Week Four of SSC Academics

Essays 101

Photo of a student with headphones and a laptop.

Dear Marauder,

Now that we’ve thought about reading effectively, let’s think about how to communicate your own ideas in an essay. If you think you’ll encounter more lab reports in your program, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post! If you’re planning to take any classes that will have written components, though, this post is a good place to start building your confidence in essay-writing.

If you are thinking about what it will be like to write an essay at university, you are not alone! Knowing that I was going into a program like English, I was definitely curious about what would be expected of me, writing-wise. I remember the feelings of self-doubt that I had before I got to university, so I wanted to give you some of the information that I wish I knew back then.

I specifically want to look at essay organisation because I think it will be really helpful to consider no matter which discipline you are writing for. This post is not a step-by-step guide, but it will help give you a clearer picture of what might be expected of you in terms of essay submissions. With that in mind, remember to always consult assignment guidelines to make sure that you are writing to your instructor’s standards. If you have any questions about what is expected of you, it is a very good idea to seek answers from your professor and/or TAs because they will be the ones grading your work.

One ‘hamburger’ essay with the works, please!

Sometime in grade 12, someone said to me that ‘the hamburger essay model doesn’t even matter because it doesn’t work in university.’ I remember thinking to myself ‘well, what does work?’ Hearing that my professors wouldn’t be satisfied with the only structure that I had ever learned was unsettling to say the least. I want to address this statement and your worries too–the idea that it ‘doesn’t work’ is not entirely true. The people who said this probably meant that a simple 5 paragraph essay wasn’t going to cut it at university, and that turned out to be mostly correct. A rigid framework like the one we were taught in high school leaves little room for nuance and flexibility, two things you want when you are communicating your argument in an essay. On the other hand, the elements of the ‘hamburger’ essay–the ‘buns’ (introduction and conclusion) and ‘meat’ (body paragraphs) are still needed in university essays. A hamburger essay is better than a nachos essay, which I suppose would look something like your thoughts all jumbled together with no clear beginning or end. So how can you adapt the hamburger model to meet your professor’s expectations? In simple terms, this hamburger needs more toppings.

Let’s think about the different components and see how we could evolve them:

Introduction

If you are putting off writing after you have gone through your brainstorming and research, it might be because you aren’t sure how to write a strong introduction. Here are a few tips:

  1. Avoid general opening sentences such as “throughout history, there have been conflicts between people.” This doesn’t tell your reader anything about what you are going to be arguing–introduce your narrowed topic with clarity and concision!
  2. Think of your introduction as a road-map. You will likely want to summarise the different axes of your argument so that your reader knows how the essay will unfold and has a picture of how the whole thing fits together.
  3. Your thesis is the most important piece of your essay. It falls near or at the end of your introduction and should state, in simple terms, not only your position in the argument but also how you break that argument down. Every other part of your essay is in service of this thesis and should therefore be directly connected to it.

Body

This general area of your essay could look different depending on your discipline, but it is important that you maintain a clear sense of organisation within your paper. I mentioned that the five paragraph essay lacks nuance and flexibility, so remember that you are not bound to this model. The model that makes the most sense to me looks more like a snow-person! Each paragraph is going to articulate a key point of your argument, and that point should have clear connections to your other points. In an ideal world, each paragraph actually builds on the one before it to further develop and support your claims.

When you are supporting your claims with outside sources, remember that quotations never speak for themselves. It may be obvious to you why you included particular secondary material, but you need to explain this connection to your reader. Where you might not have been penalised for simply summarising quotations in high school, you will be in your classes here. Focus on why that quotation supports what you are arguing and why it is important to consider that support.

Conclusion

If in high school you thought of your conclusion as a copy-pasted and inverted introduction, you’re not alone. The problem with this is that it doesn’t show any development of your argument. A conclusion (which we’re all guilty of rushing sometimes) should clearly summarise your main points in a way that shows that you have supported the claim you made in your thesis. There is some debate about whether you should include any new outside material in a conclusion, so I won’t speak definitively on that. If your introduction was a road-map for your essay, think of your conclusion as you telling people how you got from point A to point B. Your goal here is not to restate each twist and turn, but to convince your reader that you successfully navigated yourself somewhere.

I hope this has been helpful, Marauder! I know that submitting essays in university can be a source of worry. If you pay close attention to your instructor’s guidelines and ensure that your work meets them, you are setting yourself up for success. You also now have strategies at hand to help you beat procrastination, talk to your professors, and read effectively, so you are on your way to delivering effective essays content-wise too!

 

Sincerely,

Emily

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST DIFFICULT ABOUT ESSAY-WRITING? IS THERE SOMETHING YOU DO THAT HELPS YOU OVERCOME THIS?

How should I approach assigned readings? Are there any strategies I could use to be a more engaged reader? Would those strategies even work for me? Check out Reading 101 to find out!

Is the 'hamburger' essay model still going to work? What can I do to improve it? What are some dos and don'ts of university essay-writing? Essays 101 has the answers to these and other questions!

What should my lab report look like? Where should I start? What structure should I follow? Check out Lab Reports 101 for the answers to these questions!

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