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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Mumbai | Published: September 22, 2014 12:06 am
Yes, ofcourse, education is most important in the development of a country. Education plays a crucial role in the advancement of technologies.
Education means obtaining knowledge. A person who has knowledge of his surroundings can survive happily in this society. Education not only helps us in surviving but also makes people aware of their rights and duties towards the nation. Education itself is a right everybody is born with.
In my opinion, every person born in this country should at least be educated till XIIth std. Education provides many opportunities in various fields for the development of the country. Education makes people independent, builds confidence and self-esteem, which is very important for the development of a country. Development of the country includes development in fields such as IT, medical sciences, agriculture, economy etc. All this development comes about only when people are educated in these fields. When people have enough knowledge about a certain field it is easy to bring about new reforms for the development of the society. If a country has education by its side then no one can stop it from developing itself.
Rasika S. Kalgutkar
XI-A, VPM’s VidyaMandir, Dahisar
Let us start by saying that although education has an impact in the development of the country, it is still an instrument of destroying peace and endangering lives. If you look at the broader picture, we have seen many inventions in these last 100 years but we have destroyed greenery of the whole world by 50%, paving way for modernization. This has led to some unwanted happenings such as global warming and uncertain weather changes which are ignored even after effective warnings. This irresponsibility has led to melting of poles and mountains, leading to floods! A live example being Kashmir.
Developing a country needs awareness and practicality. What is the use if we are educated, yet are not able to apply our knowledge? Even people with high grades are not able to answer a simple question like ‘Who is the President of India?’. People get educated to develop themselves. If you remember people like Aristotle, Albert Einstein, they weren’t much educated…but were still capable of giving a huge hand to develop THE WORLD!!
Awareness and usage of person’s brain brings about 85% of development …education brings the rest!
Grade 10, IGCSE, RBK School, Mira Road
People agree that all children have the right to an education. Investing in education is also the smart thing to do…Why? It is one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and its future and is critical in reducing poverty and inequality.
Education, without a doubt, can affect a person’s future. Every individual needs to be educated to the right level before they can join the work-force; especially when it is becoming more knowledge-based. These people will directly determine the quality and gains a country can make.
Another important point is that without education, people have to turn to jobs which are usually low-paid, or they even hardly find a job. These people will rely on unemployment or low-income support from the government. Also, companies with low quality employers will hardly compete with others overseas.
Impact of people’s investment in education is profound: education results in raising income, improving health, promoting gender equality, mitigating climate change, and reducing poverty. In short, education has the power to make the world a better place.
Grade 8. IGCSE, RBK School, Mira Road
Developing country literally means, a poor agricultural country that is seeking to become more advanced economically and socially.
And ‘yes’ education can be the major factor, in the development of a country. It not only benefits the country’s people economically, but also socially among other countries, which can be helpful. It not only civilizes people and makes them gain more and more job opportunities but also helps in personality development of each and every person which tremendously affects the growth of a developing country.
However, still it cannot be considered as the ‘single’ most important factor as there are other factors too such as politics.Is education the most important step in the development of the country?
The statement is education is one of the significant factors to build a modern country. And I, as a writer, believe that the statement is true. First of all, a country needs societies that have knowledge that is useful. When societies have much awareness that is usable, they can help government to build a perfect country that is appreciated by other countries. For instance, some societies can take part in the administration to distribute their ideas about developing country easily. If societies do not have some important abilities, they find it difficult to share their information, and especially if they do not play a useful part in government, people will find it hard to accept them.
After all, a country can be recognized by the other countries when it has societies that it can boast of. It is education that will help the country move forward and be recognised.
Aishwarya B. Nair, IX-D,
St. Francis High School, Vasai
On this statement my personal opinion is “YES”, education plays an important role in the development of any country. In my opinion education is the backbone of any country or you can say that now it’s the basic need of the entire world. Education is the birth right of every citizen of the country, so, the government of the country should run the programmes through which every citizen of the country becomes educated and after the government, it’s the responsibility of the people to educate their family members.
Education is not only the factor that affects the development of any country, but it affects the surroundings or the person himself also. Education increases the personality of a person in many ways like education changes the behavior, life style, the way of dressing, sitting and talking also. Education is the most important factor for our freedom or democracy.
IX B, St. Xavier’s High School, Kashigaon
For many developing and developed countries, education is the root of achievement. Education produces a skilful and intelligent generation that will be the future ruler of the country. Moreover, if civilians have been trained with efficient education, they will have a adequate life. Therefore, education is fundamental for development within a country due to the brilliant generation that is bred by it.
Students are the most important resource — if we educate them ,we indirectly educate and develop our country. Students are expected leaders of a nation. Students absorb basic knowledge and develop skills in school and then university. They are the ones, who will inevitably become a future doctor, an ulterior architect and also President of a nation. Moreover, education arms students with fundamental wisdom and perception of world.
Jyeshtha K. Bhatt, IX-C,
St. Francis High School, Vasai
Why is India still a developing country and not yet a wholly developed nation? Why does corruption exist at such a high rate? Why are people still discriminated on the basis of their economic status, color, religion etc.? Why does child labor still prevail despite being a punishable offence? Why? Just one word, ‘Illiteracy’.
Yes, illiteracy is a major obstacle. If you notice in the past few years, India has transformed in a lot of fields. This is because people are slowly understanding the importance of education. Why education is made compulsory for all kids upto 14 years of age? Because, “Padhega India tabhi toh badhega India”. Today, the youth of India, the educated youth of India is taking steps to make India a developed nation. Education is a power to change the mindset of people.
Spread education, uplift India!
IX-A, Cambridge School, Kandivali (E)
Yes, education plays the most important role in the development of any country. It is the backbone of any country. It is the birth right for every citizen of the country.
In any country, it is necessary to invest a big part of the profit in the education field but in many countries, government prefers to invest in arms not thinking of diverting the resources from the military where war and win is everything. Another reason why government should invest in the education field more is because of increase in child labour.
Maitri Dave, IX A
Cambridge School, Kandivali (E)
Education and learning are the most important processes in today’s society. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s teachers. In the ‘banking method’ or education by memorization, the students are not being taught; they are only expected to memorize the material, which is not actually a learning process. Although there are a lot of misconceptions about the ‘banking method’, I think that there is also a lot of good in this method as well. The foundation of the society is based on education since it brings economic and social prosperity. Gaining education enhances an individual to live a respectful life in the society. This is because education offers a setting in which culture and values of a society are developed. In this respect, education in modern society provides a forum where the society examines its issues and identifies solutions. The advancement of a society both economically and socially is by gaining education, which consequently enables them to run a modern society.
Mayank Latke, X B,
St. Mary’s School
A literate nation is a marching nation; no country can progress if its population is illiterate. The world is seeing fast moving technology changes everyday. Inventions are now a part of everyday life. If the men are uneducated then things will have no meaning. To understand, to acquire skills, to decide between a right or a wrong — education is a must. Education brings maturity, it helps in polishing skills, it makes the person more responsible. It brings development and the country moves ahead.
Education plays a pivotal role in the progress of a country.
Std. IX – F, St. Aloysius High School, Nallasopara
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