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Camilla's rules for essay writing, v.4

I am currently spending my every waking hour (ok, that is an exaggeration, but it does not feel like one) correcting essays. While there are glimmers in the darkness, this can sometimes be quite an aggravating affair. Especially when it appears all my helpful advice has fallen on deaf ears earlier in the semester.

Now, I know most of our regulars have finished their stint in undergraduate hell, but as some are taking it up again and there is a youthful contingent somewhere in the murky depths of the commentary fields, I decided to present you with 7 helpful tips that (if followed; ah, there's the rub) should magically cause good grades to appear. If you don't care about grades, please think of the poor person forced to suffer through it all when she has a lot of other stuff that she really, really ought to get on with.


  • Start writing the essay early so that you can put it to one side and look it over with fresh eyes before handing it in (and still have time to make adjustments).

    Read the essay question properly (all of it!) and make sure you do what it tells you to do. Sometimes important information is hidden in a second sentence on the same line as the first sentence (or at the bottom of a paragraph); that does not mean it is less important.


  • Learn the rules of punctuation and use them properly. They are there to help the reader make sense of the text. Think of it as a courtesy. Semi-colons are not colons. Use en-dashes (–) or em-dashes (—) for parenthetical thought if you have to use dashes. Do not use the simple dash (-) except as a hyphen. It is almost always better, however, to use commas.

    While split infinitives and prepositions at the end of a sentence can be perfectly good language, you should avoid colloquialisms. This does not mean you should find the most difficult word you can in order to impress your reader. You should aim for clairty.

  • 3. TEXTS

  • Make it clear what (part of the) text you are talking about. This is best done in the introduction. Even where the text has been given in the question.

  • 4. PLAN

  • Remember to include both an introduction and a conclusion to your argument. The reader is not supposed to be left guessing. An essay is not a detective novel.

    Give a plan for your argument in your introduction. Tell us what you want to show and how you intend to show it. This allows the reader to follow your argument more easily, but it has the added advantage of forcing you to make a coherent argument (because you can easily see whether your argument makes sense when you have to summarise it in a few words). The aim of your essay is to make your argument clear, not to surprise the reader with your conclusion.

  • 5. SOURCES

  • When you use secondary sources, discuss them. What do they mean? Do you agree with them? Why? Why not? This applies to both quoting and paraphrasing.

    Make sure you do not misrepresent your sources. While the aim of your use of quotes should be to further your argument, don't do this by quoting so selectively that you compromise the source of your quotes.


  • It is so simple, there is no excuse for not doing it right. Follow the style guide. The Department Style Guide is there to help you. Consult it when in doubt. Remember that different departments may follow different styles.

    If your word formatting program breaks with the style demanded, turn off the auto-formatting. Above all, don't let your word formatting program dictate your style.

    Remember to cite sources, include a list of works cited and number your pages.


  • Read and take on the feedback you get on your essays. It is there to help you improve your particular essay writing skills by making you aware of what needs improvement in your essay. Having to repeat the same advice every time makes a tutor cranky.

    There. Now Calcuttagutta's readers should all get As. Provided you've read your stuff.


    Version 1

    Camilla, 27.10.10 20:34

    Version 2

    Camilla, 27.10.10 21:20

    Version 3

    Camilla, 27.10.10 21:21

    Version 4

    Camilla, 28.10.10 13:38