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Essay

An essay is a piece of writing that methodically analyses and evaluates a topic or an issue. Fundamentally,
an essay is designed to get your academic opinion on a particular subject-matter.
Many students get confused about the word ‘opinion’ in academic writing, and think that academic writing
should just stick to reporting the facts and forget about opinion altogether. However, there are important
differences between an academic opinion and a personal opinion, and it’s important to grasp these when you’re
putting together an essay.
Writing a great essay is not about simply surveying and re-telling existing ideas. Instead, a good essay takes
into account various opinions and point of view and puts forward an argument that reflects the writer’s
informed opinion. Before you begin planning any essay, then, it’s crucial to have a clear idea of what you think
about your topic; you need to have a position, argument, or clear stance on a topic that you defend with
evidence or argument against.

Specific aspects of the UPSC Main Examination Essay

A general essay and UPSC essay differs in two aspects:

  1. Since the later is competition essay, there is no scope for post-writing revision or source attribution.
    Thus, the importance of these two decreases considerably:

    1. It is expected that source attribution or citation will be used only rarely, when a very well known
      person has said something that is directly related to the subject matter. Similarly, Quotes should not
      be used to demonstrate your knowledge or beautify your essay. Use it only when you can recall a quote,
      which is directly related to your central argument.
    2. Since editing or revision is not possible during examination, the role of rough-work or pre-writing
      analysis becomes paramount. The rough-work/mind-map technique/pre-writing analysis would be dealt
      in detail in the subsequent chapters.
  2. It is a well-known fact that UPSC syllabus is very vast and diverse; covers almost all the possible
    dimensions. This, however, also means that whatever is covered is covered only in general overview and
    awareness context and one needn’t display deep subject knowledge on any subject, even if he is privy to
    the same. We would even suggest to not attempt an essay topic, regarding which candidate knows too
    much, as the essay will not be a general essay in that case answer is more likely to become a specialized
    and narrow discussion regarding the topic, but not around the general theme. For example, if an topic is
    asked regarding, Rising Rape cases in India, then it is not expected that someone will write about the
    detailed statistics and legal solutions for the same; instead student is expected to write about the root of
    the problem, that lies with patriarchic system, lengthy and cumbersome legal recourse, government’s
    apathy, social stigma for victim, and lack of police reforms, among others.

What is expected from an Essay?

Miscellaneous observations on a topic are not enough to make an accomplished essay. An essay should have
an argument. It should answer a question or a few related questions. It should try to prove something-develop
a single “thesis” or a short set of closely related points by reasoning and evidence, especially including apt
examples and to support your argument involved.

A successful argument should be able to clear the
image in the reader’s mind, and that image would
be something like this diagram, wherein it is a
sum of its components, and it’s the integration of
the components that defines the ultimate image.
Thus, in order to create a clear image in the
examiner mind it is very important to use correct
building blocks and then integrate them well.

 

How to Identify and Integrate the Building Blocks

  1. 1. Analyze the Topic
    Note the key terms in the topic, for example, an essay on, ‘Is Disinvestment a One Stop Solution for all the
    Problems of PSUs’, most important term is Disinvestment followed by Public sector Units Performance. The
    major themes in the same topic would be IMF structural adjustments followed by budgetary support,
    bureaucratic red tape, and labor welfare and reforms. Thus, there are two key topics that need to be analyzed
    in terms of the 4 major themes.
  2. Identify the Parameters
    Look especially for words that define the kind of reasoning you should be using: why, how, analyze, compare,
    evaluate, argue, etc. Be sure you understand the specific meanings of these terms.
    a) Analyse means look behind the surface structure of your source material. See the relationship of parts
    to whole. Be able to recognize relationships such as cause and effect, even if it’s unstated in what you
    read. Look for underlying assumptions and question their validity. How and why imply an answer reached
    by analysis.
    b) Compare means find differences as well as similarities. You will need to formulate the aspects which you
    are looking at in each item; consider organizing your paper by using these aspects as headings.
    c) Evaluate stresses applying your judgement to the results of your analysis. It asks for an opinion based
    on well-defined criteria and clearly stated evidence. Wording such as to what extent also asks for an
    evaluation of an idea.
    d) Argue (or agree or disagree) likewise asks you to take a stand based on analysis of solid evidence and
    explained by clear reasoning. You will need to consider other possible viewpoints and defend your own
    in comparison.
    e) Critical Analysis involves carefully considering an idea and weighing up the evidence supporting it to see
    if it is convincing.
    Then being able to explain why you find the evidence convincing or unconvincing.
    It helps if you ask yourself a series of questions about the material you are reading. Try using these
    questions to help you think critically.
  3. Structure Planning Through Rough Work
    Try to jot down ideas randomly about the topic in terms of:
    a) Inter-relate the terms and themes on relevant points
    b) Identify various issues/problems that characterize the key terms and themes?
    c) What theories or examples of academic theories relate to your topic?
    d) What questions arise when you think about your topic?
    e) What tricky or contentious terms need to be defined within your topic area?
  4. Organize the Rough Points
    Jot down the rough points in order of sequence of emergence, i.e., how one issue leads to another. This will
    enable the text of essay to be smooth and have a logical flow throughout its body. Ideally, the text should read
    as if, you are not making an effort to collect points, instead it shall read as if one argument is naturally leading
    to another.
    For each paragraph in your essay:
    • establish the topic and the argumentative point
    • write out a dot-pointed plan for how it will unfold
    • determine what evidence and/or resources you will incorporate to support your point

Some Additional Tips

Avoid unnecessary description-

only include general background details and history when they add to your
argument, e.g., to show a crucial cause and effect. Practice distinguishing between description (telling what
happened) and analysis (judging why something happened).

Interpret your evidence –

explain how and why your evidence supports your point. Interpretation is an
important part of critical analysis, and you should not just rely on the evidence “speaking for itself”.

Be specific –

Avoid making sweeping generalizations or points that are difficult to support with specific
evidence. It is better to be more measured and tie your argument to precise examples or case studies.
Use counter-arguments to your advantage – if you find viewpoints that go against your own argument, don’t
ignore them. It strengthens an argument to include an opposing viewpoint and explain why it is not as
convincing as your own line of reasoning.

Consider Your Print Diet-

What are you reading in your spare time? This is an important question because what you read can influence
what you write. The computer science term “garbage in, garbage out” applies. If you are reading mediocre
writing, it won’t help your essay, but if you consistently read great writing, it can make a difference with your
own. Syntax, structure, and style can improve under the influence of writers who are masters at their craft

 

 

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