6.1.2 Essay planning
Carefully read the following short essay. Try to identify its strengths and weaknesses in terms of planning. Take your time, but don't think you need to be familiar with the content, you are trying to find what provides the writing's framework.
Then try to answer the questions that follow in Activity 13.
There are advantages to studying as a mature student. Do you agree?
Government bodies and the universities are committed to a policy of widening access to higher education. In the attempt to develop a trained, educated workforce, there is greater flexibility in terms of entrance requirements and routes to a degree. If you are 21 or over and do not have conventional qualifications you may be given credit for your life and work experience.
An Open University lecturer wrote that teaching mature students:
… is sometimes an unnerving experience: at a lecture on Dickens's Hard Times I suddenly realised that I was explaining the rigour of industrial work … to ex-steel workers. Everyone of them knew more than I did and indeed they all knew more than Dickens about the lives of workers in heavy industry.
(Philippa Gregory, 1994)
The mature student has often learned a powerful work discipline and can find self-directed learning difficult to adjust to. The mature student may also work full-time and have a home to run. Despite enthusiasm for returning to study, the mature student may be scared by comparing themselves to younger students who seem very quick (having spent their recent years in full-time education).
Your degree certificate is evidence that you have taken the opportunity that you missed when you were younger, it tells people that you have reached a certain level of academic attainment, that you have time management and priority setting skills, and that you have shown sustained interest, commitment and self-discipline.
As I mentioned earlier, increasingly people all over Europe are realizing that education and learning are lifelong processes, much too valuable to belong only to the young. The oldest Open University graduate is 92. More and more mature students are entering Higher Education. In 1971, the first 24 000 Open University students began their studies. In 1994, there were more than 200 000 students registered. At least 2 million people have studied with the Open University. People are living longer and having fewer children. Changes in the workplace may mean that older workers have to retrain and seek a new career.
The mature student may find it difficult to make room in their lives and their homes for study. Many people like to shut themselves off from the rest of the family, without interruptions (but this is almost impossible without the support of your partner and children). It is much easier for young people to be selfish and shut themselves off. They don't have as much to worry about as older students. It is even more difficult if you are a single parent who has to go out to work as well as taking care of children, along with studying.
It is a really big step to add to a busy life at work and at home and start to study, but you do broaden your outlook and the range of ideas and people that you are acquainted with. The self-discipline and motivation that you need to develop will be a great help in the future. Once you have finished studying it may still be difficult to find a different job because of ageism, employers may think that you can't be as quick or as full of ideas as a younger graduate.
Philippa Gregory (1994), Foreword in Taggart, C. (1994), The Essential Handbook for Mature Students, London, Kyle Cathie Ltd.
Is there an introduction and a conclusion, which help to guide the reader?
Are important concepts or ideas communicated?
Does the writing build and have a sense of direction?
Can you discern an overall plan?
This essay contains some interesting and important points; but does it work?
1 Is there an introduction and a conclusion, which help to guide the reader?
There is no introduction and no conclusion – in fact, at the end the essay is almost left ‘hanging’ by a throw-away remark about ageism. For the reader, it is rather like undertaking a journey without a map and, instead of being in ‘safe hands’, finding that the driver is inexperienced.
2 Are important concepts or ideas communicated?
The writer does seem to know what is important to get across. But, there doesn't seem to be much of a framework and so the ideas tend to get lost.
3 Does the writing build and have a sense of direction?
This seems to be one of the major problems. There is good material here but the writer doesn't seem to know which facts are more important than others, there is no real attempt to classify or group points in order to create a sense of flow, of building an argument.
Here are two examples of this lack of order.
Information about the ‘big picture’ (presumably obtained through careful research) that is, government policy, numbers entering higher education and changes in the workplace, is sprinkled throughout the essay, rather than gathered together. The focus changes back and forth between this ‘big picture’ and the personal quite frequently. The writer certainly has opinions about the issues that a mature student needs to overcome, but these don't appear to be in any particular order.
The quote about the steelworkers is really appropriate and grabs the attention of the reader, but it isn't linked to the idea of the mature student's life experience mentioned at the end of the first paragraph. This takes away some of its impact and probably means that the writer would not get as many marks for its inclusion as she or he might have done.
The original topic is ‘There are advantages to studying as a mature student. Do you agree?’ We don't really know whether the writer has a point of view on this or has just put ideas in because the words or phrases look right and may be relevant. The important thinking over of the issues doesn't seem to have happened.
4 Can you discern an overall plan?
Well? What do you think?
Is the presentation of evidence or supporting material effective?
Which points are prioritised or do they all have equal billing?
Are links made between different points?
Does the essay flow?
Has the writer made the ideas his/her own?
Are chains of logic created?
The more time we spent thinking about this – reflecting on it – the more it seemed to us that the key is direction: if you can give your writing direction, then the rest will follow. In other words if you have a case to put, an argument to make, this provides the essay's direction; the elements listed above will then slip into place much more easily.