You’re smart, yeah? And you can hold, win or kill an argument in tutes? Your notes are super organised and (unlike mine) legible. So why are your essays coming back with Pass marks, not Distinctions? Two reasons: lack of an assertive voice, and not answering the essay question.
Voice is actually the easy part. When I say voice, I mean the way your essay sounds as it is read. When read, your essay should sound like you know what you’re talking about. Yes, you’re still an undergrad, but you want it to sound like you know your shit, don’t you? Well, you know those five articles you read in different academic journals? They sound smart, right? Here’s the easiest tip you will read on improving your essays: mimic the voice that is used in the material you are referencing. Simple.
Three phenomena occur when this is done. First, you sound like an authority on whatever it is you’re writing about. Second, your quotes fit into your essay so smoothly that your lecturer only has the quotation marks to tell them when you are actually quoting. Third, you’ll need less filler.
This last part seems a little strange, right? Gather round and listen close, kids, for I am about to hand out some learnin’s. Adopting a more authoritative voice means that you will naturally start getting straight to the point. That means fewer words. “That’s terrible!” you whine. “What about this ridiculously large word count?” Sigh… Spending less time getting to the point means you can either go further into said point, or (my favourite) make even more points. Additional well-explored statements = more marks. Higher number of statements = broader analysis of subject = more marks. You can’t lose.
Altering your voice is something that you do all the time. You don’t speak to your tutor the same way you speak to bar staff, or other students outside of class. You don’t write text messages the same way you write essays. Get a sophisticated voice (by putting on a sophisticated voice) and watch the marks roll in.
That is, unless you completely missed the point of an essay. Every essay will start basically the same way: it will ask a question. What you do after that is pretty much up to you. However, I would strongly advise answering that question to pull your well-voiced essay away from the dirty, plebeian Pass into the thinning atmosphere of ecstasy that is a High Distinction.
Most of the essays that I read for my friends start by trying to answer the essay question, but end up morphing wondrously into their lecture notes. To stop this, try to make the final sentence of each major paragraph answer the question itself. For instance, last semester I took Hollywood Cinema, and the question for the major essay read:
‘The encounter with someone “whose conduct does not conform to general social expectations may cast doubt on the rules of conduct” (Beck 209). What does Silver Linings Playbook convey about society’s expectations and rules of conduct?’
The majority of paragraphs that I wrote for that essay ended with an explanation of how Silver Linings Playbook messed with the rules of conduct and social expectations. By constantly answering the question, I kept on track. Because I kept on track rather that recycle the lecture, marks were awarded.
You can agree or disagree with the question all you like, but please answer it.
By S. Hooley