GUIDE TO THE WRITING AND PRESENTATION OF ESSAYS
TOC o "1-3" u CONTENTS
1. ANALYSIS, ARGUMENT AND CRITICISM______________________________________
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3. PLANNING AND WRITING___________________________________________________
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Choosing your topic______________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459363 h 2
Analysing______________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459364 h 2
Outline________________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459365 h 3
Researching_____________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459366 h 3
Note-taking_____________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459367 h 3
Writing and revising______________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459368 h 3
4. WRITING STYLE___________________________________________________________
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Grammar_______________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459370 h 4
Spelling, hyphens________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459371 h 4
Abbreviations___________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459372 h 4
Capitalisation___________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459373 h 4
Quotations_____________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459374 h 4
Numbers_______________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459375 h 4
Dates__________________________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459376 h 4
Underlining/italics_______________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459377 h 5
5. REFERENCING_____________________________________________________________ 5
6. WORKS CITED/BIBLIOGRAPHY______________________________________________
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Book Citations__________________________________________________________________________ 6
Journal Article Citations__________________________________________________________________ 6
Chapter in an edited Collection Citation______________________________________________________ 7
Electronic Citations______________________________________________________________________ PAGEREF _Toc123459385 h 7
Final Referencing Note____________________________________________________________________ 8
7. ENDNOTE SOFTWARE______________________________________________________ 8
It is important to understand from the start of this guide that the ‘social sciences’ encompass a range of disciplines and that each of these will in turn make use of a range of possible techniques, styles and structures of writing. There is no single formula for essay-writing and different instructors will sometimes direct you in ways that diverge from the suggestions below. So you should see this guide as a tool amongst other tools, not as a bible.
The study of social sciences requires an analytical, not a purely descriptive, approach. Written work must present an argument. Essay assignments often ask whether you agree with a certain statement, or ask you to discuss something critically, to assess a statement, or to make a choice. University essays are often therefore arguments for or against certain propositions. An argument is a series of generalisations or propositions, supported by evidence and/or reasoning and connected in a logical manner that leads to justified conclusions.
You must sustain your argument by giving evidence and reasons. Assertions do not constitute an argument. You must support your opinions with good evidence and valid reasoning. What counts as good evidence and valid reasoning you will learn by experience, and by consulting your lecturers and tutors. Being critical may mean determining whether the evidence available justifies the conclusions that are drawn from it; or it may mean uncovering and questioning the assumptions which underlie theories in the social sciences. Part of demonstrating a ‘critical’ voice is attributing authorship in the text. For example, consider the following two sentences:
The earth moves around the sun (Gallileo year: page).
According to Gallileo, the earth moves around the sun (year: page).
A critical voice allows for discussion of other contrasting views. In the example above, the second sentence allows for this and the first one does not.
Essays give you a chance to show what you can do: that you understand the question asked; that you understand the issues involved; that you have done the appropriate amount of reading. Having got that far, you must then show you can communicate your understanding to others.
Make sure that you actually answer the question. If you are asked to assess, or to choose, or to discuss – do it! Do not write down everything you know about the subject: it may not all be relevant.
Your lecturers and tutors are not necessarily looking for ‘correct answers’. There is generally no ‘line’ for you to follow. They are concerned with how well you make your case. Whether they agree or disagree with your judgment is not essential to your mark. Disagreement does not lead to bad marks; bad essays do.
If there are important arguments against your position, do not ignore them; deal with them honestly. Give those who disagree with you a fair go. Try to meet their arguments with better ones. Scholarship is not a matter of political point-scoring: you must respect evidence and superior arguments.
Your argument should be consistent, and the language used should be clear, grammatical and precise. Furthermore, an essay is a finished piece of work, not a draft or series of notes (although you are encouraged to produce drafts of your essays).
Many subjects offer several topics for essays. Choose one carefully and begin working on it early. Fit your preparation and writing into the framework provided by essay deadlines in other subjects. This will avoid a frantic, last minute rush. Essays are often best done when the topic interests you, but beware of becoming consumed by it: your capacity for scholarly analysis may be impaired, or you may neglect your other course work.
It is vitally important to address directly the essay question or topic at hand. Begin by carefully examining the key words and concepts in the questions. Pay particular attention to the difference between commonly used words.
compare: examine the characteristics of the objects in question to demonstrate their similarities and differences;
contrast: examine the characteristics of the objects in question to demonstrate their differences;
analyse: consider the various components of the whole and explain the relationships among them;
discuss: present the different aspects of a question and problem;
evaluate: examine the various sides of a question to reach a cogent and plausible conclusion.
Once the topic has been clarified, you should break it down into its component parts. This enables you to decide what material is relevant to the topic.
After analysing the question, the components should be organised to form an essay outline (or plan). The outline helps to ensure that your essay has a coherent, logical structure. It also facilitates the preparation of your essay by guiding your reading, note-taking and writing. Outlines also enable you to assign relative weighting to the different components of your answer by differentiating which points are central, and which peripheral. They will thus assist your research effort.
Wide reading is essential if you wish to submit a good essay. Effective research depends on knowing what to look for, so always keep your essay outline in mind. Ensure that you read to answer the specific sections of your outline.
The reading requirements are related to the nature of the subject and topic. Some topics may require a detailed analysis of a small number of texts; yet it is rarely sufficient to read only one or two books on a particular topic. Reading guides are issued to help students choose material. These are starting points. The most recent scholarship will usually be in bibliographies of the most recent good textbooks, edited collections, or journal articles.
Use your essay outline as the basis of taking notes from your readings. Try not to photocopy large slabs of reading: it often delays the hard work of reading and thinking; unhappily, it sometimes substitutes for them.
Be organised in your note-taking. Maintain an order that you can follow and that will be of assistance in writing the essay. Such an order might be provided by your essay outline. How you choose to make notes is up to you. Keep an accurate record of the full reference and write down the page from which you obtain each piece of information, even though it may not be a direct quotation. The use of endnote software will assist in this process; see the library website or information desk for access to the software and a schedule of the training workshops available.
The essay should be a coherent and logical piece of analytical prose which, in the first place, answers the question set and, in the second place, cogently argues, carefully documents, and clearly expresses your case. Writing an essay is almost always a process of writing and revising. The structure and coherence of your argument often become clearer upon revision.
The core structure of the essay has three parts: an introduction, the body of the essay, and a conclusion. The introduction should introduce the topic to be discussed and prepare the reader for what is to follow; be concise. It may be useful to summarise briefly the overall theme or argument of the essay, indicating the main points to be made. The body of the essay is the place to present your argument. Attend to the logical sequence of your presentation, and to the considerations about evidence discussed above. The conclusion should restate briefly the key arguments and their implications. Some subjects require more specific essay components; check your subject assessment guides carefully.
You will find it helpful to write more than one draft. Use the first draft to map out your ideas within the framework of your essay outline. Second and subsequent drafts must pay more attention to writing and style. Always assess your own work by imagining that you are writing for the average intelligent reader: have you included enough information and evidence, in the right order, to allow such a reader to follow your argument? Would such a reader be convinced by your argument?
Try to confront your own assumptions and prejudices as you write. Your task is to convince by argument, not by appeal to the prejudices of others. If you are aware of the presuppositions of others through wide reading, you are prepared to be more conscious of your own presuppositions.
4. WRITING STYLE
Writing styles can vary between high school and university, between departments at universities, and between universities and the workplace. It is your responsibility to learn the conventions of writing. Some of these are discussed below. The Academic Skills Unit of the University of Melbourne produces a number of excellent guides to essay writing. See for instance:
- Writing: http://services.unimelb.edu.au/academicskills/all_resources/writing-resources
- Reading and Research : http://services.unimelb.edu.au/academicskills/all_resources/research-and-referencing-resources
Sloppy grammar distracts the reader’s attention from your ideas and reduces the force of the argument. A social science essay is not the place for literary experiments in terms of challenging grammatical conventions.
The standard spelling reference for Australian writing is the Macquarie Dictionary. In general, English spelling is preferred to American. The Macquarie is also useful as an up-to-date guide to current hyphenation of words. The tendency in recent years has been to use fewer hyphens, and many words, which formerly consisted of two components have now become one.
Use full names of states in the text, though abbreviations may be used in footnotes. Use a full-stop after an abbreviation (Vic.; ed.), but not after a contraction (Qld, eds). For abbreviations that consist of capitals, do not use full stops: NSW, ADFA; also BA, PhD, MA. Symbols for currency and units of measurement have no full stop (5 km, 25 lb, 6s). Plurals of abbreviations do not need an apostrophe: MPs, Revs.
The rules of capitalisation are complicated and the decision whether or not capitalise is still frequently left to the discretion of the writer. For the sake of consistency, and of appearance, we advise authors to err on the side of lower case usage, except in the case of organisations and institutions and with certain titles (eg. ‘President Obama’, but ‘the prime minister, Ms Gillard’). If in doubt, opt for the lower case.
Quotations can be used when you feel that an author’s exact words provide the best support for a point you wish to make. In general, they should be used sparingly and kept as brief as possible. As a general rule you should report the work of others in your own words, not as a quotation. Use single quotation marks; for a quotation within a quotation, use double quotation marks. Indent quotations of more than forty words and single space. Use the spelling and punctuation of the original. If the original is inaccurate, use [sic] (without a full stop) to indicate that the inaccurate spelling or turn of phrase derives from the original. Put any interpolations in square brackets. If omitting material from a quotation, use three ellipsis points (…). Do not use ellipsis points at the beginning of a quotation.
Whether you actually quote the writers, or just rephrase their ideas in your own words, you must still provide a reference. When you paraphrase from a specific point in a source, just as you do when you use a direct quote, you must be sure to include the page number(s) in the reference, not just author and date. By correct referencing (or citation), you accurately attribute ideas to the person who wrote them in the first place, and you ensure that anyone who reads your work would be able to easily locate the exact sources if they wished to.
Spell out the numbers one to nine and spell out even hundreds, thousands and millions, except if they include a decimal point or fraction (eg. 4.25, 41/4), or where they refer to page numbers, or where there are sets of numerals, some of which are higher than ten (eg. 14, 9 and 6). Use Arabic numerals (11, 12, 13…) for other numbers. Percentages are expressed as figures followed by % even if the number is less than 10. Always write out a number or year if it begins a sentence. Large numbers should be written with a comma rather than a space (eg. 50,000). Avoid Roman numerals wherever possible.
Dates should be written thus: 15 January 1970. Months should be spelled out in full. No apostrophe is used in 1870s, 1900s. Show a span of years as 1845-50, not 1845-1850.
In most books and journal articles, emphasis is added to words by italicising them. Foreign language words that are often used in English, but are not yet fully naturalised, are italicised. This does not apply to terms such as vis-a-vis, or laissez faire. If in doubt, check the Macquarie Dictionary.
Authors must acknowledge the sources of their information and ideas. Become familiar with the conventions for documenting intellectual debts, or you run the risk of being accused of plagiarism. This is easily avoided if you provide references in your work. References enable your readers to know the source of your information, so they can judge whether or not to accept the claims. They also allow readers to follow up any interesting notions that they read about in your essay. Also, the person marking your essay will easily be able to judge whether you have read and understood the relevant references and whether or not you are up to date on the current thinking on the topic you are writing about. Remember that citations and bibliography are not optional luxuries but help the reader gauge the extent of your investigations and are important scholarly conventions.
There are several major methods of referencing, but the School has adopted the Harvard style for all written work. It is important to note that even within the Harvard style of referencing, there are considerable variations in practice. The School of Social and Political Sciences is home to a number of social science disciplines, each of which traditionally has preferences within the Harvard style, based upon the policies of discipline associations or the leading journals in the field. This can be difficult for students to negotiate. The School therefore permits some discretion in the formatting of references, as described below. There are two main components to referencing: in-text citation, and the formatting of the reference list or bibliography. The preferred means of citing works in-text is relatively straightforward, and is described next. The reference list or bibliography is more complicated,
For more detailed advice about the Harvard style, please see:
The standard reference for Australian formal writing style is: Snooks and Co. (rev.) 2002, Style manual for authors, editors and printers, 6th edn, John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd., Milton.
The basic citation in the Harvard style (or author-date system) consists in placing the last name of an author and the year of publication of the work (followed where appropriate by the page numbers) as close as possible to the mention of the idea that you are discussing in the text. Usually this information comes at the end of the sentence, but these referencing brackets can occur at the end of a phrase or idea. No comma separates the author and year. Pages, chapters and so forth follow the date, preceded by a comma. It is unnecessary to use ‘p’, ‘pp’ or ‘page’ to indicate the page numbers. Within the Harvard system, terms such as ‘ibid’ are not used. To cite an entire book for a specific point is generally unacceptable.
When more than one study is cited, arrange the references in alphabetical order and use semicolons to separate them:
Use commas to separate two works by the same author. If works by the same author are also published in the same year, add lower case letters to the dates of publication and repeat these in the reference list:
If there are two or three authors cite all names each time. If there are four or more authors, ‘et al’ (meaning ‘and others’) should follow the first author’s name. If two or more authors have the same last name, the first initial should be used to distinguish between them:
Footnotes also have a role in the Harvard style, but they are not used for the purpose of citations. They can be used to expand on points in the text, or to provide information on citations of newspaper articles, interviews, and personal communications. But they should be used sparingly. The material in a lengthy, discursive footnote may better be placed in the body of the text, or left out altogether. Notes should be numbered consecutively and placed at the end of the essay (‘endnotes’) or at the bottom of the page (‘footnotes’). The correspondence note number in the text should be
written or typed as a superscript Thus. As with the footnote system, you can automatically insert a reference in Microsoft Word by clicking on Insert menu, then clicking on reference, then clicking on footnote. This way footnote numbers are automatically updated when you insert new ones, or delete others.
The reference list should appear at the end of the essay, and should contain all (and only) those works cited in-text. The bibliography appears either after the reference list or replaces the reference list and contains all works which were used in the preparation of the essay, even if some of these were not actually cited in the essay. Check with your tutors or subject coordinator to see whether a bibliography is required as well as or in replacement of a reference list. The means of citation are the same whether it is contained in a reference list or a bibliography. For convenience here, only the term ‘bibliography’ is used below.
The bibliography is compiled in alphabetical order. The information you provide should be as full as possible and includes:
- the surnames of authors, followed by their initial(s);
- the year of publication (either in brackets or not);
- an indication if the book is edited;
- the book’s title in italics;
- the city of publication;
- the name of the publisher;
- an indication of relevant volume if there are more than one.
Please note that some Harvard style variations juxtapose the city of publication and the name of the publisher; either is correct, but be consistent. Please note also that contemporary referencing practices have reduced the amount of punctuation contained in citations, but there remains some variation. The School prefers minimal punctuation, but the important thing once again is to be consistent. Examples are given below.
Journal Article Citations
The format for referring to journals and periodicals is as follows:
- author’s name and initials;
- article title in lower case;
- journal title in italics;
- volume number;
- page numbers.
Article titles can appear in inverted commas, and the issue number may also follow the volume number.
Chapter in an Edited Collection Citation
The format for referring to a chapter in an edited book is as follows:
- author’s name and initials;
- chapter title in lower case;
- the book’s title in italics;
- the city of publication;
- the name of the publisher;
- the page numbers of the chapter (optional).
The transfer of information electronically has increased as more and more information is added to the material available via the internet. Electronic sources may include information gathered from a World Wide Web site; telnet, FTP or gopher site; from newsgroups; and from listserv or e-mail messages. Students are urged to be especially discerning and critical in their use of the internet for research purposes. Websites, unlike most books and articles, have not undergone any process of scholarly evaluation and appraisal before publication. Some sites, for instance, those published by racist organisations, are of no academic value. While such sites could be perused as an object of research, they should not be treated as an aid to research.
Students often have difficulty in correctly citing electronic source material. The convention is that if the material has been published only as an electronic source, then you must cite the details of webpage. If however, the material is also published in hard copy form (such as journal or newspaper articles), then you must include the publishing details, NOT the webpage details. For example, you can download journal articles via a range of databases available through the library website. Most of these articles have been published in hard copy forms. As such, you cite the author, year of publication, article title, journal title, volume number, issue number and page numbers (as detailed above); NOT the URL of the journal database.
The use of URL (Uniform Resource Locator) addresses is preferred for most internet materials. It is important to use the convention of pointed brackets (< >) to enclose an electronic addresses, so it can easily be read. The following information is required for citing a website in a reference list, notes or bibliography:
- author (the person or organisation responsible for the site);
- site date (the date the site was created or last revised);
- name and place of the sponsor of the source;
- date of viewing the source;
To cite a document within a website, the following information is required:
The following information is required:
- author, editor or compiler;
- date of document (the date of creation or the date of the most recent revision);
- title of the document;
- version number (if applicable);
- description of document (if applicable);
- name of the sponsor of the source;
- date of viewing;
- URL (either the full location details if these are necessary to find the document or just the main website).
FINAL REFERENCING NOTE
It is important that you learn the appropriate way to reference your work as early as possible in your academic career. But you will be confronted with wide variations in the ‘right way’ to do so. You can solve most problems by adhering as closely as possible to the conventions that have been described above. But the most important things to keep in mind are that your referencing should be consistent, and should contain sufficient detail that the reader can readily find the sources you have drawn upon for your essay.
7. ENDNOTE SOFTWARE
EndNote is a software package that assists in the management of a bibliography. EndNote can be used on PC and Macintosh computers and has been released in a number of versions. The main functions of EndNote are:
1 Storing and managing references in files called libraries. References often describe documents like journal articles, books, conference papers, theses, etc. You might also keep libraries of your CD collection, wine collection, recipes, etc.
2 Importing references into your library from many remote journal databases and library catalogues.
3 Formatting references and bibliographies in the citation style of your choice, in conjunction with MS Word.
Once these details are included in EndNote, you are then able to insert that reference as a citation in your essay. And, once you have completed your essay, you need only to press the button titled ‘Format Bibliography’, and the program will correctly format your bibliography automatically.
While EndNote is not easy to use initially, using it for all essays will ensure that your skills will develop, and that you have a consolidated list of all materials you have read for essays or tutorial readings.
EndNote also has a field where you can type in any notes about the reference, which can be searched at a later stage for other essays.
The University of Melbourne has a comprehensive site license for EndNote, and as such, you can either download the program from the library website or borrow the discs from the Information Desk at the library. The library also co-ordinates a range of training workshops on how to use Endnote, and information/FAQ sheets are available from the website. The software and information sheets can be found at http://www.lib.unimelb.edu.au/endnote/.
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You can get further information about how to write and correctly reference your essays from https://airport.unimelb.edu.au/