We have just looked at how to break down academic writing for reading. Now we are going to go a bit deeper into the structure, this time to help you with your own academic writing.
As you saw, there is particular way to write an academic text, or argument. It’s like the ingredients of a delicious cake. You can’t make the cake unless you know the recipe.
What is an academic argument?
It is a logical discussion / argument used to persuade people to agree with a particular point of view. This type of writing is essential for showing an in-depth understanding of any topic in any subject area.
There are four basic ingredients of an academic argument, which can be easily remembered as PEEL (the Point, the Evidence, the Explanation and the Link):
Point: The statement that you’re trying to prove.
Evidence: This information supports your point showing that it is true.
Explanation: This explains how the evidence proves the point
Link to the overall topic / hypothesis: Shows that your point is linked to the overall topic or hypothesis of your essay.
A hypothesis is an assumption, an idea or theory that is proposed for the sake of argument so that it can be tested to see if it might be true.
An academic essay includes a number of PEEL paragraphs which all work towards proving the overall hypothesis. The number of paragraphs depends on the task that you’ve been assigned as well as the word count.
Actually you use your basic argument skills in everyday life.
Here is a simple everyday example of an ‘academic’ argument:
Your mom wants you to make supper tonight but you tell her that you don’t have time to make it. This is your point – you don’t have time to make it! But you’ll need to persuade her that this is true otherwise she’ll think you’re being lazy.
So, what you need to introduce is your evidence to show that this is true. You could say that by not helping out you will be able to improve your university marks. But this isn’t enough! She’ll probably respond something, ‘Yes, right! I’m supposed to believe that?’
Now you need to give her your explanation to show how your evidence proves your point. ‘I need time to study. Research shows that the more time you get to study, the better your marks. So if you let me off cooking tonight, I will have more time to study and my marks will improve.
Your final comment is your link. You say something like, ‘so that’s why I don’t have time to make supper tonight’.
I’m sure that this will persuade your mother that you don’t need to make supper!
An academic essay is simply a series of points joined together to discuss one main theory or hypothesis. Each point is argued in one paragraph, and by linking together a series of paragraphs containing PEEL, you will have proved or disproved the overall hypothesis.
How to go about writing an academic essay?
Plan, plan and plan some more!
It’s no good doing a fluffy cloud or brain-storming type of planning. This type of planning is NOT helpful when you are planning to write an academic essay.
They are a bad planning tool because:
- You can’t organise your points logically
- You can’t check if your ideas are relevant
- You are likely to repeat yourself
Instead you need to use a structure plan like this for each body paragraph:
Once you’ve built up enough of these to show that you have covered all aspects of the topic, then you will have completed your planning.
Let’s look at an example:
Your topic is ‘‘Should humour be used in performances about serious issues like Aids?’
POINT: Humour is very useful when dealing with serious subject matter like Aids.
EVIDENCE: Humour helps people to think about things that they would rather not think about.
EXPLANATION: While people are enjoying the humour (e.g. of a play about Aids), they are still thinking about the issues.
LINK: Humour should be used in performances about serious issues.
This is a very simple example but it allows you to see how writing sentences in your planning keeps the logic of the argument flowing. Often, a quotation or a paraphrase of a quotation is given as evidence. You will need to in-text reference these (more on this later).
Let’s look at a possible way of putting a series of arguments together on this topic. You already have the first paragraph planned.
POINT: Humour related to a serious issue such as Aids enables people to retain more information and for a longer time.
EVIDENCE: Humour entertains and engages people more than other forms of engagement (find the research that proves this).
EXPLANATION: Because people are more engaged that they otherwise might be when humour is used, the serious message will remain with them for a long time and thus it will be more effective than a more serious form of communication.
LINK: Humour should be used in performances about serious issues.
Let’s look at a counter-argument in the third paragraph which cannot be ignored in your essay. You will need to see, if on balance of the research you do, the benefits of the use of humour outweighs the negatives.
POINT: Humour can be a problem when discussing something as serious as Aids
EVIDENCE: People with Aids or whose loved ones have Aids might be offended.
EXPLANATION: Humour in a play that deals with Aids could give the audience the impression that Aids is not a terminal illness that has terrible effects on those infected, and their loved ones. This means that the use of humour must be used in a sensitive manner so as not to offend anyone and to ensure that people do take this issue seriously.
LINK: Humour should be used with caution in performances about serious issues.
As you can see, the body of an academic essay consists of different arguments that prove/disprove the statement you made in the introduction (hypothesis) – more on your introduction and conclusion later. Each argument must link back to the hypothesis and therefore to the question.
It can often be difficult to come up with your introduction before you have looked at the hypotheses in-depth. This means that you can actually plan the content of your essay first before you write your introduction.
A suggested methodology:
If you don’t know how to start answering a question, then start with the body of the essay.
- Read through your research carefully.
- Look for information that is relevant to your topic.
- Use these to construct points that you can make about the topic.
- As you find information, fill in the boxes.
Once your body planning is finished you will have a very clear idea of what your take on the research is. This will allow you to write both an introduction and a conclusion more easily.
Before you write your essay out in full make sure that:
- You have answered the whole question.
- Your quotes / evidence is correct.
- You are not repeating yourself.
- Your paragraphs are in a logical order. If necessary, rearrange them using numbers or arrows before you write.
- Keep planning until you have done all of the above.
Although writing an academic essay can seem intimidating, it really helps to do thorough research and carefully start filling out information in your structure plan. By planning in this way, you also won’t be plagiarising from your source. You will reference all your evidence and then the explanation of how your evidence proves your point is your own thinking. Now that you know what the ingredients of each paragraph is, it really isn’t as scary as it seems.