Category: General Writing Tips

Introductions and conclusions – the finishing touches of your essay

The introduction is your first opportunity to hook your reader. It’s where you establish your voice, your style, your view. 

An introduction that merely sums up the essay in advance will do very little to make any assessor want to read on. You want to engage them from the beginning and suggest to them that you’ve got an interpretation that is unique, interesting, and worth reading.

The conclusion is where you get to consider what ideas and issues your essay has resolved. It looks back to the intro, considers the discussion throughout the body paragraphs, and comes to a conclusion on the topic being addressed. It’s your opportunity it to leave your readers with a new understanding about the topic and the text. 

I find that looking at the function of these two bookend paragraphs helps to understand what you could include in them. It’s important to remember that they are two separate paragraphs that have two distinctly different functions. So let’s have a look at what these are.
The introduction

This opening paragraph establishes what your interpretation is and conveys what you will be exploring in the body of your essay. In essence, it is setting up what you hope to discover about the topic. It also:

  • contextualises the text by showing an an awareness of the world in which the text was created.
  • conveys a sense of what the text/director is trying to achieve.

Here is an example of an opening of an I ntro for the voyeurism topic:

When Hitchcock released his film ‘Rear Window’ in 1954, America was still reeling from the government’s investigation into communist activities that left many in Hollywood blacklisted and unable to work. The film’s focus on the ethics of voyeurism directly relates to the concerns of a nation who had discovered that one’s private life could very easily become public, and in such a way as to provide entertainment for millions around the nation by being widely televised. There is little doubt that the film presents voyeurism as both entertaining and dangerous, but whether one should be condemned and the other celebrated is up for question.”

The conclusion 

On the other hand, the conclusion finishes your essay by stating what you have discovered across the three paragraphs. It can’t just be a rehash of the intro, because the intervening three paragraphs have explored many ideas and issues. It doesn’t simply sum it up – the assessor doesn’t need you to tell him or her way they have just read. Instead, it reinforces your findings and concludes what your interpretation has lead you to realise. It can be useful to consider these things:

  • Where to from here? What lasting relevance does the film, in relation to what you’ve explored, leave behind.
  • What enduring message does Hitchcock leave us with?

Here is an example of a conclusion:

“There is little doubt that Hitchcock presents voyeurism as innocent fun while at the same time revealing its potential to be life-threatening. AT the time, the fear of the American way of life disappearing seemed all the justification needed to look into the private lives of others, and with the growing love of television (of watching others through a box-like window) the blurring of private and public was quickly disappearing. In the intervening 60 years, our love of looking in to the private lives of others has not diminished; in fact, with the advent of ‘reality TV’ it has drastically increased. And it’s all for entertainment. However, we perhaps shouldn’t forget that our love of looking can come with sinister consequences, highlighted by the outcomes that faced the characters in ‘Rear Window’. Hitchcock warns that we must be prepared to accept the consequences of destroying the line between public and private spaces. We must be prepared to lose our metaphorical freedoms, reflected by Jeff’s physical loss of freedom, if we insist on intruding into the lives of others. By Hitchcock remaining ambivalent about whether we should celebrate or condemn voyeurism, he is warning his audience of the difficulty of identifying it as being either purely entertaining or dangerous. It’s both.”


The importance of transition words and phrases

I’ve often suggested that the use of transition phrases will make your essays more fluent, and lessen the jarring effect created by simply switching from one idea to the next.

The following statement, from Smart Words (and you have to love any website that has a page titled “How to write good”!), highlights the ability of these words to enhance your essays:

“English transition words are essential, since they not only connect ideas, but also can introduce a certain shift,  contrast or opposition, emphasis or agreement, purpose, result or conclusion, etc. in the line of argument.”

I encourage you to print out this PDF ready-reckoner of transition words and phrases, and take some time over the next few days to learn at least one or two from each category: transition-words-phrases

Essay writing tips for ‘On the Waterfront’

Whenever you approach an essay topic you need to work out how you can answer it and show that you’ve got an individual interpretation of the film. So, what does this actually mean? Can you answer this question: what is the film On the Waterfront about? Standing up for one’s rights? Making good in an environment that offers no hope? Little guy against big guy? Good versus evil? Loyalty? Looking after oneself in order to survive? Ultimately, you can only answer this question if you know the film, and if you are willing to think about the message(s) it’s trying to convey.

Next, have you done any extra reading to help establish what the film might be trying to do/achieve? On one of the page tabs above I have a list of extra reading (not that I ever expected you to read it all – but some might help). Here is the link:

Third, keep in mind that you’re writing about a film. You can’t just write about characters and themes and events and actions. You must write about how the film is constructed – you must show that you understand how the characters, themes, events, and actions are constructed by the director and why. In this way, analysing a film can be like analysing an opinion piece for the Language Analysis essay. It can be useful to remember the What, How, Why? of language analysis when writing about On the Waterfront. What does Kazan do? How does he do it? And why does he do it?

Fourth, practise taking apart essay topics – really consider the ins and outs of what you’re being asked to write about. And above all else, have something to say. Not what you think we want you say, but what you truly believe about the topic and the film. If you feel you can’t do this, then I would suggest you don’t know the film well enough.

Quotes. Go through the script (here it is: and highlight key quotes. What are key quotes? Those that are good enough to be used over a number of different essay topics. They are generally about themes, characters, ideologies, symbols, etc. This means that in order to be able to pick out key quotes you need to establish what the themes, ideologies and symbols of the film are. I would aim to get a list of about 25-30 quotes. Yes, really.

And practise. I’ve been told that one Old Haileyburian wrote an essay a day in the lead up to the exam. That would certainly make a difference!

Past exam papers

As I’ve suggested to many of you, I think it’s a good time to start practising essays under timed conditions. Whenever you write an essay from now on, do it in an hour. Try to establish some timings and guidelines that suit you: for example, 5-10 minutes planning, intro in 10 minutes, paragraphs in 30 minutes, conclusion at about the 45-50 mark.

Here is a link to VCAA’s past exam papers. No excuses now!

And don’t forget that you need to practise all three types of essays – Context, Text, and Language Analysis. I’m happy to look at whatever you produce.

Writing Essays: A guide

What can be more fun (!) than writing three essays in three hours?

I’d like to think that the exhileration you feel after the trial exam is akin to jumping out of a plane with a parachute. You went in absolutely sure that you’d crash and burn, but ultimately your skills and knowledge kicked in and you floated easily through the ordeal.

But I know  it’s not that easy. I keep trying to think of ways to make essay writing seem like a breeze, so that you can enjoy the ride rather than panic that you simply don’t know what to do.

So, I troll the web trying to find anything that will shed light on these essay thingamajigs that you’ve got to write.

Essay writing guide

This is an interesting guide that leads you through a number of steps in the essay writing process. It has both “good” and “could-be-better” examples. Some of the examples, for instance the introductions about the plays, are great.

Writing essays under pressure

As much as I like to say there is, there is no quick fix for learning how to write essays in an hour. You have to practise. You have to know the content. You have to be confident in your ability to use precise language and dynamic expression. I’ve been scouring the internet for some tips of how to approach writing essays in an hour. As you can imagine there is a plethora of information out there – but who wants to be sorting through it all? I’ll try to keep posting any that I feel will be useful.

Have a look at this article: Essay Exams

It covers a lot of information and has some pearls of wisdom. I like the section towards the end about physiological preparation. What strikes me most about this article is that it’s not saying anything your teachers haven’t been saying for years.

Hope it helps.