This is general advice about reading books for exams but also articles and other texts that are read in seminars and workshops. When you read the articles or chapters in books you might look for:
is the purpose of the book/text?
- What is the main question? (There can be many questions.)
- What is the structure of the book?
- What is the answer or conclusion? (There can be many answers.)
- What is discussed: gender/sexuality/feminism/femininity/masculinity/lesbianism etc.
- What is the relation of the article (writer) to women’s studies or feminist studies? If this is not explicitly defined, try to conclude it yourself from:
- Who is the writer discussing with? Who is s/he criticising or differing from?
- What kind of material is used / analysed?
- Is there a message to the reader: what is considered to be "bad", what is attacked and what is considered to be "good", is something recommended? (method/idea/value/concept/theory and so on.)
- What did you learn after reading the text? What was best? What didn't work for you?
Create your own points of departure for reading!
* Create a clear beginning, a body where you answer the question and a clear end. Try to remember that the reader might not have the same preliminary understanding as you do. It is good to show that you have read the books or other required material for the exam. What separates an excellent answer from a good one is your own thinking. Be brave and discuss with the ideas you have read from the books.
Example of a good essay answer
by Heba Sigurdardottir (published with her permission)
(The question was: bell hooks has rethought the ideas of white, Western feminism from a post-colonial perspective. Describe freely her "standpoint", her perspective on feminist theory.)
White, western feminism from a post-colonial perspective (bell hooks)
I had heard about bell hooks, but never read anything by her before. I really enjoyed reading her book, so much what she wrote made sense to me. The point that bell hooks is trying to get across in her book is that class and race (when are we ever gonna get rid of that word?) matters. bell is very critical of what she sees as white, western feminism. She accuses this branch (or mainstream?) of feminism to be insensitive, or flat out exclusive of women of other ethnicities and social backgrounds. The feminist movement, she claims, was erected upon the interest of white, middle-class, collage-educated women who were not able to understand the strive of other women located elsewhere in the social strata. bell argues that what white bourgeoisie women are or were fighting for is not the same things that poor women of other ethnicities would fight for.
The answer continues as a discussion with bell hooks (three pages altogether - these were the first chapters of the first page). What is good about the answer is that the ideas are written very simply and in a crystallised way so that anybody who reads the answer would get a good picture of what bell hooks is arguing. There are, of course, many ways of writing a good answer. But when doing the essay-answer details are not so important as the totality of the answer. From a good answer the teacher or instructor can see that the student has read the book and has some ideas on what s/he has read.
Advice for presenting ideas (by Merja Kinnunen & Kirsti Lempiäinen)
through these questions before starting an essay, analysis, research
1) How come the chosen theme interests you? What things about it amaze you?
2) What is the problem that you want to solve? Which question(s) need(s) to be answered?
3) Why is your question worth studying?
4) What kind of means could be used in answering the question? Previous studies?
Which perspectives are important? What kind of methods, concepts and theories should be used?
5) What are the keywords in defining the problem?
6) How much work and how much time is needed in the study, e.g. is the definition of the problem strict enough and suitable for your work?
7) Who is your audience, to whom do you write?
convince your reader, you might use:
- data (also your own experiences and observations)
- previous studies
- moral(s), values, ethics
If you need guidance with how to make your references, you can use the link below. The most important thing is that any information, arguments and material you use in your own paper should be cited and credited. Your citation should give a right picture of the text you are citing. http://www.wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/DocMLACitation.html
What is an Essay?
In these instructions essay refers to a short research or piece of writing based on a course or studies.
Essay as a Part of Women’s Studies
The topic, deadline and the used source literature for an essay are agreed with the teacher who will evaluate the essay. You will receive personal feedback on your essay from the teacher, both on style and content. Agree with the teacher whether she or he wants to receive a completed essay or comment on a draft text or an idea paper before you hand in the final version.
Aims of an Essay
The idea of an essay is to present your own views on a topic. In an essay you can depict, analyse, describe or problematize a theme, topic or a problem. An essay is not a summary. An essay positions itself in relation to other critical writings and comments on source literature.
are some basic instructions:
State your themes and ideas clearly.
Limit your topic according to the length and depth of your essay.
Define the most important concepts.
Elaborate on the most important research questions in your essay. Write and explain things so that they become clear to a non-expert audience.
Problematise. Do not simply repeat what theorists and critics have said on an issue. Be critical of your sources.
Present your ideas and give reasons, theories, examples, etc. to back up your arguments.
An essay is always based on reading and sources. The easiest way is to first choose your topic and then to find books, articles and other material that are suitable source material for your essay. Choosing your sources carefully is an important part of writing an essay. You can also ask the teacher of the course for suggestions and hints on suitable sources. Be critical of your sources and evaluate if they are useful for your topic, where they are published, who has produced them and for what purpose. You can find all kinds of information on the internet, but remember to be critical.
Choosing the Topic and the Research Question
You can discuss a topic, a field of research, a feminist critic, or a research method in your essay. After defining a general topic for your essay, you should try to formulate a basic research question that the essay will answer. This helps you restrict your topic and find a point of view. You can elaborate the main research question further into smaller sub-questions. Try not to choose a very general or wide topic such as “Feminist Theory” or “Representations of Women in Literature.” Do not present research questions you do not intend to discuss in your essay. This does not mean you need to find clear cut answers to all of the questions you pose. Write with your own voice and in your own personal way, do not imitate or try to be impersonal.
A good essay is consistent. An essay begins with an introduction that presents the topic and the point of view, and ends with a conclusion, which summarises the results and findings of the essay. In the conclusion you can present further research questions which the essay has opened up. The longest and most important part of the essay is the discussion of the topic placed in the middle. The writing order does not have to follow the above mentioned structure, but in the end check the order and logic of your essay, so that there are no inconsistencies, repetition or gaps. The sources are marked in the text as inserted references, footnotes or endnotes. A bibliography or a list of sources is included at the end of the essay. There are more specific instructions for referring to sources and composing a bibliography (see e.g. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers)
Length is not the most important issue in an essay. The use of sources and the contents of the essay are more important. Generally, a concise essay of 2-4 ECTS in basic and subject studies should be about 6-10 pages, a wider essay on advanced studies level should be 12-20 pages long. Use a 12pt font (preferably Times New Roman or Arial), with 1,5 line spacing, so that there is enough space for the teacher’s comments. Give a title to your essay, and put the title, your name, student number and contact information on the title page. You can add a table of contents (for a longer essay) on the title page. The essay should be structured with subtitles. Include a list of sources under the title “Sources” or “List of Works Cited” at the end of the essay.
Vuori and Tea Jansson
In the WS seminars we have certain customs that we want you to learn:
- Respect others: you are in a seminar to learn from others, to comment other people's papers besides your own presentation. Learn to make notes also of your student colleagues’ comments - lectures are not the only place for learning and writing notes.
- Speak up: Do not be afraid of presenting your ideas whether you speak or write them down.
- Always remember to refer to the sources you are using.
- Be on time (punctual): nobody has more time than you do. In every seminar the schedule is based on an agreement - stick to it.
- Make contact with your instructors, teachers and tutor: the problems are usually solved through communication.
How to comment (by Merja Kinnunen & Kirsti Lempiäinen)
In a seminar, workshop or on-line discussion group there are sometimes difficulties in getting started. Here are some general advice for academic discussion which aim at constructive reading and commenting. The aim of criticism is not to show our own wisdom or wit but to learn from each other and also to help each other make better analyses, to think more thoroughly and to write better. Try to respect the starting points of the discussant/writer and take her/his words/text as a possible frame for discussion. You could think of something along the lines below if getting started otherwise seems difficult.
the title and the text well fitted? What about the subtitles?
- How is the reader taken in with the text at the beginning and also later on?
- How did the paper proceed? What was done in the different chapters?
- What kind of argumentation was used? Was the problem solved or questions answered? Did you believe the solutions / explanations / analysis? If not, what was it that bothered you?
- How were the references used?
- How does the writer present her/himself (intimate, distant, analytical, surprising...)?
- What was interesting, what was unclear, which parts were particularly successful?
- What kind of (new) questions did the work bring up?
- How could the work be continued or improved? Were you missing something (relevant themes, references)?
- How was gender conceptualised (or explained)? What kind of theories or ideas did the writer bring in concerning sex / gender / sexuality / sexual difference?