Writing the Essay

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GES essay-writng guide (2)

Writing the Essay

It is a good idea to develop the essay through a series of rough drafts to the final draft. Some people may be able to move speedily from a first draft to an essay in its final form, but most find it valuable to re-write several times, having put the essay aside for a day or two each time. It is important that you organise your time well in advance to enable you to go through this drafting revision process. You will produce a better essay, and it will almost certainly receive a better grade. Please recognise that essays are worth a large proportion of the marks in a course and therefore it is a good idea to get organised and make these marks count.

Regardless of the length of the essay it must have three components: an INTRODUCTION, a BODY, and a CONCLUSION.

In the INTRODUCTION present the aims, scope and procedure of the essay. It may be appropriate at this stage to state any limits you propose to place upon your discussion, to justify your particular focus and to define any special terms to be employed. You may also want to clarify and justify any particular perspective or orientation that you will take.

In the BODY of the essay, construct each paragraph around a separate idea. If you jumble up too many ideas in a paragraph without some kind of unifying device it suggests unclear thought and lack of organisation. Almost invariably it is better not to have single sentence paragraphs. Make sure that your paragraphs are linked and flow naturally from one to the other (hence the importance of a plan). Finally, at all times ensure that the essay question is being answered. It is almost impossible for an essay to pass if it fails to address the question being asked.

Sub-headings are used extensively in the natural and social sciences, but are less common in the humanities. The use of sub-headings is encouraged in Physical Geography, in the style characteristic of scientific journals. In Human Geography the more organised your essay the less it will need to have sub-headings. We are asking for a fluent, well-documented argument, not a descriptive point-form report.

Figures &

Figures or tables should be used in your essay to present information which illustrates, clarifies or reinforces your ideas. Make sure that the figure or table is relevant to your argument, and that you refer to it in the body of the essay. They should not be included merely to 'decorate' the essay. Observations and conclusions from the illustrations should be made explicit in the text – i.e. you must refer specifically to the key points in each figure, table and appendix.. Figures and tables should have titles and should be numbered consecutively (ie. Figure 1, Figure 2, Table 1, Figure 3. Table 2, etc.). Their source should be clearly shown. Indiscriminate photocopying of tables and diagrams to be included in essays is not recommended as they often contain superfluous information. It is better to design your own figures and tables rather than to copy those of others. You will gain marks for well designed and presented figures and tables, and lose marks for cluttered, irrelevant or poorly reproduced ones. Remember that the source of these diagrams or tables must be cited in the text and listed in the bibliography. For cartographic conventions please refer to Appendix C.

In the CONCLUSION the aim is to pull the main findings or observations together. While there are many ways of concluding, a simple method is to sketch, in a sentence or two, what you did and then relate your key findings to the essay topic.

How essay should appear in FINAL form
In most cases, typewritten work is more pleasing to the eye and easier to read. However, if your handwriting is legible, it is acceptable. Naturally, typewritten work does not automatically qualify for higher grades. It is mandatory that you write on only one side of the paper. Leave generous margins on either side so that the marker can offer comments on your work. If a physical copy is required, sheets should be stapled together or placed in a folder: in the event of your essay pages becoming separated, it will help if your name is on each sheet. You must also include an essay cover sheet, available for download here. This cover sheet can be attached electronically for online submission; alternatively, it may be the case that provisions have been made for specific units – please refer to the subject’s unit guide and/or moodle site.

Harvard referencing
It is very important that you acknowledge fully the sources of information used in the preparation of your essay (and also information used in figures and tables). The preferred citation method for essays submitted in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science is the Harvard (in-text) System.

In this system, when presenting information gathered from a source such as book or journal article, the author's name, the date of publication of the work, and page number (if a direct quote) are listed in parentheses. For example '...and more than 70% of Australia may be described as arid (Mabbutt, 1969, 214).' The reader then turns to the reference list at the end of the essay to find full details of the source of the reference. Page numbers may be omitted from the details provided in the text if you are paraphrasing the work (ie. after reading the article re-writing the information in your own words). Taking direct quotes from numerous sources and "pasting" them together results in a disjointed piece of work. It is much better to read the information, think about how it fits into your essay, and then paraphrase the information. Of course you must cite the source of the information in the standard way. Reserve direct quotations for just a few important points throughout the essay, or when you think that there is no better way of expressing the point than how the author has encapsulated it.

Citing two authors
When citing a reference that was written by two authors you need to quote both author's names eg. (Linacre & Hobbs, 1982). Note the use of the ampersand. When the authors appear in the main body of the text, such as: Linacre and Hobbs (1982) argue that….the word ‘and’ is spelt out in full.

Citing multiple authors
When citing a reference that was written by multiple authors, rather than quote the list of authors in full, you should name just the first author and then use the expression et al. (a contraction of et alii, meaning 'and others'). Thus, instead of (Chisholm, Frey and Hassett, 1971), use (Chisholm et al., 1971). Note that in the reference list, a full reference naming all authors must be provided. Note also that there must be a full stop after the contraction al. .

Indirect quote
Occasionally you may have to use a secondary quotation: that is, when one author cites another and you wish to use that reference. In such a case the simplest method if Masters is quoting Johnston is to put (Johnston in Masters, 1969,31).

If you wish to omit some words from a literal quotation, this must be indicated by three dots in your text ( ... ), or by four dots ( .... ) if the omission follows the end of a sentence in the original. Additions to be original should be enclosed in square brackets [ ].

Failure to acknowledge sources of information or quotations can lead to the charge of plagiarism and possibly to a total loss of marks for the essay. You must observe this rule carefully; often you may need to give a reference to the same work several times on a single page of your essay, if it is a work on which you have drawn heavily for your material.

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