You may have heard a lot about how to write a long dissertation (10,000 words or above). You may also be familiar with writing short essays (2,000-4,000) where being concise is key. But what about those ‘middle-length’ essays that are too-short for any major analysis but too big for just a quick peruse into a subject? This blog will look at essays of between 5,000 and 10,000 words in length that you may be asked to write at master’s level. Here are some things to consider:
Introduction – More than a road map
For shorter essays, I was often told that you end your introduction by giving a road map of the topics of each paragraph and the sources that you will use. This is a good format if you already have a set question or if you have a general direction in mind for your argument. For longer essays, however, you might need to be a little bit broader when finishing up your introduction. Your essay title at master’s level is more likely to be less of a question and more of a statement that your essay will go onto explore, with the many questions underlying that statement. So your introduction needs to outline the main questions that this essay is going to explore rather than a paragraph by paragraph breakdown of the essay. However, do not answer these questions in your introduction. Save that for the body of the essay and the conclusion.
Do not be afraid to use longer quotes
This may have been different for you, but for my undergraduate course (not at Warwick), short essays meant short quotes that integrate well into the main sentences and bolster my argument. There was often not much need for longer quotes. For these ‘middle-length’ essays, however, longer quotes are expected in places to demonstrate that you have a deep knowledge of the secondary sources that you are using. So select your citations carefully and don’t forget to briefly break down the main components of the quote before continuing with your argument. Although this may seem like a long process, think of the advantage. Long quotes eat nicely into your word-count and will ultimately enhance the quality of your arguments.
Know who you’re quoting from
This point is sort of related to the last one. You need more than just a cursory knowledge of who to take sources from. At master’s level, you are expected to know more about the academics behind the texts you use and where they situate themselves in the field that your topic lies within. You can also do a quick search for what other academics say about your source text and its author. As for the text itself, you need to understand what their main arguments are and if you decide whether you agree with them or not. This will enable you to criticise and break down your sources. To help yourself with this, I would read at least the introductions of all the secondary sources that you are using (even if you do not need to for your essay) so that you can gauge the direction of their arguments. Their conclusions may also prove useful to understanding their final observations on their subject. Then, after having read these sections as well as the sections of the sources that you do need, briefly introduce your academic and the source the first time you use them in your essay. Then you can tie the arguments made in that source with your own.
I believe these are practices that professors want students to adopt because if you do continue in the path of academia, you need to know things like who is in the same field as you, when to write concisely and when to write in greater detail- and indeed apply them all to the same essay. I wish I had known some of these tips myself before I began to write my first essays this year. I hope they can now be of some use to you.
What do you think? Is writing ‘middle-length’ essays harder than shorter/longer ones? Are there any tips you would add?