What essay structures do you use for your English lit essays?Watch
Writing Textual Analysis?
It goes without saying that before you even think about putting pen to paper, have a good read of the passage (I like to read through twice - first to understand, second to notate).
Then, begin to annotate the text for linguistic devices and the points that the author has made. However, you don't need to labour doing this; only annotate it if it's going to help to answer your question, otherwise you're just wasting your time!
It helps to keep reading over the question while you're doing this; it'll help you maintain a focus on it. Irrelevant information doesn't help you!
Pick out little soundbites: key words or phrases that can easily be used to quote in your answers.
There's no harm in including 2 or 3 small quotations in your answers, provided that they are relevant and add to what you're trying to say instead of making the same point twice. Doesn't matter how fantastic that line of poetry (or whatever it might be) may seem, if it's not relevant to the question, it doesn't go in.
Time to Plan
A good plan will help to maintain a strong focus on the question throughout your essay.
There's fundamentally two ways to plan:
1. Look at the question, think about it, and from your gut decide which side of the debate you fall.
2. Construct your line of argument based on this decision.
3. Come up with some points to support your opinions.
1. Look at the question and think about what points might be relevant to the question.
2. Write these down, and see if you can find a thread which connects them together.
3. If you can, this is your line of argument.
These two methods consist of the same thing, but in a different order, and it's honestly just about how your brain works. If you have your own method that works for you, stick with that, as long as you have the same products from your plan (a position on the question, a line of argument for your essay and some decent points with which to develop that) then you should have the based for a solid essay fixed on the question.
You may want to use headings like 'intro', 'middle' and 'concl' to lay out where you're going to introduce or revisit your points.
You will also need to be selective about what you discuss; there will be a plethora of points you could make about the texts, so you're not expected to make all of them. Be selective; choose the points that best further the point you are making and develop them fully. Again, it's very much about quality over quantity when it comes to the points you are making. It's important to have a good idea of this at the planning stage. Less points, argued better will get you more marks than badly written paragraphs, but more of them.
Heather, University of Hertfordshire
I would type out all my ideas/quotes/notes onto a word document and then print them out and cut them up. I would then group related ideas and concepts and from there work out a logical structure. I then stuck them all on a big piece of paper in the correct order and used that to start writing my essay!
Start with a gut reaction to the question. Provide a punchy response of what your position is on the question.
Remember that it's good to demonstrate the following in an introduction:
Your understanding of the text(s); say briefly (no more than one sentence per text) what is going on in the texts. If you're writing about an extract then try to place this moment within the context of the rest of the plot, and why this moment might be significant.
Give an impression of what you're going to discuss in the essay, lay out some fo your important points. Your logic, which firms up your general line of argument. Ultimately, if you had to write 250 words instead of a whole essay, this is what you'd write to answer the question.
Like the amuse bouche at a good restaurant (or a trailer to a film), the introduction should give a flavour of what is to come, without giving away all the secrets. The reader should have an idea of what's to follow, without you putting a load of facts or analysis in. Save that for later.
The Body and Paragraphing Structure
This is where you get all of your information in. There's a bit of a nonsense habit among teachers of saying 'two or three paragraphs is enough.' The amount of paragraphs you have is totally irrelevant; each individual paragraph should address something different (not a different question, just look at a different kind of example to illustrate a slightly different point). Each paragraph should build on the last when it comes to your broader argument/general logic through the essay.
You'll have teachers telling you to follow structures like PEE, PEA, PEEL, PEAL, PEARL, PEEPRZ (to name a few). Follow them if you want, BUT do not let the structure lead what you're trying to say. Don't use evidence straight after making a point if you feel like you need to add an extra sentence explaining your point in a bit more depth. Don't feel as though you can't bring in more examples later on in the paragraph because there isn't a letter in the acronym telling you to do that. They are for guidance only, not rules. More important is that your answer is honest, and genuine to you.
A general point which is difficult for lots of people is to be concise; waffle scores nothing every time; it's irritating and will probably (though they might not admit it) make the examiner less inclined to mark you well. Make your point clearly and directly, and don't waffle just to meet the word count etc. If you're not meeting the word count, you probably have left areas unexplored! If you're doing an exam you're probably going to be up against the clock, being bold, direct and certainly explicit is the best way to go instead of dancing around the question because you're feeling a little bit unsure.
Particularly for A Level: If you have any critical opinions, this will really make your essay shine. What have scholars said about these particular texts? Obviously this is a harder thing to do in an exam, but it's vital to good coursework pieces.
Writing a comparative piece?
Let us say that we are examining two texts; how will a better essay approach analysing them? The answer is integration; your essay should have comparison running throughout. Ask yourself constantly how they are similar or different, and reflect this contrasting throughout the essay. You will pass if you analyse one text and then the other, but you won't do much more.
This is when you really pack a punch; where you go back and take the reader through the logical process that your essay has taken.
A good conclusion will mirror your introduction, but have the added reasoning that you've managed to use in the body of your essay. Try not to bring new analysis into your conclusion.
It's important for conclusions to be thoughtful, so make sure you've planned your conclusion and leave enough time to write it rather than winging it with 2 minutes to spare!
The 'salient point': to get the higher marks your last sentence should make a point that is original and furthers academic debate on the topic. It's very hard to describe what this will be as it's highly specific to the subject, but often it can be a conclusion that takes on both sides of the argument, to make it seem balanced.
What do mark schemes state?
Below is a selection of the terminology used in exam board marking criteria for various current A Level and GCSE Specifications. There are more things you'll need to do than this, but shown here are the points that address your quality of written communication.
Edexcel, GCSE (Language)
A good answer has a sustained and detached critical overview and judgement about the text; And the selection of references is apt and discriminating and is persuasive in clarifying the points being made.
AQA, GCSE (Literature)
A good candidate’s response is likely to be a critical, exploratory, well-structured argument. It takes a conceptualised approach to the full task supported by a range of judicious references. There will be a finegrained and insightful analysis of language and form and structure supported by judicious use of subject terminology. Convincing exploration of one or more
- Critical, exploratory, conceptualised response to task and whole text
- Judicious use of precise references to support interpretation(s)
- Analysis of writer’s methods with subject terminology used judiciously
- Exploration of ideas/perspectives/contextual factors shown by specific, detailed links between context/text/task
OCR, GCSE (Language)
A good answer will include:
- A sustained critical evaluation demonstrating a perceptive and considered response to the statement and a full explanation of the impact of the texts on the reader.
- Comments are supported by apt, skilfully selected and integrated textual references.
- A skilled analysis which demonstrates a sophisticated appreciation of how the writer has used language and structure to achieve effects and influence the reader.
- Candidates’ analysis of both language and structure is consistent and detailed.
- Precisely–selected and integrated subject terminology deployed to enhance the response.
OCR, A Level (Literature)
Well-developed and consistently detailed discussion of effects (including dramatic effects) of language, form and structure.
- Excellent and consistently effective use of analytical methods.
- Consistently effective use of quotations and references to text, critically addressed, blended into discussion.
- Excellent and consistently detailed understanding of text and question with critical concepts and terminology used accurately and consistently.
- Well-structured, coherent and detailed argument consistently developed with consistently fluent and accurate writing in appropriate register.
Excellent and consistently detailed understanding of texts and question; well-structured, coherent and detailed argument consistently developed; consistently fluent and accurate writing in appropriate register with critical concepts and terminology used accurately and consistently.
AQA, A Level (Language and Literature)
Apply a range of terminology accurately.
Select language levels with sustained relevance and evaluation of patterns. Express ideas with sophistication and sustained development.
Edexcel, A Level (Language)
Presents critical application of language analysis with sustained
examples. Uses sophisticated structure and expression with appropriate
register and style, including use of appropriate terminology.
• Evaluative application of a wide range of concepts and issues to the
• Critically examines relevant links to contextual factors and language
features. Evaluates construction of meaning in data.
• Evaluates connections across data. Critically applies theories, concepts
and methods to data.