If you are taking a degree in English Literature, the importance of developing and honing your writing skills can scarcely be exaggerated. Everything you study should be geared towards making yourself a more insightful reader and better writer. Getting this right will mean not only developing a more nuanced appreciation of the things you read, but also acquiring the ability to communicate your ideas with clarity, force, elegance and style.
If you are studying English Literature, your tutors are likely to be fastidious about grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and will attach considerable importance to your command of language when marking your work.
However, ‘good writing' within the context of an academic degree has little or nothing to do with being creative or poetic. Rather, it means being able to produce clear, cogent arguments, usually in response to a question set by your lecturer.
Writing an Outstanding Essay
The following advice is designed to help you to learn how to write an outstanding English Literature essay:
- Spend time thinking about the question and how it relates to ideas and themes explored in your lectures and seminars. Rather than simply presenting a series of disconnected thoughts, think about how you can construct a coherent and compelling argument in response to the question.
- Always keep the essay question in mind as you read and write, and make sure that everything you include in the essay contributes towards answering it. Avoid introducing irrelevant information, however interesting you may happen to find it.
- The introduction is often the most difficult part to compose, but it is well worth spending time getting it right. A strong introduction should grab the reader's attention, clarify how you will tackle the question, and provide a clear outline of the essay to follow.
- Your writing should always be analytical rather than descriptive, and be structured around your main argument rather than the narrative of the text. You can assume that your reader is already familiar with the text, so do not attempt to summarise it.
- If the essay question includes literary terms of art that can be used in different ways, be sure that you understand them in the sense intended. If you are unclear about their meaning, be sure to discuss this with your tutor.
- Devote attention to how the argument develops between paragraphs. Each paragraph should form a step forward in your argument and build on the point made in the one previous to it.
- Try to think for yourself and cultivate your own critical voice. Be respectful of the views of other critics, but not overly deferential, and avoid adopting their arguments or interpretations wholesale.
Devote attention to the language the author uses and the structure of the composition. Do not simply take into account what the text says, but also try to understand how it is put together, how it conveys its ideas and elicits its responses.
- Use your conclusion to recapitulate your main thesis and demonstrate how it provides an answer to the question. While it is advisable to explore a range of arguments in the main body of the essay, your conclusion should not introduce any new material or ideas.
Consult an Expert
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