Essay Writing Techniques In English

Essay writing is the most important skill you need to develop in your HSC year. Success in HSC English will depend on your ability to write convincing, powerful essays that convey your understanding of both the Area of Study and Modules units. It’s understandably daunting to think that so much of your mark revolves around one skill but fortunately, with a bit of direction and structure, a Band 6 essay is achievable.

When marking an essay, teachers and HSC markers want to see that you’ve developed a complex and in-depth understanding of a text (or pair of texts, as the case may be) and in order to show them this, you need to express your ideas clearly. As such, nothing is more important than simplicity and structure!

The first is self-explanatory – if you misuse complex words because you think they’ll make your essay look more intelligent, you’re more likely to lose marks on account of their misuse. If you get a point across using straightforward language you’re guaranteeing that the marker will understand you and you’re more likely to get marks that way. If you are not confident about how to use a new word, it’s best to leave it out and replace with a word you are comfortable with.

Structure is another story altogether. A good essay is a circular (in that the conclusion always links back to the introduction), self-sustaining (in that all arguments put forward will be thoroughly explored in the essay) beast, one that gives the reader everything they need to know. In order to achieve this, you need to structure the following elements.

Introduction

The introduction is the first impression your reader will get, so it’s the most important part of an essay. You need to answer the question asked within the thesis statement then expand on your thesis in the introductory paragraph by introducing the texts, the themes within the texts and their relation to your Area of Study or particular Module. You also need to give an overview of the key techniques you will discuss later.

Example:

Question: How does the comparative study of two texts from different times deepen our understanding of what is constant in human nature?

Introduction (the thesis is bolded):

The comparison of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein and Ridley Scott’s 1992 film Blade Runner  the Director’s Cut  facilitates the examination of transforming societal values and the human condition. An examination of the transition from early 19th century England when Romanticism was challenging aspects of the dominant Enlightenment discourse founded upon science and rationalism to late 20th century America, a period influenced by Reaganomics and rampant scientific development in cloning and technology, reveals a shift in societal values.

However, both texts explore similar aspects of humanity including humanity’s pursuit of  progress and power, questioning of the human identity and refusal to consider the morality of their actions, albeit in different paradigms. Thus, as texts are a reflection of their context and its values, it is evident that aspects of human nature remain constant irrespective of context.

If you would like more detailed information on how to write introductions, you should look at our essay writing series. Read the first post How to Write a Thesis Statement – a step-by-step guide and we’ll explain why a thesis statement is so important, and walk you through the process of creating them.

 

Body Paragraphs

Each body paragraph must deal with a particular theme or text, and must start with a topic sentence. A topic sentence, similar to a thesis statement, will tell the reader what you plan on discussing. From there, you must justify your statements with evidence. A basic tool you can use is the T.E.E. system – highlight a technique, identify an example and explain the effect – the effect will relate to your topic sentence, which in turn relates to your thesis! The conclusion of a body paragraph must sum up your argument for the paragraph and relate it to the thesis once again.

In terms of what should be in your body paragraphs, you should aim for analysis which is insightful and informed. It is not always easy to form an insightful opinion of a complicated text, so to get started, you will have to do some reading of critical analysis written by experts like academics, reviewers of plays or productions.

Example:

The T.E.E structure in practice has been indicated with the following colours:

Technique
Evidence 
Effect

In Frankenstein, Shelley explores the transgression of the natural order in the Romantic ideal by humanity’s ongoing pursuit for progress and knowledge, a consequence of the Enlightenment Era and the Industrial Revolution. Victor’s overreaching ambition to overcome the natural boundaries of mortality by taking God’s creator role is highlighted in the metaphor “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds… I should break through“.Victor’s hubristic ambitions criticises aspects of Enlightenment rationalism which attempted to control natural processes, exemplified in Galvani’s experimentation with “animal electricity”.

If you would like to know more about writing topic sentences, you should read our posts on How to Write a Thematic Framework and How to Write a Topic Sentence to see learn how the introduction and topic sentences work together. In addition, our step-by-step guide will walk you through how to write a body paragraph.

 

Conclusion

A conclusion can often be both the easiest and most difficult part of an essay. You must never introduce new arguments or information in a conclusion, nor can you merely restate the introduction. A conclusion must draw on the fundamental idea that you have extracted from the question, and which you have based your entire essay on – in essence, you need something reflective and thought-provoking to leave with the reader.

Example: In the shift from 19th century England to Reaganite America, the foundation of power migrated from scientific knowledge to a greater focus on economics and capitalism. However, despite their differing contexts, both Frankenstein and Blade Runner  suggest that humanity’s pursuit of power and progress has resulted in a continuous foregoing of the moral and ethical concerns of their actions. Thus the comparison of these two texts reveals how these fundamental flaws are ingrained in human nature and that they will paradoxically remain constant even as society and its values inevitably shift.

For more detail on how to write a conclusion, read our step-by-step guide.

Want to take your English skills next level?

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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Literary Techniques

Literary Techniques are the techniques that composers use in their written texts to help convey or heighten meaning. Rather than writing in plain language, composers give more emphasis to their ideas by utilising literary techniques to make them stand out.

If you are after more practical advice about how to succeed in Year 11 and 12 English, you should read our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English.

Below is a list of the most common literary techniques used in texts (the techniques highlighted in red are clickable links that take you to expanded definitions and step-by-step tutorials on analysis):

AllegoryStory with a double meaning: one primary (on the surface) and one secondary.
AllusionA subtle or indirect reference to another thing, text, historical period, or religious belief.
AlliterationRepetition of consonants at the start of words or in a sentence or phrase.
ClichéAn over-used, common expression.
ConsonanceRepetition of consonants throughout a sentence or phrase.
ContrastParadox, antithesis, oxymoron, juxtaposition, contrast in description etc.
DidacticAny text that instructs the reader or is obviously delivering a moral message.
DisjunctionA conjunction (e.g. ‘but’ or ‘yet’) that dramatically interrupts the rhythm of the sentence.
EllipsisA dramatic pause (…) creates tension or suggests words can’t be spoken.
Emotive languageWords that stir the readers’ emotions.
EnjambmentA poetic technique, when a sentence or phrase runs over more than one line (or stanza). This assists the flow of a poem.
EuphemismMild expression used to replace a harsh one.
ExclamationExclamatory sentence ending in “!” to convey high emotion.
FormPurpose and features of a text influence its construction and will suggest its structure.
Figurative language & sound devicesmetaphor, metonymy, hyperbole, simile, personification, assonance, alliteration, consonance, onomatopoeia, etc. These devices have a powerful impact as they work on our senses to strengthen the subject matter of the text.
Fractured/truncated sentencesIncomplete sentences used to increase tension or urgency, or reflect the way people speak to each other.
Gaps & silencesWhat is not said; whose voice isn’t heard and whose voice dominates?
HumourIncongruity, parody, satire, exaggeration, irony, puns etc. used to lighten the overall tone.
IconsA single person, object or image that represents complex ideas and feelings.
ImageryVivid pictures created by words. Reader visualises character/setting clearly.
Imperative VoiceForceful use of the verb at the start of sentence or phrase.
IntertextualityA text makes a reference to other texts, may be explicit, implied or inferred.
IronyGap between what is said and what is meant.
JuxtapositionLayering images/scenes to have a dramatic impact.
Level of usage of languageSlang, colloquial, informal or formal.
LinearSequential – in chronological order.
MetaphorComparison of 2 objects where one becomes another – adds further layers of meaning about object being compared.
ModalityThe force the words are delivered at. High modality = forceful. Low modality = gentle.
Non-linearNon-sequential narrative, events do not occur in chronological order
OnomatopoeiaA word that echoes the sound it represents. Reader hears what is happening.
ParodyConscious imitation for a satiric purpose.
PersonFirst, second or third person.First person refers to the speaker himself or a group that includes the speaker (i.e., I, me, we and us).Second person refers to the speaker’s audience (i.e., you).Third person refers to everybody else (e.g., he, him, she, her, it, they, them), including all other nouns (e.g. James, Swedish, fish, mice).
PersonificationHuman characteristic given to a non-human object. Inanimate objects take on a life.
perspectiveA particular way of looking at individuals, issues, events, texts, facts etc.
Plosive consonantsHarsh sounds in a sentence or phrase.
RepetitionOf words or syntax (order of words) for emphasis or persuasion.
RepresentationHow a composer conveys meaning through textual features.
SatireComposition which ridicules in a scornful & humorous way.
SettingLocation of a story – internal and external.
SibilanceRepetition of ‘s’ – can sounds melodious and sweet or cold and icy.
SimileComparison of 2 objects using ‘like’ or ‘as’.
SymbolismWhen an object represents one or more (often complex) ideas.
Syntax – sentence structureShort, simple sentences or truncated sentences create tension, haste or urgency; compound or complex sentences are slower, often feature in formal texts.
TensePresent, past, future (events are predicted).
ThemeMessage or moral of a story – makes us ponder bigger issues in life.
ToneThe way composer or character feels – conveyed by word choice.
Word choice or DictionEmotive, forceful, factual, descriptive, blunt, graphic, disturbing, informative etc. E.g. use of forceful verbs ‘insist’ & ‘demand’ can be very persuasive.

If you want to take your analysis further and expand your awareness of literary techniques, read the article:  Literary Techniques Part 2: How to Analyse Poetry and Prose to learn how to analyse literary techniques in poetry and prose with reference to all the major techniques.

When you write an essay identifying the techniques used by a composer, you need to explain how that technique is creating meaning in the text. This process is called literary analysis, and is an important skill that Matrix English students are taught in the Matrix English courses. Great marks in essays are earned through detailed analysis of your texts and not merely listing examples and techniques.

 

Want to take your textual analysis to the next level?

 

© Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au, 2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matrix Education and www.matrix.edu.au with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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