Stephanie Allen read Classics and English at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, and is currently researching a PhD in Early Modern Academic Drama at the University of Fribourg.
We’ve all been there. You’ve handed in an essay and you think it’s pretty great: it shows off all your best ideas, and contains points you’re sure no one else will have thought of.
You should also read…
You’re not totally convinced that what you’ve written is relevant to the title you were given - but it’s inventive, original and good.
In fact, it might be better than anything that would have responded to the question.
This response demonstrates thorough comprehension of the source text through skillful use of paraphrases and direct quotations. The writer briefly summarizes the central idea of Bogard’s piece (natural darkness should be preserved; we must preserve true, unaffected darkness), and presents many details from the text, such as referring to the personal anecdote that opens the passage and citing Bogard’s use of Paris’ reputation as “The City of Light.” There are few long direct quotations from
the source text; instead, the response succinctly and accurately captures the entirety of Bogard’s argument in the
writer’s own words, and the writer is able to articulate how details in the source text interrelate with Bogard’s central claim. The response is also free of errors of fact or interpretation. Overall, the response demonstrates advanced reading comprehension.
But your essay isn’t met with the lavish praise you expected. When it’s tossed back onto your desk, there are huge chunks scored through with red pen, crawling with annotations like little red fire ants: ‘IRRELEVANT’; ‘A bit of a tangent!’; ‘???’; and, right next to your best, most impressive killer point: ‘Right… so?’. The grade your teacher has scrawled at the end is nowhere near what your essay deserves.
Reading—2: This writer demonstrates some comprehension of the passage. In the first paragraph, the writer conveys the passage’s broad central point—the importance of natural darkness. The writer also shows an understanding of the comparison Bogard draws between his own past and the present day (the times have definitely changed and natural darkness’s value has been lost in society, replaced with artificial light). In the paragraph that follows, the writer briefly cites Bogard’s point about the negative health implications of too much artificial light. However, this is the last evidence of understanding the writer provides, as the essay ends almost immediately afterward. Overall, the writer has demonstrated partial understanding of the source text.
In fact, it’s pretty average. And the comment at the bottom reads something like, ‘Some good ideas, but you didn’t answer the question!’.
If asked a question about Keats, you should write about Keats.
If this has ever happened to you (and it has happened to me, a lot), you’ll know how deeply frustrating it is - and how unfair it can seem.
This might just be me, but the exhausting process of researching, having ideas, planning, writing and re-reading makes me steadily more attached to the ideas I have, and the things I’ve managed to put on the page.
This response demonstrates limited cohesion and some skill in the use of language. Although the writer offers a central claim that guides the essay, there is no indication of an introduction or conclusion to frame ideas. Overall, sentences are clear and the writer generally observes the conventions of standard written English
. However, by the end of this short response, the writer has deviated from a formal style and objective tone (Oh, no! Not cancer! Right there is a quick attention grabber to any reader previously bored by Bogard’s constant opinions). The essay abruptly concludes with a rhetorical question that also
somewhat strays from a formal tone (Cancer, because who wants a terminal illness over an action as simple as flipping a switch on a night light when it’s too dark for your comfort?). On the whole, this response offers some evidence of cohesion and control of language.
Each time I scroll back through what I’ve written, or planned, so far, I become steadily more convinced of its brilliance. What started off as a scribbled note in the margin, something extra to think about or to pop in if it could be made to fit the argument
, sometimes comes to be backbone of a whole essay - so, when a tutor tells me my inspired paragraph about Ted Hughes’s interpretation of mythology isn’t relevant to my essay on Keats, I fail to see why.
This response offers an insightful analysis of the source text and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the analytical task. In analyzing Bogard’s use of personal anecdote, allusions to art and history, and rhetorical questions
, the writer is able to explain carefully and thoroughly how Bogard builds his argument over the course of the passage. For example, the writer offers a possible reason for why Bogard chose to open his argument with a
personal anecdote, and is also able to describe the overall effect of that choice on his audience (In telling this brief anecdote, Bogard challenges the audience to remember a time where they could fully amass themselves in natural darkness void of artificial light. By drawing in his readers with a personal encounter...the author means to establish the potential for beauty, glamour, and awe-inspiring mystery that genuine darkness can possess.... This anecdote provides a baseline of sorts for readers to find credence with the author’s claims). The cogent chain of reasoning indicates an understanding of the overall effect of Bogard’s personal narrative both in terms of its function in the passage and how it affects his audience. This type of insightful analysis is evident throughout the response and indicates advanced analytical skill.
Or even if I can see why, the thought of taking it out is wrenching.
Who cares if it’s a bit off-topic? It should make my essay stand out, if anything! And an examiner would probably be happy not to read yet another answer that makes exactly the same points.
The response offers some limited analysis of the source text, demonstrating partial understanding of the analytical task. The writer identifies Bogard’s use of imagery in the story of meteors in the night sky and then asserts that this imagery appeals to reader, but the writer offers no further discussion of Bogard’s use of imagery or how imagery contributes to his argument
. The writer also refers to the comparison Bogard makes between his youth and current times and says that the comparison gives Bogard a sense of voice, but the writer doesn’t explain why this comparison contributes to an authorial voice or how establishing a particular voice serves Bogard’s argument
. The writer offers one additional point of analysis, asserting that Bogard’s reference to cancer is a quick attention grabber and that the use of a fact relating to the reader is the best persuasion, especially when it relates to there health or well-being. However, the writer does not elaborate on this point. In each instance of analysis in this short response, the writer identifies the use of evidence or rhetorical features, but asserts rather than explains the importance of those elements. Overall, this response demonstrates partially successful analysis.
If you recognise yourself in the above, there are two crucial things to realise. The first is that something has to change: because doing well in high school exam or coursework essays is almost totally dependent on being able to pin down and organise lots of ideas so that an examiner can see that they convincingly answer a question.
Bogard’s argument is also furthered by his use of allusion to art - Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” - and modern history - Paris’ reputation as “The City of Light”. By first referencing “Starry Night”, a painting generally considered to be undoubtedly beautiful, Bogard establishes that the natural magnificence of stars in a dark sky is definite. A world absent of excess artificial light could potentially hold the key to a grand, glorious night sky like Van Gogh’s according to the writer. This urges the readers to weigh the disadvantages of our world consumed by unnatural, vapid lighting. Furthermore, Bogard’s alludes to Paris as “the famed ‘city of light’”. He then goes on to state how Paris has taken steps to exercise more sustainable lighting practices. By doing this, Bogard creates a dichotomy between Paris’ traditionally alluded-to name and the reality of what Paris is becoming - no longer “the city of light”, but moreso “the city of light…before 2 AM”. This furthers his line of argumentation because
it shows how steps can be and are being taken to preserve natural darkness. It shows that even a city that is literally famous for being constantly lit can practically address light pollution in a manner that preserves the beauty of both the city itself and the universe as a whole.
And it’s a real shame to work hard on something, have good ideas, and not get the marks you deserve. Writing a top essay is a very particular and actually quite simple challenge. It’s not actually that important how original you are, how compelling your writing is
, how many ideas you get down, or how beautifully you can express yourself (though of course, all these things do have their rightful place).
It doesn’t have to be this way. Light pollution is readily within our ability to solve, using new lighting technologies and shielding existing lights. Already, many cities and towns across North America and Europe are changing to LED streetlights, which offer dramatic possibilities for controlling wasted light. Other communities are finding success with simply turning off portions of their public lighting after midnight. Even Paris, the famed “city of light,” which already turns off its monument lighting after 1 a.m., will this summer start to require its shops, offices and public buildings to turn off lights after 2 a.m. Though primarily designed to save energy, such reductions in light will also go far in addressing light pollution. But we will never truly address the problem of light pollution until we become aware of the irreplaceable value and beauty of the darkness we are losing.
What you’re doing, essentially, is using a limited amount of time and knowledge to really answer a question. It sounds obvious, but a good essay should have the title or question as its focus the whole way through.
Throughout the passage, Bogard remains nostalgic about his childhood: “At my family’s cabin on a Minnesota lake, I knew woods so dark that my hands disappeared before my eyes. I knew night skies in which meteors left smoky trails across sugary spreads of stars....This winter solstice, as we cheer the days’ gradual movement back toward light, let us also remember the irreplaceable value of darkness.” The description of nature and the stunningly beautiful imagery creates a feeling of deep respect for the darkness. We share in Bogard’s view and as a result, Bogard has undeniable credibility. Bogard knows the power of darkness and through his childhood memories, we lean our ears to listen to him.
It should answer it ten times over - in every single paragraph, with every fact or figure. Treat your reader (whether it’s your class teacher or an external examiner) like a child who can’t do any interpretive work of their own; imagine yourself leading them through your essay by the hand, pointing out that you’ve answered the question here
, and here, and here.
The writer demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task by analyzing three ways Bogard builds his argument (personal observation for credibility, stirring feelings, and startling facts to deliver a powerful argument
). Throughout the response, the writer discusses Bogard’s use of these three elements and is able to move past asserting their significance to deliver an effective analysis of the effects of these techniques on Bogard’s audience. Effective analysis is evident in the first body paragraph in which the writer discusses the audience’s possible reaction to reading about Bogard’s experience with darkness as a child (Bogard knows the power of darkness and through his childhood memories, we lean our ears to listen to him). In the second body paragraph, the writer contends that Bogard’s statement dissolves any doubt, but builds up new feeling. We finally see the true importance of allowing our world to temporarily succumb to darkness. Through the emotion Bogard evokes, we suddenly feel defensive in preserving the darkness for the sake of our mental and physical health. These points of analysis would have been stronger had the writer elaborated on how they work to build Bogard’s argument. However, the writer competently evaluates Bogard’s use of personal observation, emotions, and facts and provides relevant and sufficient support for each claim, demonstrating effective analysis.
Now, this is all very well, I imagine you objecting, and much easier said than done. But never fear! Structuring an essay that knocks a question on the head is something you can learn to do in a couple of easy steps.
The writer demonstrates highly effective use and command of language in this cohesive response. The response includes a precise central claim (Bogard uses personal observation for credibility, stirring feelings, and startling facts to deliver a powerful argument
), and each of the subsequent paragraphs remains focused on one of the topics set forth in that central claim. There is a deliberate progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the response. Moreover, the response demonstrates precise word choice and sophisticated turns of phrase (temporarily succumb to darkness, remains nostalgic about his childhood, dissolves any doubt). The concluding paragraph develops the essay rather than just restating what has been said and is also successful for its precise word choice and complex sentence structures (We must see the strength and beauty in the darkness, and remember how our world survived without lights. Light can be acceptable, but too much of it can prove worse than permanent darkness). Although there are occasional missteps where the writer overreaches with language (In order to achieve proper
credibility and stir emotion, undeniable facts must reside in the passage), overall, this response demonstrates advanced writing skill.
In the next few hundred words, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned through endless, mindless crossings-out, rewordings, rewritings and rethinkings.
Top tips and golden rules
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told to ‘write the question at the top of every new page’- but for some reason, that trick simply doesn’t work for me. If it doesn’t work for you either, use this three-part process to allow the question to structure your essay:
1) Work out exactly what you’re being asked
It sounds really obvious, but lots of students have trouble answering questions because they don’t take time to figure out exactly what they’re expected to do - instead, they skim-read and then write the essay they want to write.
Sussing out a question is a two-part process, and the first part is easy.
It means looking at the directions the question provides as to what sort of essay you’re going to write.
: This response demonstrates limited cohesion and skill in the use and control of language. The writer has provided a skeletal organizational structure for the essay, with a brief introduction that sets up the writer’s central claim, and paragraphs that roughly follow the order of the points the writer intends to discuss: Bogard uses many features such as touch, feeling, seeing or even our own senses. However, the essay lacks a progression of ideas within paragraphs; instead, ideas are disconnected from one another, so although the essay has the appearance of being ordered into logical paragraphs, the actual content of those paragraphs does not demonstrate cohesion (In Bogard’s essay he provides information about technologies that are determining different light fixtures. Comparing how cities and towns across the world are changing thier ways of light is going to be wasted). In this essay, organization and
language errors (such as syntactically awkward sentences and sentence fragments) detract from the quality of the writing and often impede understanding, leading to a score of 2.
I call these ‘command phrases’ and will go into more detail about what they mean below. The second part involves identifying key words and phrases.
2) Be as explicit as possible
Use forceful, persuasive language to show how the points you’ve made do answer the question. My main focus so far has been on tangential or irrelevant material - but many students lose marks even though they make great points, because they don’t quite impress how relevant those points are.
: This essay is mostly cohesive and demonstrates mostly effective control of language. The brief introduction establishes the writer’s central idea and sets up the essay’s three points. The essay then follows a clear, if formulaic, format. In each paragraph, the writer demonstrates a progression of ideas, integrating quotations or examples from the source text into the analysis and connecting ideas logically (Bogard uses pathos by stating examples that appeal to people’s emotions. In the article he wrote “Those of us over 35 are perhaps among the last generation to have known truly dark nights.” This statement appeals more to the younger generations emotion. By stating this...). Sentence structure is varied, and some precise phrasing is used to convey ideas (robbed of the oppurtunity, their own personal health). Language control on the whole is good, although there are a few minor errors (These examples will help his audience see that he is arguing for some benefical for people) that do not detract materially from the quality of writing
. Overall, the response demonstrates proficient writing.
Again, I’ll talk about how you can do this below.
3) Be brutally honest with yourself about whether a point is relevant before you write it.
It doesn’t matter how impressive, original or interesting it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re panicking, and you can’t think of any points that do answer the question.
One of the senses Bogard uses within his essay is touch. He concludes that many species depend on the darkness. I think that this is an important part to Bogard’s essay because it is showing that not only humans depend on this. Darkness tends to evolve all over the world for a variety of things.
If a point isn’t relevant, don’t bother with it. It’s a waste of time, and might actually work against you- if you put tangential material in an essay, your reader will struggle to follow the thread of your argument
, and lose focus on your really good points.
Analysis—1: In this essay, the writer has merely identified aspects of Bogard’s use of evidence without explaining how the evidence contributes to the argument. The writer notes that Bogard’s text talks about so much facts about sleeping how so little can effect us health wise examples like getting sleep disorders, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression. This facts helps people persuade the audience. Other than identifying these as persuasive facts, however, the writer does nothing to indicate an understanding of the analytical task. The writer again mentions persuasion before the conclusion of the essay (With these features he can persuade the auidence because people dont know why darkness can be good for us), but once again, there is no explanation of how or why these features are persuasive. Thus, the essay offers inadequate analysis of Bogard’s text.
Put it into action: Step One
‘Macbeth and Banquo meeting the witches on the heath’ by Théodore Chassériau.
Let’s imagine you’re writing an English essay about the role and importance of the three witches in Macbeth.
This essay demonstrates little cohesion and inadequate skill in the use and control of language. The essay begins with a very broad central claim (In “Let there be dark,” Paul Bogard talks about the importance of darkness) but otherwise lacks a recognizable introduction and
conclusion. The writer’s two main ideas are separated into two separate paragraphs, but because there is little original writing here
, there is no clear evidence of the writer’s ability to logically order or advance ideas. There is also little evidence of the writer’s ability to vary sentence structure. Overall, this essay does not provide enough evidence of writing ability to warrant a score higher than a 1.
You’re thinking about the different ways in which Shakespeare imagines and presents the witches, how they influence the action of the tragedy, and perhaps the extent to which we’re supposed to believe in them (stay with me - you don’t have to know a single thing about Shakespeare or Macbeth to understand this bit!). Now, you’ll probably have a few good ideas on this topic - and whatever essay you write, you’ll most likely use much of the same material.
This response demonstrates some comprehension of Bogard’s text. Although this essay consists almost entirely of two quotations taken directly from the passage, the writer does show an understanding of two of Bogard’s main points—darkness is crucial to humans and to animals—by selecting
and briefly summarizing two important lines of text. However, the writer demonstrates no deeper understanding of the passage’s main ideas or important details. Overall, this response demonstrates partially successful reading comprehension.
However, the detail of the phrasing of the question will significantly affect the way you write your essay. You would draw on similar material to address the following questions:
Discuss Shakespeare’s representation of the three witches in Macbeth.
Paul Bogard strongly believes that natural darkness should be preserved. In order to prove the need for natural darkness, Bogard divides his argument into three main topics, saying that natural darkness is beneficial to humans, essential to humans, and essential to ecosystems.
How does Shakespeare figure the supernatural in Macbeth?
To what extent are the three witches responsible for Macbeth’s tragic downfall?
Evaluate the importance of the three witches in bringing about Macbeth’s ruin.
This response demonstrates thorough comprehension of Bogard’s text. The writer captures the central idea of the source passage (the importance of allowing more darkness to fill the earth for distinct health and ecological reasons) and accurately quotes and paraphrases many important details from the passage. Moreover, the writer demonstrates an understanding of how these ideas and details interrelate. In the third body paragraph, for example, the writer shows the movement of Bogard’s argument from humans
to animals and from
problems to solutions (Using facts about animals, Bogard extends the argument beyond humans... Bogard extends the facts to offer various solutions). The response is free of errors of fact and interpretation. Overall, this response demonstrates advanced reading comprehension.
Are we supposed to believe in the three witches in Macbeth?
“Within Macbeth’s representation of the witches, there is profound ambiguity about the actual significance and power of their malevolent intervention” (Stephen Greenblatt). Discuss.
I’ve organised the examples into three groups, exemplifying the different types of questions you might have to answer in an exam.
Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience about what he is concering about and feels it important to take care about. His essay talks about so much facts about sleeping how so little can effect us health wise examples like getting sleep disorders, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression. This facts helps people persuade the audience he also say that the world health organization
classifies working night shift is bad. In his argument is not all about how it bad for the body he also claims and have proof that light cost are expensive and really costing people because they have light all night long. He also claims light is messing with mother nature that animals need darkness
to feed eat move around because there noctuaral creatures. He has details facts about human body, animals and about mother nature that he can use to support his idea of not using so much light at night and how we need darkness. With these features he can persuade the auidence because people dont know why darkness can be good for us. He was all of facts and examples that he claim is efficting us and there world.
The first group are pretty open-ended: ‘discuss’- and ‘how’-questions leave you room to set the scope of the essay. You can decide what the focus should be. Beware, though - this doesn’t mean you don’t need a sturdy structure, or a clear argument, both of which should always be present in an essay.
Write an essay in which you explain how Paul Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience that natural darkness should be preserved. In your essay, analyze how Bogard uses one or more of the features in the directions that
precede the passage (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.
The second group are asking you to evaluate, constructing an argument that decides whether, and how far something is true. Good examples of hypotheses (which your essay would set out to prove) for these questions are:
- The witches are the most important cause of tragic action in Macbeth.
- The witches are partially, but not entirely responsible for Macbeth’s downfall, alongside Macbeth’s unbridled ambition, and that of his wife.
- We are not supposed to believe the witches: they are a product of Macbeth’s psyche, and his downfall is his own doing.
- The witches’ role in Macbeth’s downfall is deliberately unclear. Their claim to reality is shaky - finally, their ambiguity is part of an uncertain tragic universe and the great illusion of the theatre.
(NB. It’s fine to conclude that a question can’t be answered in black and white, certain terms - as long as you have a firm structure, and keep referring back to it throughout the essay).
The final question asks you to respond to a quotation.
: This response demonstrates effective understanding of the passage, with increasing evidence as the response continues. In the second paragraph, the writer discusses the personal experience of the night sky that Bogard draws on; although the writer does not recount the experience itself, it is nevertheless clear that the writer understands the story of Bogard’s youth. In the next paragraph, the writer cites and discusses a generational claim that Bogard makes, again demonstrating comprehension. Finally, the writer discusses general points Bogard makes about darkness’s usefulness for both animals and humans
, although again, the writer makes a vague reference that darkness helps and is neccessary for certain animals without offering any of specific textual examples that Bogard provides. However, across the whole of this essay, the writer demonstrates effective understanding of the text’s central idea (he’s building an arguement to persuade his audience to preserve natural darkness) and important details.
Students tend to find these sorts of questions the most difficult to answer, but once you’ve got the hang of them I think the title does most of the work for you - often implicitly providing you with a structure for your essay.
Analysis—1: This writer provides a limited analysis of the source text. The writer identifies Bogard’s use of touch, feeling, seeing or even our own senses as aspects that build Bogard’s argument. However, the writer is unable to express how Bogard uses these elements specifically. For example, in the first paragraph, the writer claims that One of the senses Bogard uses within his essay is touch, but none of the ensuing discussion relates to touch at all. Instead, the writer merely goes on to summarize that Bogard concludes that many species depend on the darkness. In the third paragraph, the writer sets out to address Bogard’s use of feeling, but again, the analysis is not clearly relevant; nor does the writer clearly explain how the examples cited from Bogard’s text relate to “feeling.” In the fourth paragraph, the writer appropriately identifies Bogard’s use of emotion to build his argument, but the discussion doesn’t extend beyond identification: I think that this topic Bogard uses appeals to emotion to many different religious groups. Giving evidence of a historical artist Van Gogh adds a lot of emotion to this particular essay. The writer seems to have a sense of the form that analysis should take, but this response demonstrates ineffective analysis overall.
The first step is breaking down the quotation into its constituent parts- the different things it says. I use brackets:
(Within Macbeth’s representation of the witches,) (there is profound ambiguity) about the (actual significance) (and power) of (their malevolent intervention)
Examiners have a nasty habit of picking the most bewildering and terrifying-sounding quotations: but once you break them down, they’re often asking for something very simple.
The rest of the world depends on darkness as well, including nocturnal and crepuscular species of birds, insects, mammals, fish and reptiles. Some examples are well known—the 400 species of birds that migrate at night in North America, the sea turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs—and some are not, such as the bats that save American farmers billions in pest control and the moths that pollinate 80% of the world’s flora. Ecological light pollution is like the bulldozer of the night, wrecking habitat and disrupting ecosystems several billion years in the making. Simply put, without darkness, Earth’s ecology would collapse....
This quotation, for example, is asking exactly the same thing as the other questions. The trick here is making sure you respond to all the different parts. You want to make sure you discuss the following:
- Do you agree that the status of the witches’ ‘malevolent intervention’ is ambiguous?
- What is its significance?
- How powerful is it?
Step Two: Plan
James I, the King of England and Scotland at the time Macbeth was written, famously wrote ‘Daemonologie’, which encourages the practice of witch-hunting.
Having worked out exactly what the question is asking, write out a plan (which should be very detailed in a coursework essay, but doesn’t have to be more than a few lines long in an exam context) of the material you’ll use in each paragraph.
: This response demonstrates some comprehension of the source text, although the writer’s understanding of Bogard’s central idea isn’t conveyed until the latter part of the essay, where the writer indicates that Bogard includes details facts about human body, animals and about
mother nature that he can use to support his idea of not using so much light at night and how we need darkness. Prior to this, the writer has included details from the text, but without contextualizing these details within Bogard’s broader argument, suggesting that the writer is relaying ideas from the text without much understanding of how they contribute to the whole. For example, the writer mentions the health problems cited in the text, that working the night shift is classified as bad, and that light costs are high, but doesn’t explain how these points relate to Bogard’s main claim that we must preserve natural darkness. On the whole, this essay displays only a partial understanding of the source text.
Make sure your plan contains a sentence at the end of each point about how that point will answer the question.
A point from my plan for one of the topics above might look something like this:
To what extent are we supposed to believe in the three witches in Macbeth?
Hypothesis: The witches’ role in Macbeth’s downfall is deliberately unclear.
: This response demonstrates some understanding of the source text. The writer captures Bogard’s central claim by repeating the prompt’s summary statement about the importance of preserving natural darkness and conveys understanding of a few details from the text: many species depend on darkness, our bodies need darkness to produce many different hormones, different religious traditions vaule darkness, and cities and towns across the world are changing thier ways of light. However, whenever the writer moves beyond phrasings taken directly from the
passage and attempts to summarize a point Bogard has made, the interpretation is often unclear or inaccurate (Darkness tends to evolve all over the world for a variety of things; In Bogard’s essay he provides information about technologies that are determining different light fixtures). Overall, this essay demonstrates only partial comprehension of Bogard’s argument.
Their claim to reality is uncertain - finally, they’re part of an uncertain
tragic universe and the great illusion of the theatre.
- At the time Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, there were many examples of people being burned or drowned as witches
- There were also people who claimed to be able to exorcise evil demons from people who were ‘possessed’.
- Catholic Christianity leaves much room for the supernatural to exist
- This suggests that Shakespeare’s contemporary audience might, more readily than a modern one, have believed that witches were a real phenomenon and did exist.
My final sentence (highlighted in red) shows how the material discussed in the paragraph answers the question.
Finally, Bogard makes subtle yet efficient use of rhetorical questioning to persuade his audience that natural darkness preservation is essential. He asks the readers to consider “what the vision of the night sky might inspire in each of us, in our children or grandchildren?” in a way that brutally plays to each of our emotions. By asking this question
, Bogard draws out heartfelt ponderance from his readers about the affecting power of an untainted night sky. This rhetorical question tugs at the readers’ heartstrings; while the reader may have seen an unobscured night skyline before, the possibility that their child or grandchild will never get the chance sways them to see as Bogard sees. This strategy is definitively an appeal to pathos, forcing the audience to directly face an
emotionally-charged inquiry that will surely spur some kind of response. By doing this, Bogard develops his argument, adding gutthral power to the idea that the issue of maintaining natural darkness is relevant and multifaceted.
Writing this out at the planning stage, in addition to clarifying your ideas, is a great test of whether a point is relevant: if you struggle to write the sentence, and make the connection to the question and larger argument, you might have gone off-topic.
Writing as a reaction to his disappointment that artificial light has largely permeated the prescence of natural darkness, Paul Bogard argues that we must preserve true, unaffected darkness. He builds this claim by making use of a personal anecdote, allusions, and rhetorical questioning
Step Three: Paragraph beginnings and endings
This 16th century English illustration shows a witch feeding her familiars.
The final step to making sure you pick up all the possible marks for ‘answering the question’ in an essay is ensuring that you make it explicit how your material does so. This bit relies upon getting the beginnings and endings of paragraphs just right.
Analysis—1: The response offers ineffective analysis of Bogard’s text and demonstrates little understanding of the analytical task. Although clearly comprehending the entirety of Bogard’s argument, the writer does not communicate how Bogard builds his argument with evidence, reasoning, or stylistic or persuasive elements, nor does the writer communicate what effect Bogard’s argumentation has on his audience. Instead of providing effective analysis, the writer only identifies argumentative elements in Bogard’s text, such as the appealing allusion Bogard offers regarding Van Gogh’s Starry Night or the scientific evidence Bogard uses to support his belief in the preservation of natural darkness. The writer instead consistently lapses into summary. Overall, the response demonstrates inadequate analysis.
To reiterate what I said above, treat your reader like a child: tell them what you’re going to say; tell them how it answers the question; say it, and then tell them how you’ve answered the question.
This need not feel clumsy, awkward or repetitive. The first sentence of each new paragraph or point should, without giving too much of your conclusion away, establish what you’re going to discuss, and how it answers the question.
Bogard then gives a scientific case that shows why natural darkness is essential to humans. He states a find of the World Health Organization that declares the night shift can be detrimental to one’s health. He points to the necessity of darkness in producing melatonin, a hormone that helps prevent certain cancers from developing in the human body. Bogard then concludes his argument that darkness is essential to human well-being by analyzing sleep. He first makes the obvious claim that darkness is essential for sleep. Then, he talks about the negative health effects of sleep disorders.; these include “diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression.” To associate this with his argument for natural darkness, Bogard states the findings of recent research, which say that “long light” is one of the primary causes of “short sleep.” Bogard uses scientific evidence to support his belief in the preservation of natural darkness.
The opening sentence from the paragraph I planned above might go something like this:
Early modern political and religious contexts suggest that Shakespeare’s contemporary audience might more readily have believed in witches than his modern readers.
Bogard writes about the benefits that natural darkness actually produces. In the article he talks about how darkens actually helps the body produce a hormone that keeps certain cancers from developing. He also includes how darkness helps and is neccessary for certain animals. These examples will help his audience see that he is arguing for some benefical for people. This also helps appeal to an audience that might not care for the beauty of darkness but care for their own personal health.
The sentence establishes that I’m going to discuss Jacobean religion and witch-burnings, and also what I’m going to use those contexts to show. I’d then slot in all my facts and examples in the middle of the paragraph.
I think that Bogard’s essay is particulary strong. He uses a lot of evidence with emotion. Providing a variety of different examples on how darkness should be perserved gives a lot of power to the ideas that are expressed.
The final sentence (or few sentences) should be strong and decisive, making a clear connection to the question you’ve been asked:
Contemporary suspicion that witches did exist, testified to by witch-hunts and exorcisms, is crucial to our understanding of the witches in Macbeth.
All life evolved to the steady rhythm of bright days and dark nights. Today, though, when we feel the closeness of nightfall, we reach quickly for a light switch. And too little darkness, meaning too much artificial light at night, spells trouble for all.
To the early modern consciousness, witches were a distinctly real and dangerous possibility - and the witches in the play would have seemed all-the-more potent and terrifying as a result.
Step Four: Practice makes perfect
The best way to get really good at making sure you always ‘answer the question’ is to write essay plans rather than whole pieces. Set aside a few hours, choose a couple of essay questions from past papers, and for each:
- Write a hypothesis
- Write a rough plan of what each paragraph will contain
- Write out the first and last sentence of each paragraph
You can get your teacher, or a friend, to look through your plans and give you feedback.
If you follow this advice, fingers crossed, next time you hand in an essay, it’ll be free from red-inked comments about irrelevance, and instead showered with praise for the precision with which you handled the topic, and how intently you focused on answering the question.
By using a personal story Bogard allows his audience to connect to him. If his audience can relate or even understand his story they will be more willing to agree with him. The personal story also shows that the issue of preserving natural darkness isn’t just another topic to write about but something that he is actually passionate for. In his personal story Bogard uses great imagery making the audience picture what he saw and maybe make them want to experience it too.
It can seem depressing when your perfect question is just a minor tangent from the question you were actually asked, but trust me - high praise and good marks are all found in answering the question in front of you, not the one you would have liked to see.
Bogard’s third primary defense of natural darkness declares that it is essential to nature. He notes that there are a variety of nocturnal and crepuscular species of birds, fish, mammals, insects, and reptiles worldwide. He gives two specific, well-known examples of these species; these discussed the 400 species of North American birds that migrate at night and the sea turtles that lay their eggs on the shore at night. He also gives a couple of lesser-known examples, involving bats and moths that show the positive actions that some nocturnal animals perform. He then concludes his argument for nocturnal darkness necessary to nature with persuasion, saying that removing natural darkness would essentially destroy an ecology that took billions of years to develop. Here, Bogard uses scientific fact to prove that natural darkness is a key to nature and ecology. Paul Bogard supports the preservation of natural darkness. He uses an argument to support his position that has three primary points—benefit to humans, need for humans and need for nature.
Teachers do choose the questions they set you with some care, after all; chances are the question you were set is the more illuminating and rewarding one as well.
22 Responses to “Focus and Precision: How to Write Essays that Answer the Question”
August 21, 2014 at 8:22 am, Kristen Webster said:
I have been reading your articles on better essay writing and I am wondering whether you can provide an example of a well written essay please?
We haven’t produced any sample essays ourselves.
Paul Bogard builds a very persuasive argument to persuade his audience that natural darkness should be preserved. Bogard uses many features such as touch, feeling, seeing or even our own senses. Touching all of these features within Bogard’s essay will make his argument stronger on wheather natural darkness should be preserved.
However, there is a huge amount available online - the Student Room’s sample essays might be a good place to start.
We hope this helps.
The ORA Team.
January 20, 2015 at 1:54 am, kot said:
Thank you this was very helpful!
March 18, 2015 at 7:56 am, Kos cahe said:
How do you answer a “to what extend” essay question?
A ‘to what extent’ essay question is effectively a ‘yes or no’ essay question that’s phrased in a more helpful way. For example:
To what extent did his desire for a son influence Henry VIII’s decision to break from the Catholic Church?
Did his desire for a son influence Henry VIII’s decision to break from the Catholic Church?
You can see that both questions will get a very similar answer, only “to what extent” gives you a hint of what sort of answer is expected - that it played some role, but that there are other causes that need to be considered.
In Paul Bogard’s essay “Let there be Dark” he emphasizes the importance of natural darkness. Bogard begins his argument by first providing a story from his personal experience, appealing to the reader by adding imagery. “I knew night skies in which meteors left smoky trails across sugary spreads of stars.” In this sentence, Bogard depicts the beauty of natural darkness using detail. Bogard continues with comparing his personal perspective of natural darkness in the past to society’s perspective in the present. “Today, though, when we feel the closeness of night fall, we reach quickly for a light switch.” Implying that the times have definitely changed and natural darkness’s value has been lost in society, replaced with artificial light. This example gives Bogard a sense of voice and his use of comparison is definitely effective.
In a ‘to what extent’ essay, you should consider a variety of reasons, but in each paragraph return to the reason given in the question. In my Henry VIII example, you might write one paragraph on his desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, but connect this back to his desire for a son, as he believed Anne Boleyn stood a better chance of giving him a son than Catherine of Aragon.
According to Bogard, natural darkness can be a positive help to humans. One of the ways it can accomplish this is by giving enjoyment to onlookers. To supplant this, Bogard gives a personal example of how he enjoyed seeing meteors dart across the night sky in Minnesota as a child. Also he states that natural darkness can be a source of solitude. Supporting this claim, Bogard states that darkness is invaluable to every religion. Additionally Bogard says that the night sky has inspired countless numbers of philosophers, artists, and stargazers for millennia. He then gives an appealing allusion by asking how Van Gogh could have painted “Starry Night” in the mist of electric light. One of Bogard’s primary arguments for natural darkness shows how it can benefit humans.
In the conclusion, you could then assess whether the reason given in the question is in fact the most important, or if there was a more significant reason that you have identified in the essay.
We hope this helps,
The ORA Team.
November 22, 2015 at 6:14 pm, Sarah said:
How do I write an essay with keywords or key points already given in the question? For eg. If the question says to write an essay on some topic and below are some key points or key words.
Analysis—1: The response demonstrates no understanding of the analytical task. The writer does not attempt to analyze Bogard’s use of evidence, reasoning, or stylistic or persuasive elements. Instead, the writer merely cites two sentences from the passage, and offers a brief restatement of each point. Overall, this paper demonstrates inadequate analysis.
November 23, 2015 at 10:25 am, ORA Admin said:
Thank you for your comment. It is difficult to advise you on the specific essay in question, but we do have a large collection of essay-writing and study skills articles on the ORA website that may be of use to you.
In Paul Bogard’s article “Let there be dark” he’s building an arguement to persuade his audience to preserve natural darkness. Bogard builds his arguement in a few different ways. Bogard uses a personal story, appeals to people’s emotions, and states benefits of natural darkness.
Hopefully you can find something that can help you in the following articles: