A high-grade English literature essay is one that shows development of thinking about the texts or issues covered in the essay title. Also, the structure should present your thinking using the ideas of others as a foundation to explain how you arrived at your own views.
In other words, the purpose and substance of the essay should be your own perspectives, backed up by effective references and a clear bibliography at the end. The first stage of completing your essay is to draw up a clear plan or outline for the work.
How to plan your essay
- The first stage of planning is to identify what you are being asked to do. In other words, are you being asked to, for example:
- “Compare and contrast the politics of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, expressed through their writing.”
- Analyse the narrative style of Ambrose Bierce using the historical context and his allegiance to the literary realism movement.
- Discuss the coming-of-age experiences of Lily Smith in The Secret Life of Bees. Identify if there are parallels for today’s teenagers in a multi-cultural world.
- From the title identify the key term that will be the focus of your work, i.e., compare/contrast, analyse or discuss, as this will frame the presentation of your arguments and structure of your essay as each term has a different requirement as shown in the figure below.
|Analyse: This means you need to examine multiple elements that may be relevant to the topic and identify their relationship.|
|Compare and Contrast: Explore and set down the differences and similarities between theories, events, frameworks, and interpretations.|
|Critically Review: Develop a reasoned evaluation based on examination and analysis of positive and negative factors in a subject area.|
|Define: Deliver an authoritative statement regarding a term or case.|
|Discuss: Consider all points of view in a topic area and using your judgement and available evidence provide a clear and justifiable point of view.|
|Evaluate: Examine all arguments in an area of interest and present a judgement.|
- Identify the key sources you will use and list these. Critical sources in English literature should stimulate your own thinking and should lead you to explore ongoing debates.
- Divide the work into sections, for each key or sub-theme you wish to cover in your arguments.
Writing your English Literature Essay
High grade English literature essays should have a strong and creative introduction. You may choose to first define key terms in the question or approach the work by considering why the question is being posed – in essence, what makes it relevant.
The introduction should also provide a brief overview of the structure and key arguments that the body of the essay will cover, i.e., it should deliver a creative, innovative, and relevant thesis statement. Remember that the main aim of your introduction is to tell the reader what you will be discussing, in an engaging and interesting way, to motivate them to read further.
Your body text should be structured based on your plan. Keep to the structure of one point for each paragraph. Start the paragraph by indicating the point you wish to make, then back this up with critical evaluation and clear argument.
You can also include counterarguments and why you are refuting them as this shows wider understanding of the issues being discussed. Each paragraph should be connected to the last with phrases such as “Nonetheless”, “Moreover”, “In addition”, “In spite of” etc. You should ensure that you show a balance between your arguments and available evidence, it is not advisable to make generalisations in an English literature essay – be specific and back up with relevant texts from credible sources.
Where possible, avoid direct quotes or paraphrased viewpoints from other critics, you essay should show that you have drawn on the views of other’s but that the voice of the essay, and its expressed opinions are clearly your own. In other words, you are demonstrating critical engagement with views in the field, and delivering your own, well-thought out and supported perspective on the essay question.
The conclusion of your essay should draw together all the points you have made and provide a concise summation of your views on the subject of the essay. You should not introduce new information in the conclusion – rather you should revisit the original question, and indicate your perspective on this, along with identifying any new questions that your views and evaluation of the area have identified as being necessary.
The conclusion should consider the wider picture in the subject area, irrespective of whether the essay requirement is compare/contrast, discuss or analyse. As with the introduction, the conclusion should be strong and concise to close the essay effectively.