Being a doer, not just a knower

Yesterday my Year 10 class and I started decoding some quotes from Act 1, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice (awesome play – Google it if you’re not familiar with the story line). A quote that we talked about quite a bit was this one, from Portia:

“If to do were as easy as to know what were good to
do, chapels had been churches and poor men’s
cottages princes’ palaces.”

We worked out that, in a nutshell, it’s a fancy rewording of the cliche ‘easier said than done’. If doing the right thing was as easy as knowing the right thing, the world would be a better place. Lots of people have ideas but few people actually do anything with them.

There are lots of theories for what sets the doers apart from the knowers. I believe, though, that it all comes down to enthusiasm. From enthusiasm comes motivation and from motivation comes action.

To do well in an essay, you have to be a doer. It’s not enough to know that content; if you’re going to do something meaningful with that content, you have to be enthusiastic about it. All very well, I know, but how can you make yourself enthusiastic?

1) Relate it to you. What’s your view on it? How can it be applied to your life?

2) Relate it to people you know. Who do you know who does/thinks this? Who do you know who doesn’t? Once you’ve found a connection to your world, it’s a whole lot easier to give a damn. 

3) Pretend. Ever heard of method acting? It’s when an actor manifests themselves in the character – their personality, beliefs, mannerisms – and actually lives that role. They get inside the character and feel their emotions – not so much acting as actually ‘being’ that person. If you can’t connect to a topic in any other way, imagine what it would be like to be someone who’s enthusiastic about it, and try to be that person for a little while.

I’ll leave you with the other quote that we talked about a lot yesterday, from Antonio:

“I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;
A stage, where every man must play a part”


Analysis: the heart of your essay

By now, you’ll be well-practised in putting together a structured paragraph. You know how it goes: topic sentence, explanation of the point, evidence and examples, analysis. Link on to next para. And so on.

All the parts of a paragraph are important: without a good topic sentence, your marker might not ‘get’ the main point of your paragraph; without a clear explanation, it’ll be hard for him or her to follow along; without evidence, he or she isn’t going to be convinced. Getting these bits right are crucial if you want to pass your essay.

If you want to ace it, though, you need to also master the ‘analysis’ section. This is the part of the paragraph after your evidence, in which you decode, unpick, evaluate, compare and contrast it, and explain what it means in relation to your argument. It’s where you show that you’ve researched and carefully considered all the information before reaching your own conclusion; it’s where you acknowledge that there are two sides to every argument.

While a killer analysis gets you the top grades, it’s the hardest part of your essay to write: it’s hard to know what to say, how to sound, and what to consider. Here are a few questions that might help you analyse the two main types of evidence that you’ll use in your BA essays: quotations (direct or paraphrased) and examples from texts or real life.


  1. In plain English, what is he/she actually saying? What’s his/her main point?
  2. What does he/she not say in this quote? What parts of the issue does he/she ignore/overlook?
  3. What might have influenced him/her to say this (think of how the things we say reflect the things we feel, which reflect the things we’ve been told or experience)?
  4. What does his/her quote therefore suggest about his/her beliefs/bias/agenda?
  5. How might this statement affect those who hear/read it? What might be the wider implications of him/her having said it?
  6. What deeper message might he/she be trying to convey in this quote?
  7. Who else has said something similar about this issue? What might this suggest?
  8. Who has said something totally different about this? Where might the truth really lie?


  1. Whose perspective does this example support? How and why does it do this?
  2. What other examples are there that support this perspective? How are they similar/different to this one?
  3. Whose perspective does this example challenge? How and why does it do this?
  4. What deeper issue or idea does this example represent?
  5. What issues or ideas are not represented by this example?
  6. What effect might this example, and ones like it, have on those who read/see it? How might this, in turn, affect the wider world?
  7. Why is this the most convincing example for the point that you’re making?
  8. If you could imagine a better example, what would it be? Why have you not found this example?

Get it in writing

I can’t remember the number of times I’ve had to provide references since I left high school. If I want someone with status to believe in me, it’s not enough to be able to say that I’m a good person, and to describe the good things I’ve done. I need to prove it by getting someone who’s more good (or at least, more powerful) than me to say so as well.

For the indefinite future, your mission is to collect evidence of your goodness. If you’re in Year 13, get a principal’s testimonial before you leave and ask your favourite teacher to back you up in writing, too. If you’re at uni already, remember to ask your favourite lecturer. If you think you’ve made a good impression in your job, ask your boss before you leave.

It’s a little awkward now, but you’ll thank yourself in the future. No one ever made it to the top on their own, so make the most of the people who you can help you get there. Don’t worry, they’ll understand; anyone who’s anywhere will have gotten there with references.