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What is an essay?

An essay is a structured critical argument. It requires that you read texts closely, select appropriate material to provide evidence for your arguments, and perhaps research historical, philosophic or theoretical issues to help you articulate your argument; also that you organise your materials into a fluent narrative. There is not necessarily an absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to a literary question, and the staff do not wish you simply to repeat their own views. You will succeed with your essays if you can persuade a reader that your argument illuminates the topic and texts you are writing about in interesting ways.

How do I choose a topic?

  • You will be given a list of essay questions or topics well in advance of each essay deadline, and tutors are willing to help you discover the best approach to tackling a question.
  • For help with a particular essay, it is probably best to seek the advice of the course organiser or the teacher responsible for the relevant part of the course, but your personal tutor may also be able to help with more general essay-writing problems.

Essay help

Reference books

  • The following may provide help with essay writing skills and most are available in paperback:
    • Fabb, Nigel and Alan Durant, How to Write Essays, Dissertations and Theses in Literary Studies (Harlow: Longman, 1993).
    • Greetham, Bryan, How to Write Better Essays (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001).
    • Turley, Richard Marggraf, Writing Essays: A Guide for Students in English and the Humanities (London: Routledge, 2000).
    • Stott, Rebecca, Anna Snaith and Rick Rylance, eds, Making Your Case: A Practical Guide to Essay Writing (Harlow: Longman, 2001).
  • For students wishing to ‘refresh’ their grammar the following may be helpful:
    • Crystal, David, John Peck and Martin Coyle, The Student’s Guide to Writing (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1999).
    • Stott, Rebecca and Peter Chapman, eds, Grammar and Writing (Harlow: Longman, 2001).