Essays: making your mind up

Quite apart from their superlative display of colourful costumes and creative choreography, it was Bucks Fizz who, back in Eurovision 1981, had the wisdom and insight to suggest that:

“…soon you will find
That there comes a time
For making your mind up.”

They could easily have been singing about essay planning (were they, even? Who can say?).

It is very easy to merely reflect an essay topic back to the examiner. It feels like a safe option.  You make sure your introduction echoes the sentiment in the topic and then you go about finding examples of this in your set text.  This will, at best, only demonstrate that you have read the topic and that you can find related evidence from the text.

*shrugs* So what? *looks up cat videos on youtube*

Well, that’s not the high level analysis you want to engage in.  By reflecting the topic back in its unqualified, unexamined, unrefined form and simply finding evidence to illustrate it you are effectively proving to your audience that there is a presence of a big idea in the text but not really informing us of the essence of the thing.  That is, what is it exactly that you think that we, as readers, are positioned to view certain themes or characters and in what circumstances or conditions and to what end?  What is being suggested about the nature of [insert idea]*

*take your pick:  genius; madness; neurosis; the intellectual pursuit; love; fear; uncertainty; heroism; conflict; reason; irrationality, age and youth; wisdom….the list goes on.

 

Let’s look at one such question which could stem from an essay topic:

What does Logicomix suggest about the nature of fear?

Did you feel your mind hesitate at the thought of answering this question immediately? Your brain probably danced a step or two back to take another look at the question.  This is an understandably skittish response to what is a big and complex question which undoubtedly demands considered, nuanced and qualified answers (multiple).  Do not expect to just rattle off a response from the top of your head or spit out an essay in exam conditions without first doing some heavy lifting first (remember the ants in Whitehead’s garden).  You should  feel your mind take a little time-out on the bench to consider the nature of fear as it is presented in all its guises in the book.  That is why it is so important to devote time to deep thought.

Some possible responses to such a question might be framed in such a way:

Logicomix shows us that:

  • fear has the power to…..
  • fear originates from…
  • fear can be both…..while conversely….
  • irrationality stems from fear of…
  • fear is inextricably linked to…
  • without fear we….
  • humans need to conquer fear in order to….
  • fear leads to….which in turn…
  • fear of ……. undermines our attempts to…..
  • fear can be harnessed….
  • we are right to fear…..
  • in Russell’s case, fear is…..

Notice how each of these statements goes some way to presenting the complexity of the ideas in the text.  Each would obviously need careful consideration and gathering of evidence to be developed into a decent paragraph.  You should see, though, how each statement is evidence a position taken.  A view to be presented.  An interpretation to be developed. A perfect topic sentence.  A mind made up.

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