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Essay Writing Guide

Once you finish reading this  article you will experience a new light of determination, confidence and positive attitude towards  expressing your views on paper or in front of an audience.  Some of the most significant factors or you can say X factors for writing brilliant essays are described in this article in a more lucid way which includes factors such as propose of essay, preparing for essay , mistakes to avoid, organizing your essay, writing style, understating Bibliography and last but not the least understanding Plagiarism. Please do share your views in the below given comment system.

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The purpose of an essay

One never realizes how confused one is until the moment comes when she/he has to express her/his views either on paper or in front of an audience. Confronting this confusion, reading widely in order to throw some light on what initially seems like terribly complex issues, and then trying to organize one’s thoughts in the form of a well structured and intelligible text are all essential steps of any decent educational experience. In fact it constitutes the first tentative step toward original scholarship. An essay is, by definition, an original piece of work. It is not an ‘executive summary’ of what others have written. Nor is it a text which paraphrases other people’s words.

It is a well-informed, thoroughly researched, statement of the author’s perspective on some specific topic. Its purpose is twofold: To inform the interested reader on some literature but also (and this is crucial) to express an original interpretation of that literature. Writing an essay is (or ought to be) a transformative experience: On the one hand, the author ‘shapes’ her/his text and, at once, her/his act of writing the essay ‘shapes’ her/his views. The essay that is about to be written will not reflect your current thoughts but, instead, it will reflect the thoughts that you will be developing while writing the essay. In short, good essay writing involves a dialectical relationship between author and text. In this sense, all essays are (or ought to be) original pieces of work; even if they are surveys of how Swiss watchmakers manufacture particular cogs!

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Preparatory reading

When facing the challenge of composing an original essay, one needs to read as much of what others have written on that theme (or even beyond that narrow theme). Of course, every decision to act is founded on a prior decision to stop thinking about it (or, in this case, to stop reading!). So, allocate a certain amount of time to reading as widely on the topic as possible, but also know when to stop in order to take stock and start learning your essay. During this first phase of researching the essay, make use of all available resources – e.g. CR-Roms like Econlit, Google, University Library catalogues. Also consult notes that you may have kept from relevant lectures, seminars etc.

There are various opinions about the best method of synthesizing your own views with the knowledge derived from the works of other authors. Some authors find it useful to keep brief notes while reading the literature which they then consult while drawing up their essay’s plan. Others believe in writing an early draft, then reading further books and articles and finally proceeding to complete the essay. Which method is best depends partly on the topic (and your familiarity with it) and partly on your personal style and preference. Do experiment with various methods and select the one that suits you best.

X Factors to be considered while writing essay.

(A) Relevance

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If you are writing an essay based on a title supplied to you by a lecturer or an editor, read the essay title repeatedly! Avoid the mistake of seeing only a small part of the title while losing sight of its totality (or specificity). Essays should address the question/title wholeheartedly. Equally important they should be relevant in the way they apply analytical ideas to the specified question/title. Particularly to be deplored is the tendency of some students to see a particular phrase in the question (eg. international trade, perfect competition, Hume’s epistemology etc.) and then to write down everything they know on the subject. The mark of the intellectual is a capacity to be choosy; to select only those tools, arguments, quotations which are mostuseful in handling a particular issue or question. Be systematic and economic in your use of arguments and models alike.

(B) Quotations and the influence of others

An essay should not be constructed around a series of quotations from other authors, even if the quotations are acknowledged (if they are not this is called plagiarism – see section on plagiarism below). It is your essay and it should be based on your assessment of the topic in question.

(C) Second-guessing, high school influences and how to minimize your readers’ boredom

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University students (at all levels; from undergraduate to PhD level) often try to imagine what their teachers think and then attempt to write an essay that will conform to the lecturers’ (or, more generally, readers’) ideas. This is a crucial mistake for two reasons. First, you are unlikely to guess correctly your reader’s beliefs. And even if you do, it is only by a fluke that you will manage to express them in a manner that will not make your readers cringe. Secondly, it does not matter! One thing your lecturers (and, more generally, your readers) loathe is to read a second rate version of what they believe. Putbluntly, your readers are most likely to get mightily bored if you pander to their prejudices.

What readers really crave (even if they are not aware of it) is a well-constructed essay which makes some good points that they would not have made (or thought about). It is only then that your essay impresses. Another pet hate of discerning readers is the attempt by many students to serve them a warmed up essay; an essay that was written in a different context (e.g. at the undergraduate level), mildly modified for the current purposes. Such essays, even if perfectly good in the past, will be receivedwith little enthusiasm by your current readership. So, if you really want to impress try not to bore your readers by rehashed essays or pathetic attempts to write what you anticipate others want you to write: Read widely, think carefully and be creative!

(D) Avoid sloganeering – construct arguments with a transparent logical structure

An essay can be original, opinionated, fresh and, at the same time, pretty atrocious! One example that comes to mind are essays in which the author unleashes an avalanche of opinions without however substantiating them. The reader should be able to follow your logic easily and trace the foundation of your complete argument to a bedrock of axioms (which of course are beyond discussion). In this sense, you should try to ensure that your reader cannot fault your logic and will disagree with you only to the extent that she/he doubts your axioms.

You should beware of moments when an intelligent reader wonders: “How did she/he get from argument A to argument B?” If your reader gets to this point, it means that the logical structure of your essay is not evident and, thus, that your text is either a bad essay or a piece of unsubstantiated propaganda.

(E) Organization

Clear and logical organization is a characteristic of every good essay. An unsystematic presentation suggests that you are not capable of organizing your thoughts in an orderly fashion. Conversely a well-organized essay (eg. one with a beginning, a middle and an end; one that offers a response to the question/title made up of arguments which support one another) is suggestive of an ability to deal systematically with economic and social issues. Therefore it is always worthwhile to establish the general framework of the essay before you begin writing it. This normally means that your argument must be sub divided into a number of sections. Though the content of the sections is for you to determine, here is a general suggestion:

Introduction:

Essay topics are often open to several interpretations/approaches and it is important to establish your own interpretation/approach at the outset. At the very least, give your reader a reason to read on and a hint of what might come (as well as why it might be exciting!).

Development of the mainstream approach to the topic:

Perhaps you can begin by outlining what the current literature would have to say on the matter (ie. the mainstream view). This does not mean that you must reproduce it (in any case there is no room for such reproduction). What you are expected to do is distil the essence of the argument in the literature in a few well chosen and structured paragraphs (which must be your own). Of course to be able to produce this synopsis you must know/understand the literature very well.

Counter-arguments On every topic in the social sciences there are many different views.

Show that you are aware of a wide variety of views on your theme and then evaluate their merits and demerits.

Conclusion:

Finish off by stating (and substantiating) your view.

(F) Length

Stay well within the word limit. Remember: Constraints liberate! For if you force yourself to express complex arguments in fewer words, you are effectively forcing yourself to get to the essence of the arguments.

(G) Style/prose

It is important to develop your own prose. However it is equally important to try to
write as clearly as possible. To this effect, pay attention to your grammar, syntax and use of language. No one likes reading ill constructed sentences. No one has ever been impressed by a long series of spelling errors, bad grammar and sloppy prose. If in doubt always write short sentences. And once you finish writing, leave the essay on your shelf for a while and then re-read it trying to see it as a stranger would. Then edit it accordingly. Always re-read your paper in hard copy – not on your computer’s screen: Bad prose hits you more painfully when on paper (at least this has been my experience).

(H) Definitions

If you are to use diagrams and/or equations, you must define your symbols properly. Thus beware that you will not be able to reproduce much geometry/algebra without wasting all your space (i.e. the word limit) on them. For this reason it is better to lead with the ideas; that is, even though mathematics helps us understand difficult concepts, in the context of an essay there is no argument that cannot be expressed effectively in words

(I) Bibliography

Always use the Harvard system of referencing. Your essays must include a bibliography of all the references which were used while researching the essay. Include all your sources. Each entry in your bibliography should be in alphabetical order by the author’s surname and must include all relevant information. However, we consider it somewhat dishonest (although many authors do it!) to list in your bibliography sources that you have not consulted personally.

So, if you have read in a book published by Arrow in 1964 that Hicks had said such and such in another book (which you did not consult) in 1933, you should list Arrow’s book but not Hicks’ in your bibliography. Instead, you should write (in your essay) something like this: “Hicks (1933) argued such and such – quoted in Arrow (1964)”, and then add Arrow’s book in your bibliography.

(J) Quotations

You are expected to use the Harvard system of referencing. All references that you make to ideas, authors, models etc. in order to support your case should be acknowledged within the text of your essay. E.g. if you have read something on p.540 in a book by Sugden published in 1995 which made you think of Schelling’s 1960 book, refer to it in the following form:“In a manner that resembles Schelling (1960), Sudgen (1995:540) argues,there is a sense in which agents focus on particular solutions in the presence of multiple candidates…” At the end of the essay, under ‘Bibliography’ you should then list all the references in the text like the above in alphabetical order.

(L) Footnotes

There are two situations where footnotes can be used:

  • When an author’s exact words are used to make a point. Then you may, if you wish to save space in your main text, place this quotation in a footnote. Make sure that after the quotation you acknowledge the source; eg. Sugden (1995) and that you list that reference in your bibliography at the end.

  • When you want to make a point that is not part of your main argument -eg. In reference to Keynes work The General Theory you want to avoid confusion by stressing that you are not referring to his other work the Treatise on Money.

(M) Plagiarism

Please read this section carefully as it refers to a matter of great importance. If you have used ideas, diagrams, expressions etc. from some book or article, you must refer to them. If you do not you will be left open to the charge of plagiarism. What is PLAGIARISM? It is the unacknowledged use of other authors’, including other students’ work. Those who steal others’ ideas and present them as their own have no place in this Program. If such unacknowledged material is detected in your essay, your essay will be given a zero immediately and you will be referred to the Doctoral Studies Committee for further action.

Furthermore two essays containing identical or highly similar components (and thus indicating that one student copied from another) will both be given a mark of zero and both students will face disciplinary procedures. No defence will be accepted on the basis that someone else copied from you (rather than vice versa) – even if you claim that you were not aware of the fact that your essay was copied by someone else. Thus if you are thinking about letting someone copy your essay, know that we will treat you both as plagiarists. And if you are contemplating copying someone else’s essay, know that not only are you putting your self at risk but also you are placing the other person in a similar position.

By :
Yanis Varoufakis
Saturday, 16th October 2004

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