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It may seem odd to imagine your reader asking this question; after all, you are writing the essay because your reader (your supervisor) has told you to do so. However, a more interesting approach is to consider why your supervisor set that particular problem, or, if you choose or set your own question, why you thought it worth asking. An essay is an attempt to answer a question or solve a problem, so you could problematise the topic for your reader - what is the problem and why is it important to solve it? You could touch on the implications for our wider understanding of the topic. In some essay titles, the problem or question is presented to you to unpack; in others, particularly ones you set yourself, you will have to play a more active role in problematising the issue to avoid being descriptive and just writing about the issue. Show your reader that you have seen the point of the exercise and its complexities, and can think critically.

Look for ambiguities and nuances in the title, and ways to open up the debate, perhaps using quotations to root your treatment in the text or scholarship, and then consider why it matters for our understanding of the text, author, period or genre. This is a key part of developing a more analytical approach.

What are the problems contained in the following essay title?: "Words cannot paint the horror." (Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto) Discuss the relationship between horror and inexpressibility.


The two concepts of horror and inexpressibility are neither obviously related nor opposites - part of the problem is to articulate why they are linked in this quotation. A further part of the problem is to demonstrate why these two terms are central to the text or its wider genre: Gothic literature is itself difficult to define, but are these two concepts in some way central to that definition? Moreover, if Gothic literature is concerned with expressing the inexpressible, how does it approach this difficulty? Is this what makes it 'Gothic'?