• Anqi Teng

The One Thing That Makes or Breaks an Essay

An opinion.

Not just an opinion you pulled out of your behind. An opinion that is well supported by evidence throughout your essay.

Opinion + Evidence = Argument

As simple as it sounds, having a clear opinion is what builds the foundation to a high quality essay. An essay should have some sort of purpose behind it. This is why teachers always stress upon the importance of your thesis being “an argument, not a statement”.

There are 2 main reasons why opinions don't come out right:

1. Poorly organised opinions

2. Too afraid of having a strong opinion and being told you are wrong

1. Poorly Presented Opinions

“I have opinions!”

I know, but a lot of the opinions that students have are in a disorganised mental mess that is not directed at the question. For example:

Question: What do you think about the use of genetically modified vegetables?

Answer: I think vegetables are really important for health.

This example makes it glaringly obvious that the answer does not match the question at all. Is the answer an opinion? Yes! But was it an opinion that we asked for? Definitely not.

It is actually very difficult to have clear organised opinions in writing. Why? Because we have been living our life in verbal crutches. If the vegetable interaction had occurred in a conversation, the other person will give us immediate feedback and redirect us back onto the right track that will answer the question. However in writing, we often judge how good our essays are based on whether or not WE understand them, rather than if the READER will understand it. And we don't know any better until the reader gives us lots of red comments and a mediocre mark.

So how do you make your opinion clear and directed?

1. Understand the subject matter

This means having a good understanding of your text, but more importantly, your text in relation to the module you are studying. Every single text has so many things to have an opinion on, but in the HSC you are responding against a syllabus built upon a very specific aspect of the text.

2. Write your opinion down in the simplest way possible.

E.g. How does Author X reveal the importance of memory in his story?

Opinion: Author X uses the shift in time and its effect on his characters to reveal that memory binds people together.

Make sure what you're writing is an opinion relevant to the question. So none of this stuff:

Author X creates a canonical text that is set in the 1930s ...

Author X uses lots of techniques to create his story....

Memory is an essential part of life....

3. Avoid adding fluff.

Just don't give in to the compelling desire of adding more words. Just have a strong, clear opinion. Note that I didn't say "good". Opinions cannot be good or bad, they simply exist. That's why people write essays and use evidence to back up their opinions: so that others can see their opinion and accept or reject it as they so wish.

4. Create a plan for how you will support your opinion with evidence.

For a future post

2. Too afraid of having a strong opinion and being told you are wrong

I see a lot of my students "pad" their opinions by adding more and more words to soften the intensity of their claim.

For example, "Author Y creates a gentle atmosphere" becomes "Author Y creates a relatively gentle atmosphere that can be seen as soft"

This happens because of a common misconception that "the marker will hate my opinion and give me a bad mark because of it".

Markers don't hate opinions, they hate poorly supported opinions.

For example:

  • The world is flat because the Sun always comes up from the same place every morning.

  • Santa Claus is real because otherwise Christmas would not exist.

Now, the above statements are not bad because their opinions are "bad". It is purely because the evidence backing it up is lacking, and there is very little logic in those conclusions. So remember. Markers don't hate opinions. They have poorly supported opinions that are made with unsound logic.

If you do have a maker who gives marks based on whether or not they agreed with your opinion, you should be hounding them for a good debate.

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