Relevance in essays

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1. Relevance is an all-important feature of good essays and term papers. It is very important that all parts of an essay are directly related to answering the question. Any parts which wander away from the topic(s) concerned will weaken its effectiveness.

2. Making judgements about the relevance of what you produce is not always easy. Concentration and clear thinking are required. However, there are a number of strategies you can adopt to help you stay on target.

3. The essay question should be written out accurately and in full – both on your notes and your finished essay. This will help you to understand any key terms and instruction terms, and it will help you to keep the essay topic(s) in mind whilst you are writing.

4. It should also help whilst you are planning your answer and writing the first draft of the essay. You should consult the wording, and relate each part of your argument to the topic(s) in question.

5. Remember that each paragraph should contain just one idea or topic which is announced in its first sentence. This idea or topic should be directly related to the question or the subject you have been asked to discuss.

6. The idea, topic, or argument of this first sentence should then be expanded and developed in the sentences of the paragraph which follow. Each part of your explanation should be directly related to the question or the subject.

7. Part of the substance of each paragraph should be that it explains the relevance of your argument to the question. Avoid straying onto other topics, no matter how interesting they might seem. If they are not directly related to the question, have the courage to delete them from your drafts.

8. If you feel it really is necessary to introduce a separate issue into an essay in order to illustrate some part of your argument, make sure that you return to the original subject as soon as possible. Part of your discussion should explain why and how this secondary issue is relevant.

9. Maintaining this degree of control over your argument requires a great deal of careful planning. At each stage of the argument, you should keep asking yourself ‘Is this relevant?’, ‘Am I answering the question?’, ‘Does this relate directly to the subject I have been asked to discuss?’

© Roy Johnson 2003


Writing skills links

relevance Tutorials, guides, and books, on writing skills

Red button Writing skills – a bibliography

Red button Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook


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