Friday, 21 February 2014

TMA 04 Word Cloud & how to write an essay.

Last week I submitted my fourth TMA for my final module of this course. I realise that I've had plenty of practice writing essays. I went from writing school essays, to university essays, to OU essays; but I feel like I'm really getting the hang of this now.

Obviously the tutor's marks might disagree with me, but it does make for a pretty word cloud.

As with all of my other essays so far for this course, I went with Option 2, which was looking at the prevalence of 'orphaned or near-orphaned characters'. For this one you had to pick two of the five books covered in this block; two of those Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and Northern Lights were an either/or option for the block. I picked Swallows and Amazons, Tom's Midnight Garden and the aforementioned Harry Potter. My reasoning was purely selfish, those were the ones I thought I could say the most about.

I think that the word cloud shows the argument I was going for. I was talking about kids being separated from their family and I also talked about how this helped them to find their identity and grow up.

Throughout this course I've been changing my approach to writing my essays. I always had this terrible habit of writing what I wanted to say, then spent ages scrabbling for references. It always worked for me because I've got a fairly good memory for what I've read, I'd know that such-and-such an author had said such-and-such a thing, but which book did they say it in? And which chapter? Which page? Suffice to say, while this method works, it's not exactly time-efficient.

My new approach involves, bizarrely, reading the essay questions before actually starting the block. This does two things; firstly, it scares you into paying attention to what you're studying because holycrapIdon'tunderstandawordofwhatthisquestionisaskingmetodo! and secondly, it tells you what you're looking for while you're reading, especially as the guidance notes point out particularly useful chapters (you pay extra attention to those ones while you're reading).

Then, when I actually come to answer the question, I do my usual thing first. I know that you're usually allowed to be over your word count or under by 10%, so I work out what my minimum and maximum are. I aim for the minimum, I always go over, so that way it saves me from having to cut words. In a 2000 word essay, I can go 10% over, but because I'm aiming for 1800 I've got 200 extra words to play with.

Then I give myself 80% of those words for the main body (the rest is used for introduction and conclusion) and divide that 80% into chunk based on what I'm talking about. For example, TMA 04 looked at three books, so I might spend a third of my essay on Harry Potter, a third on Swallows and Amazons and a third on Tom's Midnight Garden. Alternatively I'll decide I'm wanting to talk about four particular points, so I divide up my words based on that.

Very quickly I find I'm not writing a 2000 word essay, instead I'm writing four 360 word essays. Much more manageable.

In the past, this was where I would dive into the actual essay writing. Sure I might make some notes about the things I wanted to say (I call it a join-the-dots approach) bullet pointing all the pertinent points and organising them into some sort of logical order.

What I've taken to doing now is pouring through all of the essays in the course Readers, making notes on all the relevant bits for my essay. I make notes of the author and the page reference (sometimes even the paragraph it's in) to make it easier to find later and which bit of the essay it links to. That saves me the hassle of going back and finding them later because I can just slot them in as I go. This is probably really obvious to most people, but I'm so glad I've finally convinced myself that this is an easier way to do things than my old method.

An old tutor also taught me to use the idea 'PEE' when writing an essay. I've since amended that to 'PEEL' which is probably slightly more socially acceptable than 'pee'ing all over your essay. That stands for 'Point' (where you make your initial statement), 'Evidence' (where you give a quote or something from your course materials to support/refute your statement), 'Explanation' (where you explain how your statement is supported/refuted by your evidence), and then my L stands for 'Link' (to link it back to the question, the previous paragraph, or the next paragraph).

It's actually got to the point where I quite enjoy writing my essays. I've probably gotten a bit lazy about it, because this method does enable me to churn out an almost completed essays in a matter of hours. I did this one whilst watching The Fellowship of the Ring and finished some time around the point when the Fellowship left Rivendell.

I just hope that my approach worked for this one and that I can maintain my passing marks.

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