Writing tips for improving your essays

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5 Simple Writing Hacks

Writing Tips for Improving your Essays and Getting Better Grades.

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Writing tips can be found all over the internet and you can easily get bogged down with too much information. So here are five simple writing tips to simplify things. Reading countless essays and proofreading students’ work can be stimulating and rewarding with the chance to read about interesting ideas with a fresh look on the world, but it can also be frustrating, with the same mistakes appearing again and again. In order to stop your lecturers banging their heads against the wall, here are some top writing tips for writing essays and getting better grades:

 1. Read your Essay Through

As writing tips go, this may seem like a simple thing, but you’ll be surprised at how many people don’t do this simple task. Reading your essay once you’ve finished writing it can help prevent many errors and can make a lot of difference. It shows that you’ve taken care. It also highlights where you’ve repeated yourself or where you’ve repeated yourself and where a section just doesn’t make sense. There’s nothing like sloppy work to make a well-produced essay lose marks. This could mean the difference between a 2:2 and a 2:1 or even a 2:1 and a first.

“Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos .Aenean non turpis vitae ligula tristique sagitt isras varius erat pulvinar eros pretium”

2. Be Consistent

If you decide on using a particular referencing style or font, or anything in an essay, the rule is: be consistent. For example, decide on whether you are going to use single or double quote marks. However, this depends on the referencing style you have to use. There are over 3,000 referencing styles, so check which one you’re expected to use and stick to it.

3. Answer the Essay Question

A captivating, witty, erudite essay that shows the reader a depth of knowledge and a clear understanding of the topic is worthless, unless the question is answered. It’s no use waxing lyrical about the industrial revolution and the impact of the cotton industry just because you know about it, when the question asks about social media. It is also a good idea to read the marking criteria so you know what you’re going to be marked on.

4. Structure your Essay

It’s so easy to just start writing without thinking about where you’re going. This is like driving down a random road till you run out of fuel and end up completely lost with no time left to do anything about it. Structure your essay before you start and get feedback from your tutor or lecturer. The basic structure should have an introduction, the main body of the essay and a conclusion. The general rule for this is that the introduction should say what you’re going to say, the main body of the essay says what you want to say and the conclusion says what you’ve just said.

5. Use your Own Words in Essays

You need to use quotes in your essay to back up your argument, but don’t rely on them too heavily. Use quotes to back up your argument and explain what the quote means in your own words. If you don’t know what a quote means, you shouldn’t be using it. This also means that you shouldn’t start or end a paragraph with a quote. Quotes shouldn’t take the place of your argument, they should back up what you want to say.

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It costs an arm and a leg

It costs an arm and a leg

This week’s idiom is ‘It costs an arm and a leg’.

I know you’ve all been chomping at the bit, waiting for the second installment of An Idiom Abroad, well, your wait is finally over and this week the idiom is: ‘it costs an arm and a leg’. This is a very common phrase in English, but if you’ve never heard it before, it could sound like you would have to part with more than your hard-earned cash to acquire the object. However, the phrase ‘it costs an arm and a leg’ means very expensive.

So where does ‘it costs an arm and a leg’ come from?

Many seem to think that ‘it costs an arm and a leg’ comes from the pre-photographic era where painters would charge more depending on the size of the portrait. A head and shoulder portrait would be the cheapest option, followed by one that comes down to the waist, including the arms, with the most expensive option being a full-length portrait that also included the legs. This seems plausible as larger canvases would cost more, however, it is unlikely that the phrase originated from this practice because there were no recorded uses of the phrase before the twentieth century.

It costs an arm and a leg
George Washington portrait by Gilbert Stuart

One of the first uses of ‘it costs an arm and a leg’ was in the longbeach Independent in December 1949: ‘Food Editor Beulah Karney has more than 10 ideas for the homemaker who wants to say “Merry Christmas” and not have it cost her an arm and a leg.’ This comes shortly after WWII where the reality of war where many servicemen lost limbs was fresh in people’s minds.

Another explanation is that the phrase ‘it costs an arm and a leg’ comes from two separate phrases that were combined, ‘give his right arm for’, and ‘takes a leg’. The earliest example was in the 1849 edition of Sharpe’s London Journal:

He felt as if he could gladly give his right arm to be cut off if it would make him, at once, old enough to go and earn money instead of Lizzy.

The second phrase was in 1875 in the Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye:

A man who owes five years subscription to the Gazette is trying to stop his paper without paying up, and the editor is going to grab that back pay if it takes a leg.

So the phrase might be a mixture of the two phrases to make ‘it costs an arm and a leg’.

Some would say that ‘it costs an arm and a leg’ isn’t technically an idiom. It’s a metaphor. However, I don’t think this matters for the purposes of this blog which attempts to familiarise students whose first language is not English with the peculiarities of the language

In costs an arm and a leg in context:

Nigel needed a new suit. The old one was falling to pieces so he called his friend Gary and went to his local tailors on the high street. “I bet this is going to cost you an arm and a leg.” Gary remarked as they looked at all the suits available, Nigel wasn’t paying attention, “I don’t just want an arm and a leg, I want the whole suit.” Gary rolled his eyes and sighed.

 

Some interesting links:

http://www.snopes.com/language/phrases/lesson.asp

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/arm-and-a-leg.html

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An Idiom Abroad

Idiom: Raining cats and dogs

An idiom is: ‘A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words’. OED.

English can be challenging at the best of times with pronunciation, unusual spellings and grammar rules that even a seasoned English user can sometimes make mistakes with. Then there are idioms. Unless you’ve heard an idiom before, you could easily think that the people using it are talking in some sort of code. ‘It costs an arm and a leg’ doesn’t involve any sort of surgery and ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ can easily be interpreted as a fluffy, heavenly onslaught of teeth and claws.

To help with this and to inject some humour into what can be a fairly boring subject, we will be bringing you an idiom a week. We will attempt to explain and put into context an idiom that is used in common English speech.

This week’s idiom is: It’s raining cats and dogs

Idiom: Raining cats and dogs
Raining Cats and dogs

This simply means that it’s raining heavily.

The phrase in context.

Toby was walking along the road minding his own business when the rain started pouring down. Fortunately he was just passing the house of Matha, a friendly, warm-hearted woman who he knew wouldn’t mind giving him shelter. He knocked on the door and Martha answered as the storm took hold, the rain lashing down as thunder rolled in. Martha ushered him into the house out of the rain. “It’s raining cats and dogs out there,” Toby said as the water dripped off his nose. Martha was surprised at this, not because it was raining cats and dogs, but because she didn’t know dogs could speak.

But where does this phrase come from?

It was first used in 1651 by Henry Vaughan in his Olor Iscanus, where he refers to a roof where ‘dogs and cats rained in shower,’ and a year later, the English playwright Richard Brome wrote in his comedy City Witt, ‘it shall rain dogs and polecats.’ However, the popularity of the phrase resulted from its use by Jonathan Swift.

In 1710, Swift published ‘A Description of a City Shower’ in Tatler magazine where he describes the filthy streets of 17th/18th century England, where heavy rain would wash debris through the streets, including dead cats and dogs. But the first proper use of the phrase as we have it now comes from the publication of Swift’s Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, in 1738, a satire on the conversations of the upper classes: ‘I know Sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs.’

It is not known for certain where the phrase comes from etymologically, however, some theories have been advanced:

  • Odin, the Norse god of storms, was often pictured with dogs and wolves, which were symbols of wind. Witches, who supposedly rode their brooms during storms, were often pictured with black cats, which became signs of heavy rain for sailors.  Therefore, ‘raining cats and dogs’ may refer to a storm with wind (dogs) and heavy rain (cats).
  • ‘Cats and dogs’ may come from the Greek expression cata doxa, which means ‘contrary to experience or belief.’ If it is raining cats and dogs, it is raining unusually or unbelievably hard.
  • ‘Cats and dogs’ may be a perversion of the now obsolete word catadupe.  In old English, catadupe meant a cataract or waterfall.  A version of catadupe existed in many old languages. In Latin, for example, catadupa. was borrowed from the classical Greek κατάδουποι, which referred to  the cataracts of the Nile River.  So, to say it’s raining ‘cats and dogs’ might be to say it’s raining waterfalls.
  • A false theory stated that cats and dogs used to cuddle into thatch roofs during storms and then be washed out during heavy rains. However, a properly maintained thatch roof is naturally water resistant and slanted to allow water to run off.  In order to slip off the roof, the animals would have to be lying on the outside—an unlikely place for an animal to seek shelter during a storm.

If  you have any more information on this phrase please feel free to leave a comment and don’t forget to follow this blog for your weekly idiomatic dose.

For more information on the idiom, ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’:

http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/raining%20cats%20and%20dogs.html

http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/rainingcats.html

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Derrida On The “Truly Exceptional Moment” When Writing “Of Grammatology”

Derrida on Of Grammatology

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSsDRf2wnOk

Derrida describes the unique experience of writing the first two parts of ‘Of Grammatology’. He describes the responsibility and irresponsibility of writing the text as if the work was transcribed to him, without ascribing a religious sensibility. Derrida describes ‘Of Gramatology’ as ‘a truly exceptional moment in my work’.

It has finally arrived. 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective.

Compared to a normal-sized book
40: A Doonesbury Retrospective. Compared to a normal-sized book

The two month wait has finally come to an end, bringing joy and dread in equal measure. Joy that I have forty years of a comic strip to read, enjoy and savour and dread that I have to start writing, researching and coming up with interesting ideas. It’s a monster of a book, as can be seen when compared to a normal-sized paperback, and it’ s just as heavy, not something you can easily slip into your pocket. A wheelbarrow might come in handy. So now the research and writing can begin in earnest for a collection of critical essays on Doonesbury to be published by Manchester University Press (MUP) later on in the year.

Chronicling America since 1968 and undoubtedly the great American novel, Doonesbury is ideally situated to explore themes, such as democracy and economic influence. As the voice of the dwindling American left, Doonesbury has continually provided hard-hitting commentaries on pertinent issues, causing controversy on a number of occasions, however, one of the central issues, the article will argue, is the relation between democracy and the impact of economic consideration on democratic decision making. It is this relation that needs thoroughly thinking through in order to arrive at a clearer understanding of democracy, considering Derrida’s argument that we have never had democracy: democracy is always ‘to come’. The recent storyline concerning Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, the private equity firm, highlights the fundamental differences in intention, creating profit at the expense of others as opposed to the intention towards working for the benefit of the American public.

Negotiating Derrida’s understanding of the gift and differance, the article will trace the fundamental issues of economic consideration in relation to democratic reasoning. It will then consider Derrida’s understanding of absolute risk, where the only way to act ethically and responsibly is to put one’s self in jeopardy, with the difference being more than what Trudeau defines as ‘class warfare’; it is central to violence in general. Outlining Derrida’s engagement with Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics of ethics and his delineating of tout autre est tout autre (every other is every (bit) other) will lead to an understanding of democracy as necessitating an opening to the other as absolutely other, a venture into absolute risk and potentially destroying oneself in order to do what is responsible and ethical. This idea is opposed to Bain Capital’s thirst for profit at the expense of jobs and the livelihood of thousands of Americans.

Tracing this theme throughout Doonesbury will allow a deeper exploration of the relation between profit and responsible decision-making to inform other themes at a fundamental level. Derrida’s messianic without messanism has been  argued by Fletcher and Bradley (2010) as, ‘the last – and perhaps even the best – means of keeping open a relation to an absolute, unforeseeable future in the face of every political, theological or economic attempt to foreclose upon that future.’ The role of private equity firms and considerations of monetary gain, it will be argued, limit future outcomes and prevent alternative methods of approach and it is only by questioning these themes that a responsible way forward may be forged.

So now it’s a matter of writing it.