You will have been developing the art of essay writing throughout your school life. As you start to write more mature and sophisticated essays you need the language to be able to do this properly.
Firstly there is a language (which I call ‘critical words’) that introduces an argument. By ‘argument’ I mean the assessment or evaluation of any point made. So for example in Philosophy an argument would be raised once you have presented a philosophical perspective, point or idea. In order to make it clear to your reader/ examiner that you are showing evidence of evaluation, which is necessary for top marks (not just stating facts or other people’s perspectives) use critical words.
To raise a strength supporting a point you have made options are:
So for example: Wiles presents a strong argument because… or William James raises a valuable point because…)
To raise a weakness, issue or problem against a point you have made options are:
So for example: Freud’s arguments can be seen as unreliable because… or Plato’s ideas on the soul are unlikely because…
Layering of evaluation is necessary for A/B grades. What I mean by this is once you have your first strength or weakness (evaluative foundations) you must then build upon this point, bringing in a name, concept or idea that supports or criticises this point. This can be achieved through using words such as:
So for example: This is reinforced by Swinburne who argues…. Or In contrast to Freud, even though a psychologist as well, William James would argue…)
Remember: Do not state evaluation (Freud criticises this… Dawkins would say…) because you are not demonstrating the impact that these critics have. Listing lots of names is NOT evaluation! You must critique whether these points are valuable, interesting, relevant (using critical words) and what impact this then has on the original point you made…
Avoid Name- Dumping:
Areas that students very often need help developing are:
- Structuring evaluation,
- Recognizing what evaluation is,
- Ways to actually get off the fence and start thinking critically.
Name dumping is where students use names of thinkers but re-state their point and do not do anything with it. When using any names in the exam, each one needs to be used critically in reference to the question, just by stating their criticisms of another person’s argument is NOT evaluation. The examiner wants to know what you think about how successful their criticism is.
So I created a very quick writing frame that not only helped structure evaluation in a paragraph but showed the students how to engage critically with the views presented. Students could choose from F.R Tennants and Arthur Brown’s views and/or the Goldilocks Argument as supporters or Dawkins (digger wasp/ memes) and Stephen Fry (bone cancer argument) as critics. (Click on the image for a free copy).
Now I’m not a fan of writing frames as I find them too restrictive on the flow of arguments. So I asked the students at the end whether they found it useful or not. It was pretty much a unanimous ‘yes’. Even though their answers read a little disjointed, the activity achieved what it was meant to do – to avoid name dumping and for them to recognize how to structure their arguments using supporters, critics and defences.
The process also helped them realize that evaluation involves a critical stand point, so just writing someone’s view is not enough they need to actually judge the success of the point too. They also realized quite quickly that I was not going to tell them what to argue/write and that they had to think for themselves whether they agreed or disagreed with the point. Finally I also explained that whilst they are arguing from an ‘I think’ perspective they should not write ‘I think’ (otherwise it doesn’t read like an academic piece of writing) so they have to use other language and other arguments to make their point. (See sheet above for some helpful sentence starters to avoid ‘I think’).
From this I wrote quite an elaborate paragraph structure on the board which I then also explained.
The structure showed them how to use names as part of their evaluation. So students can use both general strengths (this is a logical argument because) and/or use a name to argue a point. But in order to ‘use a name to argue a point’ there has to be a judgment on how well the name does this. So for example “Dawkins questions why would God create a world where wasps lay their eggs in another living creature to be eaten alive? This is an interesting point because…” And then the student must link the point back to the question.
The final part of the structure (as seen in the picture above) enables the students to finish a paragraph on a positive or negative note. So if the argument can be defended against the weakness/ criticism then the argument lands on a positive (e.g. the teleological argument can be defended.) On the other hand if the argument cannot be defended then the paragraph ends on a negative point (e.g. the teleological argument cannot be defended against the argument of chance).
Finally the students were given an A3 table to complete for homework that includes all the names covered in the Soul, Mind, Body unit. With each name they have to write one strength and one weakness using critical words and ‘because’ to help them ‘get off the fence!’ (Click on the image for a free copy).For further guidance in developing your essay technique, just click on the image below to be transferred to the shop.
For more support with writing a critical essay check out: Adding the ‘critical’ to your critical analysis: Developing A02