What is good writing?
What is good writing?

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What is good writing?

3.2 Answering the question

An essay can be good in almost every other way and yet be judged poor because it ignores the question in the title. Strictly speaking, I should say ‘it ignores the issues presented in the title’ because not every essay title actually contains a question. But, in fact, there is usually a central question underlying an essay title, even when it takes the form of a quotation from a text followed by the instruction ‘Discuss’. And you need to work out what that underlying question is, because this provides a sharper focus for your ‘answer’. But, in any case, it is generally a good idea to ask yourself ‘Have I answered the question?’. That's because you are never just asked to ‘write all you know’ about a subject, or simply describe something. You are set a specific problem to think about in the light of what you have been studying.

Your task is to argue a case in relation to the question posed in the title. Everything you say in the essay should be relevant to that task. It isn't enough that a point you make is interesting to you (as we saw with Hansa's interest in women's oppression). You have to convince your readers that the point has some bearing on the title and is therefore worthy of their attention.

That is why it is a good rule always to write the title of the essay across the top of your opening page. It reminds you what you are supposed to be doing and where your readers are starting from when they begin reading your essay. And you must always stick exactly to the title you are given – not devise a modified version of your own, as Philip did. A tutor faces a demanding job commenting on and assessing your essay. The job is made possible by setting it up in a tightly defined way, so that it is clear what has to be done to show a certain level of achievement. This is the purpose of the title and the reason you have to work to it at all times. Tutors can be quite impatient if you insist on demonstrating a whole lot of knowledge you haven't been asked for.


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