Writing a Literature Essay – The Basics
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Writing a Literature Essay – The Basics GCSE, A Level, Intermediate, Higher, Advanced Higher Understanding the Question In order to answer an essay task correctly, you need to understand the question and make sure that you know precisely what it is asking you to do. Look at the example below: Choose a poem which either communicates very strong feelings or creates a mood of reflection. By close analysis of the language of the poem show how this has been achieved. In your answer you must refer closely to the text and to at least two of: tone, theme, structure, rhyme and rhythm or any other appropriate feature. There are three parts to the question: The first part of the question shows that your essay needs to focus on a poem which communicates strong feelings or creates a mood of reflection. If you know a poem well which fits into this idea, you know you can tackle the question. The second part of the question is the most important: it explains exactly what you need to do. In this case, you need to closely analyse the language to show how the mood or strong feelings have been created. The third part of the question instructs you to refer closely to the text and the writer’s techniques. You need to refer to specific examples from the text and be aware of the different techniques being employed by the poet. Planning Sometimes it is tempting to get straight into writing your essay, particularly when you are against the clock in an exam. However, you are more likely to produce a good essay if you take a bit of time to plan properly. After you have broken down the question and worked out exactly what you have to do, start brainstorming relevant ideas from the text that you might cover. From there, try to work out your main points: there is likely to be between 3 and 6 of these. For each one, decide on the quotation you will use to help explain the point and, ideally, jot down your topic sentence. Then, decide on a logical order to deal with your points: think about how they will link to form a coherent line of thought throughout the essay. Topic Sentences and Linkage You need to have lots of ideas to help you to answer the task and these ideas must be linked together effectively. Always remember what you are trying to do – deal with the task you have set for yourself. • Each paragraph you write must start with a topic sentence: a sentence which introduces what you will deal with in that paragraph and that makes some reference back to the task as well as linking your ideas. These keep the structure of your work more organised and keep you more focused on answering the task. • You should try to link ideas that follow on from each other naturally. Again, you should have decided which ideas can be linked together most appropriately in your plan. Writing a Literature Essay – The Basics GCSE, A Level, Intermediate, Higher, Advanced Higher • The best way to link ideas is by using various linking words and phrases – you should be very familiar with these already. Here are a few examples: Another example . . ., Furthermore. . ., In addition to this . . ., As well as this . . ., Similarly . . ., On the other hand . . ., It can also be argued that . . ., However . . ., As well as this . . . etc. Do not just pick these at random! Think carefully about which ones will be best for each of your paragraphs. • Remember – the best way to check that you are linking your ideas effectively is to read over only your topic sentences when you finish writing your essay. If you can follow your line of thought and the nature of your task is clear – great! If not, rethink your topic sentences! Using the “Statement, Evidence, Analysis” Framework • After you have written your topic sentence for an idea you want to put forward, explain your point clearly (Statement). • Then, back up your idea with a direct quotation from the text (Evidence). • After that, make a comment about how the quotation helps to back up your personal idea (Analysis). Look at this example – it deals with a simple point that might be made for the example question above, referring to Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Valentine”: Carol Ann Duffy continues to communicate strong feelings of love throughout the poem by her use of simple, direct statements. These statements and Statement commands, which can be seen as unusual in the context of a love poem, Topic show that the speaker is almost challenging the person she is talking to, Sentence keeping the emotion controlled yet strongly connected with love: “I give you an onion.” “Take it.” Evidence Duffy’s use of the first person narrative helps to communicate strong feelings to the reader, as the reader can imagine a real person speaking and offering the gift of love – of an onion – to a lover. The short, direct statements show the speaker’s insistence, indicating that she is desperate for the lover to accept the gift and understand the appropriate nature of it. The short Analysis command of “Take it” again challenges the lover and shows the insistent nature of the speaker’s emotions. This allows the reader to feel the genuinely strong emotion throughout the poem. Remember –your analysis of the quotation should focus directly on the language / techniques used in the quotation and should always be focused clearly on your task. You should use the “Statement, Evidence, Analysis” framework throughout the whole of your essay. Introducing and Using Quotations Effectively • Quotations should be used to back up what you think. They should support your ideas. Your writing is not there simply to connect quotations! • Always comment on the quotations you use fully, saying exactly how they back up the point you have put forward. You should refer to the language / techniques used in them. • Make sure that you are using suitable quotations – ask yourself whether they fully refer to the point you are making in your statement. Writing a Literature Essay – The Basics GCSE, A Level, Intermediate, Higher, Advanced Higher • You don’t need to have very long quotations – choose ones that accurately refer to the point that you want to make succinctly. • Always set your quotations out correctly – separate from the main body of the text (on a new line and, preferably, indented) and introduced by the use of a colon or, where appropriate, a comma (see the example above). Sticking to the Task • Make sure that each point you decided to make in your plan will help you deal with your task and is fully relevant. • DO NOT give a “guided tour” of the poem. Of course you are going to make references to what the poem is about, but this is to help you answer the task, not to give your reader a step-by-step account of the poem. • You are not simply writing a textual review! You are dealing only with the task you have set yourself and your personal response to it. • Effective use of Topic Sentences and analysis should keep you clearly focused on the task you are answering. • Once you have written your essay, read it over imagining that you do not know what the task is. Can you clearly understand what the task is? If not, you may find that you have not stuck to the task properly. Showing Personal Response • Before you even start writing, think honestly about your opinions of the text and the aspects you want to consider – this should be done in your plan. • Don’t be reluctant to use phrases such as “I think”, “I feel”, “It seems to me”, “My personal opinion is” etc.