Essay writing is one of the most common forms of scholarly communication. In the course of studying ‘media and communication’ the student learns various modes of communication applicable to various media. However, as with all scholarly activity, he/she will be expected, more often than not, to express himself/herself in the essay format, and thereby follow the usual scholarly standards and criteria. As a rule, the media student is expected to produce high standard media essays and writing skills.
The starting point to a good essay is finding a focus. If the subject matter is engaging to start off with, then the focus is already there, but it is still necessary to settle on a thesis. To start writing an essay without a thesis is to squander the focus, because the mind begins to wander in various directions, and so does the essay. A thesis comes from having thought the matter through, considered the various opinions, analysed the concrete findings, and then having settled on a position regarding the whole matter. The thesis is what the entire piece will revolve around. The introduction will contain the statement of the thesis, the body will then subject the thesis to various objections, or add to it various support, while the conclusion will restate the thesis in light of the foregone analysis.
Needless to say, a certain amount of research is required before one can take a position on the matter. It doesn’t always need to be extensive or thorough. If we study a handful of view strategically chosen from a spectrum of opinions, it is enough to come to a native point of view. It is important to take notes, and frequently review them. The notes represent the grasp on the subject matter, and from which the thesis springs.
It is not always possible to arrive at a clear-cut thesis. Sometimes the subject matter is not very engaging, and the research and note taking has been done in a routine manner, only to meet exam requirements. In this case one can still take a position on the matter, even though one is not sure how to use the supporting material to arrive at it. The bad approach here is catalogue all the supporting material in a haphazard manner, and tying it all up with a strong statement of the thesis in the conclusion. It is better to rummage through the notes to find a more logical order of presentation. This would involve grouping items by relevancy, and finding a narrative progression among it all. It is not a good idea to try to include everything. A few points well considered is enough.
A certain structure is expected of a scholarly essay, and the most basic structural requirement is for an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. And it has also been described now all three parts revolve around the thesis. This is not as limiting as it seems at first sight, and there is much creative scope in how the body is presented. The sloppiest use would be to cram all the notes in the body, with bland statements of the thesis at the beginning and end. But being too systematic is also likely to produce boring essays, for example, the listing three points in favour, followed by three more against. How the thesis is presented in the introduction is important in this regard. It is a tentative statement that requires support, so the body naturally picks up on the loose ends, and gradually works its way through the analysis.
The content and the structure having been accounted for, one must next concentrate on the nuts and bolts of the composition. The first rule here it to avoid waffling and padding. This occurs when one does not have enough ideas to fill in the required number of pages, and therefore tries to say in 50 words what can be said in 10. In fact, superfluous words can easily crop up when not on guard, and these words take the edge of writing. It helps to be a merciless editor in the revision process, and to try to make the writing as tight as possible.
The flow from sentence to sentence is also important, as is the flow from paragraph to paragraph. One must therefore make good use of the connectives. The flow becomes most apparent in the revision, and one must be prepared to add the right connectives at this stage. It is not always straightforward, and sometimes sentence structures must be drastically altered, and even sentence sequences may have to be rearranged. Sometimes it is the repetition of words that hampers the flow, and here one must dig into the thesaurus to add variety.
A scholarly article is expected to contain direct quotes of respectable sources, or the paraphrasing of their words. But they must only appear in the context of the analysis, and the analysis itself must take precedence. Too often the quote becomes an excuse to avoid analysis, where the words of respectable sources are supposed to carry enough weight to support the argument. It may indeed support the argument, but one must not count on the weight of its authority alone. The quote itself must be sufficiently analysed to justify its inclusion. When paraphrasing it must be made explicit as to whom or what the source is. If this is not made clear then the ideas can be construed to be of the writer, and this amounts to plagiarism, a serious offence.
It cannot be stressed strongly enough that plagiarism is indeed a serious scholarly offence. The scholar is granted complete freedom as to what he can think or express, but this is on the condition that he respects the ownership of ideas and statements. If an idea or utterance is used it is the responsibility of the writer to name the source. Usually the source can be located to a book, journal, magazine, or some audio/visual source, and one uses one of the standard citation styles to make proper note of this source in the essay.
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