Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The anatomy of an essay Part 4 - Introductions and conclusions

Hi Grammophiles

Yes, indeed, Brady this blog is subjective but, then again, what piece of writing isn't? In my view, even the most technically-laden report has a degree of subjectivity. Authors make decisions on the basis of what is left in, what is left out, how numbers are represented, the nature of references used.

However, for now, we need to turn our attention back to the essay.

Firstly, ask yourself this question: 'when I read a long body of work, do I start from the first syllable and end at the last?'

If you really think about it, you probably read a paper in sections. In a journal article, it is likely you'll read the abstract and maybe jump straight to the reference list or the conclusion. Perhaps you skim the paper first by looking at the topic sentences. In an essay, though, you may well gain an overview by starting with the introduction and glancing over the conclusion and reference list before you tackle the body of the paper.

Anyway, the point I am making here is introductions and conclusions really COUNT. They are like the bookends of your work, providing a strong basis for the volumes of ideas held within.

Introductions and conclusions can make or break your paper. If they don't grab the reader's attention straight away, it is likely they will lose interest pretty quickly. Some lecturers say that these two sections should take around 10% of your paper.

Here are a few pointers you can use to strengthen these two very important aspects of your work. (Note: These examples are fictitious, but hopefully you'll get the general idea.)


  • Begin with a clear statement of aim
The aim of this paper is to discuss the role and nature of postoperative care for cardiac patients.
  • Include academic definitions - that is, definitions of your key terms drawn from the literature

According to Rolland (2007, p. 5) postoperative care can be understood to mean the period of time between a patient's surgery and discharge from the hospital. However, Jones (2005) points to some periods of care extending as long as a year, depending on the regime required. In the case of cardiac surgery...

  • Sometimes, the scope might be required. Are there particular forms of cardiac post-operative care? Are there particular 'cardiac patients' Will you discuss these and not others? It is important to outline this in the introduction.

In the context of this paper, 'cardiac patients' are those who have undergone...

  • Give a snapshot introduction of each section of your paper and follow this through with a parallel construction (that is, discuss each point in the order in which it is introduced)

There are three key aspects to postoperative care in relation to cardiac patients. This paper will firstly describe... Secondly... Thirdly...

  • Sometimes, you might use a key author, report or theory to help frame some of your discussion. If so, this needs to be discussed in the introduction.


  • Summarise your key points in the order in which they appeared in your work.
  • Refer back to some of the key literature. Do this sparingly.
  • Emphasise one or two very important points. Conclusions should pack a final punch.

It is essential when considering postoperative care that patients...Further....

  • Sometimes it is useful to point to the future or speculate about what is important for further research or action.

The future of postoperative care is likely to include... With imminent cuts in Government funding to health, it is likely patients will receive less quality care following discharge from hospital...therefore...It must be emphasised

Introductions and conclusions from UniSA will give you some fresh ideas about your approach to these two very important sections - the bookends of your essay.

Andrea Duff

Pictures courtesy Microsoft ClipArt Thank you!

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Anatomy of an Essay Part 3: Evaluating Sources

Greetings grammophiles!

In this third installment of our series on the anatomy of an essay (we've come a long way since Robert Burton's Anatonmie of Melancholie!), I will discuss how to evaluate the quality of a particular resource. The proliferation of the internet has certainly made information more accessible, but ease of accessibility also makes it more difficult to determine which sources are the most credible. A credible source makes your argument more credible as well.

Ranking Quality
As you may have learned from a few of my recent posts about writing lab, a second reader tends to improve the quality of your work. The same is true in the publishing world. Any resource that has been reviewed by one or more experts (peers) in a particular field is considered the highest quality or most credible. Some of the most credible sources are:

Scholarly Journal Articles
News Magazine Articles
Newspaper Articles
Expert Testimony (like in court)

Sources are considered less credible when they are not reviewed by an editor, publisher, or expert in the field. Does this mean you cannot use these resources at all? Absolutely not. This just means that you should be even more suspicious about how well the author has grounded his or her arguments (empirical research, logic, other expert opinions). Some less credible resources include:

Authorless Papers
Personal Blogs
Subjective Reports (the author fails to deliver both sides of the argument)
Wikipedia (great place to start your research but doesn't belong in
your final works cited page)

Of course this list is subjective as well (this is a blog too you know), and it may not be directly applicable to all types of writing. But if you are looking to write an argumentative essay, founded on factual research and logical argument, you should definitely make every effort to establish the credibility of your resources.

Hints and Caveats
* Age matters: some resources get better with age, and some do not. Some of the best thinking about Homer's Iliad was published in the 1920s. However, the same is not true for rocket scientists.

* Expertise matters: some people just have better and more insightful things to say about a subject than others. Do some research to find out who is the most widely regarded expert in your particular field. Read that person first.

* Conciseness matters: why read 300 pages of rambling musings on a subject when you can read 30? Just because a book or resource is longer, does not mean it is automatically better. Look for the resources that develop a clear argument within a manageable amount of space.

Happy researching, and keep the comments coming.

Brady Spangenberg