Essay writing is the most important skill you need to develop in your HSC year. Success in HSC English will depend on your ability to write convincing, powerful essays that convey your understanding of both the Area of Study and Modules units. It’s understandably daunting to think that so much of your mark revolves around one skill but fortunately, with a bit of direction and structure, a Band 6 essay is achievable.
When marking an essay, teachers and HSC markers want to see that you’ve developed a complex and in-depth understanding of a text (or pair of texts, as the case may be) and in order to show them this, you need to express your ideas clearly. As such, nothing is more important than simplicity and structure!
The first is self-explanatory – if you misuse complex words because you think they’ll make your essay look more intelligent, you’re more likely to lose marks on account of their misuse. If you get a point across using straightforward language you’re guaranteeing that the marker will understand you and you’re more likely to get marks that way. If you are not confident about how to use a new word, it’s best to leave it out and replace with a word you are comfortable with.
Structure is another story altogether. A good essay is a circular (in that the conclusion always links back to the introduction), self-sustaining (in that all arguments put forward will be thoroughly explored in the essay) beast, one that gives the reader everything they need to know. In order to achieve this, you need to structure the following elements.
The introduction is the first impression your reader will get, so it’s the most important part of an essay. You need to answer the question asked within the thesis statement then expand on your thesis in the introductory paragraph by introducing the texts, the themes within the texts and their relation to your Area of Study or particular Module. You also need to give an overview of the key techniques you will discuss later.
Question: How does the comparative study of two texts from different times deepen our understanding of what is constant in human nature?
Introduction (the thesis is bolded):
The comparison of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s 1992 film Blade Runner the Director’s Cut facilitates the examination of transforming societal values and the human condition. An examination of the transition from early 19th century England when Romanticism was challenging aspects of the dominant Enlightenment discourse founded upon science and rationalism to late 20th century America, a period influenced by Reaganomics and rampant scientific development in cloning and technology, reveals a shift in societal values.
However, both texts explore similar aspects of humanity including humanity’s pursuit of progress and power, questioning of the human identity and refusal to consider the morality of their actions, albeit in different paradigms. Thus, as texts are a reflection of their context and its values, it is evident that aspects of human nature remain constant irrespective of context.
If you would like more detailed information on how to write introductions, you should look at our essay writing series. Read the first post How to Write a Thesis Statement – a step-by-step guide and we’ll explain why a thesis statement is so important, and walk you through the process of creating them.
Each body paragraph must deal with a particular theme or text, and must start with a topic sentence. A topic sentence, similar to a thesis statement, will tell the reader what you plan on discussing. From there, you must justify your statements with evidence. A basic tool you can use is the T.E.E. system – highlight a technique, identify an example and explain the effect – the effect will relate to your topic sentence, which in turn relates to your thesis! The conclusion of a body paragraph must sum up your argument for the paragraph and relate it to the thesis once again.
In terms of what should be in your body paragraphs, you should aim for analysis which is insightful and informed. It is not always easy to form an insightful opinion of a complicated text, so to get started, you will have to do some reading of critical analysis written by experts like academics, reviewers of plays or productions.
The T.E.E structure in practice has been indicated with the following colours:
In Frankenstein, Shelley explores the transgression of the natural order in the Romantic ideal by humanity’s ongoing pursuit for progress and knowledge, a consequence of the Enlightenment Era and the Industrial Revolution. Victor’s overreaching ambition to overcome the natural boundaries of mortality by taking God’s creator role is highlighted in the metaphor “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds… I should break through“.Victor’s hubristic ambitions criticises aspects of Enlightenment rationalism which attempted to control natural processes, exemplified in Galvani’s experimentation with “animal electricity”.
If you would like to know more about writing topic sentences, you should read our posts on How to Write a Thematic Framework and How to Write a Topic Sentence to see learn how the introduction and topic sentences work together. In addition, our step-by-step guide will walk you through how to write a body paragraph.
A conclusion can often be both the easiest and most difficult part of an essay. You must never introduce new arguments or information in a conclusion, nor can you merely restate the introduction. A conclusion must draw on the fundamental idea that you have extracted from the question, and which you have based your entire essay on – in essence, you need something reflective and thought-provoking to leave with the reader.
|Example: In the shift from 19th century England to Reaganite America, the foundation of power migrated from scientific knowledge to a greater focus on economics and capitalism. However, despite their differing contexts, both Frankenstein and Blade Runner suggest that humanity’s pursuit of power and progress has resulted in a continuous foregoing of the moral and ethical concerns of their actions. Thus the comparison of these two texts reveals how these fundamental flaws are ingrained in human nature and that they will paradoxically remain constant even as society and its values inevitably shift.|
For more detail on how to write a conclusion, read our step-by-step guide.
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One of the keys to writing a descriptive essay is to create a picture in your reading audience’s mind by engaging all five of their senses – smell, sight, touch, taste and sound. If you can do this, then your essay is a success, if not, then you have a lot of work to do. The first steps in writing a descriptive essay will lay the groundwork for the entire piece.
Step 1: Choose a topic
A descriptive essay will usually focus on a single event, a person, a location or an item. When you write your essay, it is your job to convey your idea about that topic through your description of that topic and the way that you lay things out for your reader. You need to show your reader (not tell them) what you are trying to describe by illustrating a picture in their mind’s eye very carefully.
Your essay needs to be structured in a manner that helps your topic to make sense. If you are describing an event, you will need to write your paragraphs in chronological order. If you are writing about a person or a place you need to order the paragraphs so that you start off in a general manner and then write more specific details later. Your introductory paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the essay, so it needs to set out all of the main ideas that you are going to cover in your essay.
Step 2: Create a statement
The next step is to create a thesis statement. This is a single idea that will be prominent throughout your essay. It not only sets out the purpose of the essay, but regulates the way that the information is conveyed in the writing of that essay. This is an introductory paragraph that sets out your topic framework.
Step 3: Get the senses right
Next, create five labelled columns on a sheet of paper, each one having a different of the five senses. This labelled list will help you to sort out your thoughts as you describe your topic – the taste, sight, touch, smell and sound of your topic can be sketched out among the columns. List out in the columns any sensation or feeling that you associate with the topic that you are writing about. You need to provide full sensory details that help to support the thesis. You can utilize literary tools such as metaphors, similes, personification and descriptive adjectives.
Once you have the columns laid out you can start to fill them with details that help to support your thesis. These should be the most interesting items that you have noted in your columns and will the details that you flesh out into the paragraphs of the body of your essay. Topics are set out in each separate paragraph and a topic sentence begins that paragraph and need to relate to your introductory paragraph and your thesis.
Step 4: Create an outline
The next step is to create an outline listing the details of the discussion of each paragraph. Students in high school are generally asked to write a five paragraph essay while college students are given more freedom with the length of their piece. The standard five paragraph essay has a particular structure including the introductory paragraph with the inclusion of a thesis statement, followed by three body paragraphs which prove that statement.
Step 5: Write the conclusion
Finally, the conclusion paragraph makes a summary of the entirety of your essay. This conclusion also needs to reaffirm your thesis (if necessary). Your conclusion needs to be well written because it is the final thing to be read by your reader and will remain on their mind the longest after they have read the remainder of your essay.
Step 6: Review your essay
It is important to take a break from your writing once you have completed the work. By stepping away from the work for a short time you can clear your mind and take a short rest. You can then take a look at the essay with fresh eyes and view it in much the same way that a person reading it will when they first see the piece.
After you have taken a short break or a walk (or whatever the case may be), read the entire essay again thinking about your reader. You should ask yourself if you were the reader, would the essay make sense to you? Is it easy to read so that anyone can understand what the topic of the essay is? Do any of the paragraphs need to be rewritten because they are confusing and need to be better written to be descriptive?
Your choice of words and language need to convey what you are trying to describe when you talk about a particular topic. The details that you have provided should give your reader enough information that they can form a complete picture. Any details in the essay should help a reader to understand the meaning of the topic from the writer’s point of view.
Read your entire essay over again, out loud this time. Sometimes reading something out loud can help to identify any issues that should be worked out. Read the essay again to a friend or family member and have them give you any criticisms that they might have. Have someone else ready your essay and then ask them if anything needs to be clarified or if they received a clear picture from the details given in the essay.
Step 7: Finish it up
Finally, read your essay again very carefully and check for any grammar, punctuation or spelling errors that are obvious within the essay. If you find any clichés, be sure to delete them, they certainly do not belong in your essay. If there are any parts that are not completely descriptive or don’t make as much sense as you would like them to, rewrite them once again and then follow the proof reading and reading aloud process again to ensure that the final product is exactly as expected. You can never be too thorough when it comes to reading the essay over again and checking for any areas that need to be reworked.
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