As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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Writing a research paper even though may seem challenging is a substantial part of everyday student life. You are required to write at least one research paper in a semester for the majority of the subjects. Do not underestimate research projects, as they demand a huge effort and a lot of time from you. Nevertheless, do not let your research paper assignment give you anxiety and influence your overall studies. To minimize worries and inconsistencies while working on the research paper you must be sure in your research paper topic. There are times when you are assigned to the topic but more frequently, you will have to create a topic by yourself. The whole research should be built around or from the topic. In order to choose an interesting topic, which will demonstrate your best talents, you should keep reading.
How to select the best research paper topic?
When choosing your research paper topic, you need to make sure it is neither boring nor worn out. An interesting innovative topic will intrigue the readers and motivate them to read your whole research. But if you don’t know how to create a topic on your own, use help of writers in topic creation.There are some things to consider when selecting an appropriate topic:
THE FIELD OF YOUR INTEREST
There is no secret that you will not be able to write a good insightful research paper if you are not interested in the subject overall and in the topic in particular. If on the other hand the topic is linked to the field of your interest, you may consider yourself lucky. It would be easier to explore the theme and write about it. You may even find some additional resources on your computer or I cloud service for the topic, which excites you. If you enjoy science, you are sure to talk non-stop about it. The same goes for writing.
A TOPIC SHOULD BE DEFINITE
You need to be sure to understand everything clearly when you choose an essay topic. Do not hesitate to ask questions if there are some unclear points. The more you understand the simpler it is for you to write a successful research paper. If the indistinct issues are still at large, it is advisable to leave this topic be and simply select another one. You need to show the readers that you master of the topic and not a confused newbie who does not know what he or she is talking about.
BE PRECISE AND SPECIFIC
You need to understand completely that you are not writing a descriptive essay. A research paper is an accurate and thorough work, which is based on facts details. You cannot add watery text about anything into the paper. Your statement should be supported with examples or reference other profound research and academical works.
This advice may seem dull if you are working on historical paper. How innovative can you get discussing French revolution or Perl Harbor? However, an innovative approach can give you the edge among other students. A topic should address the matter from a different and surprising perspective. With a deep investigation, you may even find the unknown until now facts that can blow your readers’ minds. This approach will intrigue your readers and will make research paper stand out.