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HOW TO WRITE A DEGREE STANDARD ESSAY IN POLITICS

Undergraduate Essay Writing Skills
by

Christopher Wylde

on 18 July 2010

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Transcript of HOW TO WRITE A DEGREE STANDARD ESSAY IN POLITICS

HOW TO WRITE A DEGREE STANDARD ESSAY IN POLITICS
Chris Wylde
chris@uum.edu.my
Planning
Drafting
Writing
Referencing & Plagiarism
Roughly itemise the projected contents
Attempt to organise these into a common-sense structure
A diagram may be useful here: group similar themes together (perhaps showing relationships as a 'family tree')
Consider the difference between 'similar themes' and those ideas that don't fit easily into your diagram: why don't they fit?
Consider the sequence of your argument
You may be able to plan your paragraph structure at this stage
Plan to work from the general towards the specific
Research
Organising material
Remember that several drafts may be needed before you achieve your goal
If working on paper at first, you may find it useful to start each section on a separate page
When redrafting, ask yourself why this is necessary; what added value you are attempting to gain; whether your revision achieves this
Don't spend too much time on revising just a single issue; if things are not working out well, address a different issue instead, and then return to the first one; take frequent breaks
Amend text as you go along, but if working on computer, do not necessarily delete all previous drafts (store as separately-titled files, or in a different font for ease of recognition, or use highlighting options)
NEVER HAND IN YOUR FIRST DRAFT!
consider existing opinions; describe ideas and their inter-relationship; understand the foundations of their arguments
examine similarities and differences between ideas and interpretations
give clear statements of fact, using terminology correctly and appropriately
describe different aspects of the subject; relate particular examples to the bigger picture; show how certain elements are related, and others not; develop ideas in relation to underlying premises, evidence, interpretations; work towards a reasoned conclusion
examine different sides of the question objectively; appreciate the distinction between different aspects of the subject and between existing scholarly interpretations; appreciate the difference between facts, interpretations, opinions
present a concise and accurate overview of a topic based on examination of a range of evidence; draw together different strands of argument and/or interpretation convincingly
outline the main points briefly (either as the essay proceeds, for the sake of clarity in a complex argument), or retrospectively at the end
Analyse
Compare
Define
Discuss
Evaluate
Synthesize
Summarise
PRINCIPLES
STRUCTURE
Conclusions
Explain your premises and assumptions
Outline the structure of your argument in advance
Work through the stages of your argument step-by-step to a logical conclusion
Link your ideas together in a sensible and recognisable hierarchy
Be consistent (this is important)
Illustrate your arguments with examples
Demonstrate why a particular quotation or example is significant
Carefully distinguish between fact and opinion
Acknowledge alternatives
POSITIVE CHARACTERISTICS
NEGATIVE CHARACTERISTICS
Basic premises and assumptions not explained
Sequence of ideas unclear or illogical
Later ideas have no relationship with previous statements
Contradictions between statements of fact or interpretation
Ideas introduced without explanation or context
Quotation or example introduced without connection to the surrounding context
Opinions used as facts without any critical comment
Alternative views or explanations ignored
Enough so that there is no over-reliance on one or two textbooks.

Use primary literature and quote directly where you can. Then back it up with secondary literature.
How much should I do?
How do I go about it?
Use the library!!

Learn to use bibliographical and search resources:

Web of Science
Athens network
Keyword search in the library
http://prezi.com/kulat2cbjvft/
...states your proposed approach to the question; your understanding of the question; how you conceive of the problem, or issues involved; any important premises the reader will need to bear in mind; the content you intend to cover.
INTRODUCTION
...presents your argument in a clear and logical manner, divided into a succession of paragraphs, each one containing a theme or topic, backed up by supporting statements, evidence, interpretations (including, where necessary, an evaluation of competing interpretations), examples and analysis, as appropriate to the topic in hand. The main body might usefully be subdivided into three parts: Thesis; Antithesis; Synthesis.
MAIN BODY
is the essay clearly divided into paragraphs (signalled by a blank line or an indented opening)?
does each paragraph contain only one main idea (but also have a clear beginning, middle and end)?
are your ideas clearly expressed and justified by examples?
are your ideas logically structured in a clearly unfolding sequence?
does each paragraph link with preceding or subsequent content?
...states what the essay has accomplished; demonstrating the significance of your findings; rounding-off your analysis of the evidence presented; providing effective closure to the study. In an 'argumentative' essay, it may be helpful to conclude with a restatement, in summary, of the principal pros and cons, and the outcome(s).
CONCLUSION
Does the conclusion refer back to that introduction?
Does it actually state what has been achieved in relation to the introduction?
Is the conclusion strong enough?
Can the conclusion realistically claim that, as a consequence of the investigations made in the essay, x...y...z have been shown to be true? untrue? valid? invalid? impossible to decide with certainty? variable over time? further developed? cast in an entirely new light?
Avoid sweeping statements and over-generalisations in either introduction or conclusion
In some cases, you may find it helpful (particularly if the essay has dealt with a succession of complex issues) to conclude with a brief summary, or abstract.
WHEN TO USE
‘The need to export capital arises from the fact that in a few countries capitalism has become over-ripe and capital cannot find a field for profitable investment’ (Lenin, 1960: 242).
However, these thoughts came to him late in life and, as Gallie noted, these comments did not lead to a systematic recasting of earlier statements that were fundamentally grounded in the theory of historical materialism (Gallie, 1978).
FORMAT & BIBLIOGRAPHY
BOOK
ARTICLE
CHAPTER FROM BOOK
NON-STANDARD REFERENCING (GREY LITERATURE)
COX, R.W. (1996a) ‘On Thinking About Future World Order’, in R.W. COX & T.J. SINCLAIR (eds.), Approaches to World Order, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man, London: H. Hamilton
Smith, W.C. (1991) ‘State, Market, and Neoliberalism in post-transition Argentina: The Menem Experiment’, Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, 33(4).
INDEC (2004) ‘Incidencia de la pobreza y de la indigencia en el Gran Buenos Aires’, Incidencia del Plan Jefes/Jefas, GBA, http://www.indec.mecon.ar/ [ACCESSED: 6/10/06 20:51].
Economist, The (Aug. 10th 2006) ‘Not so superpowers’, http://www.economist.com/research/Backgrounders/displaystory.cfm?story_id=7281097 [ACCESSED: 15/9/08].
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