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Essay Writing

Understanding what the essay question means and what it is asking you to do are important steps in the essay writing process. Making an error here will mean your essay will probably fail to meet your marker's expectations, so a careful analysis of the question is necessary.

Essay questions are often multi-dimensional and can include a range of elements: they can contain a statement of fact to orientate the student to the topic, a question (or several questions), instructions to the student, and guidelines as to the scope of the essay (Webb 1991). For example:

Example Essay Question (Philosophy)
JS Mill argued that capital punishment can sometimes be justified on utilitarian grounds. Jonathon Glover argues that utilitarian considerations do not justify capital punishment. Orientation to topic
Carefully state the essential elements of both arguments, highlighting the relevant points of similarity and difference between them Instructions
bullet Discuss both sides of this debate
bullet Compare and contrast the arguments
Can utilitarian considerations justify capital punishment in your view? Why/why not? Questions
bullet Agree? State your case.
bullet Partly agree? State your case.
bullet Disagree? State your case.

Example Essay Question (Education)
The age-old nature-nurture controversy about the underlying causes of the course of human development continues today, with some theorists attributing the course of development to genetic influences while others believe that the complex forces of the environment are responsible. Orientation to topic
Discuss the evidence for each of these positions and indicate how this debate might influence your work as an educator. Instruction & Question
bullet Discuss topic
bullet Draw out the implications of the debate
bullet Apply implications to your field

From these above examples you can see that it is important that you analyse the various elements within the essay question and not just the 'question(s)' within the overall essay question.

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Introduction Analysis of Questions The Research Process The Essay Writing Process Summary