Simple rules to follow to create better analytical essays
When writing academic essays, you are expected to write in an ‘analytical’ manner. However, it takes time how to learn to do this. The more you write analytically, the better you will become. However, these seven simple tips will quickly improve the quality of your work and, as a result, improve your results on assessment tasks.
It is important to remember that the purpose of analytical writing, particularly essays, is not just to present a lot of information. Instead, it is mainly focused on presenting an argument that is proven using evidence. For more help on successfully structuring an argument that clearly uses evidence, check out our guide to structuring an essay.
1. It is criminal to use emotive or judgmental language
When we are writing stories or describing a personal experience to our friends, we like to increase the impact of our narrative by using descriptive and emotive language to signal our personal judgment. For example, we can say that our weekend was “awesome”, or the villain of a story was “selfish and sadistic”. We do these things because we want to position our audience to feel the same way that we do.
However, in analytical writing, the evidence provided in an argument is the primary tool we use to prove to our reader that our argument is correct. Using emotive or judgmental language undermines the sincerity of our argument because it introduces personal bias and can be viewed as a way of ‘tricking’ our audience into agreeing with us because we lack sufficient evidence to prove our point. As a result, when writing analytically, you need to avoid any adjectives or biased word choices that can be seen as a way of prejudicing your reader to your point of view.
Instead, simply provide specific evidence to support your hypothesis. It is important in analytical writing that your reader draws a conclusion based upon evidence rather than based upon how you are telling them to feel about your argument. Also, in the discipline of History, being unbiased is an important part of demonstrating the skill of historical empathy.
Instead of describing a Roman emperor as “cruel” and “greedy”, you can provide evidence from sources that shows that he tortured people for fun and stole their property. This way, you won’t need to tell your reader how to feel about these things, as your sources provide enough evidence to make this clear.
2. All generalisations are always wrong
Students often fall into the trap of generalising in their essays.
Generalisations are broad statements that apply a single description to a larger group of things based upon limited information. In almost all cases, generalisations cannot be proven, and, in logic, this is a particular kind of information fallacy known as a ‘hasty generalisation’.
How do you know you are making a generalisation? An obvious clue is when you use words that include everything, allowing no exceptions. For example: all, always, everyone, everything, never, none, etc.
Alternatively, generalisations occur when you assign something the most extreme description available. For example: best, worst, most, etc.
The reason academic writing does not like generalisations, is that they are almost impossible to prove. Usually, generalisations are based upon a limited range of evidence, and it cannot be proven that the evidence applies to everything in the group.
Instead, rather than using generalisations, it is safer to just honestly state what your evidence shows, even if it seems limited. It is better to be honest, rather than making unsupported statements. Alternatively, you can replace the generalisation with words that acknowledge the limited nature of the evidence available. This can include “maybe, might, limited, somewhat”, etc.
After describing a single shipwreck in an essay, rather than saying “all ships at that time were like this ship”, you can say: “This is an example of one kind of ship from the time, and there may have been others like it”.
3. Reference your evidence (History Skills, 2021)
Academic arguments rely upon you proving your conclusion based upon the evidence available. As a general rule, the more evidence you provide, the stronger your argument is. Therefore, the less evidence you provide the weaker your argument is, and the weaker your academic writing is.
Students often make the mistake of stating information without providing a reference to where the information came from. For some reason, students feel like they are demonstrating their own understanding by indicating that they ‘just know’ the information. However, as it is unreferenced information, you are actually losing marks.
So, every time you make a claim, cite evidence and data, or mention information you know from the past, you need to show your marker where that information came from. Every time you do this, include a reference to a reliable source.
4. Stay away from, you know, colloquial language
As we’ve mentioned before, analytical writing requires you to express your thoughts in an academic manner. However, most people don’t naturally talk in this way. If we spoke to people in real life in an academic way, they would be very confused. Instead, in our day-to-day life, we talk with ‘normal’ language. This is also called ‘colloquial’ language.
Unfortunately, if we use colloquial language in essays, it sounds bad.
I could say that “The military general was a bad dude who was just majorly rubbish at his job”.
The use of the words “bad dude" and "majorly rubbish” are how we would talk in real life, not in academic writing.
Instead, the same thoughts can be expressed better as:
“The military general failed to achieve victory in all of his encounters, and it can be concluded that he was not a gifted tactician”.
The two sentences above express the same ideas, but one uses colloquial language, while the other uses academic language.
To improve your use of academic expression, instead of colloquial language, take the time to conduct extensive background research and incorporate subject-specific words that are common to your topic.
5. I warned you not to use first or second person
Academic essays need to maintain a professional distance between the author (you) and the reader (the person marking the essay).
As a result, you never want to talk about yourself in your writing. That means, you should never use the words “I, me, my, we, us, our”, etc. When you use these words to describe yourself, this is called ‘first person’.
Also, you should never mention your reader in your writing. That means, you should never use the word “you”. This is called ‘second person’.
Instead, academic writing only uses ‘third’ person, who is anyone who isn’t the essay writer or the reader of the essay.
Third person words include “them, they, Andrew, the British”, etc.
6. Don’t use contractions
Contractions are a feature of language where two words are merged with the use of an apostrophe. Common examples of contractions are “don’t” (do not) and “isn’t” (is not).
The use of contractions in essays looks lazy and even looks like colloquial expression. Instead, always use the full two words rather than the contraction.
So, instead of writing “won’t”, use “will not”.
The added benefit for some students when they learn this, is that it will also increase the overall word count of your essay. This is helpful if you’re struggling to meet the minimum required words for the task.
7. What is wrong with asking questions?
The purpose of essays is to prove an argument through supporting evidence. It is your job to state your argument clearly and provide a convincing line of evidence.
As a result, your job is not to ask your reader questions. Asking them for answers indicates that you haven’t found enough evidence.
Therefore, you should never ask questions in an essay. This is primarily because your reader will never be able to answer them, since you are the one writing the essay.
Since any question written in an essay cannot be answered, they are called ‘rhetorical questions’. And, since they don’t do anything to contribute to your argument, they are a waste of words. Simply delete them.
Alternatively, if you’re asking a question because you’re about to give them answer, then you actually don’t need the question. Simply skip the question and present the answer. After all, that is the entire purpose of the essay: present an argument.
Think you’ve remembered all of the tips stated above? You can check your understanding right away.
Here is a single sentence from a student essay. Which errors can you find in it?
“I can’t believe that every single Russian was stupid enough to vote for a loser like Stalin: what were they thinking?”