1. sophia_esteed
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    sophia_esteed Senior Member

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    How do I implement personal opinions into an essay?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by sophia_esteed, Aug 5, 2010.

    Can I do it?
    Let's take the example of a paper on a book I read for an exam.
    I put in a general analysis of the book. Time and place, plot, characters, themes, style. All things I would normally put into such a document.
    Then I'd like the express my personal opionion on the book, why I liked it, the feelings associated with the story and characters, thing like these.
    Is there a place where I can put in these kinda things too?
    Or must the paper be totally informal and academic and the critique be limited to re-write what some renowned critic or some other had written on the book before? :confused:
     
  2. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    Depends on what you are writing. If its a review, you can certainly talk about what you liked or disliked and why. In an academic paper, your subjectiveness should try to be eliminated. If you are writing an academic paper, even though its in that removed, academic third person, your voice will likely come through, but needs to be restrained and neutral. You have subjective choices to make in academic writing: what is your thesis? how are you going to approach supporting your thesis? What belongs here, or does it go into a different paper? That kind of stuff.

    So first of all decided what you are writing. Some 'papers' like reviews have room for subjectivism, but academic works need a neutral voice.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    An essay is supposed to present an opinion, but backed up by an argument based on facts.
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like Eric says its how you phrase it but at least within the UK (US is different), personal opinion plays a part. Even with history or science written correctly you can make that essay entirely your own. But you can state any point if you have your own evidence to back it up. Quote the piece that made you feel that way and explain why.

    Learn about the author of a piece a little historical research about his or her times can also be used as your evidence. Although you remove your voice the work should be as much your personal viewpoint as possible. There is no such thing as an unbiased essay the person marking it wants to see you in it.
     
  5. Diablo Robotico
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    Diablo Robotico Member

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    It depends on the assignment. If your teacher is looking for an informal analysis of the work, then do that, but if he/she wants a personal opinion, fit that in (probably after the other parts).

    I know you didn't ask any questions about phrasing or anything, but keep in mind that an essay is assumed to be your opinion, so don't say things like "I didn't like it because..." Say things like "The book was oddly paced." and give evidence from the text to support this statement.
     
  6. sophia_esteed
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    sophia_esteed Senior Member

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    Hhm, I'm pretty sure the backup-with-facts part is fine.
    I've put as much attention as possible into researching the facts to support my argument and into shaping them so they would backup effectively my thesis.
    The problematic parts are the introduction, which explains how I picked up the book and another part which contains my reflexions on it, in-between the second part of my argument and the conclusion. I've struggled but I can't seem to find a way to insert those part without them sounding...personal. But I'm not sure if I should delete them altogether.
    It feels...ackward to me, to talk about a book whithout explaining why I picked it up.
    And those reflexions are my own...so how do I phrase them like they sound impersonal when they are so personal?
    I'm struggling with this issue but I can't seem to find a way for them to fit in the paper in an impersonal way.
     
  7. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    why did you pick up the book? what grabbed you?
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Essays in the UK are much heavier on personal reflection than the essays expected in the US, which are nearer to research theses, I think.

    I'm speaking here as someone who has been through the British university system without EVER having an English lesson or having to follow a format or guideline on 'essay presentation'. 'Topic sentence'? 'Thesis statement'? 'English 101'? I'd never heard of that stuff despite holding a B.A hons and M.Sc, until I started working in a university that attempts to emulate the US system, as English-medium international unis often try to do.

    The thing is, as Cog says, in an essay you do have to back up your feelings, opinions and intuitions with other sources or facts. But in Britain originality is king, sometimes to the detriment of presentation and clarity. And US essays can unfortunately be incredibly dull and formulaic.

    There are strengths and weaknesses of both approaches--but if you are studying in the UK, don't worry. What your tutors will be looking for is a good command of the English language, and a real feeling for your subject, way above anything technical like topic sentences etc. And if you are a student of English Lit or another Arts subject, a personal touch is okay e.g. as a hooking anecdote. Just don't make the whole essay 'I...me...I think...I feel...'
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sophia appears to be in Italy so neither may apply lol:) I think in the UK the desire is to see you analyse what you know and show your grasp, passion and understanding of the subject, rather present facts. Part of it is the intense academic competition here, its a much smaller close knit group. My degree brought me into contact with many of the biggest names in my subjects. And the other part is our degrees are more specialised its entirely possibly to spend 3 or 4 years studying just history etc.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    An essay is an essay. Although individual teachers and institutions will impose slightly different requirements, an essay in any country is a piece of writing presenting a supported opinion.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    In order to get good marks I would write a completely different essay for an American institution than I would for a British one. There are conventions my husband (US) uses when writing that I think are wrong, and vice versa. I can walk blindfolded an essay for the UK insititution in a variety of subjects, can't do the same for the US because I have to unlearn habits.

    For one exam I remember an essay on Nazi Germany I was tired and unprepared. Goering and Hitler were the only names I remembered and the only dates 1930 and 1933. I got top marks for the analysis I placed inbetween those facts.

    I don't know which conventions Italy uses I could find out.
     
  12. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the OP is in Italy, she may be in an international institution, so she will need to understand which style her tutors lean towards. Believe me, they are different. If she is writing in Italian, different standards again will apply and she will need to speak to her tutors about what they require.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Golden Rule of academic KNOW THY TUTOR, then you tailor the essay to them. So you don't get them saying its 'obvious you haven't read my book' especially when its the seminal work on the topic you have chosen to write' lo'

    Also OP are you high school or degree level? that will affect your requirements. Our high school essays are very different to degree level.
     
  14. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    One thing that always helped me during my academic career was to look for things that the professor had published and try to get a sense of what they liked by examining their own writing.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It also helps to read the University's academic standards and gudelines. You should find these on the University website, and in the course syllabus for most courses.

    When in doubt, check with your instructor. If not in doubt, still check with your instructor.
     
  16. sophia_esteed
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    sophia_esteed Senior Member

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    I guess Elgaisma got the point. I'm in Italy. Unfortunately in my country the word 'essay' may apply to anything from a scholarly paper on the nuclear fusion, to an article about potatoes on a magazine for farmers, to a book review and so on. No definite rule seems to exist to write such texts, either.
    I even studied HOW to write them (I did three exams on the subject). Still, each teacher seem to consider how an essay should be written and what it has to contain, in a totally different manner than the others and the handbooks too, tend to impart contrasting instructions.
    I also read a great deal of such texts for one of my italian linguistics exams and there are some that are very formal and impersonal and others that are very colloquial and express the writer's opinion strongly.
    This is also my very first time writing a literary essay since the others I written were for my two philosophy exams and italian linguistics exam and they were very different both in scope and structure. Those for philosophy had to be rigourous and scientific and sustain the thesis strongly, while the teacher from italian linguistics asked for my personal opionion on the subject matter and to sustain it by using the given data as evidence.
    This is why I'm so confused. No definite rule exists. And the english lit teacher seems to consider the contents and form of an essay in an entirely different manner from that studied for philosophy and italian linguistics. Only, she didn't really explain to me beforehand; she just went "write what you want" and then refused the paper without much of an explanation when I sent it to her (on a side note, she wrote me not to bother her for the next fifteen days because she's going on vacation and to write the essay once because she doesn't read more than one draft).
    So I guess it boils down to this: in the next fifteen days, should I go for the rigorous and impersonal approach from the philosophy exams? Or should I choose to build my argument around my personal opinions about the subject? Which might be best for a literary essay?
     
  17. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You don't say if you are writing in English, for an international institution, or Italian. If you are at an English-medium uni in Italy, the teachers should be more helpful and at least cast their eyes over a first draft to check you are on the right lines--unless this is just a short class essay, in which case, surely this is not the first one you have done?

    Searching the Internet may not help you much since most things are American. European (and UK) universities may not have any guidelines about essays on their site. Our university gives nothing. However, the very first essay that students do for the tutor s/he usually gives out notes and guidelines. Maybe you missed this, which is why your tutor is not helping you much? Have you asked your friends in the class?

    American academic writing, and to a much lesser extent, writing in the UK, goes from
    a--b--c--The End
    in a straight line and avoids ambiguity or open-ended questions. An essay needs a strong thesis statement in the opening paragraph, a concluding paragraph, and every paragraph should have a topic sentence.

    However, in the 'Latin' or more Middle Eastern approach, instead of the argument being like a straight, uncomplicated line, it's like a spiral or tornado, sucking up bits of anecdote, personal observation and side issues that US writing would deem irrelevant. The thesis statement, if there is something that can be found that qualifies as such, may be in the middle or towards the end. The conclusion usually throws out an idea rather than summarising.

    My Turkish students CANNOT baldly state the point of their essay right at the start, nor can they refrain from personalizing. It just goes against their culture and reasoning. Recently, we had a lot of talk about the 'cultural imperialisation' implications of forcing them to follow an American model of thought. The problem is, they are writing in English, so who is going to read their papers? ('Chinese and Indian academics!' said one disgruntled Turkish professor.)

    Your tutors, and the guides you are checking out, may come from different countries or educational backgrounds, which is why the advice seems so conflicting to you. The best course of action really is trying to find out from your tutors--or students who previously took their classes--what they require.
     
  18. sophia_esteed
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    sophia_esteed Senior Member

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    I'm writing in English for an English lit exam, but I'm attending a public university. The institution is Italian, as are most of my teachers.
    This thing of writing essays has been introduced only recently, since over here there has been a very strong tradition for doing mostly oral exams; we do have our form of written paper, we call it 'tema' and it's an open type of text that can range from a text analysis, to an article, to a report.
    Kids start writing those when they are in secondary school and it's one of the tasks required for passing the final exam at high school (we call it maturity exam). In the past I've written many of those, myself.
    However I later found out the rules we apply for a 'tema' aren't the same that can be applied to an essay, since the former isn't rigorous enough.
    But as I was saying before, there's a lack of consistency regarding the rules of an essay between one teacher and another, one manual and the other.
    Maybe it's because it has been introduced as a form of evaluation only recently. Or maybe it's because our academics over here are trying desperately to implement something foreign to our brand of writing essays, the 'tema', which for us has always been an open, hybrid form of text in which the rigorousness of a scientif or academic paper could coexist with a more personal approach.
    But all of your advices had been helpful. It's true, American universities and academic institutions do have a definite set of rules to which the student must abide when writing an essay, I know because I have done a bit of research myself. And the rules for writing essays on my English writing coursebooks definitely resembled those I found on the open courses from American university. But they both go into conflict with the rules I found on my Italian writing manuals.
    So for now I think I'll put the paper on hold and later, when my teacher comes back from vacation, I'll ask her directly. If she wants for me to use the more rigorous American and English approach or the open-minded Italian approach. Maybe this has just been a huge misunderstanding on my part because the two models have gone into conflict in my mind and I couldn't apply either of them to the paper.
     
  19. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    My advice with your first essay is just go for it, get your first essay back and look at the way it has been marked. Then go to the tutor and ask them to explain themselves:)

    Universities in the UK have changed since I was there, my degree is very much out of date. However when I was there at least the first year didn't count towards our final mark precisely for this reason it allowed you to know what was expected.

    We do have the advantage that at school and further education level the essays required are similar in nature to the US ones. Many university courses here tell you to forget most of what you learned at school:) or used to.
     
  20. sophia_esteed
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    sophia_esteed Senior Member

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    Yeah, there's that way too. Maybe it's not even such a bad idea either.
    I'll look up some more guidelines then I'll adjust the paper to them and when my teacher comes back from vacation I'll sent the essay to her to get it marked.
    Maybe it's best to have something to discuss on than anything at all.
     
  21. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it doesn't count towards you final degree mark, enjoy your essay. Then use it to get to know your tutor/professor/lecturer. I soon learned which of my Professors I enjoyed writing for. The one's I didn't like writing for I never took another one of their courses however interesting it sounded.

    During the degrees I have taken I discovered they liked you to be original, but not so original you completely rubbish their idea, however well researched and evidence based that opinion is. Only met a few academics that actively encourage you to test their theories rigorously lol Its like writing for a publisher or literary agent, you work to what you like and then tweak it for them.
     
  22. sophia_esteed
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    sophia_esteed Senior Member

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    Hm, I kind of like how this last sentence sounds. It's like a challenge! :eek:
    It kinda makes me want to say: "Bring it! I'll take it on anytime!" :D
    All right! My research's done, the materials're gathered (I found a great deal of materials to work from on the Internet, about the book I'm going to write a paper on), now all that I need to do is pick up my pen and paper!
     
  23. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is a challenge lol thats what learning is:)

    :) This maybe specific to the UK but for a 2000 word essay you only need three good sources of information. Much more you have too much. Its a good idea to have two that disagree with each other, then another that backs your choice up.
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Elgaisma, wasn't it you who first started saying she should find out what is expected for an essay in her country?

    Ah yes, it was. But now you're pushing "the UK way"?

    What I see here in your posting pattern is if anyone else suggests how sophia should do her essay, she should ignore them because the Italian way is probably different. But the UK way (as you see it) is perfectly good advice.

    I'll repeat what I said earlier:
    Sophia, why not ask the person who will be grading your essay what he or she is looking for? If you want general essay guidelines, there are entire websites that go into great depth on the subject.
     
  25. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cogito no I didn't I told her to find out. Madhoca's post is correct and provides a good reference. Sophia is clearly an inteligent woman or she wouldn't be at university doing her degree. She is more than capable of taking what I say and making her own conclusions. I am not telling her to ignore you at all, presumably you are giving her benefit of your own experience. Are you suggesting I am making a mistake in assuming that Sophia is an inteligent capable woman?

    I then used my next bit to establish as part of a conversation whether or not it counted towards Sophia's final mark. which it doesn't as a result my conclusion stands, that in her position just like I would at a foreign countries university when it doesn't count .

    The rest was part of a conversation, my experience is just that MY experience. Sophia can do what Sophia wants:)
     

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