Analysing essay titles

Uploaded by UoLssds on 06.03.2012

Hello, and welcome to this tutorial on analysing essay titles.
By analysing essay titles more fully,
you stand a better chance of producing higher quality writing.
The importance of analysing essay titles might sound like rather an obvious point to make
but one of the most common pieces of feedback for students’ work
is that their essay has not adequately addressed the essay title.
Before starting work on an essay then, it’s really important
that you spend time clarifying
what exactly it is that you are being asked to do.
This will help you focus your reading
and note-making on the most relevant material.
Here is an example of an essay title that could feature in the field of medicine,
or in health sciences, or perhaps sociology, psychology, or social work.
"Discuss the possible effects on a person of receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder."
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition in which a person can swing
between moods of extra high energy and activity, and moods of low depression.
This essay title is asking the student to consider the experience of receiving
a formal diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
One individual may feel that they are just having normal changes of mood
and may resent being given a medical diagnosis.
Another individual may have been desperate to get a diagnosis
to help explain what’s been happening to them.
So it asks an interesting question
but the student notices only the main topic:
bipolar disorder.
This may seem reasonable enough. After all, in your essay
you will need to demonstrate your knowledge of the topic.
and there is a huge amount to learn about that subject
age of onset,
range of experiences,
drugs available to treat severe cases,
drugs available to maintain health,
all the symptoms
This collection of information would be very useful
if you were preparing for a quiz
Give me another name for bipolar disorder?
[Bell ring]
Manic depression
Name the drug most commonly used to prevent relapses?
Give me three symptoms of mania?
Reckless behaviour,
racing thoughts,
little need to sleep.
But essays are not quizzes.
If you just focus only on the main topic rather than the actual essay question,
you are in danger of missing the point of the essay entirely.
So what IS this essay title asking you to do?
This student has picked up the words ‘bipolar disorder’,
and will probably tell us many things about what this condition is.
But the students will probably fail to identify and discuss
the possible effects on an individual
of receiving that diagnosis
for example:
worrying about whether or not to tell family and friends;
thoughts about becoming labelled as someone who is mentally ill;
possible relief of receiving a diagnosis after
a long period of wondering what was going on;
concern about it possibly affecting future employment if it has to be disclosed;
gaining easier access to medication;
fear of being medicalised and not seen as a person, and so on.
Let’s examine another essay title.
To what extent does the melting of its glacier present a threat
or an opportunity for the inhabitants of the Swiss alpine village of Saas Fee?
This student has identified two important aspects of the title,
and may write an essay on melting glaciers,
the student has missed the requirement:
a) to focus on the inhabitants rather than the glacial process itself
b) to consider the threats that the melting might bring for these inhabitants, such as:
loss of a major aspect of their scenery;
lowering of the water levels in their local reservoir;
reduction of trade from skiing holidays
c) to consider what possible opportunities it might bring,
such as: extending the farmland and woodland;
increasing the network of high altitude walking tracks;
reduced fuel bills
d) to discuss these and come to a considered judgement
as to the extent to which glacial retreat represents mainly
a threat or an opportunity for these inhabitants.
As you work on your essay your opinion may shift from your first reaction,
and settle somewhere different, after considering the evidence.
In this case a student may assume initially
that the melting of the glacier would be wholly negative.
But, through the research and writing process,
some opportunities may be identified.
The student may therefore settle with a judgement that is negative,
but not as extreme as the initial reaction.
So, when you look at your next essay title, and get your
first impression of what it’s asking you to do:
Tell yourself ‘There must be more!!’
and squeeze as much guidance as possible out of the title.
Ask yourself. ’What’s the instruction?'
and ‘What are the different elements of the title?’
And ask yourself. ’What judgements am I being asked to make?'
Remember, the tutor assumes that you are capable of collecting information about the topic.
That’s not the problem!!
What is important is what you are being asked to do with that information.