From casual conversation with my friends and from working with students in the writing center, it seems to me that most student writers at some point experience critical feedback about the structure of their essays. In my case it came early in my part-time study of art history in the form of a tetchy, “this is not how we write essays in the arts.” Ouch! Still, I learned one thing from this, namely that hard-working tutors appreciate close attention to structure. At the very least, even only as a courtesy to your reader, assignments should have a clear beginning, middle and end (aka introduction, main body and conclusion). This was pithily summed up for me once as, “tell your reader what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them you’ve said it.”
The WriteNow/Assessment Plus criteria reinforce my experience, citing structuring as an evaluative point. Specifically, “The formal arrangement of the essay content into paragraphs. Good essays have clearly recognisable introductory and concluding paragraphs. Paragraphs in the main body of the essay: each has a clear, single concept or point as its main focus. Better essays have a paragraph structure that supports the development of ideas within the essay, so that the structure of the essay is linked to the developing argument.”
So, moving into more sophisticated terrain than intro, body and conclusion, if best practice is to link essay structure to argument then it is clearly very important to get one’s argument straight at an early stage. This is what I’m trying to do on the wiki at the moment. I’m attempting to write out all of the ideas I’ve been having so that I am absolutely crystal clear about the case I am about to make to my reader. Broadly, this can be summed up as, “We’re given the impression that Freud’s theory of personality is unscientific, irrelevant and ridiculous. This is a bit unfair. I will show you why.”
What you see on the wiki is my attempt to clarify each individual argumentative step on the journey towards this unifying thought. My marker will be a psychology lecturer, probably at least a bit sceptical of Freud, so I need to craft something which will appeal to such a person. So far, my writing seems to be coming out in paragraphs which make successive points in approximately the right order. This is because I know already where I want to end up. I want to take my reader where I’ve been before, show them a condensed, cleaned-up version of my own thought process. It is also because I view academic essay writing as being closely related to storytelling, which in turn seems to be a very appealing form of communication. We tell each other little stories all the time. They always have a beginning, middle and end, and, when they’re told well, we’re always keen to know how things will turn out. Yep, that’s it in a nutshell. I want to give my reader, who may already have marked fifty essays before they get to mine, the gift of a well-told tale.