Ask the Doctor: making your work stand out

Hi there, this week we’re going to look at how to make your work stand out by the addition of a few simple steps which I have learned from experience will make your essay different from the rest and gain you the gloss that you need to be considered amongst the elite. So, read on

Cheering studentGood Openings: Why they matter

A professional writer will tell you that the first sentence that you write can “sell’ the whole piece or kill it stone dead. That is because the vast majority of readers decide whether or not to continue within the first minute.

Amazing that, isn’t it? But think about it: when you’re browsing a book or magazine you decide very quickly whether it’s interesting to you so trust your own instincts and make sure your work grabs and holds the reader’s attention.

Here are some tips for a good opening:

  • Keep it short. Nothing is more off-putting than a long, drawn out opening.
  • Get to the point. You can follow Kipling’s rule here (he was a journalist so he should know):
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.’
  • Look at Kipling’s key words, here: what, why, when, how, where, who.
  • Each of these should be addressed in your first paragraph so your reader has the bones of your writing before you flesh it out.

Student writing an essayMake It Special, Make it Different

Not easy, this one, as most essays ask you to write about familiar topics so being “special’ and “different’ has to come from the way you approach the topic. Start by thinking about the key words that are used in the essay question. These should always be the first thing you look at anyway because they inform and frame your essay.

So, if you are asked to “compare and contrast’ you will be taking a different approach from if you were asked to “examine’ or “discuss’. These are the basics, though, and I want you to look beyond that. We’re not trying to get you an average grade, here – we’re “going for gold’!

Therefore, you need to look at different ways in which you can interpret these key words to make your work both special and different.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Think of the different ways you can compare and contrast, for example: look at the meanings of the words and ask yourself how you can apply them differently.
  • For instance, you can compare based on text, character, facts, structure – or a combination of them all.
  • Consider how the key words will function in your essay. Think about how they will link and how you can build on them.
  • Think about your personal perspective and ask yourself how this can be built into the essay; don’t be afraid to let your reader know what you think but at the same time, let them know you know what others think, too!

Student writing an essayKeeping Your Reader’s Attention

Once you’ve got your reader’s attention, hold it by never letting the topic flag:

  • Keep sentences short and to the point.
  • Embed your quotes so you are analysing whilst giving support to your argument.
  • Make every sentence and paragraph count: each one should have punch and drive whilst simultaneously building the argument.
  • Make sure your paragraphs link: end each paragraph with a hook into the next which you then pick up. This makes your argument structured and cohesive whilst at the same time keeping your reader interested.

Closing with Confidence

Many essays fall down because they have a weak ending. A conclusion should not just say “this is what I did’ it should say what you didn’t do, why, how you could do this in the future. Ending in this way lets your reader know that you’ve got more to say on the topic and that you’re not just happy to get it finished!

A Final Thought

Think about the fact that your tutor will be marking literally hundreds of essays on similar topics to yours: they are tired and fed up and possibly bored with the same old facts being churned out.

If you were that tutor, wouldn’t you give a student who tried that bit harder by following the tips above a better grade? So will they!

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