Writing Essays

Essays are one of the main ways in which you develop and demonstrate your understanding of the subjects you are studying, your ability to analyse and interpret evidence, and your skills in setting out your conclusions clearly and logically, in correct, appropriate English (and also, in some cases, in the language you are studying). There is more than one way of writing an essay, but the you should find the ELE tutorials on essay-writing helpful. Log into ELE and paste the following address into the address line: http://vle.exeter.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=1850 (scroll down to the Essay Writing section). 


Matters of style and spelling of particular relevance to Modern Languages

i) Use single quotation marks for quotations and for the titles of articles. Use double quotation marks for a quotation within a quotation.

ii) Italicize the titles of books, for instance:
In Calvino’s novel Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore, ...or
In Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie, Freud argues that …

iii) Foreign terms used within your English text (in so far as they are not quotations) are italicized; this prevents the reader from stumbling over the sudden switch of language. Typically, these are words for which English has no adequate equivalent: auteur, mise en scène, mise en abîme, Zeitzeuge, Anschluss, and so on. For example:
The materially comfortable existence in al-Andalus is evident in many romances fronterizos.
Austen’s novel belongs to this ferment of change, one that swept the ancien régime away to replace it with reason, humanity, tolerance and the natural law.
It follows that once such terms become current in English or in a particular academic field they no longer need to be italicized (e.g. ‘genre’ or, in art history, ‘quattrocento’). In some cases you may want to indicate, by the use of inverted commas, that the term was used in its historical context but is no longer current or appropriate (this would apply to National Socialist terminology such as ‘Judenfrage’ or ‘Euthanasie’). In that case no italics are necessary since the inverted commas do the job of signalling a switch in language to the reader.

iv) Students of Russian and Chinese should follow their tutors’ guidelines on the use of Cyrillic script.

v) Students taking linguistics modules should follow their tutors’ guidelines on how to present linguistic examples in their essays.

vi) By convention, the present tense is used when writing about the plots of works of literature or films: ‘When Nathanael reads to Clara she is always distracted, whereas Olimpia appears to hang on his every word’ or ‘In the scene in the train carriage, Maria uses her language skills to get the better of the soldier’.

vii) Your writing should avoid gender, racial and other forms of bias. When making generalizations, for instance about readers, authors, actors, or film audiences, use ‘he or she’ or ‘s/he’ and ‘her or him’. Or use the plural terms ‘readers’, ‘film viewers’, which include both genders. Write about racial groupings as follows: ‘the African-American writer’, ‘the Vietnamese filmmaker’; ‘the British-Asian star’; ‘the Black-British filmmaker’; ‘the British-Chinese’ etc. If, in the context, the ethnic origins of the filmmaker, writer, etc., are irrelevant, omit the epithet.

viii) Use capitals for specific institutions, events, etc., but lower case for general terms, e.g. ‘the French Communist Party’, but ‘political parties’; ‘the Thirty Years’ War’ and ‘the Spanish Civil War’, but ‘after five years of war’.

ix) Some terms that do not require a hyphen as nouns, are hyphenated as adjectives: ‘the eighteenth century’, ‘the working classes’, but ‘eighteenth-century fiction’, ‘working-class men’.


Essay checklist: presentation

  • Make regular backups of your files and store them safely.
  • Use a clearly legible font such as Times New Roman or Arial, no smaller than 12 point.
  • Learn how to type accents when quoting in languages other than English.
  • For linguistics essays, learn how to type the phonetic symbols.
  • Use double spacing and clear margins (at least 1 inch / 2.5 cm) all round.
  • Number your pages.
  • Check how to calculate your world length in the College Student Handbook and be aware of the rules about excessive word length.