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the module name: comparative literature and criticism Compare and contrast the c
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the module name: comparative literature and criticism
Compare and contrast the construction and significance of the concept of tradition in in T.S. Eliot ( tradition and the individual talent and Virginia Woolf (A room of one’s own).
Kindly check information below carefully and strictly for writing instructions.
Preparing essays at MA level
(MA Literary Studies / MA Black British Writing / Literature)
(Apologies for what in the following notes may seem obvious to some of you: from experience, we know it may not be obvious to all)
Choose a topic:
what are you interested in / what would you like to explore further? Some preliminary research may be useful before selecting the exact topic.
Choose a title:
your module tutor will normally provide you with a list of recommended / sample essay titles. Several tutors allow you to edit these, or devise your own, in order to adapt the title to your own interest. If you wish to do that, discuss it with the module tutor: badly phrased titles (e.g. too broad in their scope, or too narrow) will hinder your thinking, your focus, and the clarity of your argument. The title should help you direct your research, your thinking, and your argument.
Start defining your argument:
ask yourself: Why? What? How? (Why is this topic worthy of being studied, what do I find interesting in it? What is it that I want to say about it that is worth saying and demonstrating? What texts, authors, critics am I going to discuss? How will I develop my points and construct an overall argument? What parts does it break down into? How do they relate to one another, and follow from one another?)
Re-read the question! Is what you are thinking about relevant to it? (Relevance is taken into account by examiners)
(Or in other words: You have chosen a topic: that is what you write about. Now identify what you say about it, using evidence so as to persuade your reader of the validity and relevance of what you are saying, in relation to what others have said: that is your argument.)
Have you got too much? Trying to do too much will lead you to just skim the surface without going into sufficient detail in your analyses and discussions.
Have you got enough material? If you do not, you will start padding the argument, waffling, repeating yourself.
Narrow down your focus if it is too wide, think of useful related aspects if it is too narrow; make sure it is coherent.
Re-read the question!!
Consider: Do your chosen title & topic fall within the scope of the module for which you are writing, and fulfil the assessment criteria? (look them up in the in the module information)
Structure your argument:
Plan parts, relationship between parts, relationship of parts to the whole, sequence. What is your starting point? Where do you plan to end? How are you going to get there?
A good way of thinking about it is:
– A one-sentence encapsulation of the topic (I’m working on… / I’d like to understand more about… / I wish to investigate why….)
– Then an extended description such as: My essay investigates… / I’m working on… / I’d like to understand more about… because I would like to show the relationship between… / in order to demonstrate that…. /)
– You may also want to think about this planning phase in terms of the “research questions” that you are asking.
Select your sources:
What do you want to use from your primary texts? Choose relevant quotations or elements in the text (an episode in a novel, the description of a character, a particular use of language, a structural problem…; differences and/or similarities between texts that you are comparing or contrasting in your essay) that well support your argument / that raise a question you want to address to demonstrate the relevance of your argument. Also ask yourself: are there other parts of the text(s) that would however undermine my argument? If there are, can you reconcile them? Or do you need to modify your argument? Do not just ignore what doesn’t support the argument!
Do your secondary research:
Read around the topic, the texts, the authors. What in your reading is useful to help you take your argument forward, or to identify other aspects of it that you had not initially thought about?
NB: DO NOT use sites such as Wikipedia or popular non-academic websites – rather, check a reliable encyclopaedia, such as the Britannica or the Literary Encyclopaedia online, or look up “Credo Reference” (accessible from the e-resources page of the Library); please bear in mind that the Senate House library website gives you access to additional e-resources, so try that too – you may need your Senate House card details to log on.
Make sure you transcribe any useful quotations accurately, and that you reference them appropriately. Accurate referencing is not pedantry: it demonstrates professionalism. It is silly to have marks knocked off for sloppiness! We expect accuracy and professionalism in MA students, as will your prospective employers (we are regularly asked to comment on these aspects when we write references for former students). Inaccurate referencing can also lead to accusation of plagiarism. Inadvertent plagiarism is no excuse: you will be given a mark of 0 (and the mark of the re-sit, if you pass it, will be capped at the pass mark, i.e., 50%). For plagiarism deemed to be intentional, you can end up without an MA degree.
Leaving academic malpractice or misconduct aside: making accurate notes may feel like it is slowing you down while you research, but it saves you a lot of time later – when you want to use an idea you scribbled down but cannot remember where it is from, or when you wrote down a quotation but did not write the page and you have to go back to the library to find it (and maybe the book is now out of the library…).
Go back to your main texts:
How does your secondary reading relate to them, and how does it illuminate them, how does it help you think about them, in relation to your chosen topic? (keep the question in mind!)
As you plan the essay:
– pay attention to what your central argument is, what main ideas you wish to convey, what is the best structure to do so, how you will demonstrate it (e.g. think of: logical sequence; relationships between parts; progression of the argument; choice of examples; choice of quotations; relationship of the examples and the quotations to the overall argument)
– consider the relationship between primary text and theory (and/or context and textual analysis), making sure they inform each other. The theory should illuminate and prompt the textual discussion, the textual discussion should justify or lead us to understand why that particular theory is useful for this particular text / topic; the textual discussion can also be useful to (re)consider the theory and let us see where it helps and where it fails. The Research Skills Workshop sessions on “Being a professional reader” and on “Using historical and contextual evidence” will also help reflect on this aspect of essay writing.
– an outline of the project (a kind of ‘abstract’ that sums up what you will investigate, why, how, to what ends); and/or
– a map of the project (list the points you want to make, identify the right logical sequence, think of how they relate and illustrate / advance your argument, which of the useful quotes you have identified you will actually use, where you will use them.
(Doing either of the above might be enough for many of you, but each makes you see something different, so you might try both.)
– How does it all fit in? Drop points that take you away from your argument (after doing the research, you may also re-think the question, and change it to reflect a new interest or direction of your argument. If this involves a substantial change, do check with your tutor again!)
– Have you done the necessary reading for all the main aspects of your argument? (But do not try to read everything you find, especially on topics on which there are thousands of books and articles: identify the main critical texts. If you are unsure, ask for your tutor’s help.)
In sum: Research can make you change your mind about your initial assumptions, or even redirect your interest to new aspects. That’s what’s interesting about it! If this happens, you may need to review (parts of) your essay’s argument, structure, main points, the selection of quotations from primary and secondary texts, check it all fits in within the scope of your title and your module, etc. That’s not a setback, it’s all part of the process.
Now start writing the essay itself!
(It would be a good idea to discuss the plan with your tutor at this point, before you start writing, if you have not already done it.)
Like a good story, the essay needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The BEGINNING is the introduction. There are many ways to start, but all good introductions will do at least some of the following:
– identify and define the topic (circumscribing it when it is potentially very wide)
– point out its relevance / interest
– identify a textual ‘problem’ and/or “research question” and explain how this essay will tackle it
– briefly identify the major relevant critical or theoretical positions, and explain how your argument relates to this critical field
– outline the structure of the essay (what are you starting from, what are your next steps, where will you get to)
– define your terms, if you need to (but do not be pedantic and do not define the obvious)
– use a quotation or anecdote to ‘set the scene’
Some talk about the introduction as a funnel-shaped entry into the essay: starting from a general description of the topic, then moving to a more specific focus, then restricting it even more by choosing a limited selection of texts or textual issues.
But you can start from what seems like a small point, to show how it raises bigger questions – so opening up at first rather than narrowing down; and then ‘funnel’ back to the specific focus of your essay.
NB: draft the introduction at the beginning of your writing process, as it will help you define your direction; however, the introduction may well be the last part that you finalise, as you won’t know exactly what you have written (i.e.: what you need to introduce) until you have written up your essay – writing often leads you to change your mind about some things, realise an idea doesn’t work, bring up a new, more urgent question… Make sure the introduction matches what you actually do in the essay.
NB2: The introduction is the first thing that your reader sees. The clearer it is, and the better it captures his/her attention through its lucid presentation of the argument that will follow, the easier it will be for him/her to follow the rest of the essay – indeed, the keener the reader will be to read on. And since the reader is also your examiner…
The MIDDLE is the main body of the essay. This is where you develop the approach you have decided on, and where bring together your theoretical angle, your analysis of the primary texts, ideas that you found in critical texts, and your own ideas. The points through which your argument is developed need to have a logical order – this is true at the level of the various parts of your essay, and of the individual paragraphs.
– It may be useful to use headings (sub-titles) for parts that are complete in themselves / deal with a particular aspect of your argument, while being related to the whole (this is especially important in extended projects like the dissertation, but essays too may benefit from a presentation that clearly bring the structure and logical progression to the reader’s attention).
– Ask yourself, how does this point / paragraph / sub-section follow from the previous one, and lead to the next one? And how does it relate to my topic? There has to be a logical ordering; and this must also be clear to your reader.
– Try to use the analysis of the text in order to raise questions that will take you to the next point / section (rather than mechanically fitting the text in a pre-formed theory).
– Balance illustration of a point already made and development of new points. Balance analysis with stepping back from the detail to identify the larger, more general and significant point (relating your points to a more comprehensive statement of your argument or of a section of it).
– Leave out points that do not contribute to the argument meaningfully, even if they are points you are particularly fond of.
– Substantiate your points with appropriate quotations from or reference to relevant texts.
– Leave out points that you cannot substantiate.
– Ensure that by the end of the main body of the argument you have dealt with all of its necessary parts to demonstrate your thesis, and that this has been done clearly.
– Write clearly, using appropriate language, avoiding colloquial forms, employing correct and accurate punctuation (if you are unsure about the latter: see e.g. Loreto Todd’s Cassell’s Guide to Punctuation, or read Lynn Truss’s amusing and useful Eats, Shoots and Leaves).
– DON’T describe texts and tell the plot: you can assume that the reader is familiar with it; just identify the textual elements that are useful for your discussion. (But: if you are discussing a text that you do not expect your readers to know, for example if there is no English translation, you may need to provide a description: focus on what is essential for comprehension and to support your argument.)
– DON’T borrow your argument from published sources: these are useful to inform the argument, to establish what the critical understanding of a certain topic is, to support a point, to argue against, but the overall argument should be yours (an argument doesn’t need to be completely original to show how you read / interpret something, and why).
– DON’T let quotations make the point for you: always comment on quotations, integrate them into your argument.
– DON’T fail to acknowledge sources that you have used to build the argument (whether you have paraphrased, quoted, or simply you used an idea from it) (PLAGIARISM IS A SERIOUS OFFENCE THAT CAN LEAD TO DISMISSAL) (and showing that you have done your research is good, don’t hide it!)
– DON’T waffle to add words
– DON’T add points because you like them, if they are not useful to the argument
Use your imagination and creativity: literary criticism is a form of creative writing (and/or creative thinking) that is used to make an argument about the writings of others and convince the reader of its value; but make sure you also respect the main rules of academic writing (such as introducing the argument, proving a point and not just stating it, referencing your sources, constructing an argument and presenting it clearly).
You CAN be creative within the conventions. It is of course legitimate to challenge the conventions, but be careful: a departure from the expected academic conventions must be justified by its serving the argument – otherwise it will be seen as arbitrariness or sloppiness. If what you want to do and why you do it is not clear to your reader, then it means that you haven’t got your message across, and the mark will reflect this.
Be aware of the implications of reading texts (whether literary or theoretical) in translation, and how this affects your/our reading and understanding of the text (demonstrate that awareness when the fact that you are reading in translation may affect the argument).
The END is the conclusion: it should not introduce any new material that still requires arguing or analysis; it should bring together various ideas in a final synthesis that connects back to your introduction, reflects on your “research question” through the benefit of what you have discovered in your analysis, and wraps up your argument – explicitly or implicitly also showing its relevance to the question.
NB: Regarding structure: If your essay tackles two texts, you may consider different aspects in turn, for both texts, moving between them throughout your essay; or you may discuss text 1, then text 2; if you do the latter, you must ensure that the conclusion brings the two texts together (or that you have a section bringing the texts together before the Conclusion proper).
A bibliography must be added at the end (for recommended stylesheet, see the “Writing Essays at MA Level” section of the MA LS Research Skills Workshop page at
At this point, revise; proofread; ideally, you should leave your essay alone for a couple of days, then go back, re-read: revise, proofread.
Before you submit, check:
Are pages numbered?
Is your candidate number on the first or cover page? (DO NOT add your name)
Is the title well identified on the first or cover page?
Is the word count within the limits (excluding bibliography but including footnotes)?
NB: Reading aloud is a good way of checking whether something that looks ok to your eye actually does work
) SOME FINAL NOTES:
– Be aware of the College’s warning about duplication of material submitted for assessment:
You are reminded that you may not present substantially the same material in any two pieces of work submitted for assessment, regardless of the form of assessment. For instance, you may not repeat substantially the same material in a formal written examination or in a dissertation if it has already formed part of an essay submitted for assessment. This does not prevent you from referring to the same text, examples or case studies as appropriate, provided you do not merely duplicate the same material.
– Be careful: rubric infringements (such as overlength / underlength essays; duplication of material across different essays; failure to discuss the required number of essays or authors…) will lead to penalties being applied to the final mark. Serious rubric infringements, such as plagiarism or a wholly irrelevant essay not deemed a valid attempt will lead to a fail.
– When the stated essay length has a minimum and maximum (e.g. 5,000-6,000 essay, as is the case for most essays on our modules), you have to stay within those margins; when you have a single word length for an essay (e.g. “a 5,000-word essay”), you can assume that you have a 10% margin of error (e.g. 5,000 plus or minus 500 words, i.e. 4,500-5,500 words). For 15,000-word dissertations, the margin of error is 1,000 either way (i.e. 14,000-16,000 words). In all cases, try to stick as close as you can to the specified word length. Overlength essays can incur a penalty of up to 10 points and examiners will take into account whether, by writing a longer essay than was allowed, you have gained an unfair advantage over other students (e.g., by developing a more complex argument). In the case of underlength essays, there is no numerical penalty but the essay is likely to be affected by – and the mark will reflect – such flaws as lack of development of an argument, insufficient analysis and support of the argument, or lack of sufficient research and use of secondary criticism [NB: these are ECW guidelines; if you take a module in a different department, please check with them about length and potential penalties.]
– make sure you discuss your choice of essay and plan with your module tutor, and agree a deadline by which you can present and discuss with them a more advanced stage of the essay, such as an interim draft (though note that tutors will not give you editorial advice on the final version of the essay)
– whenever possible, you will receive feedback on work submitted for assessment, in writing (through the learn.gold page where you uploaded your assessment), before the next essay deadline is due, and you will be invited to meet the tutor if you wish to discuss the feedback. Do take advantage of this.
What are your examiners’ expectations from an MA essay?
Read the grading criteria. We look for:
– Relevance to the scope and focus of the module
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