Essay essentials: Part 2

In Part 2 of this 3-part blog, we’ll look at quotations, paraphrases and citations, references and conclusions. 

Again, this is a simple and fairly prescriptive overview, which we hope will help any student new to writing essays in English. We know that there is no magic formula for writing essays. But, we do believe that some elements are, to a certain extent, formulaic. In other words, if you follow the advice below, you shouldn’t be breaking any UK academic norms or conventions. Once you’ve written several essays and understand the ‘rules of the game’, so to speak, then by all means feel free to bend them and exercise to the full your academic literacies. 

1.  Quotations, paraphrases and citations

We said in our last post that every topic sentence (main idea) of every paragraph needs to be developed and supported fully within the paragraph.  The way we support our ideas is through use of explanation, examples, experience, facts/figures/statistics and reference to authority (i.e. reporting other people’s words, ideas and evidence).  Reference to authority can come in the form of direct quotations or paraphrases.

Direct quotations

These are the author’s exact words (unchanged by you).  Whenever you include a quotation you MUST use quotation marks (normally single in the UK, as per example below) and provide a citation. A citation is an acknowledgement of the origin of the quotation. In other words, you are telling your reader that you borrowed these words from someone else. Citations are done slightly differently according to different referencing systems (e.g. Harvard, APA, MLA) and you will need to check with your own Department which system they use and then follow their guidelines. Below is an example using the Harvard system.

Paraphrases

These involve rephrasing an extract from another author in your own words and are more common in academic writing than using direct quotations. Paraphrasing ideas in your own words shows your reader that you’ve read the information, processed it, and can reproduce it in a way that makes sense for you, i.e. your own words. Writing a paraphrase is challenging for L1 and L2 speakers alike.  So here are some tips:

  • Read, re-read and understand the original

  • Make brief notes using symbols, abbreviations etc.

  • Put the original (and your pen) to one side and try to express the meaning orally in your own words (even record yourself if you want)

  • Now write your paraphrase from memory or from the recording

  • Check against the original text. Make sure you’ve got the main idea but that you haven’t used too much of the original’s phrasing

  • Make sure you’ve acknowledged the source by including a citation

What you CAN change: vocabulary (e.g. use synonyms); sentence structure (e.g. change active voice to passive voice or vice versa); grammar (e.g. change verbs to nouns).

What you CAN’T change: the meaning!

Compare the original on the left with the paraphrase on the right and note down what was changed.  Also notice the citation. With the Harvard referencing system, you do not need to include a page number for paraphrases, just the author’s last name and year of publication.  Again, please check with your own Department and follow their guidelines. 

2.  References 

At the end of your essay list, in alphabetical order according to authors’ last names, all the sources you have referred to in your essay and provide full bibliographical details for each.

Note: a list of References is different from a Bibliography. The latter includes everything you’ve read and that which has informed your thinking for your essay.  Therefore, you may have more bibliography entries than sources cited in your essay.  A Reference List, however, has the exact same number of entries as the number of sources cited in your essay.

Make sure you consult your Department’s guidelines about whether to include a list of References or a Bibliography at the end of your essay and make sure you know and adhere strictly to the guidelines for the referencing system in use.

Here is a short example of a Reference List according to the Harvard Referencing System. Note: the first entry is a book; the second is a website; and the third is a journal article.

Example:

Allsop, J. (2002) Test Your Verbs.  Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

British Council (2017) English for University Students. Available from: http://www.britishcouncil.org/english/academics [Accessed 23 May 2017].

Hu, X., Ackermann, H., Martin, J.A., Erb, M., Winkler, S. & Reiterer, S.M. (2013) ‘Language aptitude for pronunciation in advanced second language (L2) learners: Behaviour predictors and neural substrates.’ Brain and Language, Vol. 127, pp. 366-376.

 

3.   Conclusions

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We hope this has helped you with your own writing. Our next post will cover academic language and style. If you have any questions about any of the information above or would like advice on your own essay, then please do get in touch.  We can help you gain confidence in your academic writing.