I’d like to introduce you to…my essay

I’d like to introduce you to…my essay

Just what should go into a good essay introduction? Here are some helpful guidelines to make a reader want to hang on to your every word:

An essay introduction should include:

  1. A little basic background about the key subject area (just enough to put your essay into context, no more or you’ll bore the reader to death).
  2. Explanation of how you are defining any key terms. Confusion on this could be your undoing.
  3. A road-map of how your essay will answer the question. What is your overall argument and how will you develop it?
  4. A clear confirmation of your position

So, in a bit more juicy detail…


Background info Intro1

It is good to start with a statement that fixes your essay topic and focus in a wider context or the reader could be floundering around wondering what you are harping on about.  Beware though… this only has to be a little bit wider, not completely universal.  Do not start with something like “In the whole field of nursing….” or “Since man could write he has always…”. Instead, simply situate the area that you are writing about within a slightly bigger area, for example, you could start with a general statement about a topic, outlining some key issues but explain that your essay will focus on only one.


Defining key terms Intro2

This does not mean quoting dictionary definitions – we all have access to dictionary.com with a click or two.  You have to write about how you are defining any potentially ambiguous terms in relation to your essay topic. This is really important for your reader, as it will inform them how you are using this word in the context of your essay.


Road mapping

The main thing an introduction will do is tell the reader how you are going to answer the question – including what your main conclusions are. There is no need to worry about *SPOILER ALERTS* – this is NOT a intro3detective novel you CAN give away the ending! Sorry, but building up suspense is just going to irritate the reader rather than eventually satisfy. Simply outline how your main arguments (give them in order) lead to your conclusion. In American essay guides you will see something described as the thesis statement – although we don’t use this terminology in the UK, it is still necessary to state in your introduction what the over-arching argument of your essay will be (I call this the mega-argument, to distinguish it from the mini-arguments you make in each paragraph).  It is good to make sure this is crystal clear at the end of your introduction.


Confirming your position

To be honest, this is mostly covered in your roadmap (above), but it is so important, it deserves some additional attention here. Setting out your position is an essential component of all essays. Brick et al (2016:143) even suggest

“The purpose of an essay is to present a clear position and defend it”

I am here! A drawn figure makes their academic position clear

It is, however, very difficult to defend a position if you have not made it clear in the first place. This is where your introduction comes in. In stating your position, you are ultimately outlining the answer to the question. You can then make the rest of your essay about providing the evidence that supports your answer. As such, if you make your position clear, you will find all subsequent paragraphs in your essay easier to write and join together. As you have already told your reader where the essay is going, you can be explicit in how each paragraph contributes to your mega-argument.

In establishing your position and defending it, you are ultimately engaging in scholarly debate. This is because positions are supported by academic evidence and analysis. It is in your analysis of academic evidence that you lead your reader to the same position. Once again – this is only possible if your introduction has explained your position in the first place.


That’s basically it – there are lots of other things you can include in introductions to ‘hook’ the reader but the four given above are the essential elements that every introduction needs.  Some people like to write their introduction first, some like to leave it until they have written the main body of their essay – that can be your personal choice.


 

References

Brick, J., Herke, M., and Wong, D., (2016) Academic Culture, A students guide to studying at university, 3rd edition. Victoria, Australia: Palgrave Macmillan.

Featured image by Michael Wilson CC BY 2.0 from Flickr

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Well structured essay or wobbly blob?

Well structured essay or wobbly blob?

blobA really important aspect of writing an essay is to make sure it has a good structure. Without it, it becomes unwieldy and unfocussed – a bit of a wobbly blob.

At it’s simplest, an essay needs an introduction, several main body paragraphs and then a conclusion. Each of these grows as the length of the essay grows. The introduction and conclusion should be approximately 10% of your word count EACH. So, roughly this would mean:

2,000 word essay = 200 word introduction, 1,600 word main body, 200 word conclusion
3,000 word essay = 300 word introduction, 2,400 word main body 300 word conclusion
4,500 word essay = 450 word introduction, 3,600 main main body, 450 word conclusion

The introductions and conclusions get longer because you have more to introduce and more to conclude. Not surprising really.

What goes in your introduction?

An introduction serves four main purposes:

  1. Set the scene
  2. Blog images - Drawing 1_2Explain how your essay will answer the question or cover the assignment criteria
  3. Introduce any key concepts or define any key terms.
  4. Let the reader know what position or stance you will taking.

Unsurprisingly, its role is to introduce the rest of the essay. It is surprising however, how few student introductions do actually address that basic task.

Next week’s blog post will concentrate specifically on introductions so if you feel you are weak on these, don’t forget to read that.

What goes in your main body?

Your main body is where you use a series of paragraphs to make the points you need to build the argument that leads to your conclusion.

How many paragraphs?

Academic paragraphs are usually between 200 and 300 words long (they vary more than this but it is a useful guide). With that in mind, you should be able to work out roughly how many points you need to make given the length of your essay.  If we look at the 3 examples above:

2,000 word essay had 1,600 word main body = 6-8 paragraphs (6-8 points)
3,000 word essay had 2,400 word main body = 8-12 paragraphs (8-12 points)
4,500 word essay had 3,600 word main body = 12-18 paragraphs (12-18 points)

themes

The paragraphs in the longer essays will probably be grouped into themes to give your argument a bit more organisation.

Paragraph structure

In order to build an argument, each of your paragraphs needs to be a little mini-argument in its own right. The basic structure is:

  1. Make a point – assert something!
  2. Give evidence to back up that point.
  3. Explain to the reader how the evidence supports the point and why the point is relevant to your overall argument (the position you are taking). BE PERSUASIVE!
  4. Link directly back to the question or to the next paragraph.

Make sure the points follow a logical narrative (if you just looked at them in isolation does your argument build nicely).

What goes in your conclusion?

The conclusion should:

  1. Summarise the main points covered in your essay.
  2. Explain why these points led you to your final position (i.e. enabled you to answer the question).

Blog images - Drawing 1_3

They often finish with a general statement about the significance of this within the field although sometimes this is unnecessary or inappropriate.

It is rare to reference things in your conclusion as strictly speaking there should be no new evidence presented and therefore no need to include citations.

In essence there needs to be a sense of satisfaction that everything has been brought together well.

Our blog in two weeks will focus entirely on writing killer conclusions so make sure you read that too!

Header image: CC-BY-SA  Nataliatarkh

Your voice matters

Your voice matters

Where are YOU in your writing?Person at back of group with "What about me?" sign

Do you feel like your voice is lost in your academic writing?  You are usually told not to write in the first person (“I”); not include personal opinion; and to reference everything. At worst this can make you feel disempowered and at best confused about how to show what you think about a topic.

Fear not, you do have a voice! As a participant in higher education you are becoming a scholar and, in their small way, your essays are part of the wider academic conversation in your field. By presenting and defending your position as you answer a question, you are demonstrating understanding of your subject. Although your writing is ultimately a conversation with your reader, your references allow you to bring other people into that conversation too.

Opinion versus voice

Opinion can be unsubstantiated, highly personal and emotive. Conversely, it can sometimes be well grounded and balanced – but when it comes to your own opinion it can be difficult to recognise the difference. This is why academics prefer to talk about ‘voice’. In its simplest terms, your academic voice comes through when you use effective, concise, academic language to explain/argue your position to your reader in your writing. Someone in a director's chair

As you are not explicitly stating your opinion, it can often feel like your voice is lost amongst the voices of the authors you are referring to.  It can seem like you do not have a direct role in the conversation (essay).  But you do – in fact you have multiple roles. You decide who will have a part in your essay, you direct the parts they play and who gets to be centre-stage or standing at the back, and you also narrate the story – explaining what you think is going on to the audience (reader) and why. As such, your voice is implicit in how you articulate the voices of other authors and how you analyse their contribution to the argument. For example:

Cats make better pets than dogs. This is because their independent nature means you can leave them during the day without worry (Green, 2015) and they are not dependent on you for exercise (Brown, 2016). Dogs may give you more affection (White, 2017) but in today’s busy society, this is not enough to make them a better choice.

Versus

Dogs make better pets than cats. Whilst a cat’s independent nature (Green, 2015) and low demand for exercise (Brown, 2016) may make them more appealing, the amount of affection that a dog can give their owner (White, 2017) more than compensates for the lack of convenience that owning one may bring.

In both statements the same sources are used, but it is your job to present your position in how you explain their contribution to the argument.

In essence, your voice may be clearest in any areas without references (where you are explaining things to the reader), but it also comes through in how you integrate those references. You can present each source in a positive, neutral, negative or mixed way in relation to the overall argument. As such, while you should avoid directly stating your opinion, your stance will be evident by your writing.

It’s your essay – so it’s your chance to use your voice!

 

Finding really reliable relevant resources

Finding really reliable relevant resources

As a university student, it is important to search for articles and other resources in the right place. Luckily for you, as a student of the University of Hull, you get access to lots of amazing resources via the University Library. This #NoFrillsSkills post will briefly introduce you to our amazing subject-specific resources and our guide on how to perform an academic search.

Finding academic resources in your subject area

Google, Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic Search are often too generic, may contain non-scholarly resources and miss a lot of content we buy as a library! To help you with this, the library provides access to a whole range of disciplinary and multi-disciplinary databases. These databases search packages of journals, books and other resources in specific areas of research, helping you target your search to the right kind of material. While these may sound daunting, they are actually very easy to use and you will get a much higher quality set of search results.

A screenshot from Google Scholar with a red cross through it. This is to symbolise NOT using Google Scholar for academic searching

As we subscribe to lots of disciplinary and multi-disciplinary databases, we’ve developed our Subject Library Guides (LibGuides) to help you find the right one(s) for your own searches. There are over 40 guides available, covering every major area of teaching and research at the university. The guides include everything you need to get started with finding material in your subject area. You’ll find the specific databases for your subject area on the ‘Articles & Journals’ tab of the appropriate guide:

A screenshot showing the articles and jorunals tab on a Subject Libguide. You can find this by navigating to one of the Subject LibGuides and following the link to 'Articles and Journals'

 

How to search like a librarian

It’s not just about where you search, but what you search. Searching for literature is often something a lot of people feel confident with, but actually, most of us can improve this skill. If you are ever searching for articles and your results number into thousands, you may not be choosing the best search terms. Putting more thought into what you are searching for and reducing the number of results really saves you time by discarding irrelevant sources. We have an excellent guide on planning a search strategy if you want to improve.

 

* Okay. Google Scholar has its uses – but it should never be the first place you search. Always start with your Subject Library Guides

Independence day has arrived

Independence day has arrived

Independent learning

Becoming an independent learner is critical to success at university and beyond. It is probably the most important difference between a school education and higher education and yet it is rarely taught or explained.independence

As a concept it simply means that you are responsible for your own learning. The teaching and support staff are here to help you and your programme and modules will guide the direction of your learning. However, ultimately you are an adult and in control of your own experience.

This can be quite challenging when you have only just left school or are returning to education after a career or family break. Don’t worry though, the higher education system is designed to introduce independence gradually and your first year is likely to have more structure and give you more time with the teaching staff than future years. It will however, still give you more independence than you had at school (and more independence than you will have in many jobs).

Helping yourself

During your time at university, there will be many times when you feel it is too hard, that you don’t have the skills you need and that you are given too little information to do your best work. At these points you need to take back control and seek help because ignoring the problem will not make it go away. That does not necessarily mean seeking out a tutor or your AST. The help you require is often available online, by reading books or by looking for support outside your department (we, the Skills Team are here to help you develop general academic skills for example).


Independent learning does NOT mean doing it all alone, it means identifying when you need help and taking steps to find it.


We have a web page dedicated to Independent Learning which we recommend you take a look at. Before then, check out our five quick tips below for developing independence as a learner.

Five Quick Tips

  1. Expect it to be hard Nobody said it would be easy
    This is higher education, the clue is in the name. It is expected to stretch you. Your tutors know they are pushing you and have high expectations of you. That is a good thing. Embrace it. If it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be worth it. Just because you don’t find it easy does not mean you are failing, it means you are developing. Go you!
  2. Use your time effectively
    A lot of the early problems with working independently are because you have never had to manage your own time before. Although you have timetabled sessions, there are many gaps in your day that you need to fill productively. That doesn’t mean that a coffee with friends isn’t important (especially if you combine it with the above) but often you have more useful stuff you could be doing. Remember that for every module credit you should put in 10 hours of work. So for a 20 credit module, with a 2 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar per week, you need to be working an additional 164 hours! A lot of this will come when you are working on assignments (and get those deadline dates in your diary!) but clearly not all. You should build in reading time, time to go over your lecture notes and time to develop the other skills you need to do the assignment. Coming along to the library is a great place to do all three!
  3. Make sure you have the skills you needreferencing101
    You will need to develop a whole range of new skills to thrive at university. The University Library’s Skills Team (www.hull.ac.uk/skills) is here to help you develop a range of academic and digital skills. We have lots of online guides to look at as well as workshops and webinars that you can take part in.
  4. Google it!
    This is not meant to be flippant. Sometimes simply googling something that you are unsure about can point you to some great resources from other institutions which can help you. For example, if you google “Critical thinking” the first few pages of results includes many online help pages from other universities which all give great advice (after you have checked out our own Being Critical pages of course). If the issue is with a module or assignment specifically then your first step should be to check the module handbook on Canvas and if that doesn’t help, ask your lecturer or go to your faculty hub.
  5. Talk to your peers talk to peers
    The other students on your course or in your school/department can be a great source of help and advice. Often talking to others just makes you realise that you are not the only person who doesn’t understand and having someone to seek help with can be supportive. If you are lucky enough to have PASS (Peer Assisted Study Sessions) on one of your modules then take the opportunity to go along to talk to other students on the module or students who have already taken the module – even if you have issues with different areas they can still help.

Most of all, relish the fact that you’re in control of a good portion of your day, your work and your life.

This is part of the #NoFrillsSkills blog from the Hull University Library Skills Team

Proquests maintenance notification

ProQuest are completing maintenance on their products between 3am and 11am Sunday 28th January. During this 8-hour window, some ProQuest products will be unavailable. While the date and time were chosen to minimize the impact on our customers, we realize that some users may be affected, and we apologize for the inconvenience. Additionally, web-based customer access will be redirected to a webpage stating the planned maintenance times. Resources may be temporarily offline

 

Stop forgetting what you cover in lectures from this semester onwards!

OK, how much of what you covered in lectures last semester do you still remember now or when you started revising for your exams? Hardly any? That isn’t surprising if all you did was attend the lecture and then put your notes away and not look at them again until revision time.

According to classic research by Ebbinghaus in 1885 if you don’t review what you have covered within 24 hours you will probably forget at least 80% of it! Reviewing the work, especially in different ways, will cause your brain to make more neural connections – which is what memory needs!

So, how you can you build review into your study habits? Here are a few tips from us.

The day after the lecture – do one of these:

  • SummariseSummarise each page of your notes into a single paragraph (just a few sentences) at the bottom of each page. If you use the Cornell Method of note taking (see our Note taking page) then you will have a ready-made space for this. But even if you don’t, you can still do it at the end of your notes.
  • illustrateIllustrate your notes – add images that refer to things in the text. These do not have to be good (in fact they can be awful and still work). They are for your own benefit and are there to help you remember by making connections in different parts of your brain.
  • highlightColour-code your notes (or print outs of the lecture slides) using highlighter pens/underlining with felt-tips. Choose your own colour schemes. Here are some ideas for what you could highlight:
    • Most important stuff (key points to remember)
    • Links to other reading
    • Things that link to information in previous lectures
    • Great quotes
    • Questions you still have
    • Things you want to find out more about
  • mindmapCreate a quick mind map or concept map of your notesEven if you originally wrote linear notes, you can organize them into a more spacial arrangement to see the links between different topics.

A few days after the lecture:

  • PASS sessionIf you are lucky enough to have PASS (peer assisted study sessions) attached to a module or your programme, attend your timetabled session to reinforce the learning you had. Even if you found it relatively easy, helping other people who are struggling can mean you will remember it more in the long run. If you are confused by anything, your PASS leaders will organise activities to help you understand more.
  • DiscussIf you don’t have PASS in your department, you can still get together with some people on your course over coffee and see if you have picked out the same things as being key issues. Just discussing it will make more connections in your brain.

Whatever method you choose, don’t ignore the notes until you need them. You will wonder if you were even IN the lecture…and REvision will seem like it’s the first time you’ve covered it.