An example to follow

We all need examples to follow. We need role models to aspire to, job descriptions to work towards, instruction manuals to use as reference points. Academia is no exception.

If I set an essay assignment for my school students, I always give them an example of what I expect. Usually, I write my own essay response to the question, and share it with them. I explain what I enjoyed about writing the essay, why I took that particular slant, how I came to those conclusions. Later on, as I’m marking theirs, I get them to mark mine. I encourage them to point out the strong and weak parts, to circle the mistakes and to put question marks wherever they find my argument hard to follow. Seeing my work gives them an idea of the kind of writing that is expected of them, gets their own creative cogs turning, and, through letting them ‘in’ to the world of good essays, gives them a sense of power as they write theirs.

Before you start writing your first assignment, find some examples. Ask your lecturer if they have any essays on file from previous courses. If you know someone who’s done a BA, ask to see some of their old assignments. Look at the feedback they’ve been given and discuss with them why they got the mark that they did. Go online and search for essays that other BA students have uploaded. It doesn’t really matter what they’re about – you’re using them for inspiration, not information. The more you read and learn, the more you want to read and learn, and the more striking your assignments will be.

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