There are many ways to write a good essay. Different questions require you to adapt your style to suit the demands of that question. You should think about what structure suits the question that you are answering.
The aim of an essay is to MAKE AN ARGUMENT. You should present different views, use examples, evaluate the evidence all so that you can convince your reader that your point of view is correct. You need to write persuasively!
It might help to think of it in terms of a debate in which the speakers alternate and try to rebut or refute each other's points as well as making sound points of their own.
Alternatively, you could think of it as a court case in which you are presenting evidence and calling witnesses to try and convince the jury.
Your introduction is your first chance to impress the examiner and first impressions count!
Things like defining key terms can be useful - particularly if the terminology of the question is ambiguous - however, your introduction should not read like a page from the dictionary.
Likewise, biographical/contextual information can be useful if it is relevant. However an extended biography of the theologian whose views are mentioned is not useful. If their background is important in understanding their theology then it should be explained properly in a paragraph of its own, The introduction should be fairly short.
Set up the terms of the debate:
What this means is give a very brief (i.e. a couple of sentences) overview of the 'sides' of the argument. Try to be precise and avoid 'some people think...other people think...'
Suppose that the question was 'Women should be entitled to leadership within the church' Discuss. You could set up the terms of the debate as follows:
You could improve this further by giving an indication of the reasons why they have different opinions. Try to identify the crux of the debate.
You have then 'set up' the debate and are ready to state your line of argument.
State your line of argument:
Your ultimate aim is to present a convincing case so it makes sense to make your intentions clear at the outset. You should avoid writing 'I think...' or 'this essay will argue that...'. All you need do is confidently state your argument as fact.
If we stick with our sample question above we could state our line of argument as follows:
Note that I have not given any of these reasons yet but I have made it clear which way I will be arguing. I could, potentially have signposted my essay more clearly and listed the issues that I will address. For example, I could also have written.
If I chose to state my line of argument this way then I almost have a mini essay plan in my introduction.
If we put together what we have so far with a couple of other sentences we get the following introduction:
To say that women are 'entitled' to equal leadership within the church is to imply that women's ordination is an issue of rights. Currently, the Roman Catholic Church does not permit women to have authority within the church however the Church of England has allowed women's ordination since 1992. Feminist theologians like Rosemary Radford Ruether support female ordination as a matter of women's entitlement whilst Pope John Paul II rejected it and said that his decision was binding. The issue hinges upon different interpretations of key Biblical passages and debates about the significance of the maleness of Jesus and the disciples.The biblical evidence for women priests is ambiguous, however there are a number of other convincing reasons why women should be entitled to have leadership in the church.
A signpost points the way to go. Signposting your essay means using sentences that make it clear where your essay is going. Topic sentences at the beginning of paragraphs should make it clear what that paragraph is going to be about. Concluding sentences should link back to the question. Link sentences should show how ideas relate together.
A topic sentence introduces a paragraph and makes it clear what that paragraph will be about. E.g.
The paragraph would then go on to explain this point further.
You can adapt your topic sentences to make your own line of argument clear. Consider the way the following sentences make the writer's (i.e. my) own opinions clear:
Another thing you can use topic sentences for is to make it clear how one idea relates back to the other or how the ideas developed in time.
Your concluding sentences are the sentences at the end of paragraphs. A concluding sentence should usually link clearly back to the question and make it obvious how what you have written addresses the question. It is often a good idea to reflect the wording of the question in a concluding sentence. For example, a paragraph explaining key arguments against women priest in the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis might conclude:
If you are writing a concluding sentence after a section of analysis and evaluation then you can use your concluding sentence to hammer home 'who wins and why.'
Depending on the structure of your essay, you might sometimes want to use a concluding sentence (or a topic sentence) to make show how ideas link together. For example, analysis of Paul's teaching about women's silence in Church might lead you to conclude that he was reflecting the views of his time. This might then link nicely to a paragraph on the gospels and speculation about the place of women in Jesus' ministry.
If you do go off topic don't panic. There is likely to be some relevant link back if you think about it carefully. A good couple of concluding sentences can make an irrelevant aside into a really good synoptic link!
Above all, remember that concluding sentences can be very useful for steering your essay back on track if you have gone off on a tangent. You just need to show how/why it is relevant! For example, suppose you had written a paragraph on motherhood rather than about ordination.
Stating is not the same as explaining. To explain an idea you have to try to demonstrate how the idea develops, what premises it is based upon, what method of reasoning is used to arrive at it and - crucially - what it actually means. There are various stock phrases that you can use to help make sure that you are explaining something fully. These include:
Crucial to explaining ideas clearly is using examples, evidence and illustrations. You should aim to include sentences like:
You might be able to use examples and illustrations actually used by the people whose ideas you are writing about. However, sometimes you might need to construct a scenario to illustrate the point.
Analysing is breaking down the argument to see how it works and evaluating is the final 'passing judgement' and deciding how valid it is. In an A2 essay there may well be some overlap between your explanation and your analysis as you might break down the claim in order to explain it fully.
Imagine you were analysing the argument that Jesus only chose male disciples and thus the church should not have women priests.
Some of these claims can be challenged. You could challenge 1) by:
Breaking down an argument into its base claims makes it much easier to analyse.
Confusing necessary and sufficient conditions: (e.g. motherhood might be sufficient for a woman to feel fulfilled but it is not necessary for fulfilment (she could be fulfilled in other ways). Or, a sense of vocation might be necessary in order for a person to become a priest but it is not sufficient - other things are needed too - like a certain amount of knowledge and learning.)
Confusing correlation with causation: Thinking that one thing causes another just because they often occur together.
Ad hominim attack: Attacking the person rather than the argument (e.g. [N] was religious so his argument is biased and must be wrong).
Straw man argument: Misrepresenting an argument in order to make it easier to argue against. (E.g. to say that Augustine thought that women were nothing more than a vessel for procreation is an inaccurate oversimplifiation of his views.)
Fallacy of the general rule: Assuming that something that is often true is always true.
Put simply, evaluating is saying which arguments are good and which are not. However, evaluation cannot just be your opinions, you need to give good reasons for your evaluation.
You might find an argument convincing because:
You might reject an argument because:
Who wins and why?
'Who wins and why?' is a useful phrase to remember when evaluating. You will have presented contrasting views in your essay. You need to pass judgement and give a ruling (like a Judge) as to whose arguments are better.
As I wrote earlier, THERE IS NO ONE WAY TO WRITE AN ESSAY. However, there are basic patterns that you can adapt.
This way tends to work well when you are given a statement and told to 'discuss' it or asked 'do you agree?'
If you are asked to 'critically evaluate [N's] ideas' or 'evaluate the arguments for [x]' then this way is less likely to work easily. You might want to use a more thematic approach.
These two methods should give you a good framework for most essays.
HOWEVER, provided you fully explain a range of different views which you analyse and evaluate to create a clear line of argument then you have done the right thing. You can structure it how you like.
In an essay you should:
You do not get a separate mark for good use of English, however, top band marks are expected to be grammatically correct with few (if any) spelling or punctuation errors.
GOOD LUCK :-)