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Supervisor comment: 'being able to analyse and not merely present narratives'

Better essays look beyond a superficial interpretation of the question and exploit opportunities to take your own position amongst contrasting arguments. A good essay would evaluate the evidence, present a view as to which theories are most significant and give convincing reasons for this view. The best response would take the most systematic and reasoned approach to this.

The degree to which you are able to evaluate the significance, or strengths and weaknesses of a theory or argument in year 1 will depend on the nature of the question. It might be more of a challenge, for example, in a compare and contrast question. Discuss the role of chance in the evolution of living organisms offers plenty of scope for creative and original thinking. As you move into your 2nd and 3rd year, you will increasingly be expected to include evidence of critical evaluation in your written work.

Critical evaluation ultimately involves being able to evaluate your own argument and those of others. Your skills will develop over time but it is worth making a start now.

'Evaluation' includes the following:

  • identifying the flaws/merits in your own argument and those of others
  • reading texts and picking out only what is relevant to your argument
  • identifying differences in various presentations of an argument 
  • making judgements on the validity of supporting evidence

The following pages ask you to critically evaluate supervision essays produced by students during their first year at University. The next challenge is to learn how to evaluate your own writing in this way, which the Biological Sciences: Using feedback resources address.


Further Reading

  • Creme, P. & Lea, M., 2007: Writing at University a guide for students. 2nd ed. OUP. See chapter 7, Putting yourself into your academic writing. Emphasises the move from personal to academic writing and includes a task relating to your own work.
  • Soles, D., 2005: The Academic Essay: How to plan, draft, write and revise. 2nd ed. Studymates. Chapter 4, Analysing and interpreting information does not refer to the biological sciences context but does suggest some interesting activities designed to aid understanding of what analysis is.
  • Cottrell, S., 2005: Critical Thinking Skills. Developing effective analysis and argument. Palgrave Macmillan. As the title implies, this book focuses solely on developing critical thinking skills with activities throughout. Texts used are short and wide-ranging in topic, enabling you to practice your skills before progressing to longer texts in your own discipline.