12: The essay body

As the meat of your essay - the main course - your essay body takes up the most word count and contains all the evidence you need to take a stand, prove a point, or explain a topic. In this chapter, you will learn how to write the essay body, work in your opinions in a logical way, write in an analytical and descriptive manner, develop an argument and keep it balanced, and use quotations and visuals to enrich your argument.

Chapter 12 contents:

12.1: Pick a position

If you have written your essay introduction or, at the very least, your thesis statement that you will slot into an introduction, you should have picked a position to take within your essay. If you haven't, well, this is the time and place to do it as it will guide the development of the essay body. After all, that is the point of the body of your essay - it offers a position, or opinion, and states the argument and evidence that supports that position.

While it may be easy to have an opinion about something you feel passionate about or personally affects you, it may not be as easy to feel emotionally connected and interested in the essay topic that has been assigned to you. You may need to take some time to think about it and reflect on it. When you are looking at your essay question or essay statement, consider the following:

  • What is interesting about the topic or subject?
  • Do you know anything about it already?
  • Can you draw any connections to your own life or anyone you know?
  • How does your background - gender, culture, religion, upbringing - impact how you look at this subject? How does this perspective connect to the topic?
  • How can you be objective and keep your personal opinion out of the analysis?

When you are working towards picking that position, you can also shape your direction by:

  • Consulting existing evidence on the topic or subject;
  • Familiarising yourself with the key supporters of a particular side as well as with those that take the opposite side; and
  • Writing out the main points of both sides to examine the existing evidence.

Even if your essay involves including both sides in a balanced way, it is still to pick some type of position that will be included at the end of the essay for this particular style of essay. You may find that your ideas and perspective will change over time and as you collect and reflect on the available research, but this is all part of the learning experience and why you are at university!

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12.2: Different types of essay body writing

There are three primary types of essay body writing used at university - analytical, reflective, and descriptive - all of which will be described in this section of the chapter.

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12.2.1: Analytical essay writing

Analytical essay writing is considered the most important type of essay writing because it is all about the argument and illustrates a depth of thinking. Writing in an analytical way involves:

  • Looking at the evidence in a critical way;
  • Noting any assumptions;
  • Paying attention to what was not said as much, if not more, than what was said;
  • Considering the reliability and objectivity of the source of the information;
  • Weighing the strengths and weaknesses of a position or situation; and
  • Defining any factors involved in the issue.

This type of writing takes practice because it can become quite complex to think about everything involved in looking at specific data or findings. However, despite the complexity, the writing must be clear and easy to understand for the reader. You can do this by:

  • Breaking down the information into smaller, more digestible points;
  • Providing examples and illustrations to be more convincing;
  • Creating a logical sequence to explain the points and factors involved;
  • Defining technical terms or complicated keywords; and
  • Being as clear as possible in your writing by summarising your position in a couple of sentences.

As such, you should stick to one main point per body paragraph so the reader can focus on each without being confused by multiple ideas all at once.

As you try to increase the depth of critical analysis in your thinking and writing, look for specific areas where there are weaknesses. These weaknesses or issues could be with the:

  • Methodology or research approach;
  • Argument or information;
  • Objectivity;
  • Relevance or logic; and/or
  • Ideas or illustrations.

All of these can then be noted within the analytical essay to illustrate that you have examined the strengths and the weaknesses in the evidence you are using to back up your own argument. You may even want to think about what type of objections that the tutor could have in relation to your work and approach so that you proactively acknowledge these in your analytical essay.

Don't be afraid to be critical in your analytical essay. Many often attribute the idea of being critical to a negative or unpleasant stance when it does not have to be anything close to that. In essay writing and even in thinking, it is more about looking at the strengths and weaknesses of a particular situation and identifying the most reasonable and thoughtful perspective. It goes a long way toward helping with the need to achieve balance in providing opinions and evidence. So, relax and be critical!

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12.2.2: Reflective essay writing

Reflective essay writing is mostly about taking personal experiences and using this as a basis to explore certain ideas and concepts with the purpose of providing recommendations for improvement and enhancement to a particular issue, practice, process or activity. Most often, this type of essay can be found in such fields related to health, education, and socially motivated professions, including teachers, psychologists, nurses and doctors. There is a wide variance in terms of structure and form as well as presentation for a reflective essay:

  • Web or diary entries;
  • Narratives;
  • Portfolios; and
  • Discussions.

The key characteristics of reflective essays include:

  • Challenging the existing perspectives and opinions;
  • Examining ideas and feelings after a specific experience; and
  • Exploring concerns and issues that have been observed or experienced in the field or while working.

In thinking about these characteristics, it is easy to see that there may never necessarily be an end to the ability to reflect. Instead, it is acknowledged that this type of writing is about ongoing experiences, which can involve evolutions in opinion and understanding. You can even write about and illustrate how different experiences over time led to a change in perception.

While it might at first seem that reflective essay writing could be very loose, general, and broad, it doesn't have to be and can actually become quite focused and specific, depending on the subject matter and the experiences relate to that subject. Because there is such a wide range of what defines a reflective essay, it does help to have your tutor review drafts to make sure you stay on the right track with expectations. To stay focused, some tips on what to include in a reflective essay are to:

  • Look for the most significant issues.
  • Identify the concepts that are the most relevant to the issues.
  • Think about your feelings and perceptions about these issues.
  • Measure your level of involvement in the issues and determine how this level of involvement influences your feelings and responses.
  • Ask yourself why you have certain feelings about the issues.
  • Consider the negative or positive aspects of the issues.
  • Determine if there is any missing information that would improve the situation or help to respond to a certain issue.
  • Question whether your reflection has brought any other issues to the surface.

Because reflective writing can be considered less formal within the academic writing genre, these types of strategies listed above can help provide a framework to maintain a certain formality to the tone and essay.

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12.2.3: Descriptive essay writing

Descriptive essay writing is used to set the scene, or background, and provide the necessary context for the argument you are presenting. You can use this type of essay writing for:

  • Stating and explaining;
  • Identifying specific evidence;
  • Describing relationships between people and things;
  • Answering questions; and
  • Creating an order to certain information in the form of a list or chart.

This is often part of the other types of essay writing listed above, including being a small part of what is primarily an analytical or reflective essay.

Descriptive writing is characterised by little evaluation or analysis but mostly adjectives and words that paint a picture for the reader. This is why it is not necessarily encouraged for essays except as a means of providing colour or expand certain evidence like explaining a real world situation or story, which adds dimension to the essay.

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12.3: Keep your balance

Throughout the book, we have talked about the importance of objectivity and balance in writing essays and as part of an excellent academic writing style. One of the best ways to stay balanced is to read as much as possible on the topic to get the range of perspectives and to consider a wealth of findings or evidence. Then, each finding, perspective, and evidence must be fairly and critically analysed. The three sections offer tips and tracks to stay balanced by defining the evidence, reading critically, and stating opinions in a measured, thoughtful way.

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12.3.1: Defining evidence

First and foremost, you need to understand what serves as credible evidence in essay writing. Primarily, this can be defined as research that has been provided by recognised thought leaders in a particular field. And, not all evidence has to be in the same format to be considered evidence as some fields use different forms that another field may not considerable credible.

For example, some fields accept performances, artwork, and passages of literature as acceptable while others may prefer more formal research conducted in a lab or the field. Across the board, though, certain sources are considered questionable, including Wikipedia, book summary websites, and even many blogs or social media posts.

If you are in doubt still, think about how appropriate the evidence to the field of study and where it came from as well as make sure you can provide full referencing information, such as a book title and publisher or a journal article with title, publication, publication date and page numbers.

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12.3.2: Reading critically

When you are writing an analytical essay, it is important to read critically so you can think about balancing the weaknesses and strengths that are inherent in that reading. Everything must be analysed, assessed, and questioned rather than to assume that, just because it has been published, it's right or credible in its evidence and argumentation. When you are reading critically, you are:

  • Asking what point the writer is trying to make;
  • Determining if the writer was successful at making that point;
  • Assessing whether the writer was objective or whether there are gaps in the logic; and
  • Looking for solid evidence or holes in the information.

By doing so, you will learn to identify bias and discrediting any points that do not make sense so that you do not use this fuzzy logic to support our own argument. By becoming more sceptical, you will be able to calibrate your essay to a balanced position.

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12.3.3: Stating opinions

When it comes to stating opinions, it is vital that you remain as objective as possible and keep your rants and personal opinions to yourself. While you want to show your interest in what you are writing about, you still have to remain dispassionate about it and focus on the evidence you have collected from various primary and secondary sources for opinions.

After all of the critical reading and the weighing of evidence, it is time to select an opinion that will then be solely backed up by the evidence you have gathered rather than your personal opinion. The purpose of writing the essay is to show your tutor that you are capable of presenting the research and information from the course in a way that illustrates your understanding and ability to apply it to real world situations.

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12.4: Using quotes

When writing the body of your essay, you may resort to using quotes from some of these experts rather than always rephrasing their ideas. While this is acceptable, it must be balanced and used sparingly. Often, when you start out writing essays, you rely to heavily on filling the essay with direct quotes. This only serves to show your inexperience and lack of confidence in understanding the material. It is important to try and summarise or paraphrase as much as possible to show you truly do understand what you have been reading.

Here are some tips on using quotes appropriately:

  • Keep quotes short and weave them into sentences rather than just having them stand alone. Tutors don't like long quotes.
  • Include quotes as a way to further support your argument.
  • Use quotes when you are trying to disprove their side. There's nothing like using their words against them to build credibility for your side.
  • Signal a quote with quotation marks and indent the quote if it is going to be longer than three lines.
  • Double check that you have quoted every word correctly.
  • Always include some type of reference with the quote whether it is an in-text reference with author's last name, date of publication, and the page number where the quote originally appeared or it's a footnote or endnote. This is discussed later in the book.
  • Don't include longer quotes of four lines or longer in the word count of your essay, but you can do so on shorter quotes.

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12.5: Using visuals within an essay

Visuals, such as tables, charts, graphs, diagrams and photographs, can add another dimension to the body of your essay. Often, visuals create a more dramatic and compelling way to argue your point plus they do not take up what can be limited word count. This section provides tips on presenting, interpreting, and summarising through the use of visuals.

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12.5.1: Presenting visuals

It is important to know what each visual can do for the body of your essay. For instance, graphs show relationships while tables and charts are good for summarising and comparing or contrasting information and photographs or illustrations add meaning that can be difficult to explain otherwise. When you present these visuals, you need to:

  • Label and reference the visual, including the addition of titles, sources, keys and scales. This includes numbering the graphs and charts typically with Roman numerals. Be sure to consult your tutor on the exact format to use for visuals. Even if you adapt the visuals, you still need to add source information to ensure that you are not plagiarising.
  • Provide commentary and context for the visuals, such as why they are there, what they depict, and why they add to the argument. It is also recommended that the figure number or some other type of identifier be added in parentheses so the reader can know which visual is the subject of the commentary.
  • Use original versions or good-quality copies of the visuals in your essay. You can also use screen shot software to electronically insert the visuals in your essay. Just make sure they are readable or they do not add anything to your essay.

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12.5.2: Interpreting visuals

Take the time to interpret the visuals so you know you understand them and have thought critically about them just like you did with the other evidence. You want to know what they mean before you think about adding them to the body of your essay as you don't want to be called out for putting in irrelevant, inaccurate, or biased visuals.

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12.5.3: Summarising information in chart form

If you are creating your own charts or tables to explain data and provide it in a way that is easier to understand, take your time and make sure it makes sense to the reader. Word processing software makes this relatively easy by providing you with table, chart, and graph templates so you can drag and drop the data and the software does most of the work for you.

Just remember that, since visuals are primarily used to reduce words, do not overdo your charts and tables with extraneous words. It should be simple and succinct to maintain readability.

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Chapter 12: In summary

To reflect on what you learned in this chapter about the body of your essay, answer these questions:

  • How do you develop your position?
  • What are the three types of essay writing and what do you use them for?
  • How can you keep a balanced view?
  • What counts as credible evidence?
  • How can you read critically?
  • How do you use quotes in an essay?
  • What should you know about using visuals?

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