Constructing an Essay

Constructing an Essay

As far as the content of the essay is concerned, a few points are worth emphasizing. First, it is important that you adequately plan your essay. Second, you need to develop an argument or a thesis, which you then develop throughout your essay. It is not sufficient to describe what has happened, you need to think critically about the competing positions and arguments made by writers and attempt to develop your own position in response. This does not simply mean giving your opinion, but constructing an argument based upon empirical evidence and the continuing debates with which you become familiar through research.
Make sure that:
• your material is focused and directly addresses the essay question/topic
• the essay includes a clear introduction and conclusion
• your argument is explicitly stated in the introduction, and systematically developed and substantiated throughout the discussion; simply repeating an assertion does not make it an argument
• your paper is not a set of notes but a coherent justification of a position
• referencing is comprehensive and accurate – inadequate referencing may be construed as plagiarism – it is your responsibility to know what does/doesn’t constitute plagiarism
The most important phrase you should have in your head when researching and writing essays is:
answer the question with an argument
The Introduction
You should try to catch the reader’s attention with an interesting introduction. You should start with a bold statement of your argument or with a statement of why the issue is important (and then state your argument). In other words, your introduction must state your argument. You should also be direct in your language.
For example, in addressing the question: “What is the impact of globalisation on Australian politics?”, you could begin with a sentence such as: “Globalisation has provided both constraints on and opportunities for Australian policy-makers …” If you want to contextualise the issue at hand before making a statement that addresses the question you could write something like: “Globalisation is a buzz-word that is often used as an explanation, rather than as something that needs to be explained…” OR “If every era has a defining concept then ours is surely globalisation….” Contextualising can involve one or several sentences.
More advanced students may want to place their essay within the wider literature on a particular topic. For example: “Writers such as Reich (1992), Ohmae (1995), Strange (1996), Cerny (1996), Greider (1997) and Friedman (1999) argue that the past no longer provides meaningful cues for the future as we confront the demise of the nation-state, geography, work, history, certainty and much else. . .”
The introduction should also set out your main points – once again, the issues should be talked about directly, rather than indirectly. Avoid statements such as: “This essay will consider the different views on the subject of globalisation. It will then consider the impact of globalisation on Australian politics.” These kinds of statements do not actually say anything at all. Instead, write something direct (I often feel compelled to write “just do it” or “get to the point” in introductions). An introduction is not the time to be vague or wishy-washy.
The major point here is that the introduction is obviously the first thing the marker reads. An interesting introduction will set a positive note for the rest of the essay. Remember that the person marking your essays is usually marking a substantial number and writing style can help to set your essay apart from the pack. Style and grammar are important so you need to spend time getting these things right. A clear introduction will also provide a focus for the rest of the essay.

The Conclusion
The conclusion is equally important for obvious reasons. Just as the introduction is the first thing the marker reads, the conclusion is the final factor in determining your mark. (There is, however, no truth to the myth that markers only read introductions and conclusions!!) It differs from the introduction because you have now presented your case and are summing up the reasons why your argument is sound. Avoid simply repeating the phrasing of your introduction. Also avoid statements like: “In this essay I have argued…”. Generally, it is best to finalise both your introduction and conclusion at the end of the essay-writing process.
Do not introduce new material in the conclusion, but you may want to speculate about the future and the wider implications of your research/argument to make it more interesting.
The final stages of the essay writing process – tightening your introduction and conclusion, reorganizing the paragraphs to make your points flow and editing for clarity and expression – may make the difference between a distinction and a high distinction, a credit and a distinction and so on. It is always worthwhile spending a significant amount of time drafting and re-drafting the essay. Remember that the written word is the only basis upon which a marker can assess your work. Markers can only infer what you know and assess how much work you have done through the words you write. They cannot tell what you really meant when your sentences do not make sense or are vague and they cannot tell how much research you did when you did not have time to include all the references you would have liked, and so on. It is always a pity when someone has obviously spent a lot of time researching a topic but not enough time honing their argument and making their writing clear and to the point.
For general information on writing, see the excellent resources provided by Purdue University and its Owl Online Writing Lab (available at: http://owl.english.
See also George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” (available at
Griffith University provides assistance through Learning Assistance Services. Information about this service can be obtained by phoning 3735 6452 or 3735 6437 or on the web at .

Referencing is something that causes students much grief in the early years of their studies. It really isn’t that difficult once you get the hang of it. Part of the problem is that there are several different styles of referencing with many little variations within styles. Some courses will make you use a particular style of referencing but in this course you may use whatever form of referencing you like as long as it is a proper, recognised style.
The most important thing to remember is to be consistent. Once you choose a particular style stick to it throughout your essay.
Err on the side of caution if you are not sure whether you should reference something. Over-referencing is not a problem, but plenty of students have been caught for plagiarism for under-referencing.
The articles and books that you read provide the best examples of referencing – look at their footnotes and bibliographies. In addition, many journals provide style guides for prospective authors if you want an example of how to be consistent (also see below).
You must remember to put in the page numbers for the quotes, ideas, arguments, etc. that you are referencing.
The only exceptions are when you are referring to the argument of the book, article etc. as a whole and in some Internet sources where there are no page numbers listed.
If you do not put in page numbers where they are required, your tutor may ask you to resubmit.
You should consult with your tutor if you are unsure about anything to do with essay writing.
Internet Publications
You must properly reference Internet citations by providing an author (whether a person or institution, title of article or piece of information, web address and, if the subject matter does not have a date, date accessed (in brackets at the end).
If you cannot find an author, whether a person, people or organisation, do not use it as a reference!
Journal articles obtained from full text databases do not need to have this information if they are published in hard copy form as well. If you are unsure about this, put the web address at the end of the reference. Once again, err on the side of caution; better to provide too much detail than not enough.
In-Text Referencing (Harvard)
The two major styles of referencing are in-text referencing and footnote or endnote referencing.
For in-text referencing the form should be (Author YEAR: page no.), e.g. (Smith 2001: 23). You can also omit repeating the name when you use the name in the sentence, e.g. “Smith (2001: 23) argues that referencing can be a major cause of stress for first year students.”
You then record full details in a reference list at the end of the essay (see below under the sub-title Bibliographies/Reference lists).
Internet sources follow the same rules, i.e. (author/institution YEAR: page no.(s)), e.g. (World Trade Organisation 2000: 23).
You should write the full reference in the bibliography/reference list as follows: World Trade Organisation (2000) Press Release: Developing Countries’ Merchandise Exports in 1999 Expanded by 8.5 %, Press/175, 6 April Accessed 15 August 2008.
This really is the easiest system to use but I prefer footnote referencing because it provides the full details at the bottom of the page – so you do not have to go to the end of the article/chapter/book to look at the reference list.
Footnote or Endnote Referencing
For footnote or endnote referencing, you place the details of the quote, ideas, argument, etc. at the bottom of the page or at the end of the essay; a superscript number indicates this in the text. All word processing programmes do footnotes and endnotes automatically.
The first entry should contain full details, e.g.:
Journal articles: T. Conley (2000) “Defining and Understanding Globalisation”, Policy, Organisation and Society, 19(1), p. 87.
(N.B. the name of the article is in quotation marks (“ ”) and the journal title is in italics; no need to write the place of publication and the publisher for journal articles)
Books: D. McDougall (1997) The International Politics of the New Asia Pacific, Boulder, Lynne Rienner, pp. 32-9.
(N.B. you must write the place of publication and the publisher. When you are writing your bibliographies for your essays, you do not need to write what chapter you have read unless it is an edited volume like the Wade reference below)
Edited volumes: R. Wade (1996) “Globalization and Its Limits: Reports of the Death of the National Economy are Greatly Exaggerated” in S. Berger and R. Dore (eds), National Diversity and Global Capitalism, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press.
(N.B. the chapter title is in inverted commas and the title of the edited book is in italics)
Internet Publications: World Trade Organisation (2000) Press Release: Developing Countries’ Merchandise Exports in 1999 Expanded by 8.5 %, Press/175, 6 April Accessed 15 August 2008.
(N.B. You only need to put the date accessed if the document or information source is one that can change over time. If, like this example, it is a document with a clear publication date that has been simply accessed via the web, then you do not need to put the date it was accessed)
Any student who presents an essay that has relied exclusively on web-based materials (i.e. web-based reports on the issue they have researched) will be penalised. Markers will expect you to show evidence of having also undertaken research via traditional academic sources, i.e., books and journals, and to have consulted media reports more widely.
References from the Course Reader: You must not reference the reader as an edited volume. You need to reference the various excerpts and articles in the reader in their original form.
Repeated Citations: If you refer to the same article in the next footnote, you can use the word ‘ibid.’ If the reference is contained on the same page, you don’t need to write the page number again, but if it is a different page then you do. If you refer to the author again later in your essay, the best form of referencing is to repeat the author without the initial and a short version of the title (exclude anything that appears after a semi-colon, i.e. the subtitle).
For example:
1 T. Conley, (2000) “Defining and Understanding Globalisation”, Policy, Organisation and Society, 19(1), p. 87.
(N.B you do not need to put initials or first names after the surname except in the bibliography or reference list and only for the first named author. See the references contained within this guide for examples.)
2 ibid., p.88.
3 R. Wade (1996) “Globalization and Its Limits: Reports of the Death of the National Economy are Greatly Exaggerated” in S. Berger and R. Dore (eds), National Diversity and Global Capitalism, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, pp. 29-30.
4 Conley, “Defining and Understanding Globalisation”, p. 90.
5 Wade, “Globalization and Its Limits”, p. 31.
6 ibid.
‘p.’ is for just one page – if you are referring to 2 or more pages you use ‘pp.’
Some people use ‘ ’ rather than “ ” for article and chapter titles. Once again, what matters is consistency.
If you use “ ” (double quote marks) for quotes then you should use ‘ ’ (single quote marks) for irony or emphasis (so-called ‘scare quotes’). Or vice versa.
You need to make sure that quotations fit the grammar of the sentence, especially tenses.
For example:
Conley (2002: 11) argues that “students often misunderstand the basic conventions of referencing because no one bothers to correct their mistakes”.
You can change the grammar slightly within the quote by making changes within square brackets [ ].
Longer quotes (i.e. more than three lines) should be indented on both sides (you may also want to use a slightly smaller font). Indented quotes do not require quotation marks.
For example:
[O]ne of the most harmful habits in contemporary thought, in modern thought even . . . [is] the analysis of the present as being precisely, in history, a present of rupture, or of high point, or of completion, or of a returning dawn . . . I think we should have the modesty to say to ourselves that, on the one hand, the time we live in is not the unique or fundamental or irruptive point in history where everything is completed and begun again. We must also have the modesty to say, on the other hand, that . . . the time we live in is very interesting; it needs to be analysed and broken down, and that we would do well to ask ourselves, “What is the nature of our present?” . . . With the proviso that we do not allow ourselves the facile, rather theatrical declaration that this moment in which we exist is one of total perdition, in the abyss of darkness, or a triumphant daybreak, etc. It is a time like any other, or rather, a time which is never quite like any other (Michel Foucault cited in Smart 1992: 6).
This quotation has also excluded some words and altered some grammar so that it makes sense to read as it appears. If you omit words then you should indicate this with an ellipsis (. . .) You do not need an ellipsis to start the quote and if the quote stands alone (i.e. it is not part of a sentence) you should start it with a capital letter. In the above example, the ‘o’ is written ‘[O]’ because in the original it was not the start of the sentence and hence not capitalised. The same applies in the opposite case.

Bibliographies/Reference Lists
In your bibliography or reference list, a couple of things need to be noted.
You should indent the second and subsequent lines of the reference to make the author stand out.
For example:
Wade, R. (1996) “Globalization and Its Limits: Reports of the Death of the National Economy are Greatly Exaggerated” in S. Berger and R. Dore (eds), National Diversity and Global Capitalism, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press.
You should order the entries alphabetically – do not number or dot point the references!
Once again, the entries should be consistent and should appear in the reference list/bibliography in the form presented above for the footnote/endnote referencing system (except that the first author should be written with the surname first). Once again, see the many examples in this guide.
Do not reference sources that you have not read in their original form; always reference truthfully. In other words, do not pretend to have read something that you haven’t (it’s usually fairly obvious to the people marking your work). For example, if you read a book by Yahuda, which cites or quotes Gaddis, you should not reference Gaddis, rather you should write: “Gaddis (cited in Yahuda 1996: 34) argues that. . .”. (See also the above indented quotation).
Do NOT list articles/books etc that you do not reference in the essay!
I know that at this point (if you have bothered to read this far) you are throwing your hands in the air in frustration at all the little intricacies (and believe me there are many more) but once you have learnt these few rules your writing will appear more sophisticated. Poor referencing may be the difference between a distinction and a high distinction.

Word Limits
Markers take word limits seriously. Exceeding the word limit by more than 10 per cent does not impress examiners. Convenors impose word limits for a reason and though it might sound surprising, it is sometimes harder to write a shorter paper because you have to make strategic choices about what information you must omit.

Other Points of Style
It’s = it is only. For possessive use you do not need an apostrophe.
Dates: 1980s not 1980’s.
Avoid excessive use of: in addition, essentially, however, moreover, furthermore.
Try to use active voice rather than the passive voice wherever possible.
With the active voice the subject acts, rather than having the action done too them.
Active: The government passed the legislation.
Passive: The legislation was passed by the government.
Using the active voice makes for a livelier writing style.
The spell and grammar checker in Microsoft word, if set under options to “Grammar & Style”, will tell you if you are using the passive voice. Sometimes, it may be better to use the passive tense, but try to keep it to a minimum.
See for a more detailed explanation.

Make sure you:
• leave wide margins (at least 3 cm on either side)
• use a 12 point font (reading small fonts can be very difficult)
• use double or 1 and ½ spacing (no single spacing)
• don’t put the essay in a folder or bind it – just a staple in the top left hand corner (honestly, folders or binding are just a hassle)
• get someone to proof read your work or in the absence of this read it aloud
• have a cover page on which your name and student number, course code, tutor's name, due date of essay and essay question appear.

Plagiarism is one of the most serious issues confronting both students and academics. Every year students attempt to pass off work that is not their own and it creates a considerable amount of extra work for everybody involved so the bottom line is – DON’T DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!!
Plagiarism involves using someone else’s ideas or words without acknowledging the original source. Universities, where intellectual capital is highly valued, take this kind of ‘borrowing’ very seriously. It is quite legitimate to reproduce someone else’s exact words but they must be placed in quotation marks (“ ”). If you paraphrase (i.e. put someone else’s ideas into your own words), you must acknowledge this by referencing in the proper way.

Students should be advised that software packages now exist to identify plagiarised passages.The term plagiarism generally covers other forms of academic misconduct such as cheating. Cheating includes passing off another student’s work as your own, getting other students or outsiders to write your essay for you. Cheating also includes using the same or a similar essay in different subjects. Remember that plagiarism or cheating may mean that you get a mark of zero for the essay and may even lead to expulsion from the course.