Use your concept map or plan
Write your assignment using your map or plan to guide you. As you write, you may well get new ideas or think about ideas in slightly different ways. This is fine, but check back to your map or plan to evaluate whether that idea fits well into the plan or the paragraph that you are writing at the time. Consider: In which paragraph does it best fit? How does it link to the ideas you have already discussed?
For every paragraph, think about the main idea that you want to communicate in that paragraph and write a clear topic sentence which tells the reader what you are going to talk about. A main idea is more than a piece of content that you found while you were researching, it is often a point that you want to make about the information that you are discussing. Consider how you are going to discuss that idea (what is the paragraph plan). For example, are you: listing a number of ideas, comparing and contrasting the views of different authors, describing problems and solutions, or describing causes and effects?
Use linking words throughout the paragraph. For example:
- List paragraphs should include words like: similarly, additionally, next, another example, as well, furthermore, another, firstly, secondly, thirdly, finally, and so on.
- Cause and effect paragraphs should include words like: consequently, as a result, therefore, outcomes included, results indicated, and so on.
- Compare and contrast paragraphs should include words like: on the other hand, by contrast, similarly, in a similar way, conversely, alternatively, and so on.
- Problem solution paragraphs should include words like: outcomes included, identified problems included, other concerns were overcome by, and so on.
Some paragraphs can include two plans, for example a list of problems and solutions. While this is fine, it is often clearer to include one plan per paragraph.
Look at your plan or map and decide on the key concepts that link the different sections of your work. Is there an idea that keeps recurring in different sections? This could be a theme that you can use to link ideas between paragraphs. Try using linking words (outlined above) to signal to your reader whether you are talking about similar ideas, whether you are comparing and contrasting, and so on. The direction that your thinking is taking in the essay should be very clear to your reader. Linking words will help you to make this direction obvious.
Different parts of the essay:
While different types of essays have different requirements for different parts of the essay, it is probably worth thinking about some general principles for writing introductions, body paragraphs and conclusions. Always check the type of assignment that you are being asked to produce and consider what would be the most appropriate way to structure that type of writing.
Remember that in most (not all) writing tasks, especially short tasks (1,000 to 2,000 words), you will not write headings such as introduction and conclusion. Never use the heading ‘body’.
Writing an introduction:
Introductions need to provide general information about the topic. Typically they include:
- Background, context or a general orientation to the topic so that the reader has a general understanding of the area you are discussing.
- An outline of issues that will and will not be discussed in the essay (this does not have to be a detailed list of the ideas that you will discuss). An outline should be a general overview of the areas that you will explore.
- A thesis or main idea which is your response to the question.
Here is an example of an introduction:
It is often a good idea to use some of the words from the question in the introduction to indicate that you are on track with the topic. Do not simply recount the question word for word.
Writing the body:
- Each paragraph should make a point which should be linked to your outline and thesis statement.
- The most important consideration in the body paragraphs is the argument that you want to develop in response to the topic. This argument is developed by making and linking points in and between paragraphs.
Try structuring paragraphs like this:
- Topic sentence: open the paragraph by making a point
- Supporting sentences: support the point with references and research
- Conclusive sentence: close the paragraph by linking back to the point you made to open the paragraph and linking this to your thesis statement.
Here is an example of a body paragraph from the essay about education and globalisation:
As you write the body, make sure that you have strong links between the main ideas in each of the paragraphs.
Writing the conclusion:
This is usually structured as follows:
- Describe in general terms the most important points made or the most important linkage of ideas
- Do not include new information, therefore it does not usually contain references
- End with a comment, a resolution, or a suggestion for issues that may be addressed in future research on the topic.
Here is an example conclusion from the essay on education:
What is a Close Reading?
Being able to write a close reading (Explication) of a poem is one of the skills that you are expected to master as an English student at Reed. In fact it is one of the three basic skills that you are asked to perform on the Junior Qualifying Exam (the other two are analysis of an argument [Précis], and analysis of narrative).
To "explicate" comes from a Latin word meaning to unfold. The purpose of an explication or close reading is to unfold the significance of a poem. Explication pays close attention to the parts of a poem in order to support a larger argument about its overall impact. For your paper you will want to choose one of the "In-depth" poems for the day you are assigned. You do not need to focus on all of the qualities of the poem, but you do need to cover at least the aspect of the poem being discussed for that day. For example if the chapter in the Norton we have just read is on "tone," you need to talk about tone. You may of course discuss other poetic techniques that are relevant to your argument.
One of the greatest challenges of an explication is synthesis. Even as you divide the poem into its composite elements, you will want to discuss how those elements come together to form a whole. As writer Diane Hacker points out, division--like classification--should be made "according to some principle": she notes, "to divide a tree into roots, trunk, branches, and leaves makes sense; to list its components as branches, wood, water, and sap does not, for the categories overlap" (and seem random and disconnected). [Diane Hacker. The Bedford Handbook for Writers, 3rd. ed. Boson: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1991: 91] Your essay should reveal how the parts of the poem, like the parts of a tree, relate and form a totality. Ideally, your paper should reveal some of the wonder and excitement that first inspired you to choose this poem.
Evaluating a Close Reading Paper
Before class you should read at least two of the Close Readings your classmates have sent you. To assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Close Reading ask yourself:
1. Did the paper provide an argument about what the poem means? Do you agree with that argument?
2. Did the paper provide evidence of how the poetic techniques (tone, speaker, figurative language, form, rhythm, etc.) enhances or creates that meaning? Is the evidence effective or is anything important being left out?
3. What information would you delete? add?
4. Are there any instances of wordiness? any instances of confused syntax or meaning?
Here are some more suggestions to get you started as you write your Close Reading
Once you have chosen a poem, paraphrase it (i.e. put it in your own words). You will want to deliberately avoid using figurative language. The purpose of this step is two-fold. First, it ensures that you know what the poem is saying. Second, it allows you to see the moments where the poet uses an intense kind of language.
The following are some poetic techniques that you may want to consider in your paper. In your final exam you will want as wide a variety of techniques as possible. In earlier papers you may focus on only the ones covered in the day's readings or that we have covered so far. These questions are only the most basic ones: As we cover more poetic techniques this semester you will want to create your own list of questions that you ask yourself.
1 . Examine the language of the poem. Look up any words that seem important or unclear in the OED. How does the text make use of the particular connotations of its words? Are there patterns of word choice (diction), such as language associated with religion or with everyday speech? What images and image patterns are prominent? What are the associations of these images? Do the images take on larger significance as symbols? What other metaphoric language contributes to the poem's meaning? Similes? Puns? Are there larger patterns of allegory or allusion?
2 . How is the author using the form? How does the form suit the poet's intent? What variations are there in meter and rhyme scheme? How do these variations affect the meaning? How does the poet use the break between octave and sestet or quatrains and couplets? What other sound effects do you notice (alliteration, assonance, etc.) and how do they fit the larger effects of the poem? How does the poem use line and stanza breaks? How does it use syntax to emphasize or enact its meaning?
3 . Who is the speaker of the poem? How would you characterize the speaker? What is the tone of the poem? How does it change? Does it use irony? What techniques does poet use to get this tone across? What is the relationship between the speaker and the audience? How does this relate to the message of the poem?
4 . What are the main ideas, themes, or concepts in the poem? Does it have a point you could summarize? Does it set up a contrast or debate? If so does it resolve the debate somehow? How does this relate to the sense of closure in the poem? How do the other elements of the poem support or enhance this theme?
5. What is the meter of the poem? Why might the poet have chosen this meter or what does it add to the poem? Choose a few instances in which the meter does something unexpected. How does the poet use rhythm to add meaning to the poem?
More tips on doing a close reading of a poem: