(a) Before you write your essay it’s important to analyse the task and understand exactly what the essay
question is asking. (b) Next conduct preliminary reading based on your lecture notes. At this stage it’s not crucial to have a robust understanding of key theories or studies, but you should at least have a general ‘gist’ of the literature. (c) After reading, plan a response to the task. This plan could be in the form of a mind map, a summary table, or by writing a “core statement” to encompass the argument of your essay in a few sentences. (d) After writing your plan conduct supplementary reading and refine your plan and make it more detailed. … It is tempting to skip these preliminary steps and just write the first draft while reading at the same time. Don’t. And remember to answer the essay question. Underline the key words in the essay title.
Key features of the essay:
1. A Global Structure – structure the material in a way that allows for a logical sequence of ideas. Each
paragraph / statement should follow sensibly from its predecessor. The essay should ‘flow’. The
introduction, main body and conclusion should all be linked. Each paragraph should comprise a main
theme which are illustrated and developed through a number of points (supported by evidence).
2. Knowledge and Understanding – recognise, recall and show understanding on a range of scientific
material that accurately reflects the main theoretical perspectives.
3. Critical Evaluation – arguments should be supported by appropriate evidence and/or theory from the
literature. Evidence of independent thinking, insight and evaluation of the evidence.
4. Quality of Written Communication – writing clearly and succinctly with appropriate use of paragraphs,
spelling and grammar. All sources referenced accurately and in line with APA guidelines.
Most students write too much knowledge and not enough evaluation. In the main body of the essay every
paragraph should demonstrate both knowledge and critical evaluation. Aim for about a 60/40 split if possible. Structure your essay according to key themes, illustrated and developed through a number of points (supported by evidence). Choose points that best reveal the theme or help to make a convincing and interesting argument.
(2) Knowledge and Understanding
An essay is a discussion or argument on paper. Don’t try to write everything you know. Avoid quotations only if you think they are really important. Each paragraph should have a purpose / theme, and make a number of points – supported by evidence. Be clear why each point is relevant to the argument. Try to outline the theme being discussed at the beginning of each paragraph (validity of national cultural dimensions, problems of standardised job design across cultures (the role of leadership in cultural alignment etc.). Psychology is a science so you must support your ideas with evidence (not your own personal opinion). If you are discussing a theory or research study make sure you cite the source of the information – not the author of a textbook, but the original source / author(s) of the theory or research study.
For example: Maslow (1943) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fulfil the next one, and so on. As a general rule, make sure there is at least one citation (i.e. name of psychologist and date of publication) in each paragraph. Each paragraph in your essay should contribute to answering the essay question.
(3) Critical Evaluation
Outline the strengths and limitations of a theory or research study. There are many ways:
Methodological evaluation of research –
Is the study valid / reliable? Is the sample biased or can we generalize the findings to other populations?
What are the strengths and limitations of the method used and data obtained? But highlight only limitations which make you doubt the conclusions that the authors have drawn – e.g. where an alternative explanation might be equally likely because something hasn’t been adequately controlled.
Cultural bias – Is the theory / study ethnocentric? Psychology is predominantly a white, Euro-American enterprise. In some texts, over 90% of studies have US participants, who are predominantly white and middle class. Does the theory or study being discussed judge other cultures by Western standards?
Compare or contrast different theories – Outline how the theories are similar and how they differ. This could be two (or more) theories of motivation / cultural dimensions / leadership etc. Try to communicate the value of the theories/ studies.
Debates or perspectives – Refer to debates such as the role of leadership, the importance organisational design, industry, national cultures etc. For example, would they agree or disagree with a theory or the findings of the studies?
Gender bias – If research is biased towards men or women it does not provide a clear view of the behavior that has been studied.
The PEC System Quality of evaluation is most important than quantity. Make sure you expand on your points. Use PEC.
Make your Point.
Explain how and why the point is relevant.
Discuss the Consequences / implications of the theory or study. Are they positive or negative?
For Example (Point) It is argued that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1943) is an appropriate theory of motivation only for Western cultures (Hofstede, 1988) (Explain) Because the sequence of “basic” needs to “self-actualisation” reflects Western, particularly US, materialism. Evidence suggests that different “levels” of needs operate concurrently in many nonwestern cultures, and in western sub-cultures (Jahoda, 1981). (Consequences) An uncritical application of Maslow’s hierarchy across cultures may because of misunderstandings, or offence.
Using Research Studies Research studies can either be knowledge or evaluation.
If you refer to the procedures and findings of a study, this shows knowledge and understanding.
If you comment on what the studies shows, and what it supports and challenges about the theory in
question, this shows evaluation.
(1) A Global Structure
(1a) Writing an Introduction
It is usually best to write your introduction when you have finished the main body of the essay, so that you have a good understanding to the topic area. If there is a word count for your essay try to devote 10% of this to your introduction. The introduction should;
1. Identify the subject of the essay and define the key terms.
2. Highlight the major issues which “lie behind” the question. Let the reader know how you will focus your essay by identifying the main themes to be discussed.
3. “Signpost” the essay’s key argument, (and, if possible, how this argument is structured).
Introductions are very important as first impressions count and they can create a halo effect in the mind of the lecturer grading your essay. If good start can obscure mistakes later on.
(1b) Writing a Conclusion
Give the conclusion the attention it deserves. Give it up to 10% of the word count. Summarise the key themes / arguments of your essay. State the take home message. Don’t sit on the fence; weigh up the evidence presented in the essay and make a decision which side of the argument has more support. Maybe suggest what future research may need to be conducted and why (read the discussion section of journal articles for this). Don’t include new information/arguments (only information discussed in the main body of the essay).
If you are unsure of what to write read the essay question and answer it in one paragraph. Points that unite or embrace several themes can be used to great effect as part of your conclusion.
(1c) The Importance of Flow
When you have finished the first draft of your essay you must check if it ‘flows’. This is an important feature of quality of communication (along with spelling and grammar). Higher-achieving students demonstrate flow.
The paragraphs follow a logical order (like the chapters in a novel). They have a global structure, with themes arranged in a way that allows for a logical sequence of ideas. You might want to rearrange (cut and paste) paragraphs to a different position in your essay if they don’t appear to fit in with the essay structure. Make sure the last sentence of one paragraph links to first sentence of the next paragraph. This will help the essay flow and make it easier to read.