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How can you ensure that your essay has a clear argument?

  • Stand back from other critics’ views and find your own path as much as possible, even if this is just a question of contrasting a variety of perspectives and coming down in favour of one reading over another.
  • Always go back to the primary texts after reading secondary literature and look at the evidence, asking yourself whether you agree with the critical readings you have come across or not. Even if you agree with the approach taken by other critics, you may be able to find new textual examples or other ideas to support your chosen argument.
  • Plan your essay carefully before you begin writing and have a sense of where you are going. Produce a short summary of your main points in sentence form, one per paragraph.
  • Create a structure which shows clearly the direction of your argument.
  • Make evident the ways in which each paragraph and each point contribute to your argument. Do not simply list points but have a sense of the forward direction of your argument. This needs to be particularly explicit in the introduction and conclusion.
  • Subordinate everything (textual examples, etc.) to your overall argument: control your material, don’t be controlled by it.
  • Don’t be afraid to acknowledge a counter-argument: framed within your essay structure, acknowledging an opposite stance can have the rhetorical effect of strengthening your own argument rather than weakening it. It shows that you have taken account of possible objections to your ideas. Explain the opposite view and what evidence it puts forward, then explain how yours diverges from it and why it should be taken seriously: is it a more accurate reading? does it point to some interesting tensions in the text? does it reflect to a greater degree what you understand to be the writer’s main concerns and/or those of his/her context?
  • Use core statements.