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FAQs for Essay writing

Robert Nelson
Robert Nelson by Osian Grant 2007
How do I plan my essay?

Approaches vary hugely on this question. Some students are better at planning than others, but this does not mean they are better at writing and thinking. Begin with an analysis of the topic or question. What are you being asked to do? What do you need to know? What resources will you need? Next, consider the best way to allow the information to flow, so that each section of the essay is set up by the last.

Do I need a structure for my essay?

Some students do not fuss about structures but seem to write by instinct and still find a rich argument. However, sketching out where the ideas will find a home is very valuable. You may not need a structure at the moment you begin writing, but chances are - if the essay is a good one - you will discover or develop the structure as you write. Your text needs to move from observations to ideas and from topics to experiences that consolidate one another. That is a structure.

What is an argument in an essay?

An argument is a flow of reasons. It is a case presented in a logical stream, where ideas run together to support one another. Arguments are ideas that begin with a proposition, gather reinforcement and head toward a conclusion. As a writer and an artist or designer, you need to articulate your views in a clear and logical fashion and be able to convince others of your position.

How do I express my own opinion in my essay?

Candidly! It is important to feel that the reader really values hearing a well argued opinion, so do not be shy. Nevertheless, you should remember that opinion and reason go together, so back up your opinion with fact or observation or quotation.

Whom do I trust in judging how imaginative I can be in my essay?

All units in the Faculty of Art & Design are constructed to facilitate imaginative growth but some are also designed to provide solid background and information. In this context, it would be irresponsible to recommend that you interpret the essay as an opportunity to launch into a poetic rave. The best advice on this question of balance is to speak to your tutor. Some lecturers and tutors will always encourage you to indulge your fancies, while others may or may not share this enthusiasm and will expect stricter observation of learned etiquette.

Do I need to use references in my essay?

Yes. References are necessary because an important part of the exercise of writing an essay is to relate your ideas to other people's ideas. Many authors have already furnished us with special access to works and theories, and it makes a lot of sense to use these resources in your essay, as long as they are cited correctly.

Do I need to use theory?

Theory is just ideas, so the answer is yes, you do need to use theory in your essay. What is more, you probably understand some of it already. Keep listening to your lecturer, who is all the time unpacking theory as helpful ideas, and keep a list of new terms and their definitions as you encounter them. This should help make theory seem less threatening.

Should I use jargon?

No. Most lecturers do not enjoy jargon. You are encouraged to use ambitious words, but only if you feel they are called for and that you understand them well enough.

How does writing essays relate to my studio practice?

Although it might seem that the tasks of researching and writing essays are a distraction from your studio practice, they can actually enhance it by making you more analytical and developing your skills of written expression. Learning more about other designers and artists and their techniques can help you understand more about yourself as a designer or artist and the tradition in which your work exists. Writing essays also forces you to think about the causal connections between ideas, which can in turn encourage you to become conscious of how your thoughts and feelings about various issues are translated into the art you create.

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