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Writing an essay or taking an essay exam is not the same as taking a multiple choice exam. The purpose of a multiple choice or true/false question is to test your knowlegde on a specific topic, term or concept. The purpose of an essay topic is to test your knowlegde of the topic and your understanding of the topic. You may know the terms, be able to spout off the definitions, but do you understand the concepts behind the terms or how events are related to one another? These are questions that are difficult to assess in a multiple choice question. An essay topic, however, does allow this sort of assessment.
Unfortunately many students fail to understand the purpose of an essay and often fail to show an understanding of the topic. Knowing what is expected is the start of a successful essay. In this course, the purpose of an essay is to show the instructor that you understand the topic. Simply knowing the terms is not the same as understanding. You still need to know the terms and concepts, but you must also be able to relate these concepts together, give valid examples, or go beyond the specific boundaries of the topic to show that you have an understanding of the topic. I expect students to give me everything they know about the topic.
Introduction, Body, Conclusion
In addition to showing an understanding of the topic, it is important that the essay be properly constructed. All essays must have an Introduction, Body and Conclusion. In the Introduction you introduce the topic and state where the essay is going, or what the focus of the essay will be. In other words if the essay topic calls for comparing and contrasting two or more concepts, state that you will be comparing and contrasting those concepts.
The Body of the essay is where you put all of your information, examples, definitions, comparisions, contrasts, descriptions, etc. It is also where you relate topics or concepts together, make observations or insights. It is here that you show that you know the topic and understand the topic.
The Conclusion is a wrapping up of the essay. Summarize your main point or most important point. Do Not introduce new ideas or concepts in the conclusion; those belong in the Body. Make the conclusion clearly separate from the Body. Start out the first sentence of the Conclusion with the word "conclusion" or "summary" in it. "In conclusion,..." or "...lead to the conclusion that..." or "To summarize..." - something that sets the Conclusion apart from the Body.
The Introduction and Conclusion are the shortest parts of the essay. A good rule of thumb is 80% to 90% of your essay should be the Body.
There are also a number of other things to consider while writing your essay. Spelling and grammar are important. Misspelled words, incomplete sentences, compound sentences, poor grammar in general do not help the writer to convey a sense of understanding to the reader. Proof read your essay! It is advisable to write out an outline of the essay before you start writing. This will help you organize your thoughts and help you present your information in a clear manner.
Essays Pet Peeves
Some of my pet peeves while reading essays:
1) Sentences that end in a preposition. Example: "This is the kind of thing I was speaking of." This should be written, "This is the kind of thing of which I was speaking." The following is a short list of prepositions that commonly appear at the end of improperly constructed sentences: in, on, into, of, for, like, within, as, at, from, by.
2) No Introduction or Conclusion.
3) Failure to clearly state or indicate which essay you are addressing.
4) BS - you know what I mean here! Don't do it. I know BS when I read it. Remember, I know these topics and know when you don't know it. BS, vague sentences, generalizations and babbling to fill space will only reduce your score. BS doesn't show understanding. A blank page will get you the same score as a page full of BS.
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