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Writing a Letter Writing an Evaluation Letter 3. Steps for Writing a First Draft of an Essay Take a closer look at your assignment and the topic if it was given to you by your instructor. Revise your outline as well. This is needed for your clearer understanding of the tasks you must accomplish within the draft, and to make sure you meet the requirements of the assignment. Sketch out the introduction of your essay. Based on your outline, start transferring your ideas to paper.

The main task here is to give them the initial form and set a general direction for their further development, and not to write a full paper.


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Chalk out the summarizing paragraph of your essay. It should not contain any new ideas, but briefly reintroduce those from the main body, and restate your thesis statement. Read through the draft to see if you have included the information you wanted to, but without making any further corrections, since this is a task for the second and final drafts. Key Points to Consider While an outline is needed to decide on what to write, the first draft is more about answering a question: When you start writing your thoughts down, it may happen that one idea or concept sparks new connections, memories, or associations.

Making notes for yourself in the margins or even in the middle of the text is a useful practice. This can save you time and keep you focused on the essence of your essay without being distracted by secondary details. For example, such notes could look like this: Time away will allow you to have a fresh look at your draft when you decide to revise it. Indeed, if your first draft is lengthy—which is actually a rough sketch—imagine how long your paper will become if you expand on each idea chalked out and fill it with factual data.

Is there a significant idea you have not included in the essay? Do you need to expand some of the points you have chosen to write about?

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Are some of the points, after due consideration, not really relevant? Have you been too long-winded or repetitive?

Does your argument need to be clearer, and do the links between some of the main points need more emphasis? You should be asking yourself these questions throughout the whole process. A particularly distressing weakness in the past, but hopefully not the future, has been the absence of serious discussion of imagery and literary language.

Some students have merely stated that the author uses imagery, illustrated this with an example, and then moved on to the next point on the list.

Writing a First Draft

If you discuss images, metaphors and other literary devices, then say how and why they are being used in the piece of fiction, and maybe if you think the imagery works or not. If you do not say how and why an image is being used then don't mention it. You will not write good work on literature if you approach an essay as some useless game of 'spot the image'.

These quotations can obviously add much to the texture and quality of your work, but they are often handled very badly by students. Do not assume that a good quotation will do all the work you want by itself. Poor essays are often merely a patchwork of quotations stitched together by the briefest of comments, and it is a mistake to leave quotations hanging in mid-air, as it were, without comment or explanation.

Quotations need to be framed. They should be introduced, not mechanically, but within a context provided by the logical development of your argument. See Example 1 at the end of this guide. This is often likely to be the case as there is really little point in including 'bland' quotations in your essay. You may want to gloss, explain, qualify or modify the quoted words, or you may have included quotations whose assumptions or arguments you strongly disagree with.

The latter case can be useful, if handled well. Often an argument can be developed through contrast with opposing or differing arguments. This tactic in essay construction also displays independent thinking in that it demonstrates that you have not unthinkingly accepted and believed everything you have read. One final point on quotations: Using other people's work without saying so is a serious crime. Tutors have read widely on the subjects you will be writing on and are very likely to recognise when you are plagiarising. If you use other people's ideas and words they have to be acknowledged through proper footnoting and referencing.

See Example 2 at the end of this guide. Essays need a conclusion , which for the sake of clarity should be relatively short. It is generally best not to include new ideas or new material in your concluding comments, particularly since many people think that a conclusion should be a summary of the prior arguments. You may, however, point to alternative conclusions or arguments, or briefly suggest areas of interest that have not been dealt with directly by the essay. People often get the wrong idea about conclusions and believe that this is the place to state firm convictions, and that a conclusion has to make a stand and come down on the side of one argument or another.

This can be the case but it is not necessarily so. If an essay title comes in the form of a question, for example 'Is James Joyce seeking to distance himself from traditional forms of Irish culture? It is as much a sign of intelligence to state that you cannot decide as it is to sift through the evidence and decide one way or the other. Think about why you cannot decide. Perhaps the evidence is conflicting. Perhaps the literary text and its use of imagery is ambiguous, or even contradictory; as is often the case.

If you cannot decide, then say so, outlining why you cannot decide. Alternatively, you may partly agree or partly disagree with the statements or questions raised by the title , or by questions raised directly in responding to the title. If so, say so. A forced conclusion to an essay can be as bad as the essay having no concluding remarks at all. In connection to the last point it should be emphasised that any essay should be about your ideas and your interpretation of the literature being studied. Of course your ideas may, and indeed should, develop through discussions with friends, fellow students, tutors and through the consultation of books and articles, but it is your ideas which should form the basis of the essay.

Whilst you will use material that is not your own, it is the way that you use, add to, adapt and modify this material that makes the argument your own and original. Your own voice should be heard. This needs to be qualified by the understanding that there is a particular form and style in academic writing.

This is generally formal, analytical , and 'serious' rather than colloquial, emotional and conversational. Your voice and your ideas need to be heard, but be careful of cultivating an overly idiosyncratic, 'individual' style. Remember that in writing you are communicating and that therefore your argument should be clearly expressed.

This does not mean you should be simplistic: One final point needs to be made on the subject of the essays you write being about your ideas. Some of you may find this an extraordinary statement but it is a bad idea to tailor and construct your essay around what you believe your tutor or the head of the course thinks about the text, and what you think she or he wants to hear.

Guide to essay writing

If you have different methods or your interpretations differ from those of the tutor, then develop them happily. Remember that essay writing is all about presenting an argument and using evidence from the text and elsewhere to back up your statements, and if you do this well you will be given credit for it whether or not the tutor agrees with the overall argument.

It is not particularly interesting for tutors to read in essays only what they have said in class, particularly if this is reproduced in a flat, unconvincing, and unconvinced manner. Of course you may agree and be persuaded by arguments and interpretations outlined in class but if you do not believe the arguments you reproduce in the essay it will be obvious and the tutor will wonder why you bothered to include them. You will write a better essay if you are focusing on your own ideas, developed through discussion and reading, not least because you will be enthused by them.

Eventually your ideas will be thought through, outlines planned and re-planned, main points developed, written down on paper, then rewritten, and finally given to your tutor. Nevertheless your work on the essay has not yet finished. Once the essay has been graded and returned it is very important that you do not merely look at the grade you have received before putting it at the bottom of your files.

Make a clear and specific plan. While it might seem counter-intuitive, taking five or ten minutes before you start writing in order to draw up a plan will be an enormous time saver. Decide on your thesis, the topic of each paragraph, and the arguments which you intend to cover, then jot down some quick point-form notes. Schedule a set time for each paragraph. Take note of the amount of time allotted for the exam and split it into reasonably-sized segments, leaving some time at the end for revision if possible.

Write clearly and double-space. If you have time left at the end of the exam for review, having the ability to skim quickly through your work and write revisions in blank spaces will be incredibly helpful. Keep yourself on schedule. Remember the paragraph-based schedule we discussed above?

Perfecting paragraphs is a time-consuming process, and, if you spend too much time editing before the essay is finished, you might have to rush through the last few sections or leave them out entirely. Even if you made sure you were interpreting everything correctly before you began, you may have forgotten to address a subquestion or integrate an example as you were writing. Before you submit, read the prompt again and make sure your completed essay matches up!

Edit if you have time. If you have enough time left over, read your essay again and make corrections. Remember to have the right perspective. Once you hand your exam to the professor, relax! If you did your best to write a complete, clear, and insightful essay within the time allotted, you should have nothing to worry about.