THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO WRITING GREAT HOOKS FOR ESSAYS
November 15, 2017>
What is a hook in writing?
Anyone who ever wrote any academic paper knows that writing a strong introduction is the key to success in further work. A hook in any writing is a snippet of information before the text itself that makes a reader either foretaste the further reading or feel doomed to boredom for the next minutes or even hours. A good hook immediately creates a bond between an author and the audience. But how to write a good hook sentence? Unfortunately, there is no single pattern and no magic formula to seize the reader’s attention. However, there are some tips on how to get better at it.
What is a hook in an essay?
Good hooks to start an essay are usually the first 3-7 sentences of the paper. A hook can be compared to an appetizer, which would make the reader hungry for more and devour the rest of the text with great pleasure. Since the main audience of the essays is college professors and highly educated people, writing interesting hooks for essays can be way harder than for many other types of texts. Moreover, college teachers are probably reading dozens of essays, if not hundreds, on a regular basis, and thus, in order to impress the readers, yours should be really extraordinary.
How to write a hook for an essay?
There are different types of hooks for essays, and it is important to distinguish, where each of them would be appropriate. Quotes, anecdotes, curious facts, striking statistics, rhetorical questions are among a great variety of helpful tools to use as hooks and prepare your audience to catch every next word. Yet, regardless of which method you will choose to start your writing, it is essential for your hook to be relevant to your overall topic.
How to start a hook in an essay?
Writing a striking introduction can be quite challenging and stressful, especially since the main work is still ahead. A good idea would be to spend some time to plan the essay carefully. Think of its type, structure, tone and style, and, of course, intended audience. Decide what is the purpose of your writing: is it meant to entertain, give details, report a research, propose a solution to a problem or tell a life story? Another substantial question that you need to ask yourself is how do you want to make your audience feel? Maybe your goal is to motivate your readers for immediate action, inspire an onward research, or just emphasize with the main characters? And one more important question to ask before you start writing is what would you want your audience to take away from what they will read: a better grasp of a certain subject, a fascination with new knowledge, or strong intentions to change something in their lives?
How to write a good hook for an essay?
In order to write effective hooks for essays, one should have some insights on human psychology and perception. As you probably know, first impressions are the ones to last the longest, at times you only have about five seconds before a person decides if he or she likes you or not. Such principle applies not only to interpersonal interactions, but to the written word as well. If you bore your readers with a long and monotonous foreword, you may lose their attention for the rest of the text, even if it is far more interesting than the introduction.
How to write a good hook for an essay: general approaches
People generally like hearing something they are likely to agree with. If the opening statement claims something that the audience can relate to, there are high chances that the readers will find the author smart, and will feel favorable towards the whole piece of writing. This fact can be used for writing strong hooks for essays: once you say something that most of the audience can agree on, you will have its attention. However, this hack should not be misused, so saying something way too obvious for an opening statement can cause an opposite effect.
Education is equally beneficial for individuals and society, thus knowledge should be accessible for everyone who is interested and willing to study.
Fastened seatbelts save millions of lives every year, thereby strict laws, associated with car safety are justified and necessary.
To be effective, the penitentiary system should focus more on rehabilitation, not punishment.
Another effective advice on how to write great hooks for essays is appealing to the audience’s need to argue. If you ever found yourself yelling at a TV, you know the feeling. Starting your essay with a controversial statement won’t make people immediately yell and argue with you, yet will certainly get them involved into listening closely to what you have to say next. Keep in mind that your hook should sound thought-provoking, but not offensive.
Modern technologies are becoming more and more sophisticated. Humanity will soon engineer an artificial intelligence so complex, that it would excel human intellect in every possible criterion.
Child obesity is an indicator of wealth and care, not poverty, and thus should not be frowned upon.
Drugs can have a positive effect on human’s health and creativity, therefore people should have free access to them. Purchasing and using drugs should be limited by user’s discretion.
One more way of writing amazing hooks for essays is playing with human need to solve puzzles and the itch of not knowing the answer. When the audience senses a mystery, two things happen: first, people become more alert, trying to find the answer to it, and second, they become extremely attentive towards the further text, hoping to hear the right reply. Bear in mind though, that although the puzzle you’re using should not make sense immediately, it also should not be too hard, and fit to the context of the essay. Mysteries can be used as a part of different hooks for essays. For example, you can try starting with a paradox, a statement that seems absurd or contradictory, but is actually true, or at least makes sense. It is also effective to start an essay with a metaphor, or unusual comparison for the given topic. And, of course, you can start with posing a riddle. As long as the audience is waiting for the correct answer, it will catch every word of your essay.
I am the black child of a white father, a wingless bird, flying even to the clouds of heaven. I give birth to tears of mourning in pupils that meet me, even though there is no cause for grief, and at once at my birth I am dissolved into the air. What am I? Smoke.
What word in English language consists of five letters, but is spelled as the first one? Queue.
Can you list five American presidents whose surnames contain only four letters?
When listing the ways to hook a reader in an essay, it is essential to mention one more psychological whim: people like the familiar. If you ever clicked through the channels of your TV trying to find something interesting to watch, and then stopped in favor of a well-known movie, you must know that a feeling of recognition can often be mistaken for gladness and satisfaction. This feature is often used in marketing technologies, but in terms of writing, it will work just as fine. All you have to do is describe a situation that a reader can relate to, and provide some details to make it more plausible.
Seems like everything was against me that day: soon after I left home, it started raining cats and dogs and with a blink of an eye I was wet to the bone. I was making my way through the puddles, as I saw my bus leave the stop. There was no way I could make it to school in time.
I was halfway done doing the chores when I found my old yearbook, and immediately I was overwhelmed with bittersweet feeling of nostalgia.
My headache was killing me; every new thought, every other blink of the eyes was like a hack of a hammer, so I closed my eyes, and let the sleep take over me. The dream that I saw then was somehow prophetic.
If you want to write creative hooks for essays, you should think of how much people love stories. For example, the best and the most successful TV commercials are the ones that have some vivid stories in them. Naturally, it is near to impossible to write a thrilling story in a few sentences, however, there are some methods that you can use: start with a bright description of a scene or situation, depict an action, or write a short dialogue.
- Mommy, do you know, what can destroy any face?
- What would that be, sweetie?
They were riding the same suburban train every day for almost a year now. Total strangers they were, but after all this time it felt like it’s about time to start a conversation.
There is nothing more fascinating than old books. They smell like wisdom, and they tell stories to those, who are eager to listen. Those stories go far beyond from what their authors had initially intended to say. Old books tell stories of people who wrote them, but also of people who had read them.
How to create a hook for an essay: tried and true methods
Catchy hooks for essays are similar to earworms: they stick and seize the reader’s attention; they are likely to be remembered long after the essay is read. There are different types of hooks, and it is necessary to use them appropriately.
- Pose a question. A question immediately drags a reader or a listener into a process of critical thinking, making them read or listen until the very end. Try to avoid simple questions that require a “yes” or “no” answer.
Have you ever had a feeling that you had already lived through a moment, or even a day, like this before?
What is the meaning of happiness?
What would you do, if you were sure you would get away with it?
You can also ask a rhetorical question, something that implies a positive answer, in order to make your audience agree with you.
- Use quotes of famous people. Starting your essay with famous words of influential figures, which are related to your topic, can be a great benefit for your writing. The audience is likely to agree with the words of an authoritative person, and thus, there are high chances that your readers or listeners will agree with your words as well.
“Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75” Benjamin Franklin
“The only thing worse than being blind, is having sight, but no vision” Hellen Keller
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it” William Arthur Ward
- Use literary quotes. This type of hook is most pertinent when the subject of your writing is literature. A literary quote can refresh an essay about a novel, poem, literary phenomenon, or artwork of a certain author.
“It is much better to do good in a way that no one knows about it”, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
“You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget”, The Road by Cormac McCarthy
“It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends; and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason”, The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
- Tell an anecdote. Funny hooks for essays are good to break the ice and make the audience more gracious. However, an appropriate joke in the beginning of an essay does not necessarily mean that the rest of the writing should be funny too.
My new business on eBay is a great success. Just sold my homing pigeons for the 17th time in a row!
Chocolate comes from cocoa, which comes from a tree, which is a plant. Therefore, chocolate is a type of salad.
If teachers really want you to follow your dreams, why do you get yelled at for falling asleep in class?
- Set the scene. A thorough description of a scene, main character or a situation will boost the audience’s creative skills and imagination, and consequently, they will remember more of your writing.
I glanced through the window, and I could not believe my eyes.
It was a sunny winter day, as the snow started falling with huge and puffy snowflakes. Suddenly, the doorbell rang.
We were sitting in the summer meadow, smiling, ambitious, young. If only we had known, that it was our last summer together.
- Start with a peculiar fact. If you surprisethe members of the audience with a juicy piece of information at the beginning of the writing, they will be eager to know more.
It is estimated that you say 300 to 1000 words to yourself per minute.
There is an Indian village named “Piplantri”, which celebrates the birth of every girl child by planting 111 trees.
Risk-taking is contagious. Studies show that you are more likely to take a risk on something if you see someone else do it first, even if you don’t know the outcome of their choice.
- Impress with statistic. People are fascinated with numbers and precise data, so you can easily win their attention if you find the statistics that is relevant to your topic.
57% of consumers say that they would be somewhat or very influenced to think more highly of a business after seeing positive comments or praise online, and 16% say the only share positive reviews on social media.
20% of Millennials would prefer not to interact with cashiers at all in retail environments.
85% of people rely on Twitter and Facebook for their morning news.
- Reveal a misconception. It is a strong tool to hook your audience into further reading or listening. Same as with interesting facts and statistics, this is a good strategy to follow to get your audience interested in further perception.
There is no such thing as an “Alpha” in a wolf pack. Wolf packs operate like human families: there is no sense of rank, parents are in charge, and none are overthrowing elders.
Immigrant names were not Americanized (voluntarily or mistakenly), upon arrival on Ellis Island. There was no law that required recording immigrant names at that time.
Despite the numerous studies, there is little evidence that cameras directly reduce crime rates. Instead, they are often used to detect and prosecute crime after the fact.
What is a hook sentence, and why should you use it
It is widely known that human ability to perceive information gradually declines with time. Thus, no matter how dazzling your introduction is, you will have to make effort toheat up the audience’s attention throughout the text. Some authors advise using hook sentences to start every paragraph of your writing. This may sound challenging an even absurd at first, but it is actually an effective strategy to keep your readers interested and focused on your topic. Moreover, it is a great gimmick to make sure that you don’t switch topics unintentionally, and your writing follows the main idea without any contradiction.
David Ogilvy, a worldwide-known expert in public relations, once composed a list of the most effective words for advertisement. But what does advertisement have to do with presenting your essay to the public? In fact, the process is quite similar, as you are promoting yourself as an author, and advertising your ideas as a product of your intellectual labor. However, hook words for essays are different from those used in public relations. These words and phrases are often called transitional, as they help authors and readers slide smoother from one point to another, making the piece of writing seem more cohesive and logical. These words help summarizing data, comparing and viewing similarities and contrasts, illustrating and exemplifying the main points.
How to write a good hook for an argumentative essay?
Argumentative essays require a thorough and consistent research of a given topic, strong support and a distinct position regarding the subject. This type of writing involves a prior investigation of different resources in order to shape an argument, and then it is important to choose a position to support. It is essential to substantiate your claims with facts without getting emotional. A strong argumentative essay should have a balanced assessment, persuasive language and logical structure.
The first paragraph of an argumentative essay should provide some insight into the chosen topic and the reasons why the audience should be concerned about it. Good hooks for an argumentative essay are the ones that actually make the readers care and eager to explore more of the suggested topic. Edgy rhetorical questions, quirky puzzles, powerful quotes of known specialists in the field of study are all among the effective argumentative essay hook examples. It is crucial to state a thesis in this section of writing, as without it, the essay won’t be clear and sound. The body paragraphs should evolve the topic, and at the same time support the thesis one way or another. However, some topics require explaining different points of view, and omitting points that are contrary to the thesis is an erroneous strategy. In order to write a well-rounded essay, one should mention and discuss multiple positions on a given topic. Good hook sentences for argumentative essays can also be used as transitions between different opinions, and make the writing more coherent.
For example, if the essay topic is “Should scientists use animals for research?”, the hook might look like this:
More than 100 million different animals are being used for laboratorial research, medical training, in-class demonstrations and various experiments in USA only each year. Some of these animals are forced to suffer from various injuries, consume and inhale potentially dangerous matters; all of them are held in unnatural conditions, deprived of social interactions, isolated and sometimes immobilized in tiny cages before being murdered. Some people may claim that it is an inevitable sacrifice for the sake of progress. But where is the line between animals being beloved pets and animals being experimental material?
A general approach to writing argumentative essays typically implies a five-paragraph structure. Nevertheless, some topics and assignments require a deeper research, and therefore, lead to much longer writing. The amount of necessary work can be intimidating at times, which is pushing some students to buy argumentative essays and skip all the fundamental analysis, data gathering and evaluating the arguments.
How to write a hook for an expository essay?
Expository and argumentative essays are quite similar and can often be confused with each other. The main differences are in the size of the essays and the amount of investigation and data collecting that foregoes the writing itself. Unlike argumentative essays, that are usually assigned as milestone or final course projects, expository essays are common tasks at numerous exams. The structure of an expository essay consists of an introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion.
The aim of expository essays is to “expose” the author’s vision of a given topic and provide evidence to support it. Thus, the main thesis should be introduced at the very beginning of the writing. Hooks for expository writing are generally the same as for argumentative essays, yet if you are writing an expository essay in class, it can be difficult to recall a quote or a relevant fact, and thus you have to be creative. Rhetorical questions, anecdotes, catchy phrases are good hooks for expository essays.
Examples of hooks for expository essays:
Topic: “Single-sex education is gaining more popularity in western culture. Is it beneficial for students – either boys or girls – to learn in a single-sex environment?”
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the reasons of separate education for boys and girls is avoiding distraction when students reach a certain age and their hormones start to bluster. However, recent studies have shown that there are far more natural differences in learning and perception of males and females, than it was previously thought.
Each body paragraph should support and develop the main thesis, provide a thorough description of every new idea, consider multiple points of view. It can be quite challenging to create a balanced inquiry on a given topic, especially within a limited time, so it is handy to use expository hooks at the beginning of every paragraph and transitional words to switch from one idea to another without infringing upon the overall logic of the essay. It is important to check that the provided substantiation is not biased, the examples and the evidence are relevant, and the narrative is coherent. One of the difficulties of writing an expository essay hook can be related to a changing flow of the author’s thought. In other words, it can be hard to estimate the complexity of the further argumentation, and the hook that seemed appropriate at first, can lose its pertinence after the essay is ready. For this reason, some authors prefer writing hook sentences for essays after the essay itself.
How to write a hook for a persuasive essay?
The main purpose of writing a persuasive essay is to persuade the audience that the author’s point of view is the most valid and plausible, while acknowledging and introducing other opinions. This type of writing requires a deep immersion into the subject and a vast investigation of numerous resources. One of the key elements of a successful essay is a debatable thesis. An ambiguous thesis of a persuasive essay hooks the reader or the listener into an internal debate with the author, and assures an onward attention. It is thereby essential to distinguish a thesis from a fact, as debating about a fact will inevitably lead the narrative to a dead end.
A thorough and effective introduction consists of an attention-grabber, a thesis, and a preview. Good hooks for persuasive essays are designed to warm up the audience’s interest, to put a fresh idea into their minds and boost the critical thinking before introducing them to a controversial thesis. In this part of writing it is vital to avoid clichés and any obvious phrases or questions.
Persuasive essay hook examples can look like these:
Topic: “With the growing use of the internet, public libraries are no longer fulfilling the role of the main informational resource. Thus, government should cut funding public libraries, and focus on more critical spheres and issues”.
Cutting governmental financial aid can have drastic and tragic effects. Some spheres might experience an immediate impact, while others require new generations to reveal the consequences of the budget cuts. Public libraries have been a symbol of enlightenment, conscious and aspiring citizens for decades. Naturally, closing public libraries can be seen as a disturbing and intimidating signal, as a threat to literacy and critical, mindful society in general.
The body paragraphs, regardless of their number and size, should somehow relate to the main idea of the text. Good hook sentences for persuasive essays used as openings for each new paragraph will hammer home the point that the author is trying to state. This type of essays calls for explaining and commenting every piece of evidence, as there is a potential risk that it will be interpreted by the audience some other way. In order to convince the readers to become devotees of the writer’s point of view, one should be aware of the opposing viewpoints, and disprove them in a consistent manner, identify mistakes, inconsistencies and flaws in their logic. At the same time, the author’s logic should be supported by information and examples from various trustworthy resources. An effective way of revising a persuasive essay is reading through the paragraphs and determining whether each of them is tied to the thesis, and if this is not the case, the paragraph should be excluded from the text.
What is a good hook for an essay and where can you get one
Regardless of what type of essay you are writing and what type of hook you are willing to use, there are a few more guidelines to follow:
- Never write a hook that has no connection to the topic of your writing, and thereby, always check if the hook is still relevant after the whole piece of writing is done. Writing an inappropriate hook just for the sake of having one in the text will lead to an opposite effect: the cognitive dissonance between what is expected by the audience and what is actually presented to it can seriously undermine the authority of the writer.
- No matter how tempting it can be, do not skip the introduction. Even the most dazzling argumentation, the brightest and the most creative ideas, represented with sophisticated language and flawless logic, can be neglected by the readers or listeners, if they are not ready to comprehend the suggested information.
- Good hooks for college essays should be written in the same tone and style as the rest of the essay. Different styles of the hook and the essay itself can distract the audience’s attention from the main points that the author is trying to make.
- Writing a hook that is too wordy and complicated can be an erroneous decision as well. Don’t try to present all your writing skills in the first sentences, in an attempt to impress the audience. A start that is too pretentious can make the readers or listeners even more judgmental than they would have been, if the hook was written in a natural manner.
Sometimes it can be quite hard to come up with hook ideas for essays: it requires some practice and a lot of diligence. You can surrender to the temptation of delegating the whole work to an essay writing service, or research the given topic a little bit more in chase of inspiration. Try writing an outline for the whole essay and determine the weak spots that require further investigation and research. Such brainstorming may lead you to a new insight of a topic and grant a fresh vision of what your essay should look like. A better understanding of the topic will allow you to write distinctive, captivating hooks that will catch and keep the audience’s attention from the start to the end.
Category: Academic writing, Essay paper writing
Guide to Essay Writing
One of the most important skills you will learn and develop during your university years is writing, in particular essay writing. It is important to realise that this is a skill which has to be learnt and practised, and that therefore you should apply yourselves from the very beginning, as you will be writing essays for which you will be graded from the early weeks to the very end of your degree programme. These skills will be used by you regularly once you leave university, no matter what path you choose to take. Essay writing involves presenting an argument and communicating. It can be easily imagined that this covers a vast variety of scenarios in which you need to be clear and persuasive: arguing that you should be given the job you are applying for, selling the outline of a film script you have written, presenting products at various forums, writing articles for publication, persuading your bank manager to extend your loan, preparing reports, beginning and sustaining your career in journalism, and writing lectures and class plans for your future students. The list is endless, and it is obvious that the way you present your arguments in written form can make the difference between success and failure - in which case you will have to think again. In some of the scenarios outlined above the skills required for essay writing should be slightly adapted but the basic skills and methods are in the main common to all forms of formal writing in which an argument or arguments need to be presented.
The focus here is primarily on writing essays concerning literature. You may have many great ideas and be a very intuitive and fine reader of literature, but no-one will ever know if you cannot express your ideas properly and your communicative skills are not developed. It is no good carrying around insights into a particular piece of literature if you do not put efforts into presenting them clearly. Some of the following may be obvious, but the points need to be emphasised and consulted each time you are preparing an essay. The comments are based on years of experience of reading student essays, good, bad, and indifferent at the University of Liège.
An essay should not be merely a list. Too many in the past have been a list of notes, or a series of sub-headings followed by a list of dashes (-) or stars (*) accompanied by one or two words and/or quotations from the literary text with no explanation of what they are doing there. Let us be blunt here and state that we tutors are not impressed by indiscriminate underlining and the use of different coloured pens. Sub-headings written in magenta, underlined in ochre, followed by a list of quotations in vermilion are pointless. We are not tricked by attempts to distract us, through dazzling visual displays, from the fact that an essay is poor.
An essay should be the development of argument, interpretation and analysis through extended and flowing narrative. To do this you need to work at the level of the sentence, of course, but also, very importantly, you need to work at the level of the paragraph. The paragraph is a coherent passage of logically connected sentences usually concentrating on no more than one or two ideas relevant to your argument. Do not use very short and unconnected staccato sentences. It takes experience and practice to develop a sense of when a new paragraph is needed and when it has been finished. Examine the introduction to this booklet and this guide to get some sense of how paragraphs, or 'idea units' as they have also been called, can be developed and constructed, and how their 'natural' beginnings and ends appear. The first sentence of the paragraph should generally be a 'strong' one, used to signal or indicate the idea to be discussed within the paragraph. Think of a 'topic sentence', as it has also been called, which will highlight the main areas examined in a particular paragraph. Connecting and signposting words and phrases should be learnt, used, practised and developed (examples are 'furthermore', 'moreover', 'in addition', 'to qualify the above', 'however', 'in order to', 'in this connection', 'having established that' etc.). The argument should develop through the language you use and therefore in a short essay sub-headings are unnecessary.
Several stages are involved in essay preparation, choosing which points are to be considered, deciding how you will deal with them, and the actual writing. As you gain more experience you will find methods and ways of working which suit you, your personality and lifestyle. Generally, however, the process will involve the following. You should examine carefully the statements made in the essay question, making sure you understand each word and what is being asked, as misreading and misunderstanding at this stage can be fatal. Essay questions can be very general, very specific and sometimes deliberately provocative, and an understanding of them is essential. Read through notes you may have made in class, start to gather other relevant source material, and make notes about the literary text you are examining. Ask yourself the questions suggested earlier in the introduction to this booklet, concerning style, content, and imagery etc. Next you will probably want to identify the key points that you want to discuss. There may be many points you find generally interesting, but ask yourself if they are relevant to the essay in question. To do this it can be useful to try to think of a title for your essay. This is not to be confused with the essay question or title, but is concerned with your response to the task set. What title would best give the reader an overview of your approach and analysis, and highlight the main points you examine and the conclusions you reach? (Suggestions concerning conclusions will be given later). You should not assume that an essay has to include and cover all the possible points an interpretation may offer up. A short, well organised and structured essay focusing on some of the main points is far better than an over-long and unwieldy attempt to say a little about everything. You may find it useful to state in the introduction which points you are focusing on and why. Keep your reader informed of the development of your argument. Let her or him know which direction is being taken and the reasons why. Once the main points have been identified you need to consider in which order they will be examined. Students often do not make the most of the good ideas they have because they get lost if the argument does not develop coherently. Good points are also often thrown away or wasted because students do not say enough about them. Make sure the relevance of each point to the main argument is clearly stated and demonstrated. You should dwell and linger on the points: often this requires no more than two or three extra sentences, particularly if your writing is concise and focused.
A good essay takes time to prepare and write, so start to think about it and do the groundwork well ahead of the essay deadline (even in timed conditions, such as exams, it is important to take the time to organise and structure the essay before starting to write). You will probably find that you need to work out your ideas on paper before writing the essay, and are encouraged to prepare an outline of the essay: a point by point series of key words, phrases and ideas. This will help you to organise the structure and to recognise what is relevant and irrelevant to the essay as a whole. Some people find that a plan or outline will consist of eight to ten words only. Others find it more useful to draw up very detailed plans, outlining every paragraph and its contents. Again you will discover which method works for you as you go along. Some students find it easier to think and plan the essay point by point before beginning to write, whilst others find that after some initial preparation, reading, organisation and thinking they can only develop their ideas through writing. Both these approaches take time, if the essays are to be done well. It should be stressed here that the first plan does not have to be binding and may change as the work begins and develops. The main point here is that essays involve a certain amount of planning and preparation even before the actual writing begins. Having emphasised that essays are hard work and take time it should also be stressed that it can be very stimulating and rewarding to work through a number of ideas in depth and detail. Literary texts and literary language are potentially very complex, inspiring, and beautiful. The ideas and images often demand careful thought and attention.
Computers are essential in terms of using the time you spend on an essay efficiently and productively. As stated earlier, good essay writing demands time spent on every stage of the process: reading and research, making an outline, ordering and structuring your ideas, writing and changing various drafts, and final editing and presentation. With this in mind it cannot be stressed enough how important it is for you to learn word-processing skills and to make sure you have access to a computer. Use the university resources. Admittedly the space available is limited at times but this is no excuse not to learn the skills, if you do not already possess them, and to find out where there are available computer terminals. Of course if you use university resources it is even more important to start your essay early in order to avoid the last minute rush as most students, not only from this department, search for terminals in a panic on the Friday before a Monday deadline. It is appreciated that students are very busy and do have a lot of work, but it is a mistake to claim, as some students have been heard, that they are too busy to learn word-processing skills. Ultimately word-processing will save you a lot of time. It is far easier to add and delete material, and to restructure and reorganise essays by moving material around, on a computer than if you are writing by hand. Software has become really user-friendly; 'Word', for instance, will tell you what to do in explicit English or French, and typing skills can be learned whilst typing.
Your essay will be the representation of an argument on a given subject or subjects. It will include only points which are relevant to the subject, so be careful to get rid of material that is not directly relevant. Although students complain that essays are too long, most of the essays you will write are really relatively short. Part of the skill of writing is to write concisely and economically, without wasting material or 'padding' the work with irrelevant diversions and repetition. Once the points have been chosen they should be presented logically and coherently, so do not leap about from point to point. Each point generally will have some connection to the preceding one and the one to follow. If you do leave one area of the essay to move into another, but intend later to go back to the point you have left and show, for example, how the points may be connected or related, then it can be useful to say so by 'signposting', e.g. 'this point will be picked up later', 'this point will be returned to later, after taking into consideration ...'. After each draft of the essay check that each point is presented in a logical and coherent order. Read each draft carefully and critically. 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? Are some of the points, after due consideration, not really relevant? Have you been too long-winded or repetitive? If so, cut out and/or reduce some of the text. 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. 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'.
Throughout your years at the University of Liège you will be writing essays on literature which will inevitably include numerous quotations, either from the literature you are working on or from secondary sources, be they books or articles on historical context, literary criticism or other relevant areas. 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). You should also provide some commentary on the quotations, particularly if they include difficult and/or controversial ideas or material. 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: do not plagiarise. 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?', and you cannot decide, do not think that this is a problem. 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: it is a very important skill to express complex ideas with clarity.
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. 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. Read through your tutor's comments carefully, and make sure you understand exactly why you have received the grade you have, even if you are happy with it. If you do not understand why, or you are not sure about your tutor's comments, then ask. If it is not possible to ask during class or you would prefer to talk privately go to your tutor during office hours, or make an appointment if these clash with other classes. Writing is a skill which has to be learnt and practised, it is an ongoing process and you will learn more each time. Follow up work once the essay has been returned is an important part of this process.
Example 1: Using Quotations
The extract below, from a paper on Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, shows how quotations can be used. Because the paper quotes from the novel extensively, page numbers are found within the main body of the text, in parentheses, after complete bibliographical details have been provided in a footnote to the first quotation. Quotations from secondary sources are referenced by footnotes. Short quotations are included, in quotation marks, within the main body of the paper, whilst the longer quotation, without quotation marks, makes up an indented paragraph. Note that even when the writing by the author of the paper is combined with quotations from the novel and secondary sources the sentences are still grammatically correct and coherent.
Jean Brodie is convinced of the rightness of her own power, and uses it in a frightening manner: 'Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life'.1 This is Miss Brodie's adoption of the Jesuit formula, but, whereas they claim the child for God, she moulds the child for her own ends. 'You are mine,' she says, '... of my stamp and cut ...' (129). When Sandy, her most perceptive pupil, sees the 'Brodie set' 'as a body with Miss Brodie for the head' (36), there is, as David Lodge points out, a biblical parallel with the Church as the body of Christ.2 God is Miss Jean Brodie's rival, and this is demonstrated in a literal way when one of her girls, Eunice, grows religious and is preparing herself for confirmation. She becomes increasingly independent of Miss Brodie's influence and decides to go on the Modern side in the Senior school although Jean Brodie makes clear her own preference for the Classical. Eunice refuses to continue her role as the group's jester, or to go with them to the ballet. Cunningly, her tutor tries to regain control by playing on her religious convictions:
All that term she tried to inspire Eunice to become at least a pioneer missionary in some deadly and dangerous zone of the earth, for it was intolerable to Miss Brodie that any of her girls should grow up not largely dedicated to some vocation. 'You will end up as a Girl Guide leader in a suburb like Corstorphine', she said warningly to Eunice, who was in fact secretly attracted to this idea and who lived in Corstorphine. (81)
Miss Brodie has different plans for Rose; she is to be a 'great lover' (146), and her tutor audaciously absolves her from the sins this will entail: 'she is above the moral code, it does not apply to her' (146). This dismissal of possible retribution distorts the girls' judgement of Miss Brodie's actions.
The above passage is taken from Ruth Whittaker, The Faith and Fiction of Muriel Spark (London and Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1982), pp.106-7.
Example 2: Laying out a bibliography
The bibliography will usually include the relevant sources consulted in producing your essay, even if you have not referred to or quoted from them directly. The order is alphabetical and determined by the authors' names. Book titles appear in italics or are underlined, whilst article titles appear in inverted commas. When referring to books you should include the author's name, place of publication, the publisher, and the date when the book was published. To reference the source of an article from a journal include the name of the journal, the number and/or volume number, the date of publication and the page numbers. There are several styles for laying out a bibliography, but the same elements appear in each, and you must be consistent. Consult the handbooks to be found in the libraries for further details.
This is a model used by many British universities and publishers.
Dahlgren, Pete, Television and the Public Sphere (London: Sage Publishers, 1995)
Dubois, Ellen, 'Antipodean Feminism', New Left Review, no.206, July/August 1994, 127-33
Fussel, Paul, The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975)
Gledhill, Christine, 'Melodrama', in The Cinema Book, ed. Pam Cook (London: BFI, 1985), pp.73-84
Lodge, David, 'The Uses and Abuses of Omniscience: Method and Meaning in Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' in David Lodge, The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), pp.119-44
Pettifer, James, The Greeks (London: Penguin, 1993)
This is the model recommended by the Modern Languages Association (MLA) and is used by most American universities and publishers.
Dahlgren, Pete. Television and the Public Sphere. London: Sage Publishers, 1995.
Dubois, Ellen. "Antipodean Feminism." New Left Review 206 (July/August 1994): 127-33
Fussel, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.
Gledhill, Christine. "Melodrama" in The Cinema Book. Ed. Pam Cook. London: BFI, 1985. 73-84
Lodge, David. "The Uses and Abuses of Omniscience: Method and Meaning in Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" in David Lodge The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971. 119-44
Pettifer, James. The Greeks. London: Penguin, 1993.
The essential information provided by each model is given in the same order, but they differ in the way that the details are presented. Whichever model you choose or are instructed to use ensure that you stay consistent to it.
Consult reference works for further advice. These books are on the open shelves:
· John Clanchy and Brigid Ballard, How to Write Essays (Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1992)
· Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (New York: MLA, 1995)
Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (London: Macmillan, 1961), p.7. All further references are to this edition and given in the text.
David Lodge, 'The Uses and Abuses of Omniscience: Method and Meaning in Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie', in David Lodge, The Novelist at the Crossroads and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), pp.119-44.