a few thoughts on essay-writing

I’m marking essays at the moment (& casting about for ways to procrastinate – I can mark only so many essays in a sitting!). This made me think about the essays those of you sitting Scholarship will be writing at the end of the year – try to avoid a few of these common errors.

Read the question (yes, I’ve said this before!). The one I’m marking at the moment asks you to discuss the impact of anthropogenic climate change on a named ecosystem. So – the first thing you need to do is define what you’re going to talk about. Someone answering this one should start by outlining their understanding of the term ‘antropogenic climate change’. In some cases this would have been very helpful – for example, deforestation of rainforests can contribute to climate change. But at the same time it will change environments directly & these changes can’t be put down to climate change.

Similarly, stating which ecosystem you were going to write about would focus you on what to include in the answer & what to leave out. Some things that hold true for coral reefs may not apply to savannahs. And the selection shouldn’t be too broad: ‘terrestrial ecosystem’ unfortunately is too broad, because it covers such a range of possibilities. Similarly, ‘coastal ecosystem’ could cover anything from coral reefs to rocky shores to mudflats.

And you shouldn’t make generalised/sweeping statements – things like ‘the temperatures have increased at a huge rate’. Have they? Just what is a ‘huge rate’? If you know relevant details, then use them. Don’t speak of ‘a plant’ or ‘an animal’ – this could be anything & isn’t very informative. Be specific. It shows you have mastery of the subject area & adds to the precision with which you answer the question. And as you will know from reading the performance standards and examiner’s reports, things like precision & accuracy do matter 🙂

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