Thursday, 23 June 2011



As this long heading suggests, there is plenty of work to be done before you even begin writing the first draft of your essay.  It is thus a very bad idea to begin working on it the night before it is due to be handed in. 


In writing an academic essay, you are constructing an academic argument; in other words, taking part in academic debate.  Your essay should therefore meet the same standards of production and presentation as those which govern papers published in academic journals and books.  Although you may only be starting out, this does not mean that standards are different for you: rather, it means that you should be striving from the outset of your academic career to produce work of the highest standard of which you are capable.

The English Department expects students to observe certain conventions when handing in written work. These conventions exist mainly to ensure readability and clarity. Your reader needs, first and foremost, to be able to understand clearly, and be convinced by, your argument.  Secondly, your reader must be able to trace validation of your argument backing in the primary and secondary texts used in your construction of your essay (more about all these issues later).


You will be required to submit a draft to your tutor before your final essay submission. This will enable you to move sections or paragraphs around to ensure that you end up with a coherent argument.  Drafting also enables you to check for (and correct!) stylistic errors, and rewrite sentences which are awkward or unclear.  This is also a time to check for obvious spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors.  Usually, your draft essay counts 30% of your overall essay mark. Your tutor will help you with your structure, argument, spelling and grammar. You are also encouraged to arrange a meeting with your tutor to discuss your essay draft.


Good academic style is direct and unpretentious.  Aim for simplicity and clarity, and avoid wordiness (do not use three words when one will do). You should also avoid using slang, colloquialisms, and abbreviations wherever this is possible.  Also avoid the use of sub-headings and numbering in an English essay.

MS Word Tips for Electronically Improving Writing Style

To help you improve your writing I suggest you make the following changes to your MS Word settings. [MS Office 2010]


Quote only what is needed to illustrate your point or convey the point which a writer is making. Make sure that your quote supports your argument and does not make your argument for you. It is also essential that you integrate quotations used into your own sentences, so that the whole reads smoothly and coherently. The examples below show some ways to do this.  Writing your own sentence, followed by a sentence consisting only of quotation, results in disjointed writing which detracts from the smooth flow of your argument. The fragment you quote should make sense within the context of your own sentence. One way to check this is to read your essay aloud to yourself, listen, and make sure that your essay flows logically and coherently. 


Reading other critics’ analyses of the text you are discussing may help you to define your own response to the work in question, but should not replace your analysis.  Research done about the author or text will provide you with helpful background information, and theoretical material may also assist you in the formulation of your own position regarding both the primary and other secondary texts.  However, no essay should be a mere tissue of quotations.  What we are primarily interested in is your own response to and analysis of the work, and the ideas of other critics should never be used as a substitute for this.  On the other hand, you should not ignore the existence of scholarly discussion of the text or topic about which you are also writing: aim to enter into debate with other commentators on its meaning(s).


All essays, even those which explore only the primary text under discussion, are required to have a bibliography.  The bibliography should include all the works which have contributed ideas or information to your essay.  The list should be in alphabetical order of authors' surnames.  Each entry normally consists of three main parts: author, title, and details of publication. Each part is followed by a full stop.  Additional information, such as the names of editors, translators, or compilers, the edition used, the number of volumes, or the name of the series, should follow the title of the book and precede the place of publication, name of publisher and date of publication. The second line of each entry should be indented. Do not number your bibliography or present it in point form.


This guide is based on the fifth edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, by Joseph Gibaldi and Walter S. Achtert (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1999). Students should consult this if further help is needed: it is available in the reference section of the JSG library (at shelf number R808.02 GIB).  There are many useful sites available on the Internet as well, e.g. 

Finally, remember that you may always consult your tutor on any points in this guide about which you need further explanation or clarification.

Or download this simplified guide to MLA Referencing 2011


Once all your hard work comes to an end and you are ready to print and submit your essay make sure that you don’t forget the following documents in this order:
1.      Cover page – should include your name, surname, student number, tutorial group number, essay title, date of submission, tutor’s name and surname.
2.      Essay
3.      Plagiarism Declaration – with the date and your signature.
4.      Turnitin similarity report
5.      Essay writing checklist – check all items before you submit.
6.      English 178 marking grid
7.   Remember to save your essay as: Group Number_Initial.Surname_EssayTopic
      [eg: 30_M.Jones_JaneEyre]

NB* Items 3, 5, 6 can be accessed on Webstudies or from this link on this website

Once your document is complete, print it out and make sure you staple it before you attend class. 

Titling your Essay

An essential part of your essay is the title. It should allude to the main point of your argument in a creative manner in order to inspire the reader to read your essay.

A good essay title is not just the question restated or the name of the primary text with assignment or essay plonked before it. It should show the reader that you have not just skimmed over the essentials briefly, but engaged personally with the text in your essay.


You will be given a date for handing in your essay.  Keep to this date; late essays are penalised by 5% per day. The essay should be handed to your tutor personally or emailed directly to them, and you must keep a copy in case of a mishap. It is compulsory for you to submit an electronic copy of your essay to your tutor, via email and to submit your essay via Turnitin on Webstudies. You will be given an "incomplete" class mark if you fail to hand in an essay, which means that you will have to re-do English 178 next year. 


Please read the following very carefully, and refer to it each time you have an essay or assignment to do. The department assumes that you have read and assimilated the information given below. Ignorance is no

Saturday, 19 March 2011


This document is based on the University of Stellenbosch’s interim approach to dealing with plagiarism in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The purpose of this document is to establish a consistent and comprehensive approach to dealing with plagiarism committed by students enrolled in the English 178 course.