how to develop and improve your essay-writing skills
The main thing to say here about The Basics of Essay Writing is that it’s very short. Nigel Warburton has compressed the essential points of essay-writing skills into an amazingly small space. He’s done this by using a technique which could be recommended to people writing in any literary form. It’s called ‘cutting out the dross’. His ideas and recommendations come thick and fast, and he doesn’t dwell on anything for very long. The result is a highly concentrated series of tips, advice, and guidance on all aspects of academic writing.
He begins by pointing out the importance of writing skills – how everyone can improve with just a few simple steps, and how writing is a form of thinking. It really is true that often you don’t really understand something properly until you have written it down. He deals with getting started, and how to encourage your own fluency; how to understand the instruction terms in an essay question; and how you must keep in mind the most important thing of all – answering the original question.
Research skills are condensed into the very sound advice that you need to be disciplined. You should not ‘get lost’ in reading everything, and your reading should be accompanied by active note-taking as a preparation for producing your essay plan.
The central part of the book deals with the all-important issue of structure: how to create order, marshal your arguments, and write good introductions and conclusions. In my experience this is the part students find hardest, and if you follow his suggestions it should be more manageable.
There’s a good section on plagiarism and referencing where he shows some practical examples of the various degrees of plagiarism which are possible, even when the original source is acknowledged.
Cultivating an appropriate style is dealt with via tips on tone, vocabulary, spelling, and punctuation. There’s a section on dealing with exams, and he ends with general advice for improving your writing. He shows a rogue’s gallery of common mistakes – of which he has obviously seen many.
Nigel Warburton is the principal author of a very successful Open University course on essay-writing skills. In fact (without knowing him in the slightest) I have been tutoring it for the last few years, and I have been repeatedly struck by the thoroughness of its approach. All the students who follow the course recommendations pass with flying colours.
© Roy Johnson 2007
Nigel Warburton, The Basics of Essay Writing, London: Routledge, 2007, pp.128, ISBN: 0415434041