A criminology essay must do more than regurgitate information from lecture notes, textbooks and journal articles. Minimally, it must integrate information from several sources and provide critical discussions of the material. It is important that your discussion is contextualised with relation to previous research rather than written as if in theoretical vacuum. Reading beyond the basic reading list is recommended, but always make sure that any additional material is relevant to the essay question.
The first rule in writing a criminology essay is to make sure that you answer the question set. This means that everything you write must be relevant to that end. Thinking hard about the question itself, about what it means, the issues it raises, and the various ways it might be answered, is far more important than most students realise.
Having understood the parameters of the question, the next task is to find a way of tackling it that does more than simply regurgitate the answers you find in standard textbooks. While general textbooks are useful for gaining an initial overview of your topic, such reading does not count as citable research. The bulk of your reading should concentrate on specialised books and academic articles.
In academic writing as elsewhere in life, first impressions count. An introduction is often the most difficult part of an essay to compose, but it is always worth devoting the time needed to get it right. A strong introduction should grab the reader's attention, clarify how you will tackle the question, and set the tone for the remainder of the essay.
Always make use of the signpost principle: every step in the argument should be clearly marked out, and the reader should never be left wondering where an argument is going or why a particular point is being made. Generally speaking, the clearer you your transitions are the more readable will be your paper.
Always substantiate your claims with judicious use of relevant evidence. Sources should be examined critically rather than simply taken at face value. Vague, unsubstantiated and sweeping statements should always be avoided. As far as possible you should formulate an argument that does justice to all the information available, while also taking alternative points of view into consideration.
Tables and figures should be carefully integrated within the structure of your essay. Always explicitly direct the reader as to what to look for and explain what they are supposed to show. You should never simply assume that they speak for themselves.
A good criminology essay not only provides arguments and evidence for its claims, but also attempts to demonstrate why opposing views are flawed. Spend some time, then, thinking about possible objections to your claims and use of evidence. If you can refute such objections, do so; if you can't, you will need to revise or qualify your argument.
Too many student papers end abruptly without providing a proper conclusion. A conclusion should not be a word-for-word restatement of the thesis but rather a succinct summary of the main points you have made in the body of the paper. You might then briefly gesture towards the wider implications of your argument. However, a conclusion is not the place to introduce new claims, evidence or arguments, which will only suggest poor essay planning.
Be sure to carefully proofread your work (or have somebody else do it for you) in order to ensure correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. While doing this it is also a good idea to make revisions and amendments, tightening up sentences, sharpening your prose, and deleting redundant words and phrases. Finally, be sure to format and reference your essay in accordance with your department's preferred specifications.
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