Better and Better Essays (#1)

There are two situations in your Language and Literature courses where you are asked to deliver your ideas in essays: one kind of essay will let you plan, revise and present your work.  The other essay will be written under timed examination conditions. And, during your two years, you will, of course, be writing both kinds of essays.  Actually, writing a good essay is something all of us who care about writing work to master throughout our lives.  So now’s a good time to put still more energy into discovering useful strategies, for getting, even inch by inch, better and more confident about your writing.

I’ve asked a former IB student, with an education and background in writing, to help us out with some ideas from her perspective. She writes to earn a living as a medical journalist, and I think she has some helpful ideas that we can use to produce better and better essays. Her work in the IB Literature program evolved through the two years and led to an outstanding performance in the initial writing test as she entered university.

Her first reaction when I asked ‘what are some of the weaknesses in writing that we all could work to cure?’  was one-word: ‘Structure.’  And she came up with two helpful metaphors: ‘Bones’ and ‘Sculpture.’

First, ‘Bones.’ Amy observed that so many essays are given intense attention in the first one or two paragraphs but tend to deteriorate fairly soon after. So, think ahead. You have – we hope – a line of argument to deliver as in your Written Assignment or in your Paper 2 comparative essay. You need to think about the skeleton of your essay, its Bones.  You need to create a structure.

So, plan your sections: what are you going to put in each of the (likely) 3–5 sections, that is, what is your first point, your second, and so on? What details taken from the text are going to support that point?

Next, as a check, invent labels for each section. Later, you can erase these labels and replace them with transitional devices such as ‘along with…’or ‘in addition (or in contrast) to…’

Finally, write a first draft for no audience but yourself…relax and get your ideas expressed. No editing at this point – just pouring out your ideas as they are structured by the Bones of your essay.

Next time: where do we go from here?  #2

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