and almost always behave in the same way to produce these ends. According to Aquinas, this is evidence of design. For

... whatever lacks knowledge cannot move toward an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence... ( ibid. p. 85).

Aquinas concludes that there must be an intelligent being who directs all these natural bodies to their end, namely God

How valid and persuasive then are Aquinas' Five Ways 2 . Firstly we need to consider Aquinas' analysis of causes. He assumes there must be a single cause of the universe and also that this must be a first primary cause - which he calls God. But this is only an assumption. Aquinas provides no evidence for this point. It could be argued for example that there may be a multiple number of causes at the beginning? Also there is nothing in his argument to support the claim that an infinite regress of causes is impossible. It could be for example that the world/universe has always been in existence, one thing causing another, evolving constantly according to what has come before? Modern physics offers an alternative explanation of the world along these lines, and suggests that uncaused events are not impossible.

Another point that can be challenged is Aquinas' conclusion at the end of each of the five ways - that the only explanation for the phenomena he discusses is 'God'. Such a conclusion is not likely to convince atheists or those with alternative spiritualities who recognise other beings and deities. If however we accept Aquinas' arguments, on what basis can he be sure about what kind of God it is? Aquinas assumes the God he describes is a fundamentally good one. His reply to the objection that - if God existed there would be no evil in the world - is that God allows evil so as to bring good out of it. But how can we be sure that God's actions, if he exists, are fundamentally good. It could be for example that God is playing tricks on humanity. What if it was a God conducting experiments in world making and universe creating? Who says this existence is perfectly designed? It could be a baby God's first attempt; or two Gods playing chess with their creations. These are all possible alternative explanations - ones that Aquinas does not take up.

We can see in these possibilities that Aquinas' arguments for God's existence and God's fundamental goodness are very much governed by certain religious assumptions that were no doubt held by many at the time. Thus reading his text in the present day, I find his arguments to be quite unconvincing.

Footnotes

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas The Five Ways. In course notes - PHIL 1010 " Science, Religion and Witchcraft".
  2. Some of the following is taken from PHIL 1010 lecture - Graham Oppy

Chloe's essay and what her lecturer thought

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Essay topic:

What is the argument of Aquinas' fifth way? Is this argument valid? Is it sound? Is it persuasive?



[IMG-1] comment

[1]St. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 in the ancient kingdom of Sicily. After being ordained as a priest in 1250, he began teaching and writing at the University of Paris in 1252. Aquinas was to become one of the leading philosophers of his day, writing extensively on theological issues, and laying down many of the principles of modern philosophy.

Aquinas' aim in The Five Ways was to provide proof for the existence of God 1. The text takes the form of a cosmological argument, made up of five points: the nature of motion; the efficiency of causes; the existence of non-contingent beings; the gradation of beings; the evidence of design. For Aquinas each of these points taken individually and in combination leads to one conclusion - that God exists.
[IMG-2] comment

[2]In this essay I shall consider Aquinas' arguments in more detail.

[3]In the 'first way', Aquinas
[IMG-3] comment

begins by considering motion and that things change. For example, wood is potentially hot. Fire changes wood, and also is potentially cold. Motion is described as that which changes something from what it could be potentially, to that actuality. Yet motion cannot cause itself, and a thing cannot both be moved, and be the mover i.e. things cannot move themselves. From this Aquinas concludes:

... what ever is moved must be moved by another. ( The Five Ways, p. 83).

[IMG-4] comment

[4]This process cannot go on backwards forever, one thing being moved by the thing before it, the latter being moved by the thing before it etc. If there were an infinite regress, there would be no first mover, and so no other movers as everything is caused by a first mover. And this first mover, Aquinas says, is God.

Aquinas' 'second way' considers efficient causes. Here Aquinas draws attention to the idea that there is an order of efficient causes, and that one thing is caused to exist by another. He states:

There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself. ( ibid, p. 83).

Aquinas continues, explaining there cannot be an infinite regress of causes, tracing back the existence of a particular thing forever. This, Aquinas says, is impossible because without a first efficient cause, there will not be anything in existence. And so there is a first cause of existence, which Aquinas says is God.

The focus of the 'third way' is on the possibility and necessity of things in nature. Aquinas says things in nature are possible to be and not be; they can be generated or corrupted. These are contingent beings. He thus reasons that:

If everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence. ( ibid. p. 84).

If this were true, there would be nothing in existence now, as things exist now, and everything in existence now was caused by something in existence all ready. So if everything can not-be at some time, there would be nothing in existence now - which is not true. Aquinas concludes from this, that not all beings are contingent beings; that there are some beings which are necessary beings. He says an infinite regress of necessary beings is impossible, as proven in the 'second way' with regards to efficient causes. So

... we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. ( ibid. p. 84).

Aquinas concludes that this necessary being must be God.

The 'fourth way' examines the gradation which is found in things. Here Aquinas focuses on the details in things; that some are better than others, and other things are less so. This is in contrast to one thing which must be the maximum. For example, that which is hotter in comparison to that which is hottest. This he applies also, to qualities such as nobility, perfection, truth. He then quotes a passage from Metaph ii, which claims that the maximum of, say heat, is also the cause of all hot things. He concludes:

Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God. ( ibid. p. 85).

[IMG-5] comment

[5]The fifth and final proof Aquinas offers for the existence of God stems from the governance of the world. He deduces that things that lack knowledge, that is birds, plants, natural bodies, behave as if with purpose, and achieve, or work toward, certain ends. The natural bodies utilise the best means available to them, and almost always behave in the same way to produce these ends. According to Aquinas, this is evidence of design. For

... whatever lacks knowledge cannot move toward an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence... ( ibid. p. 85).

Aquinas concludes that there must be an intelligent being who directs all these natural bodies to their end, namely God


[IMG-6] comment

[6]How valid and persuasive then are Aquinas' Five Ways 2. Firstly we need to consider Aquinas' analysis of causes. He assumes there must be a single cause of the universe and also that this must be a first primary cause - which he calls God. But this is only an assumption. Aquinas provides no evidence for this point. It could be argued for example that there may be a multiple number of causes at the beginning? Also there is nothing in his argument to support the claim that an infinite regress of causes is impossible.
[IMG-7] comment

[7]It could be for example that the world/universe has always been in existence, one thing causing another, evolving constantly according to what has come before? Modern physics offers an alternative explanation of the world along these lines, and suggests that uncaused events are not impossible.


[IMG-8] comment

[8]Another point that can be challenged is Aquinas' conclusion at the end of each of the five ways - that the only explanation for the phenomena he discusses is 'God'. Such a conclusion is not likely to convince atheists or those with alternative spiritualities who recognise other beings and deities. If however we accept Aquinas' arguments, on what basis can he be sure about what kind of God it is? Aquinas assumes the God he describes is a fundamentally good one. His reply to the objection that - if God existed there would be no evil in the world - is that God allows evil so as to bring good out of it. But how can we be sure that God's actions, if he exists, are fundamentally good. It could be for example that God is playing tricks on humanity. What if it was a God conducting experiments in world making and universe creating? Who says this existence is perfectly designed? It could be a baby God's first attempt; or two Gods playing chess with their creations. These are all possible alternative explanations - ones that Aquinas does not take up.


[IMG-9] comment

[9]We can see in these possibilities that Aquinas' arguments for God's existence and God's fundamental goodness are very much governed by certain religious assumptions that were no doubt held by many at the time. Thus reading his text in the present day, I find his arguments to be quite unconvincing.


[IMG-10] comment

[10] [Lecturer's overall comment]

Footnotes

  1. St. Thomas Aquinas The Five Ways. In course notes - PHIL 1010 " Science, Religion and Witchcraft".
  2. Some of the following is taken from PHIL 1010 lecture - Graham Oppy
[1]

Not neccessary

It is not necessary to include this kind of biographical information in a Philosophy essay. What you should always focus on is the ideas of the philosopher, not their life story. If you've only got 1,000 words, and 50 of them are used to give dates, that's another few sentences that could have been written about the argument.

The next paragraph would have been a better opening to the essay.

[2]

Your argument?

In the introduction of a Philosophy essay, it is good to indicate the position that is going to be argued for in the remainder of the essay. Thus at the end of the introduction, it's a good idea to try to include a sentence like - " In this essay, I will argue that...". or " This essay will show that..."

In the case of this particular essay, the argument would need to revolve around the student's assessment of the 'validity', 'soundness' and 'persuasiveness' of Aquinas' 'fifth way'.

[3]

First way? Look at topic.

This is a serious problem. The topic is asking for an assessment of Aquinas' fifth way only; this student is dealing with all of Aquinas' five ways.

The simple message here is that it is very important to be clear about what a topic requires before commencing work on the essay.

[4]

Clear summary... but!

This is an example of clear summarising of a philosophical argument. The student has done a good job of describing the argument of the 'first way' in her own words. She has also used direct quotation effectively, with a citation ( The Five Ways, p. 83) to indicate where these words are located in the original text.

But the problem is that the topic did not require discussion of the 'first way'. The same is true of the student's subsequent discussion of the second, third, and fourth ways.

[5]

Clear summary... and relevant!

This is also a clear summary of a philosophical argument - in this case the only one that should have been considered - 'the fifth way'. The student has done a good job of describing the argument in her own words. She has also used direct quotation effectively, with a citation ( The Five Ways, p. 83) to indicate where these words are located in the original text.

[6]

Good

This paragraph opening indicates clearly that the student will now evaluate Aquinas' arguments. This is good, but with such a lengthy summary section, she has allowed herself only limited space for evaluation.

As a broad principle, you should try to devote the major part of any philosophy essay to evaluating arguments.

[7]

Could be developed further

The student provides a series of objections to Aquinas' arguments here. This is good; however none of these objections is really developed. It would have been better here to take a single objection and discuss this in detail.

[8]

Good topic sentence

Paragraph openings like this one - " Another point that can be challenged is..." - are very helpful to the reader. This sentence makes it clear that in this paragraph there will be further evaluation of Aquinas ( challenged), but that a new theme will be taken up (' another point').

Carefully constructed topic sentences - like the one above - are very important in student essays. Without them, it can be very difficult to follow the student's line of thought.

[9]

Validity, soundness, persuasiveness?

The student has provided some evaluation of Aquinas' arguments; however, she hasn't really addressed these in the terms of the question. ie. their 'validity', 'soundness', and 'persuasiveness'. We can see that the student then runs into trouble in the conclusion - here she avoids using these terms altogether, stating that the Aquinas' arguments are 'unconvincing'.

Again the simple message is always to be sure about the requirements of the question. In the case of this topic, a really good essay would have taken up each of the issues ('validity', 'soundness' 'persuasiveness') in turn, and come to a conclusion about each.

[10]

Lecturer's overall comment

Strengths:

The main strength of this essay is that the student has summarised very clearly the philosophical ideas she is dealing with.

The essay is also clearly structured - with summary of the arguments in the first section and then some evaluation of these in the later section. The students' written expression is also very clear.

Weaknesses:

There are two major problems:

  1. the student has misinterpreted the question
  2. the evaluation section is a little thin

Grade:

Credit

Sociology essay

This tutorial contains information about essay writing based on materials from the subject Introduction to Sociology. You will also find much of the information to be useful for your other Sociology subjects. Navigate through the tutorial using the Table of Contents on the left. The tutorial's three main sections are outlined below.

Lecturer's advice <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/1.xml>

Get information from the lecturer about what is required for Sociology assignments.

Skills for writing in Sociology <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/2.xml>

Learn to write better assignments through interactive tasks.

Annotated assignments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.xml>

View samples of student work with lecturer and student comments.

Lecturer's advice

Cathi Lewis, Lecturer In this section, one of your lecturers - Cathi Lewis - answers Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about researching and writing of essays in first-year Sociology.

FAQs: Click on those topic areas that are of interest to you, or that you need to know more about.

  1. What exactly is a "sociological perspective"? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq1>
  2. What are the main writing difficulties students have? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq2>
  3. What constitutes "evidence" in Sociology and how should I use it in my essays? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq3>
  4. What makes a good essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq4>
  5. How much should I read for an essay? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq5>
  6. What if the text I am reading is too difficult? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq6>
  7. What writing style should I adopt? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq7>
  8. What final piece of advice do you have? <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faq8>


1. What exactly is a "sociological perspective"?

Summary:

Taking a sociological perspective means being able to stand outside your social world and looking at it as though you have never seen it before, examining it as an object of scientific study. In doing so, you will use sociological theory to understand social phenomena; you will question your own preconceived ideas and assumptions; and apply sociological concepts to familiar phenomena.

Using sociological theory

To have a sociological perspective is to look at your social world in terms of the major sociological theories. Generally speaking, there are three main strands in Sociological theory: Functionalism, Marxism and Critical Theory, and Symbolic Interactionism (there are also subgroups and combinations of these). Sociologists generally examine social interactions and institutions in terms of social power and the political (in the sense of who has power over others, who controls what, who doesn't have it) and how these social factors shape or determine to some extent this group or this individual's behaviours. A sociological perspective looks at the impact of social factors such as age, gender, ethnic group, socioeconomic group, cultural group, national group, geographical location, occupational group, education, and so on.

Questioning assumptions

The other part of acquiring a sociological perspective is to break the set of assumptions we have about our social world. You need to be able to stand outside your own ideological frameworks and see the everyday and the ordinary as unfamiliar and the object of scientific study. Students often have difficulty with this because they are dealing with familiar material, and may think it is simpler that it is. In many ways, it is much easier for an anthropologist to make objective observations about a culture because it is a culture that is foreign to them; they sit outside it. This is probably the key problem for our students; that is, to be able to reflect on what is familiar.

Using sociological concepts and terminology

There are a series of concepts that are specific to Sociology that students have to come to grips with. For example, most students would not previously have come across the concept of "anomie", a sociological term that means an absence of rules of behaviour (or norms). Now, there are no layperson's terms for these concepts, so students have to acquire an understanding of them in the sociological context before they can explore a particular question.

In addition to the terms that are exclusive to the discipline of Sociology, sociologists have also appropriated certain common everyday words and given them different meanings. They are specific jargon to the discipline so students have to unlearn and reuse words in new ways.

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2. What are the main writing difficulties students have?

Summary:

Students tend to think that an argument involves only two sides; however this is a simplification. By exposing students to a diversity of views, we are trying to give them the ability to complicate their thinking rather than simplify their thinking. It is very tempting to slap on a label and try to explain our world in the simplest possible way - a way that just fits our particular predispositions and prejudices anyway. In Sociology, however, we need to look more objectively and in a culturally relative way at phenomena. Examining a range of theorists enables students to look at a social institution in more complex ways. There are never only two sides, but rather a multiplicity of positions.

We're not looking so much for you to make a definite or finalising conclusion. Rather we're trying to get students to ask questions. For example, the topic 'Is mass media integral to popular culture?' is a prompt to get students to think about popular culture and where it comes from, who owns the means of production, who decides what is seen, and so on. So we're not actually looking for a definitive answer to that question, but rather to find that there are problems in trying to answer the question.

So in looking at these problems and issues, you need to read a number of theorists, for one theorist is not likely to have all the answers. While Mr. X has said this and Ms. Y has said that, neither of them has seen the whole picture. So your conclusion is more likely to be something along the lines of "In this situation under these conditions that part of theory has validity, while, however, it is not useful in explaining ABC".

So what this means is that students really need to spend a lot of time on the conclusion because that's really where they are drawing all of the threads together.

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3. What constitutes "evidence" in sociology and how should I use it in my essays?

Summary:

I would expect students to substantiate specific points by drawing on the theorists, and also on empirical evidence from studies. I would also expect them to use examples to illustrate their points.

Engaging with the theorists often involves critiquing one theorist and then bringing in another theorist to develop an area that wasn't sufficiently scrutinised or not dealt with at all by the first theorist. So you use theorists like a box of tools for carpentry. In carpentry, you use a hammer for the nails and a screw driver for the screws. In sociology, use whichever theorist you need in order to examine a particular problem, and another theorist for a different problem. (Also, take note that being "critical" doesn't necessarily mean being negative; it means to analyse something terms of its strengths and weaknesses.)

Students should also reflect on the issues themselves, imagining situations and using their own experiences (but not relying on them). So the anecdote or the example that you have encountered can be used to illustrate the point you are making with the theory and empirical studies. It won't substantiate your argument, but it adds to it. You should use anecdotal examples sparingly, however. You can use your reflective processes to UNDERSTAND the concepts, but not use them as evidence for your essay.

So, theorists, empirical studies, and examples are the tools which you would use (not to argue one line of argument) but to critically EXAMINE an area, to scrutinise a social institution from a range of perspectives.

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4. What makes a good essay?

Summary:

A good essay will demonstrate a solid understanding of the sociological concepts and terminology. To help you come to grips with the terminology, it is very useful to have your own copy of the Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. The basic Sociology text reinforces the central concepts at the end of each chapter. Take note of how the authors of the text use the jargon.

A good essay will also be able to APPLY these terms to social institutions and phenomena. You are not just looking at - or just describing - phenomena, but actually trying to INTERPRET it using the sociological theory and concepts you have learned. You need to show your ability to REFLECT on what you are reading, and EVALUATE sociological interpretations of phenomena that you have read about.

Students will need to read and evaluate previous and current research and be able to critique it. That's where the student's own originality comes into the essay. To be original, you do not have to devise your own social theory. You do need to respond to the theories and empirical studies you have read and evaluate them according to how accurate they are or how useful they are in understanding social phenomena. For example, is a theory useful across all societies, or just in this particular society, or in just this segment of society and so on. You don't have to come up with something startlingly new, but you do need to demonstrate that you've been thinking for yourself and that you can actually evaluate and integrate the existing research.

A good essay will also pay attention to the technical aspects of writing an essay. It should have a well-developed logical structure, and the writing should be precise and as free of errors as possible. Students are in practice to be professionals. In three years' time, they are going out into the workplace and acting as professionals. Students should be attempting to master the art of essay writing and communicating effectively in their first year.

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5. How much should I read for an essay?

Summary:

You actually have to do a lot of reading for Sociology. Don't stick to one or two theorists. You should have a diversity of aspects from which you explore the topic. Read at least 15 references for a major essay (a reference can include just one chapter out of a book; you don't need to read the whole book). You need to read for the specific topic, but in Sociology it is often highly beneficial to read around the topic as well, as that is often how you make interesting connections between ideas. There is an interrelatedness between social phenomena and institutions; for example, when you are talking about the family, you can link it up with popular culture, and so on. Remember this when researching; for example, if students are given a topic on "media and gender", they will often look for something on "media" and something on "gender" and they won't look for anything on "gender and media". The course may be divided up into concepts of family, gender, and so on, but that is for convenience of discussion only; in reality, they are all intimately related.

The internet is generally not a useful resource for Sociology. Generally speaking, the information that is provided for free is quite often wrong. It is difficult to authenticate sources and resources. You should use the internet only to find academic journal articles.

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6. What if the text I am reading is too difficult?

Summary:

First of all you should have a dictionary of sociology with you as you read.

Go to the library and pull out another introductory text to see if the language is easier. All introductory texts will cover the same issues (e.g. gender and mass media) so they'll have those same kinds of chapters in other texts, but they may be explained in a different way that you find more understandable. Read around the topic areas and it will help you when you go back to the prescribed text.

Try to get a sense of the overall structure of the argument in the chapter, by first reading the introduction and the conclusion, and from that you can probably start to draw out the main themes. Then scan through the chapter first, just to get a sense of the issues, reading just the topic sentences and looking for key words. And then finally go back and read really closely, sentence by sentence, and with a dictionary and a dictionary of sociology. Take the time and trouble to work it out, even if it takes a while. Once you've done that for one passage of the text, it's much easier for the rest of it.

Study groups are helpful. Talk over the issues; practise explaining the concepts to each other.

Use the books you have purchased as resources; write in them, annotate them, highlight them. Do not worry about the resale value of the book; these books should be thoroughly and utterly a rag by the end of it. You should do a lot of work in the text first and then write notes on paper and have those notes well referenced. You will only be able to learn and understand the information if you write notes. You cannot digest the material just through reading.

One of the things you can do as you are reading is to write down questions that you might like to ask the tutor in the tutorial.

A note of caution: When taking notes be careful to distinguish between what are the exact words from the text (use quotation marks) and what are your summaries or paraphrases of the text. If you don't do this, you may inadvertently incorporate the author's words as though they were your own in your essay. See the Department policy on Plagiarism for further advice.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

7. What writing style should I adopt?

Summary:

Because Sociology deals with current affairs, students are sometimes tempted to adopt a journalistic style of writing. This is not appropriate for an academic paper, which should be written in a formal style of writing that avoids emotive and judgmental language. (See the section on Academic Language in the Skills for Writing module of this tutorial).

Sociology deals with social institutions and social rituals and norms of behaviour from your own popular culture, and so the issues involved can be emotionally charged. However, the aim of Sociology is to get you to stand outside your immediate emotional responses as much as possible and to be a critical observer whose judgment is based on a dispassionate assessment of the evidence.

Many students ask if they can use the first-person pronoun " I" in their writing. The views about this among Arts faculty lecturers are mixed. Some social theorists argue that the use of the "I" should be considered acceptable in academic writing. However, traditionally, the "I" is avoided in academic writing. My view is that undergraduate students should practise not using "I" in their writing. One of the main difficulties that students have is a tendency to write "I think" and "I believe" when what we are trying to get them to do is to suspend their unsubstantiated opinions and beliefs and assess theories and concepts objectively, using evidence.

You should assume that your audience is an intelligent, well-educated reader, with knowledge of sociological terms. Do not start with basic definitions from a standard dictionary; start from where you have got up to in class. For example, do not define "popular" and "media" and "mass culture" from a standard dictionary. Start your essay from what we have been talking about in class about the sociological meaning of "mass media" and "popular culture". You should examine the matter beyond what you have learned in lectures and tutorials. We want you to go beyond that and into the readings. You will need to demonstrate that you understand the readings and that you have reflected on the readings; that you can understand and use the ideas; that you can apply the ideas.

Back to top <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/#faqs>

8. What final piece of advice do you have?

Summary:

Reading

Evaluating the theory

Concepts and concrete examples

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Skills for writing in Sociology

In this section, you have a chance to practise different aspects of essay writing in Sociology.

The materials cover three topics and include a range of practice tasks.

Select those topics that you think you need to work on. If you wish to explore all topics, work on these in the order given

Using evidence

When you study Sociology, you are dealing with things that are very familiar to you; things that constitute essentially your whole social world, like the media, families, relationships. The aim of Sociology, however, is to get you to try to observe this social world from the point of view of a social scientist - that is, to stand outside your world and examine it with fresh eyes; to see the ordinary as unfamiliar. Principally, you need to question the habits and attitudes that we all take for granted and to ask on what basis these are formed.

By trying to put aside our preconceived views, prejudices, and assumptions about what is "normal" or "natural", we can come to a greater understanding of why social relations and institutions might be as they are.

In thinking about sociological issues you will need to question your own assumptions and determine what evidence exists to support your views.

This evidence will take the form of:

Identifying types of evidence

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

In sociological essays it is imperative that you substantiate statements of fact, facts you may think "everyone knows". Many ideas or "facts" are actually assumptions or even myths that have often taken on the status of fact. Also be wary of using the grand generalisation - much of what you experience is determined by your particular social and cultural as well as geographical location. Don't assume it is everyone's experience in Australia, or in the world!

Question 1

Read the following extract from a student's essay on the mass media and gender stereotyping.

What type of evidence is used to support the assertion that, in the media, "the notion that men are 'breadwinners' and women are 'nurturers' remains prominent?"

Although the number of dual-income families has risen tremendously in recent years, the notion that men are "breadwinners" and women are "nurturers" remains prominent. The media's reinforcement of the idea that men are naturally better suited to prestigious professional jobs is illustrated through the overall greater coverage of males in powerful positions. Research shows that men appear in news photographs as much as twenty times more often than women (Jolliffe, 1996: 99). Furthermore, women are almost always the subjects of commercials concerning the house, kitchen appliances and baby products; when career women are represented, they are usually shown to hold traditional female occupations such as teaching and nursing (Creedon, 1989; 17).

Your answer:

input

This stereotype is further developed through the juxtaposition of deviance and normality. For instance, programs on parenting frequently emphasise children's need for their mother, using words such as "duty" and "responsibility" to describe motherhood (Schwartz, 1996:75). At the same time, however, films commonly depict the devoted and successful working mother as somehow deviant, for she is neglecting her family. Meanwhile, the media's positive portrayal of the hard-working man acts to reinforce the idea that employment is primarily a male's field (Joliffe, 1996: 103). The consistency of the mass media's understated differentiation of roles on the basis of gender allows them to construct these stereotypes, and to influence audiences to accept them as "natural" (Blonski et al., 1987: 292).

Your answer:

input


Question 2

Read the following extract from an essay on the mass media and ethnic stereotyping.

What type of evidence is used to support the assertion that "the media frequently present Europeans as the dominant group whose values and cultural behaviours are the Australian way of life"?

The media frequently present Europeans as the dominant group whose values and cultural behaviours are the Australian way of life, meanwhile marginalising various ethnic minorities and depicting them as "others" (Jackson, 1996: 66). This systematic stereotyping is achieved through both the extent and the type of representation various ethnic groups receive (Campbell, 1995: 69). The mere fact that the majority of people appearing in the media are European Australians positions viewers to associate the typical Australian with European origins (Jakubowicz, et al., 1994:79). A lucid example of this is the ethnicity of residents on such shows as Neighbours and Home and Away - the fact that almost all of them are of European descent reinforces a perception of normality as being European.

Your answer:

input


Question 3

Read the following extract from an essay on the mass media and ethnic stereotyping.

What type of evidence is used to support the assertion that the Melbourne media frequently presents a stereotype of Italians as "Mafia standover merchants and thugs" and that this negative image "dominates viewers' perceptions"?

An illustration of such ethnic stereotyping is the presentation of Italians in the Melbourne media. This minority group has come to take on the profile of Mafia standover merchants and thugs. Since the media provide no opening for other Italian spokespeople to place criminal groups in the context of a much larger social grouping who are appalled by the violence and extortion, this negative image of Australian Italians continues to dominate viewers' perceptions.

Your answer:

input


Question 4

There are two further points to consider. Firstly, in using evidence, it is important to keep in mind the age of the study.

Read the following description of a study in an essay on the representation of gender in the media. Do you think that a similar study undertaken today would have similar findings?

In 1972 the New York City Chapter of the National Organisation for Women (NOW) conducted the first major study, which focused on television commercials for women. One thousand, two hundred and forty-one commercials were examined. Results showed that almost all women in advertisements were situated at home, with 42.6 percent of the women involved in household chores, 37.5 percent were presented as accessories to men; 16.7 percent as sex objects, and only 0.3 percent of the women were analysed by the NOW to be autonomous individuals.

[1]Check your answer

[1]

Feedback

This study probably fairly accurately reflects the roles of men and women at the time the study was undertaken. Older studies can provide useful data regarding social relations and institutions from previous times, and in demonstrating trends in social change; however, for the purposes of an essay on current media representations of gender, clearly more recent studies are required.


Question 5

A second point to consider is the context of the study.

Read the following summary of a study. What information do you think is missing?

Research has shown that women make up for two thirds of adult viewing audience on weekday afternoons during standard working hours.

[2]Check your answer

[2]

Feedback

The most obvious piece of information that is missing is the country in which this study was undertaken. Also missing is a reference to who conducted the study and when. Other demographic information (e.g. income/education level of participants) would be helpful.

Structuring an argument

In your essays, two important concerns for lecturers are:

This means you need to analyse the topic carefully and structure your essay to orient the reader back to the topic.

Essays can be sequenced in a number of ways, e.g. they may move from the general to the particular, rounding off to draw the discussion together in the latter part. They can also move from the past to the present, or from one area of research to the next, and then moving to comparisons of the two, etc.

While you may know very well that you should have an argument, when you are dealing with complex themes in an academic essay, it is often difficult to make that argument stand out clearly, or sometimes, to even know what your argument is!

The following tasks are designed to help you develop further your ability to structure arguments. They cover three main aspects of writing a clear argument.

Focusing on the topic - introductions

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Go to a dictionary or thesaurus and write down the synonyms for each of the key words in the assignment question. This provides you with a larger vocabulary to use as you refer to these ideas or issues through the essay, and it has the effect of triggering ideas or lines of inquiry in your mind - you have started engaging with the topic. For sociologically specific terms like "alienation", "commodify", "norms", etc. refer to a dictionary of sociology.

Once you have determined exactly what the topic requires of you and what your response will be, you need to be sure that this response is presented in a clear line of argument throughout your essay.

One of the most obvious ways to ensure a clear response to a topic is to tie your introduction and conclusion very closely to the topic itself. While this may seem self evident, students nevertheless frequently lose marks because they have not linked the different sections of their answer back to the topic.

Once you have written your essay, it is a good idea to review your introduction:

It is often a good idea to write your introduction after you have written the body of the essay. This way you can be sure that the argument you set out in your introduction is, in fact, the one that you ended up writing!

Let's now examine a sample topic and matching introduction to see how well the argument is presented:

First, we need to analyse the topic in order to work out what is required.

Question 1

Read the following essay topic on stereotyping and the mass media:

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

Which words or phrases do you think are particularly important in working out what the topic is about? Tick the boxes of the important words below.



[1]Check your answer

[1]

Feedback

This is a short topic, but packed with information. Lets take each important word or phrase in turn.

First, we need to identify and understand the key concepts of the topic:

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

To answer this question you would need to know well what is meant by "mass media" and "social stereotypes", concepts you would hear about in lectures or read about in a sociology textbook (you are not likely to find explanations in a standard dictionary).

However, an essay that explained what mass media is and what social stereotyping is would not be appropriate. It is the relationship between them that is important. So the topic is not "what social stereotypes are presented in the mass media", nor "how can we address the problem of stereotyping in the media", but rather " how does the mass media construct (create) stereotypes and how does the media reinforce (or strengthen) the stereotypes that already exist in society".

So the emphasis, then, is on the ways in which the media creates and strengthens stereotypes:

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

The words construct and reinforce have particular meanings in the academic context. So you will need to go to your Sociology textbook to get a full understanding of how they are used in Sociology. (See the skill on Sociological Terminology.)

Finally, what particular stereotypes are we talking about?

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

Clearly, the essay should focus on those stereotypes relating to gender, ethnicity, and age. Once again, you will need to go to a dictionary of sociology or a sociology textbook in order to get a appropriate definition for these terms.

For more help with analysing essay topics go to the interactive tutorial on essay writing in the Writing section of this website.


Question 2

Now examine the following student's introduction to her essay on this topic:

Sample introduction 1

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

Stereotyping is a mental activity that is neither natural or necessary; however, due to laziness, upbringing or coincidental experiences (Lester, 1996, p.1), the stereotyping of individuals results in harmful generalisations that ultimately deny an individual's 'unique contribution to humanity' (Lester, 1996, p.1). When the mass media engage in stereotyping, misleading representations concerning members from diverse cultural groups are confirmed. In this essay, a broad range of texts will be used to examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age, as well as how the media shape one's imagination though direct images.

Can you identify particular words and phrases that tie this introduction to the topic question? If so, tick the boxes of the important words below.



[2]Check your answer

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Compare the words and phrases you have identified with the following:

Sample introduction 1

Stereotyping is a mental activity that is neither natural or necessary; however, due to laziness, upbringing or coincidental experiences (Lester, 1996, p.1), the stereotyping of individuals results in harmful generalisations that ultimately deny an individual's 'unique contribution to humanity' (Lester, 1996, p.1). When the mass media engage in stereotyping, misleading representations concerning members from diverse cultural groups are confirmed. In this essay, a broad range of texts will be used to examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age, as well as how the media shape one's imagination though direct images.

This introduction follows the standard convention of beginning with the general topic to be introduced, and then moving on with greater and greater specificity to the particular point to be addressed. We can describe it as follows:

  1. stereotyping
  2. mass media and stereotyping
  3. mass media and stereotyping around gender, ethnicity, and age

This functions reasonably well as an intro, but the last sentence contains the exact wording of the topic question. It is better to try to reformulate the question in your own words. Also the student could have attempted to give an indication of how she will answer the question.


Question 3

Here is an example of a different type of introduction to the essay.

Sample introduction 2

[1] Communication has always been an important part of human social interaction but with the advent of the twentieth century, information has become a global, technological entity. [2] Mass media is the term used to describe human communication systems that employ technology to reach large audiences. [3] These systems have been developed and improved during the twentieth century - communication systems such as print journalism, film, broadcast radio, television and now the internet. [4] Generally the mass media sees itself as quite different from "high culture" (eg art, poetry, literature etc). [5] However, Goodall (1995) suggest that a more complex picture of the mass media has developed. [6] He suggests that there is a distinction to be made within the media framework; one between "high" culture and popular culture. [7] For example, between art-house films and popular Hollywood cinema, between so-called "quality" press and tabloid journalism, and between non-commercial and commercial television. [8] So when looking at the ways in which mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes, this essay will focus on the mass media of popular culture.

Does it address the main themes of the topic? Can you identify words and phrases that tie the introduction to the topic? If so, tick the boxes of the important words below.



[3]Check your answer

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Compare the words and phrases you have identified with the following:

Sample introduction 2

[1] Communication has always been an important part of human social interaction but with the advent of the twentieth century, information has become a global, technological entity. [2] Mass media is the term used to describe human communication systems that employ technology to reach large audiences. [3] These systems have been developed and improved during the twentieth century - communication systems such as print journalism, film, broadcast radio, television and now the internet. [4] Generally the mass media sees itself as quite different from "high culture" (eg art, poetry, literature etc). [5] However, Goodall (1995) suggest that a more complex picture of the mass media has developed. [6] He suggests that there is a distinction to be made within the media framework; one between "high" culture and popular culture. [7] For example, between art-house films and popular Hollywood cinema, between so-called "quality" press and tabloid journalism, and between non-commercial and commercial television. [8] So when looking at the ways in which mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes, this essay will focus on the mass media of popular culture.

This introduction focuses on defining the mass media, and does so well. However, it does not refer to the main topic - stereotypes and the ways in which media construct and reinforce these - until the last sentence, Sentence 8. This again functions reasonably well as an intro, but more of an emphasis could be placed on the idea of social stereotyping and its relationship to the mass media. The extended definition of mass media (Sentences 1-7) could be reduced in this introduction, with the remaining material placed in the body of the essay.


Question 4

Here is another example of a different type of introduction to the essay.

Sample introduction 3

The mass media have become the major mode of communication, without which it would be impossible to circulate the same range and amount of information within our complex social structure (Giddens, 1989: 79). Consequently, the media have enormous influence over audiences' values, attitudes and beliefs: people are necessarily vulnerable to the media "in all of its social functions" (Elliot, 1996:2). Yet the media do not, contrary to popular belief, always present an entirely "realistic" view of the world. Given the necessity to attract sponsorship and to disseminate ideas consistent with the ideals of powerful commercial interests, the media tend to be quite selective and formulaic in their depiction. Symbolisation, "normalisation", labelling and simplification, among other well-established techniques, allow the media to construct and reinforce particular stereotypes - standardized characterizations, which ignore the complexities underlying a myriad of social issues (Campbell, 1995: 14).

Does it address the main themes of the topic? Can you identify words and phrases that tie the introduction to the topic? If so, tick the boxes of the important words below.



[4]Check your answer

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Compare the words and phrases you have identified with the following:

Sample introduction 3

The mass media have become the major mode of communication, without which it would be impossible to circulate the same range and amount of information within our complex social structure (Giddens, 1989: 79). Consequently, the media have enormous influence over audiences' values, attitudes and beliefs: people are necessarily vulnerable to the media "in all of its social functions" (Elliot, 1996:2). Yet the media do not, contrary to popular belief, always present an entirely "realistic" view of the world. Given the necessity to attract sponsorship and to disseminate ideas consistent with the ideals of powerful commercial interests, the media tend to be quite selective and formulaic in their depiction. Symbolisation, "normalisation", labelling and simplification, among other well-established techniques, allow the media to construct and reinforce particular stereotypes - standardized characterizations, which ignore the complexities underlying a myriad of social issues (Campbell, 1995: 14).

All of the introductions above correctly finish on the concept of the ways in which stereotypes are constructed - the true emphasis of this topic. This introduction goes further and lists the ways in which this occurs, which is helpful as now we can look forward to hearing more about how this happens. This introduction also emphasises the influence of the media on people's beliefs, which may serve to create or reinforce stereotypes.

Focusing on the topic - conclusions

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More often than not, the conclusion is the last thing that you write (often in great haste the night before it is due!). However, it is worth allowing some time for careful revision of your conclusion. Remember that it is the last thing the marker will read and will leave a strong impression regarding whether or not you have addressed the question and provided a clear response. (Remember also to review your introduction at the same time that you write your conclusion, to ensure continuity.)

Your conclusion should tie all the threads of your discussion together and refer back to the central question. It can broaden the discussion (briefly) to include wider implications or questions for future research, but should not include any new aspects of your argument.

Remember, in your first-year Sociology subject, you are not required to provide solutions or make suggestions for dealing with social problems. Your conclusion, therefore, should not contain recommendations.

Question 1

Now examine the following student's conclusion to her essay on this topic:

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

Sample conclusion 1

The modern media of communication are central to an individual's life, providing many necessary information services as well as offering possibilities for self-enlightenment and entertainment. The media constructs and reinforces social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age around the images that are produced, and by the way they are capable of shaping the individual's attitudes and beliefs. Despite such interpretations, it is the choice of the individual what they decide to consume from the diverse amount of information that is served openly to the public, and to eliminate misleading representations concerning members from diverse cultural groups.

Can you identify particular words and phrases that tie this introduction to the topic question? If so, tick the boxes of the important words below.



[1]Check your answer

[1]

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Compare the words and phrases you have identified with the following:

Sample conclusion 1

The modern media of communication are central to an individual's life, providing many necessary information services as well as offering possibilities for self-enlightenment and entertainment. The media constructs and reinforces social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age around the images that are produced, and by the way they are capable of shaping the individual's attitudes and beliefs. Despite such interpretations, it is the choice of the individual what they decide to consume from the diverse amount of information that is served openly to the public, and to eliminate misleading representations concerning members from diverse cultural groups.

This conclusion is somewhat bland. It refers to the topic, but superficially and does not draw through any themes which may have been discussed in the paper.

The last sentence also contradicts the previous sentence. "Real" choice is difficult when individuals have already internalised particular stereotypes from their social environment.


Question 2

Here is an example of a different type of conclusion to the essay.

Sample conclusion 2

[1] In conclusion, the mass media use stereotypes to provide truncated, fast and simple information to its audiences. [2] Profit is a major influence in the use of these stereotypes; "Give them what they want" rather than provide in-depth individual information based on reality. [3] Advertisers in particular want safe representations of the dominant culture's ideology to represent their product. [4] Mass media's use of stereotypes is clearly based on the dominant culture's ideologies. [5] Issues of power and profit are significant in the construction of images that reflect the society's ideological beliefs and values - a safe context. [6] However, Grossberg, et al (1998: 234) suggest that because of the increasing influence of the media in constructing people's identities, people seem to have developed a much more fragmented and fluid sense of themselves. [7] With less commitment to any single identity, sociologists debate whether people's identities are changing as a result of the growing power of popular culture and the mass media. [8] This question of whether mass media can bring about social change must come from outside that framework before it is reflected in it, is a debated one. [9] The only possible answer is a combination of both.

Which sentences summarise the argument and which draw further conclusions? Type the numbers into the comment box below:



Sentence 1

Sentence 2

Sentence 3

Sentence 4

Sentence 5

Sentence 6

Sentence 7

Sentence 8

Sentence 9

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Sentences 1 - 6 summarise the main points of the essay, while sentences 7-10 draw implications from this.


Question 3

Here is another example of a different type of conclusion to the essay.

Sample conclusion 3

The sense of naturalness with which the media portray the "reality" of the modern world allow them to create oversimplified assumptions in the minds of their audiences. The formulaic use of labels, symbols and binary codes, coupled with omissions or over-exposure of various images and construct patterns of characterisation, and thereby objectify groups into the distinct boundaries of a stereotype (Elliot, 1996:3). Ultimately, the continuous recycling of particular ideas and visual representations influences audiences to internalize these portrayals as their own, and to thereby validate the values and attitudes disseminated by the media (Thwaites, Davis, and Mules, 1994: 170). As Walter Lippmann wrote, " Whether right or wrong, ... imagination is shaped by the pictures seen...Consequently, they lead to stereotypes that are hard to shake" (Elliot, 1996:3).

Does it address the main themes of the topic? Can you identify words and phrases that tie the introduction to the topic? If so, tick the boxes of the important words below.



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This conclusion focuses quite specifically on the topic question; that is on the ways in which the mass media creates new or strenghtens existing stereotypes.

Sample conclusion 3

The sense of naturalness with which the media portray the "reality" of the modern world allow them to create oversimplified assumptions in the minds of their audiences. The formulaic use of labels, symbols and binary codes, coupled with omissions or over-exposure of various images, construct patterns of characterisation, and thereby objectify groups into the distinct boundaries of a stereotype (Elliot, 1996:3). Ultimately, the continuous recycling of particular ideas and visual representations influences audiences to internalize these portrayals as their own, and to thereby validate the values and attitudes disseminated by the media (Thwaites, Davis, and Mules, 1994: 170). As Walter Lippmann wrote, " Whether right or wrong, ... imagination is shaped by the pictures seen...Consequently, they lead to stereotypes that are hard to shake" (Elliot, 1996:3).

Linking main points

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In the previous tasks we discussed tying the introduction and conclusion to the assignment topic. It is equally important to ensure that each paragraph or section of the essay is also clearly linked to, and is relevant to, the topic.

Your conclusion should tie all the threads of your discussion together and refer back to the central question. It can broaden the discussion (briefly) to include wider implications or questions for future research, but should not include any new aspects of your argument.

As you write each paragraph, ask yourself:

Keep a copy of the topic next to you as you read, take notes, and write drafts for your essay. Post it on your computer or desk calendar; this way as you do your research you can be certain to stay focused on the topic.

Analysing sample paragraphs

The following questions are based on a series of paragraphs from the body of an essay on stereotyping and mass media.

Question 1

Read the topic and the following paragraph from the body of the essay:

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

Paragraph 1

Drewiany (1996: 88-91) looked at an American study of commercials played during Super Bowls between 1989 and 1994. The statistics in this study suggest that gender stereotypes do dominate in advertising. Men appeared in (80%) and had the major role in (54%) of commercials compared with women (45% and 11% respectively). She also found male celebrities easily outnumbered female celebrities; men were the "voices of authority" - that is, the unseen announcers were nearly always men; very few women had a major role as a career woman, most were only in the background if seen in a career role at all. Furthermore, women were predominantly portrayed as comforters and carers, whereas fathers were companions, they were more fun, sharing their children's entertainment, playing ball, etc.

What do you think is the main theme of this paragraph?

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This is clearly an explanation of the results of a study undertaken about the content of commercials held during a sporting event. But what about it? How does it relate to the topic? It provides empirical evidence (see Topic 1), but evidence of what? This paragraph needs a sentence at the beginning to place the study in context.


Question 2

Paragraph 1

Drewiany (1996: 88-91) looked at an American study of commercials played during Super Bowls between 1989 and 1994. The statistics in this study suggest that gender stereotypes do dominate in advertising. Men appeared in (80%) and had the major role in (54%) of commercials compared with women (45% and 11% respectively). She also found male celebrities easily outnumbered female celebrities; men were the "voices of authority" - that is, the unseen announcers were nearly always men; very few women had a major role as a career woman, most were only in the background if seen in a career role at all. Furthermore, women were predominantly portrayed as comforters and carers, whereas fathers were companions, they were more fun, sharing their children's entertainment, playing ball, etc.

What would be a good sentence to begin this paragraph?

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Here is one example of an introductory sentence for this paragraph

Commercial television relies on the sale of advertising for its survival, and stereotypes clearly dominate within this form of advertising. Drewiany (1996: 88-91) looked at an American study of commercials played during Super Bowls between 1989 and 1994. The statistics in this study suggest that gender stereotypes do dominate in advertising. Men appeared in (80%) and had the major role in (54%) of commercials compared with women (45% and 11% respectively). She also found male celebrities easily outnumbered female celebrities; men were the "voices of authority" - that is, the unseen announcers were nearly always men; very few women had a major role as a career woman, most were only in the background if seen in a career role at all. Furthermore, women were predominantly portrayed as comforters and carers, whereas fathers were companions, they were more fun, sharing their children's entertainment, playing ball, etc.


Question 3

Now read the next paragraph of this essay on stereotyping and the mass media.

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

Paragraph 2

Patsy Watkins (1996: 73-74), in a study of 66 American women's magazines, looked at pictures of women and identified how many showed a visual profile of powerful women in the workplace. She concluded that the mass media carried relatively few images of professionally achieving women. Specifically, the "women's" magazines in the study carried few such images or some, none at all, whereas the general interest and business magazines tended to have more pictures of powerful women, although achieving men far outnumber those of women.

What do you think is the main theme of this paragraph?

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As in the previous paragraph we looked at, the first sentence should show how this paragraph relates to the topic as a whole. If we read further, we find that the student is talking about an American study that examined the images of women in "women's" magazines. But what about it? How does it relate to the topic? It provides empirical evidence (see Topic 1), but evidence of what?

Also, as this paragraph follows the one above on the study of commercials shown during a sporting event, it would also be an excellent opening sentence if it showed its relationship to the passage above.

Question 4

What would be a good sentence to begin this paragraph? Can you make it link to the previous paragraph, as well as to the topic as a whole?

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Here is one example of an introductory sentence for this paragraph

This stereotyping of women as being more concerned with homemaking than with career is not restricted to advertising during broadcasts directed toward males; it is also apparent in media directed specifically to women. Patsy Watkins (1996: 73-74), in a study of 66 American women's magazines, looked at pictures of women and identified how many showed a visual profile of powerful women in the workplace. She concluded that the mass media carried relatively few images of professionally achieving women. Specifically, the "women's" magazines in the study carried few such images or some, none at all, whereas the general interest and business magazines tended to have more pictures of powerful women, although achieving men far outnumber those of women.

Notice that the first sentence refers back to the previous paragraph as well as to the topic as a whole. It is now quite clear why this paragraph is present and how it contributes to the overall discussion.


Question 5

You can see from the previous examples that a reader should be able to skim along the first lines of your paragraphs to get a sense of the overall structure of your argument, and how each paragraph relates to the whole.

Below are the topic sentences from each paragraph in an essay on stereotyping and gender. Read through them, comparing them with the essay topic.

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

Topic sentences for each paragraph in the body of the essay.

Paragraph 1

Some of the most prominent stereotypes projected by the media are those regarding gender. (The paragraph goes on to discuss traditional notions of man as dominant, and woman as passive . . . )

Paragraph 2

A second stereotype created around gender concerns the roles occupied by males and females in the spheres of family and work. . . .

Paragraph 3

Another long-standing stereotype perpetuated by the commercial media centres on the concept of ethnicity. . . . (The paragraph goes on to state that many of the ethnic representations in the media are ideologically biased distortions. . .)

Paragraph 4

This systematic stereotyping is achieved through both the extent and the type of representation various ethnic groups receive. (e.g. most television characters are white. . . )

Paragraph 5

The centrality of white culture is further reinforced by the media since reports of minorities are almost always negative.

Paragraph 6

Perhaps the most well-known example of stereotyping groups on the basis of ethnic identity is the treatment of Aborigines in Australian media. . . .

Paragraph 7

The media have also constructed stereotypes around the concept of age.

Paragraph 8

A serious concern is the media's stereotypic portrayal of seniors as helpless invalids.

The first lines of these paragraphs provide a clear view of the overall structure of the argument, and how each paragraph relates to the whole. The words and phrases in bold provide cohesion or links with the main ideas presented in the paragraphs. Notice also how some words are repeated across paragraphs to give a sense of continuity (for example, "most television characters are white" is linked to the next paragraph topic sentence "the centrality of white culture is further reinforced by the media...").

Academic style

In the previous topic, we noted that some common words have specialised meanings in Sociology. You may also have noticed that, in addition to this technical vocabulary, sociologists adopt a particular style of writing that is also familiar from many other disciplines you may be studying. This "academic" style is characterised by several features. The main feature of this writing is that it seeks to appear objective; thus, it rarely uses personal pronouns, such as "I" or "you" and it avoids using emotionally expressive language. It also uses language precisely and accurately and is more formal in expression (in other words, it avoids speechlike or journalistic writing).

The following tasks are designed to help you develop further your ability to write in an academic style.

Avoiding the personal pronoun 'I'

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The convention in much academic writing is to write with minimal reference to yourself as an author. The reason for this lies in a tradition of needing to present your work "objectively", as the work of a dispassionate and disinterested (that is, unbiased) researcher. So, one of the features of academic writing is a general absence of the first person pronoun "I". This can be difficult, as lecturers often say, "tell me what you think". Well, they do want to know what you think, but presented as a rational, objective argument. For this reason we also avoid using emotive language; instead we let the "facts" - or our reasoned argument - make the point for us.

It is important to note that while the avoidance of "I" has long been part of the academic tradition, these days some academics consider its use to be acceptable. So, you may encounter different views about the use of "I" over the course of your degree. In any case, you will need to develop the flexibility in your writing to play down the "personal element". Your lecturer, Cathi Lewis, for example, has stated that she prefers undergraduates to avoid the use of "I" in Introduction to Sociology (See the Lecturer's Advice section of this tutorial). Regardless of your particular lecturer's views, you will need to learn how to use "I" sparingly. So let's look at how we can write passages without reference to the first person pronoun.

There are several ways to avoid using the first person pronoun "I":

One way is to let the assignment "speak for itself": for example,

"I show..." becomes "The report shows..."



"I interpret the results as..." becomes "The results indicate..."

Another way to avoid the first person is to use the passive voice construction:

Instead of write
"We administered the questionnaire..."

(active voice)
"The questionnaire was administered..."

(passive voice)
"I surveyed the literature"

(active voice)
"The literature was surveyed"

(passive voice)
"I took a sample..."

(active voice)
"A sample was taken"

(passive voice)

NOTE: for further help with using the passive voice, go to the passives tutorial in the Grammar section of this Website.

Question 1

Read the following extract from a student' s research paper on the media and the representation of women's sport:

It is comments like these that the ASC and Womensport seek to minimize and I endeavoured to investigate further in my own research. In my study after collecting the newspapers between the 9th - 23rd September, I went through and added the total number of sport articles there were that male, female and both genders featured in. I then divided up my sample period into two weeks, Period 1 being the 9 th - 16th and Period 2 being 17-23rd. The results for both these periods were tallied and can be found in Figure 2.

How could you rewrite this passage to avoid using "I"?

[1]See the rewritten passage

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One possible rewrite of this passage is:

It is comments like these that the ASC and Womensport seek to minimize and this was investigated further in the research for this paper. In this study, newspapers were collected between the 9th - 23rd September, and the total number of sport articles featuring male, female and both genders were counted. The sample period was then divided up into two weeks, Period 1 being the 9th - 16th and Period 2 being 17-23rd . The results for both these periods were tallied and can be found in Figure 2.

Note how a change to the passive voice (e.g. "this was investigated", "newspapers were collected", and "articles were counted") makes the passage sound less personal and more focused on the information content.


Question 2

Read the following passage from a student's essay on the media and gender:

Television shows and advertisements do not only stick to traditional stereotypes, but also focus on renewing gender roles and images within society (Courtney, 1983: 24). In the following essay, I will briefly look at television as a social communicator and then look at the ways its programmes and commercials construct and reinforce gender stereotypes.

How could you rewrite this passage to avoid using "I"?

[2]See the rewritten passage

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One possible rewrite of this passage is:

Television shows and advertisements do not only stick to traditional stereotypes, but also focus on renewing gender roles and images within society (Courtney, 1983: 24). The following essay will briefly look at television as a social communicator and then look at the ways its programmes and commercials construct and reinforce gender stereotypes.

Note how a change to the third person ("this essay will...") shifts the focus from the author to the work iself.

Avoiding emotive language

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There will be times when the subject matter in Sociology provokes strong feeling. It is important to remember the principles of evidence discussed earlier, and the need to assess the issues objectively.

Question 1

Read the passage below from a student's essay on the media and the representation of women's sport:

...Mikosa found similar results in her study for Womensport Australia, where she found that journalists discussed the female athletes' "elegance" or called women "blonde girl(s)" and a journalist even wrote about one athlete's "domestic routine of cooking" (1998). With this in mind, I was absolutely appalled to hear an Australian television commentator commend the women's Dutch hockey team when they won a bronze medal on the 29/9/2000. When the team got on the dais to receive their medal, the male commentator said "ahh look at the pretty little Dutch girls" without one consideration of their athleticism or sporting ability whatsoever. It was a sad moment for Australian commentating and strengthens the arguments of Philips and Mizoka regarding the language the media uses to portray sports women and women's sport alike.

Which words and expressions are emotive?



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Some emotive words in this passage are highlighted below:

...Mikosa found similar results in her study for Womensport Australia, where she found that journalists discussed the female athletes' "elegance" or called women "blonde girl(s)" and a journalist even wrote about one athlete's "domestic routine of cooking" (1998). With this in mind, I was absolutely appalled to hear an Australian television commentator commend the women's Dutch hockey team when they won a bronze medal on the 29/9/2000. When the team got on the dais to receive their medal, the male commentator said "ahh look at the pretty little Dutch girls" without one consideration of their athleticism or sporting ability whatsoever. It was a sad moment for Australian commentating and strengthens the arguments of Philips and Mizoka regarding the language the media uses to portray sports women and women's sport alike.

The student provides a good example to illustrate the view that sports commentating often expresses gender stereotypes; however, it needs to be presented dispassionately so that the facts speak for themselves. The student is angered by what she has seen and heard. However, in order to be persuasive to others, who may not be as quick to see the commentator's words as problematic, the student needs to present her position as that of an objective researcher.


Question 2

Read the passage on the media and women's sport once more:

. . .Mikosa found similar results in her study for Womensport Australia, where she found that journalists discussed the female athletes' "elegance" or called women "blonde girl(s)" and a journalist even wrote about one athlete's "domestic routine of cooking" (1998). With this in mind, I was absolutely appalled to hear an Australian television commentator commend the women's Dutch hockey team when they won a bronze medal on the 29/9/2000. When the team got on the dais to receive their medal, the male commentator said "ahh look at the pretty little Dutch girls" without one consideration of their athleticism or sporting ability whatsoever. It was a sad moment for Australian commentating and strengthens the arguments of Philips and Mizoka regarding the language the media uses to portray sports women and women's sport alike.

How would you rewrite the emotive language in this text, so that the information is presented more dispassionately?

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A possible rewriting of this passage is as follows:

...Mikosa found similar results in her study for Womensport Australia, where she found that journalists discussed the female athletes' "elegance" or called women "blonde girl(s)" and a journalist even wrote about one athlete's "domestic routine of cooking" (1998). This gender stereotyping in sports reporting is further illustrated by an example from a Australian sports commentator on television: the male commentator in question commended the women's Dutch hockey team when they won a bronze medal on the 29/9/2000; however, when the team got on the dais to receive their medal, the commentator said "ahh look at the pretty little Dutch girls" without remarking on their athleticism or sporting ability. This example strengthens the arguments of Philips and Mizoka regarding the language the media uses to portray sports women and women's sport alike.

The student's original passage emphasised her personal response to the commentator ("I was appalled to hear the commentator"); this version, however, presents the comments as evidence in support of the idea that stereotyping in sports reporting occurs ("...is further illustrated by an example from..."). The emotive comment "It was a sad day in sports reporting" is replaced with a phrase that emphasises the incident as a "fact" or example of stereotyping. This serves to support her argument and those of other theorists, without involving her own personal response to these issues ("This example strengthens the arguments of Philips and Mizoka...").

Using formal language

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Academic texts use a more formal style of writing than many other types of publications, for example, magazines and daily newspapers, or websites like this one. So, many of the words we might use in speech or in journalism are replaced with more formal words. For example, "look at" becomes "examine"; "help" becomes "assist" or "facilitate"; "cut down" becomes "reduce"; and so on.

Similarly, many of our common idiomatic, slang, or journalistic expressions need to be rewritten in a more formal style:

For example, "international business heavyweights" is too informal. A better wording would be " leading international business interests".

Question 1

Read the passage from a student's essay below:

Articles on women's sports were placed on the left page and often at the bottom, which is a place skipped by many readers.

How might you rewrite this passage with more formal language?

[1]Check your answer

[1]

Feedback

Two possible rewrites of this passage are:

Articles on women's sports were placed on the left page and often at the bottom, which is an area often overlooked by readers.

Articles on women's sports were placed on the left page and often at the bottom, which is less prominent.

Being precise and accurate

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Read the following sentence from a student's essay.

Many of the ethnic representations in the media are ideologically biased distortions which suit the interests of their predominantly white owners and sponsers (Jakubowicz, et al., 1994:4).

As presented in this student's writing, what does the term "ethnic" mean?

Tick the box below of what you think "ethnic" means in this context.



[1]Check your answer

[1]

Feedback

The term "ethnic" is used here too narrowly (but it is common usage). As a strictly used term in the social sciences, "ethnic" refers to all culturally distinct groups, including white, or Anglo-Celtic.

NOTE: Being precise also means avoiding definitive statements.

For example, read the following sentence from a student's essay:

The media does not promote the consumption of alcohol by women.

This statement is too definite and absolute. Can we say that the media never promote the consumption of alcohol?

This should be rewritten as:

The media tend not to promote the consumption of alcohol by women.

The rewritten sentence more accurately reflects the behaviour of the media.

Annotated assignments

Renee

Topic:

Mass media and social stereotypes essay


The annotated assignments and the writing approaches described by students should not be seen as ideal models for you to copy. They are intended to be a general guide to essay writing in your subject and to help you to reflect on your own approach.

Renee's assignment

Renee

Renee is a first-year Sociology student. Her main essay in the subject was on the following topic:

Essay topic:

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

  1. Look at the lecturer's expectations <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.1.1.xml> of the essay.
  2. Next read Renee's essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.1.2.xml> .
  3. Now read the lecturer's comments <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.1.3.xml> about Renee's essay.
  4. Finally, listen to Renee <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.1.4.xml> talk about how she wrote her essay and read feedback about how to overcome the difficulties she faced.

Lecturer's expectations

Cathi Lewis, Lecturer

In this section, one of your lecturers - Cathi Lewis - sets out what she expects from student assignments on this topic.

Essay topic:

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age.

Examining the topic:

  1. Mass media as social institution
  2. Social and cultural implications of commercialised mass media
  3. Exploration of prevailing stereotypes around gender, ethnicity, and age (students need only focus on one or two of these areas)

The better essays will demonstrate an ability to explore:

  1. whether the media create stereotypes or whether they simply reinforce prevailing stereotypes that the majority subscribe to
  2. whether we can discuss the media as an undifferentiated homogeneous institution

Writing a sociology essay

You need to begin at least four weeks before the due date to give yourself time to go through the processes and reflection required.

  1. Write the topic/question on the top of a page, and start physically and mentally to engage with it.
  2. Underline the key words and think about what each means - even if they are common everyday words.
  3. Try rewriting the question in your own words, keeping strictly to the meaning of the question.
  4. Refer back to your lecture notes, prescribed weekly reading, and suggested reading on the topic area as a starting point. Make notes or concept maps of what ideas or issues you could explore. These will expand or change as you develop your ideas and read more specifically.
  5. Go back to your introductory sociology texts and read the sections on gender, ethnicity, and age. Include Australian texts in this list. Using references cited in these texts and the library catalogues, search out books and journal articles dealing specifically with gender/ethnicity/age, representations and stereotyping. Also search for references on the sociology of the media, checking though contents pages for material on stereotyping, ideological issues, commercial imperatives/commodification, etc.
  6. Always take notes on your reading, including short pithy statements that you may cite in the essay. Note also your thoughts, criticisms, ideas, questions in these notes as they occur to you.
  7. Reflect on how you will argue in the discussion, and use a concept map or a linear plan to work out the points or ideas you will include.
  8. Expect to write at least three drafts, preferably four!
  9. WAIT (a week is good!) before doing your final edit. Read the essay out loud just as it is written. See if you're convinced.

Renee's essay

Essay topic:

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age.


Stereotyping is a mental activity that is neither natural or necessary; however, due to laziness, upbringing or coincidental experiences (Lester, 1996, p.1), the stereotyping of individuals results in harmful generalisations that ultimately deny an individual's 'unique contribution to humanity' (Lester, 1996, p.1). When the mass media engage in stereotyping, misleading representations concerning members from diverse cultural groups are confirmed. In this essay, a broad range of texts will be used to examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age, as well as how the media shape one's imagination though direct images.

It cannot be doubted that the media profoundly influence people's attitudes and outlooks. They convey a whole variety of information which individuals would not otherwise acquire. Newspapers, books, television, radio, films, recorded music and popular magazines (Giddens, 1989, p.79) bring individuals into close contact with experiences of which we 'would otherwise have little awareness' (Giddens, 1989, p. 79). There are very few societies, in current times, even among the more traditional cultures, which remain completely untouched by the mass media. Electronic communication is accessible even to those who are completely illiterate, or in isolated areas of the world.

According to Juredini and Poole, gender usually refers to the 'behavioural and attitudinal characteristics' as well as roles that are learned and derived from a 'particular cultural milieu' (2000, p.171). An important source of gender information in a consumer society is television. Despite some notable exceptions, for example 'Sesame Street', most television shows continue to portray males and females in stereotypical gender roles (Sigorelli, 1990, citied in Newman, 2000, p. 136). In a recent study of television programs, male characters are more likely than female characters to occupy leadership roles and achieve them, as well as being portrayed as inquisitive. In addition, they are more likely to be portrayed in a recognisable occupation, demonstrating to audiences that males are more career orientated and dedicated to work, and emphasising stereotypes that they are the traditional 'bread winners' of the household. Alternatively, females are cast into the role of the caregiver (Thompson and Zerbinos, 1995, cited in Newman, 2000, p. 136). Despite the fact that women make up a majority of the population, most prime time characters on television are male (Smith, 1997, cited in Newman, 2000, p. 136), and are still portrayed as powerful and rational. Women express emotions more easily and are more likely to be flirtatious in order to get their own way.

Similarly, in print advertising, women were seen to be in the home, being dependent upon men, and not making 'independent and important decisions' (Creedon, 1989, p. 249), and are often viewed by themselves and by others as sex objects. In addition, the symbols involved in advertising often have a more profound influence on social behaviour than the stated messages the advertising wishes to put forward. Thus, gender divisions are often symbolised in 'what goes on in the setting or the background of a commercial' (Giddens, 1989, p. 446), rather than what it is explicitly selling. In many advertisements, men appear mentally and physically alert, while women are shown gazing into the distance in a dreamy way (Goffman, 1979, cited in Giddens, 1989, p. 446).

A central gender concern is that advertising is a 'shorthand form of communication' (Creedon, 1989, p. 249) that must make contact with the consumer immediately, in order to establish a shared experience or identification, and is most popularly undertaken through stereotypical imagery. In turn, these images form the 'cores of [one's] personal tradition, the defenses of [one's] position in society' (Creedon, 1989, p. 249), thus reinforcing the social stereotype.

Children also receive gender lessons. Understandably, most research about the influence of television and the media has concerned children, given the sheer volume of their viewing and the 'possible implications for socialisation' (Giddens, 1989, p. 444). In their literary pursuits, books have the capabilities to teach children what other children do in their culture and what is expected of them. In a study undertaken in America analysing preschool books, boys played a 'more significant role' in the stories by a 'ratio of 11 to 1' (cited in Newman, 2000, p. 135). Together, boys were portrayed in adventurous roles or undertook activities that required independence and strength, whereas girls were likely to be confined to indoor activities and portrayed as 'passive and dependent' (Newman, 2000, p.135).

Similarly, the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around ethnicity, particularly through their stereotypical images and portrayal of ethnic groups performing certain roles in society. Sociological approaches which attach particular importance to racism emphasise the limitations imposed on ethnic minorities by such hostility and discrimination (Haralambos and Holborn, 1995, p.688). The attention is not placed upon the ethnic minority itself, however on the wider society which is the minority group.

Negative stereotypes of African Americans in particular have been deeply ingrained in Anglo American cultures since Africans were brought into the country in chains (Lester, 1996, p. 21). The stereotypes served an essential purpose - they justified Anglo enslavement of Africans. Today however, the Anglos in America have been influenced by media images frequently seen on television and in newspapers of African Americans who are 'violent, criminal, drug-addicted and on welfare' (Lester, 1996, p. 21). As in Australia, Aborigines have been given similar treatment, however they have 'expressed deep concern' (Ericksen, 1996, p. 45) about the way they have been represented in the Australian media. Through this, there has been considerably more Aboriginal presence in prime time television, particularly with programs outlining Aboriginal issues such as 'Black Out.' Despite such advancements, regular direct and indirect means of associating Aboriginal persons with criminality, irrational destructiveness and disorder frequently occurs in today's media. Through words such as 'riot' (Ericksen, 1996, p. 46) in Aboriginal headlines and disturbing footage on television, audiences are influenced into constructing ethnic stereotypes of all persons belonging to that culture or group.

Corresponding with gender and ethnicity, the media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around age. According to Golman (cited in Lester, 1996, p.113), all too many television commercials fall back on stereotypes, showing the aged as feeble, foolish or inept, passing their time aimlessly in rocking chairs.' Because seniors are a large and increasingly affluent market, one destined to grow larger as the 1950s baby boomers mature (Lester, 1996, p.114), advertisers should be sensitive to this group. If no sensitivity is used, some seniors may take out their anger and frustration toward images and advertising by ignoring or actively boycotting the product.

The mass media reinforce images of the aged through stereotyping, which inevitably engender fear among the elderly, labelling them as 'sick' or 'too old' for certain things. In many cases, older men are seen to have power, whereas older women as seen as weak. Such an example can be seen in the instance where an older chairman in an American television commercial was shown preparing to give a speech to his stockholders in a commercial for Coopers and Lybrand in 1993 (Lester, 2996, p. 90). Being an older woman is not so glamorous and well respected. If an older woman is not portrayed as loving grandmother, there is a good chance she will be portrayed as senile.

Despite the media's reinforcement of social stereotypes among the aged, awareness could assist a better understanding of the elderly in particular. Advertising agencies and advertisers employ young people to write and prepare commercials. Most recent writers on this subject could conclude that 'the age of the advertising producers is an important factor' (Lester, 1996, p. 116) in creating the stereotypical images of age. Young creators working on senior accounts can be a problem, as they do not have the senior's perspective, thus, engaging typically in stereotyping. Such hurdles can be overcome by consulting the large amount of research readily available on seniors, and by focusing on a group composed of seniors, which in turn will reinforce alternative views on age and aging.

It is also arguable that the media, instead of being seen as a 'neutral umpire' between competing interests and an efficient way of disseminating information, critical theorists argue that the media are 'very much implicated in power relations' (Juredini and Poole, 2000, p. 313) in society. The most critical view of the media's operations represents the reading, listening and viewing public as victims of a 'giant con trick' (Juredini and Poole, 2000, p. 313), believing in a truth convenient for the powerful groups who describe and interpret the world around us, thus, reinforcing the social stereotypes.

The modern media of communication are similarly central to an individual's life, providing many necessary information services as well as offering possibilities for self-enlightenment and entertainment. The media constructs and reinforces social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age around the images that are produced, and by the way they are capable of shaping the individual's attitudes and beliefs. Despite such interpretations, it is the choice of the individual what they decide to consume from the diverse amount of information that is served openly to the public, and to eliminate misleading representations concerning members from diverse cultural groups.

References

Campbell, C.P. (1995), 'Race, Myth and the News', Sage Publications, California.

Creedon, P. J. (ed) (1989), 'Women in Mass Communication', Sage Publications, London.

Ericksen, H. (ed) (1996), 'The Media's Australia', The Australian Centre, Melbourne, Australia.

Giddens, A. (1989), 'Sociology', Polity Press, United Kingdom.

Haralambos, M., Holborn, M. (1995), 'Sociology - Themes and Perspectives', 4th edn, Collins Educational, Italy.

Jakubowicz, A., Goodall, H. Martin, J., Mitchell, T., Randall, L., Seneviratne, K. (1994), 'Racism, Ethnicity and the Media', Allen and Unwin, Australia.

Juredini, R., Kenny, S., Poole, M. (eds) (1997), 'Sociology- Australian Connections' 1st edn, Allen and Unwin, Australia.

Juredini, R., Poole, M. (eds) (2000), 'Sociology- Australian Connections', 2nd edn, Allen and Unwin, Australia.

Lester, P. M. (1996), 'Images That Injure - Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media', Praeger Press, London.

Newman, D. (2000), 'Sociology- Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life', 3rd edn, Pine Forge Press, California.

Reeves, B., Nass, C. (1996), 'The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television and the News Media Like Real People and Places', Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, Australia.

Robbins, K., (1996), 'Into the Media Image- Culture and Politics in the Field of Vision', Routledge Press, New York.

Renee's essay and what her lecturer thought

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

Essay topic:

Examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age.



[IMG-1] comment

[1]Stereotyping is a mental activity that is neither natural or necessary; however, due to laziness, upbringing or coincidental experiences (Lester, 1996, p.1), the stereotyping of individuals results in harmful generalisations that ultimately deny an individual's 'unique contribution to humanity' (Lester, 1996, p.1). When the mass media engage in stereotyping, misleading representations concerning members from diverse cultural groups are confirmed. In this essay, a broad range of texts will be used to examine the ways in which the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age, as well as how the media shape one's imagination though direct images.

It cannot be doubted that the media profoundly influence people's attitudes and outlooks. They convey a whole variety of information which individuals would not otherwise acquire. Newspapers, books, television, radio, films, recorded music and popular magazines (Giddens, 1989, p.79) bring individuals into close contact with experiences of which we 'would otherwise have little awareness' (Giddens, 1989, p. 79).
[IMG-2] comment

[2]There are very few societies, in current times, even among the more traditional cultures, which remain completely untouched by the mass media. Electronic communication is accessible even to those who are completely illiterate, or in isolated areas of the world.


[IMG-3] comment

[3]According to Juredini and Poole, gender usually refers to the 'behavioural and attitudinal characteristics' as well as roles that are learned and derived from a 'particular cultural milieu' (2000, p.171). An important source of gender information in a consumer society is television. Despite some notable exceptions, for example 'Sesame Street', most television shows continue to portray males and females in stereotypical gender roles (Sigorelli, 1990, citied in Newman, 2000, p. 136). In a recent study of television programs, male characters are more likely than female characters to occupy leadership roles and achieve them, as well as being portrayed as inquisitive. In addition, they are more likely to be portrayed in a recognisable occupation, demonstrating to audiences that males are more career orientated and dedicated to work, and emphasising stereotypes that they are the traditional 'bread winners' of the household. Alternatively, females are cast into the role of the caregiver (Thompson and Zerbinos, 1995, cited in Newman, 2000, p. 136). Despite the fact that women make up a majority of the population, most prime time characters on television are male (Smith, 1997, cited in Newman, 2000, p. 136), and are still portrayed as powerful and rational.
[IMG-4] comment

[4]Women express emotions more easily and are more likely to be flirtatious in order to get their own way.

Similarly, in print advertising, women were seen to be in the home, being dependent upon men, and not making 'independent and important decisions' (Creedon, 1989, p. 249), and are often viewed by themselves and by others as sex objects. In addition, the symbols involved in advertising often have a more profound influence on social behaviour than the stated messages the advertising wishes to put forward. Thus, gender divisions are often symbolised in 'what goes on in the setting or the background of a commercial' (Giddens, 1989, p. 446), rather than what it is explicitly selling. In many advertisements, men appear mentally and physically alert, while women are shown gazing into the distance in a dreamy way (Goffman, 1979, cited in Giddens, 1989, p. 446).

A central gender concern is that advertising is a 'shorthand form of communication' (Creedon, 1989, p. 249) that must make contact with the consumer immediately, in order to establish a shared experience or identification, and is most popularly undertaken through stereotypical imagery. In turn, these images form the 'cores of [one's] personal tradition, the defenses of [one's] position in society' (Creedon, 1989, p. 249), thus reinforcing the social stereotype.


[IMG-5] comment

Children also receive gender [5]lessons. Understandably, most research about the influence of television and the media has concerned children, given the sheer volume of their viewing and the 'possible implications for socialisation' (Giddens, 1989, p. 444). In their literary pursuits, books have the capabilities to teach children what other children do in their culture and what is expected of them. In a study undertaken in America analysing preschool books, boys played a 'more significant role' in the stories by a 'ratio of 11 to 1' (cited in Newman, 2000, p. 135). Together, boys were portrayed in adventurous roles or undertook activities that required independence and strength, whereas girls were likely to be confined to indoor activities and portrayed as 'passive and dependent' (Newman, 2000, p.135).


[IMG-6] comment

[6]Similarly, the mass media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around ethnicity, particularly through their stereotypical images and portrayal of ethnic groups performing certain roles in society. Sociological approaches which attach particular importance to racism emphasise the limitations imposed on ethnic minorities by such hostility and discrimination (Haralambos and Holborn, 1995, p.688).
[IMG-7] comment

[7]The attention is not placed upon the ethnic minority itself, however on the wider society which is the minority group.

Negative stereotypes of African Americans in particular have been deeply ingrained in Anglo American cultures since Africans were brought into the country in chains (Lester, 1996, p. 21). The stereotypes served an essential purpose - they justified Anglo enslavement of Africans. Today however, the
[IMG-8] comment

[8]Anglos in America have been influenced by media images frequently seen on television and in newspapers of African Americans who are 'violent, criminal, drug-addicted and on welfare' (Lester, 1996, p. 21). As in Australia, Aborigines have been given similar treatment, however they have 'expressed deep concern' (Ericksen, 1996, p. 45) about the way they have been represented in the Australian media.
[IMG-9] comment

[9]Through this, there has been considerably more Aboriginal presence in prime time television, particularly with programs outlining Aboriginal issues such as 'Black Out.' Despite such advancements, regular direct and indirect means of associating Aboriginal persons with criminality, irrational destructiveness and disorder frequently occurs in today's media. Through words such as 'riot' (Ericksen, 1996, p. 46) in Aboriginal headlines and disturbing footage on television, audiences are influenced into constructing ethnic stereotypes of all persons belonging to that culture or group.

Corresponding with gender and ethnicity, the media construct and reinforce social stereotypes around age. According to Golman (cited in Lester, 1996, p.113), all too many television commercials fall back on stereotypes, showing the aged as feeble, foolish or inept, passing their time aimlessly in rocking chairs.' Because seniors are a large and increasingly affluent market, one destined to grow larger as the 1950s baby boomers mature (Lester, 1996, p.114), advertisers should be sensitive to this group.
[IMG-10] comment

[10]If no sensitivity is used, some seniors may take out their anger and frustration toward images and advertising by ignoring or actively boycotting the product.

The mass media reinforce images of the aged through stereotyping, which inevitably engender fear among the elderly, labelling them as 'sick' or 'too old' for certain things. In many cases, older men are seen to have power, whereas older women as seen as weak. Such an example can be seen in the instance where an older chairman in an American television commercial was shown preparing to give a speech to his stockholders in a commercial for Coopers and Lybrand in 1993 (Lester, 2996, p. 90). Being an older woman is not so glamorous and well respected. If an older woman is not portrayed as loving grandmother, there is a good chance she will be portrayed as senile.

Despite the media's reinforcement of social stereotypes among the aged, awareness could assist a better understanding of the elderly in particular. Advertising agencies and advertisers employ young people to write and prepare commercials. Most recent writers on this subject could conclude that 'the age of the advertising producers is an important factor' (Lester, 1996, p. 116) in creating the stereotypical images of age. Young creators working on senior accounts can be a problem, as they do not have the senior's perspective, thus, engaging typically in stereotyping.
[IMG-11] comment

[11]Such hurdles can be overcome by consulting the large amount of research readily available on seniors, and by focusing on a group composed of seniors, which in turn will reinforce alternative views on age and aging.

It is also arguable that the media, instead of being seen as a 'neutral umpire' between competing interests and an efficient way of disseminating information, critical theorists argue that the media are 'very much implicated in power relations' (Juredini and Poole, 2000, p. 313) in society. The most critical view of the media's operations represents the reading, listening and viewing public as victims of a 'giant con trick' (Juredini and Poole, 2000, p. 313), believing in a truth convenient for the powerful groups who describe and interpret the world around us, thus, reinforcing the social stereotypes.

The modern media of communication are similarly central to an individual's life, providing many necessary information services as well as offering possibilities for self-enlightenment and entertainment. The media constructs and reinforces social stereotypes around gender, ethnicity and age around the images that are produced, and by the way they are capable of shaping the individual's attitudes and beliefs. Despite such interpretations,
[IMG-12] comment

[12]it is the choice of the individual what they decide to consume from the diverse amount of information that is served openly to the public, and to eliminate misleading representations concerning members from diverse cultural groups.


[IMG-13] comment

[13] [Lecturer's overall comment]

References

Campbell, C.P. (1995), 'Race, Myth and the News', Sage Publications, California.

Creedon, P. J. (ed) (1989), 'Women in Mass Communication', Sage Publications, London.

Ericksen, H. (ed) (1996), 'The Media's Australia', The Australian Centre, Melbourne, Australia.

Giddens, A. (1989), 'Sociology', Polity Press, United Kingdom.

Haralambos, M., Holborn, M. (1995), 'Sociology - Themes and Perspectives', 4th edn, Collins Educational, Italy.

Jakubowicz, A., Goodall, H. Martin, J., Mitchell, T., Randall, L., Seneviratne, K. (1994), 'Racism, Ethnicity and the Media', Allen and Unwin, Australia.

Juredini, R., Kenny, S., Poole, M. (eds) (1997), 'Sociology- Australian Connections' 1st edn, Allen and Unwin, Australia.

Juredini, R., Poole, M. (eds) (2000), 'Sociology- Australian Connections', 2nd edn, Allen and Unwin, Australia.

Lester, P. M. (1996), 'Images That Injure - Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media', Praeger Press, London.

Newman, D. (2000), 'Sociology- Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life', 3rd edn, Pine Forge Press, California.

Reeves, B., Nass, C. (1996), 'The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television and the News Media Like Real People and Places', Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, Australia.

Robbins, K., (1996), 'Into the Media Image- Culture and Politics in the Field of Vision', Routledge Press, New York.

[1]

This essay is...

This is a well-structured paper that makes good use of the sociological literature and examples to support the assertions that are made. It received a grade just short of a Distinction.

One main area for improvement is that of language use:

  1. in the use and understanding of sociological concepts
  2. in the technical aspects of academic writing, particularly the use of precise and accurate language

The comments below suggest ways in which the paper could be improved to bring it up a grade.

[2]

Supporting your assertions

Renee has provided support here for her strong assertion that the media "profoundly" influences people's attitudes, through reference to the literature. However, she also needs to provide a reference to support her assertion that the mass media influences even those who are illiterate or in isolated areas of the world.

[3]

Link needed here

This paragraph needs a linking sentence to connect the topic of the previous paragraph - the influence of the media - with the topic of this paragraph - the way that gender is portrayed in the media.

The linking sentence should also be used to indicate how these two topics are being used to build an argument.

A linking sentence for these two paragraphs might read something like the following:

Given the influence of the mass media on people's perceptions, how does it represent gender and, in so doing, construct and reinforce stereotypes around gender?
[4]

Use precise and accurate language

  1. Be as accurate as possible in your description of the facts.

    Hence, to be accurate the following phrase "females are cast into the role of the caregiver" should be rewritten as "females are often cast into the role of the caregiver", as females are not always cast in such roles.

    Note that in other parts of this paragraph, Renee has adopted qualified phrases such as "male characters are more likely to be portrayed", which is more accurate than saying "male characters are portrayed as...".

  2. It is also important to make the distinction between what people are and what they are portrayed as, viewed as, perceived as, and so on.

    Hence, "Women express emotions more easily" should be written as "Women are portrayed as expressing their emotions more easily".

  3. Avoid using an informal, spoken style of writing.

    One phrase in this sentence also needs to be more academic in style:

    The phrase "More likely to be flirtatious in order to get their own way" could be rewritten as, "in order to achieve their purposes".

For help with these aspects of writing see the section on Academic Style in Skills for Writing in Sociology.

[5]

Use sociological concepts

The use of the terms "teach" and "learn" are not appropriate when discussing the process of socialisation.

Hence, the word "lessons" needs to be replaced with the word "socialisation", and the word "teach" should be replaced with "expose".

[6]

Good link to the topic

This is a good opening sentence to this second section of the essay. The word "Similarly" serves to link the topic of ethnicity back to the previous section on gender; and a reiteration of the main concepts of the topic - the "construction" and "reinforcement" of stereotypes - reminds the reader of the main thrust of the essay.

Notice that, in a similar way, the introduction to the third section on age is linked with the first two sections on gender and ethnicity and refers back to the topic. This helps to provide a continuity of argument within the essay.

[7]

Meaning unclear

This confused phrase would no doubt have been improved with another edit of the paper.

It is important to allow yourself enough time during the drafting process to do several edits.

[8]

Informal, inaccurate term

"Anglos" is an informal, and not strictly accurate, term. It is too narrow.

[9]

This is debatable

This point is somewhat debatable. Having a presence in prime time, commercial television is different from being presented in documentary style programs.

Also, you should indicate what channel presents this program - be specific in your reporting of the facts.

[10]

More than this

The social, political, and personal consequences are much more significant than this point suggests.

[11]

Do not suggest solutions

At this point in your studies you are not required to suggest solutions. You are not yet versed in the complexities of sociological analysis. What you are required to do is to identify problem areas.

Also, note that the use of the word "seniors" here is too informal. Use a word like "the elderly" instead.

[12]

Contradictory

This actually contradicts the previous sentence. "Real" choice is difficult if individuals have already internalised particular stereotypes from their social environment.

[13]

Final comment

This essay received a grade of D-, which is a solid result in Sociology.

The paper demonstrates a robust discussion of the issues with each point substantiated by reference to relevant examples or the literature.

Significant attention needs to be directed to the technical areas of writing an academic paper at this level.

Renee's comments

How I structured the essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I interpreted the topic by keeping to my three questions relating to agendas... And I went about that by keeping to those three points in my essay. I was writing about those three points, I felt that writing about these points kept me grounded and kept my essay evenly flowing. And you had to write them basically evenly so writing evenly between genders and age. So not writing a whole two pages on gender and then two paragraphs... And I always made myself come back to the topic by relating to the words, like there was words like... so I made sure that by the end of each sentence or each paragraph I wrote about how this was contructurally enforced by adding examples

How I researched <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I went about my research process by going to the library; the main way I looked at that was I looked at some books going through the voyager catalogue, by finding books underneath those, say under headings, say media, social stereotypes, gender, ethnicity and age. Then I put in sentences like 'official sterotypes, media'... So then I found certain books under those. I started a few weeks before by looking through my books which were... textbooks that we had-looking up the references at the back, which they said things like 'the references obey you'. So then I thought, "Oh, ok there's my topic, I'll look some of them up." But I found it a little difficult at first because a lot of the books that were used were either American or were a lot of journals that our library didn't have. Either that or they were used from ...Some of them I wanted to order, but would take me about 2-3 weeks, which because I didn't have that much time I couldn't actually wait for those books to be in. So the best thing was to be better organised and to keep the essay, to do the essay early, to get the books that you need in. And also with the library they run out of books pretty easily because everybody's looking up a certain topic at the same time. So it's very hard to get all your books in, so...

How I wrote the essay <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

Plans pretty early in advance just so I could just make sure that I got all the books before anybody else, since I didn't want to be disappointed when I arrived at the library. So I spent a lot of time planning and researching, that was really good because I used that in my essay. So because I had limited time writing up my essay, I felt that my planning assisted me by keeping everything organized and just everything planned out. So then I just had to write it out, and that was pretty easy because I had everything organized.

I felt that I could've spent more time revising my essay, just taking more time to polish it, to edit a few things out, keeping my synthesis a bit more concise by not saying a sentence in so many words. By cutting that down when I could've added more detail into my essay, added a bit more weight to my essay. So I thought, yeah I could've spent a bit more time editing out just maybe some irrelevant passages or changing a few words around to make it sound a bit more...

Differences between VCE and uni <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

Compared to Year 12, I found it to be a little different between the way I approached essays this year to how I approached them last year. I felt that with writing up the essay you don't have any consultation times with teachers or anybody else, whereas in school we had a lot of consultations, like the proof-reading of drafts, analysis of topics - those kind of things. Whereas in University our lecturer or tutor is not allowed to read over a full essay. They're only allowed to read over either a draft or an introduction or a rough plan. So it makes things a lot harder because you're not quite sure where you're directed or where your essay is heading. So you're basically left on your own, but in a way it's good because you're independent and your essay has to be of a high standard. So you've got to do a lot of it on your own to make sure your essay's your own individual work. So I found the change between those a little bit harder; hard to get used to it at first but its good because you're on your own so you can make your own essays. And I also found that in First Year Uni there isn't that much criteria; like you do have obviously ...you have to get things clarified. But in Year 12 we had six or seven topics that we had to ...and that we had to adhere to. Whereas in first year uni you don't have that so in a way I was a bit more free to put whatever I wanted into my essay, with reason of course. But just keep things ...how I felt, so you are a bit more liberated...

Managing my time <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I also felt that it was a little harder to manage my time this year at Uni, because I didn't have somebody saying "Oh, you've got an essay due in 5 weeks or you better start your draft and have it due by tomorrow." So unless you've read over your handout like your course outlines, knowing when you have an essay due, what the topic is; then you're not going to know. So the best thing to do is to read over your information firstly, know exactly what you have to do and when your essay's due so that you can be organized. Because if you've got four subjects you have to know each topic and each subject so you know where you're heading with every essay.

My advice to new students <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/writing/arts/sociology/3.1.4.xml#audioDiv>

I have some advice to give new students, and that would be to make sure you're organized, make sure you take library tours- to familiarise yourself with the library because you will be using it a lot with a lot of your essays. To familiarise yourself with the Voyager Catalogue and to always get to know your lecturers. Always attend your lectures for one, because they give out vital information - not only for your essay but also for exams, as well as for other purposes. Ask questions in your tutorials so that you have a firm understanding of your topic and the other topics that may be related to your essays or exams. So just familiarise yourself, because Uni is pretty much independent, you don't have anybody on your back telling you what you're supposed to be doing. So just keep everything organized, just make sure you ask questions and just...

Download the full interview with Renee (mp3, 4.06 MB). <www.monash.edu/lls/llonline/assets/utilities/download.php?file=assets/audio/renee/renee-all.mp3>

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