varsityslut69
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I'm a first year English Literature student at a (top 5) university in the UK and am really struggling to wrap my head around many of the finer (and not so fine!) points of essay writing. I got through A level with a good grade and am a competent close-reader, my problem is that I can't structure, plan, or execute an essay to save my life. Most of my work at A-level was very 'loose'. I have a tendency to ramble and my focus would often wander. I've tightened things up a little since starting my degree in October, but am still finding the essay writing side of things really tough. I'd really, REALLY appreciate it if someone could log on and answer some of the below questions (in detail please). I've fielded them to my tutors by their replies have been pretty unsatisfactory, bordering on evasive. My questions are:
1. What does a literature essay actually set out to do? The emphasis at degree level seems to be on putting forward an argument, but an argument for what? Here's a sample question, for example, from one of my university's past papers: ''The ideals of humanism and the court are fundamentally incompatible' discuss'. Now, the way I would naturally want to approach this question is to find out the main ideals of each, meditate on them for a bit, and then look for some overlap. My argument might be something like: many of the ideals are incompatible but some of them dovetail. The problem is, that doesn't feel very literary to me. It's more of a historical argument (I think) that I'm making and I don't really know how I'd integrate a literary text into it, much less make that the focus of it, at all. At A-level the questions were very ********ty, always something like, how does so-and-so present this theme, and you could write a couple of pages of very 'imaginative' material and still get an A/A*. You didn't even have to make much of a formal argument.
2. How do you integrate historical and philosophical/intellectual context into an answer? Again, this is something my university is very keen on pushing and I find all the extra-contextual stuff really interesting, I just don't know how to use it in an essay. I always feel as though I'm just mentioning it alongside my analysis of the text. So, for example, a recent essay I wrote argued that a text was trying to warn its readers away from the pursuit of material wealth. The first 1/3rd of the essay or so set out the context - an explanation of why people (during the period) would have been worried about the accumulation of capital, the possible negative effects of it on their spirit etc. I then argued that this was a theme in the text and showed how it developed. I never really felt that I integrated the two though. The thrust of my argument seemed to be operating on the premise that there was a general contemporary concern about A, A is explored in this text, therefore the text was probably responding to contemporary concerns about A. All very wishy washy stuff. It always feels very speculative, and very un-concrete. The general tenor of the logic seems to be: this looks a bit like this, therefore the two probably have something in common.
3. What is a literary argument? How does it differ from a historical one? A mathematical one? I just don't know. My goal is to be able to write essays that are practically watertight, really highly structured and rigorously logical. I also don't understand what perspective you're meant to be adopting? Are you arguing for what the author intended the text (or a theme in the text) to mean? Or how the readers of the period would have/could have interpreted it? Modern readers? Can you write a 1st class essay without mentioning historical context at all? What is the point in mentioning historical context? Also what is the point in close reading? I understand how you might use it to point out ambiguities that develop a texts meaning or complicate it, but trotting out some crap about how a rhyme emphasises something doesn't seem to me to be that productive at all?

Sorry for all the questions, I'm just really struggling here and could REALLY REALLY REALLY use some solid answers to these.
Varsityslut69
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(Original post by varsityslut69)
I'm a first year English Literature student at a (top 5) university in the UK and am really struggling to wrap my head around many of the finer (and not so fine!) points of essay writing. I got through A level with a good grade and am a competent close-reader, my problem is that I can't structure, plan, or execute an essay to save my life. Most of my work at A-level was very 'loose'. I have a tendency to ramble and my focus would often wander. I've tightened things up a little since starting my degree in October, but am still finding the essay writing side of things really tough. I'd really, REALLY appreciate it if someone could log on and answer some of the below questions (in detail please). I've fielded them to my tutors by their replies have been pretty unsatisfactory, bordering on evasive. My questions are:
1. What does a literature essay actually set out to do? The emphasis at degree level seems to be on putting forward an argument, but an argument for what? Here's a sample question, for example, from one of my university's past papers: ''The ideals of humanism and the court are fundamentally incompatible' discuss'. Now, the way I would naturally want to approach this question is to find out the main ideals of each, meditate on them for a bit, and then look for some overlap. My argument might be something like: many of the ideals are incompatible but some of them dovetail. The problem is, that doesn't feel very literary to me. It's more of a historical argument (I think) that I'm making and I don't really know how I'd integrate a literary text into it, much less make that the focus of it, at all. At A-level the questions were very ********ty, always something like, how does so-and-so present this theme, and you could write a couple of pages of very 'imaginative' material and still get an A/A*. You didn't even have to make much of a formal argument.
2. How do you integrate historical and philosophical/intellectual context into an answer? Again, this is something my university is very keen on pushing and I find all the extra-contextual stuff really interesting, I just don't know how to use it in an essay. I always feel as though I'm just mentioning it alongside my analysis of the text. So, for example, a recent essay I wrote argued that a text was trying to warn its readers away from the pursuit of material wealth. The first 1/3rd of the essay or so set out the context - an explanation of why people (during the period) would have been worried about the accumulation of capital, the possible negative effects of it on their spirit etc. I then argued that this was a theme in the text and showed how it developed. I never really felt that I integrated the two though. The thrust of my argument seemed to be operating on the premise that there was a general contemporary concern about A, A is explored in this text, therefore the text was probably responding to contemporary concerns about A. All very wishy washy stuff. It always feels very speculative, and very un-concrete. The general tenor of the logic seems to be: this looks a bit like this, therefore the two probably have something in common.
3. What is a literary argument? How does it differ from a historical one? A mathematical one? I just don't know. My goal is to be able to write essays that are practically watertight, really highly structured and rigorously logical. I also don't understand what perspective you're meant to be adopting? Are you arguing for what the author intended the text (or a theme in the text) to mean? Or how the readers of the period would have/could have interpreted it? Modern readers? Can you write a 1st class essay without mentioning historical context at all? What is the point in mentioning historical context? Also what is the point in close reading? I understand how you might use it to point out ambiguities that develop a texts meaning or complicate it, but trotting out some crap about how a rhyme emphasises something doesn't seem to me to be that productive at all?

Sorry for all the questions, I'm just really struggling here and could REALLY REALLY REALLY use some solid answers to these.
Varsityslut69
You need to paragraph would make it so much more easier to reply!

For the first question, I can't really tell you as every university has it's own marking criteria. So, if you are unfamiliar with it, you should come to learn it or at least go through it before you approach an essay during your coursework. The marking criteria should be the exact same as the exam one, but if you are unsure, you should speak to a tutor or your AA. I know for my exam marking criteria, you would not get above a 1st if you did not use an secondary reading or critical theory. But in coursework you you'd get a 2:1 for that and etc.

If your answer is very wishy-washy - then maybe you need to actually learn and become very confident in what you are writing. How you incorporate it is down to your own essay style and technique. For philosophical context is fairly easy - if you are looking at the human animal in literally - look up philosophers that speak about animal and human consciousness and intentionality. You have to incorporate critical reading in the way it suits your essay and I can't really explain without seeing an example of the way you write.

How do you not know what a literary argument is? Simply when you discuss a literary form in an analytical way... I don't know about a History or a Mathematical essay and you shouldn't too. It makes no sense. Your only focus should be on Literature.

I can't answer any of your questions in full length. My best advice is go see a tutor and ask them all your questions. You want to be in 27K debt and all you are doing is going on TSR rather than a tutor from your very own university(?)

Good luck!
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