As a University Professor, my students constantly ask: “Am I on the right track?” They want to know whether their essays make sense. Specifically, they want to know whether their essays will get a good grade upon evaluation.
Bracketing for now the issue of grades, the prior question about whether or not an essay makes sense invites a complex answer. The “sense” of an essay depends on a range of factors. In the context of the academic essay, everything depends on how far the essay is faithful to the reader’s expectations.
Here, the relevant reader of the academic essay is a scholar or expert in a particular discipline of study. Even if university students are not expected to be experts in a field of inquiry, they are expected to write in a way that models the rules that govern the way ideas are expressed and analyzed in a specific field
For example, in the arts, the general expectation is that an essay will advance a clear thesis by way of a sustained argument, which is built out of an interpretation and analysis of relevant scholarly sources. In the sciences, the expectation is that an essay will advance a hypothesis to be supported by the analysis of experiments that either prove or disprove that hypothesis.
Students may not be expert researchers and scholars in a given field. But whether or not their writing makes sense will depend on how far they understand and correctly apply the conventions of academic writing in their chosen fields. And the extent to which they do so will determine whether or not the essay will receive a good or bad grade upon evaluation.
The broader point that issues from these observations is that the quality of the essay ultimately depends more on the clarity and coherence of its structure than the quality of the ideas presented within the essay.
This claim may strike many students as controversial; many believe that the essays they write are evaluated on the basis of whether or not the essays convey interesting or even original insights. But the fact of the matter is that the Professors who evaluate these essays are experts in the field. They do not generally expect students to come up with new ideas (unless the student is doing a Phd).
Instead, when evaluating an essay, the differences in quality between essays will depend on how far students can correctly apply the structural requirements of sound academic essay writing.
Of course, the difference between content and structure should not be exaggerated. It is not an accident that one rarely encounters a poorly structured essay that contains interesting ideas and arguments. If we want to write in a way that make sense, paying attention to structural requirements of academic writing directly impacts the quality and clarity of our arguments. The quality of the student’s insights and ideas cannot be divorced from attention to the structural requirements of academic writing.
So how might a student know if their essay makes sense? And how might they know if the essay they are writing is likely to get a good grade upon evaluation? There is no easy answer to this question. Students have to find a way to check their work with a person who is well versed with the requirements of academic writing that apply to their specific field.
Of course, the obvious candidate here is the Professor or Instructor who is teaching the course. But a problem for students is that Professors and Instructors rarely have the time or even the interest to do this kind of work. And this places students in a difficult position.
Indeed, it is partly in response to this difficulty that my co-founder and I created EssayJack. The platform is designed to model the structural expectations of academic essay writing so that the student can be confident that they are building an essay that is faithful to these expectations. That platform’s focus questions, useful phrases, and tips that express these expectations create a curated writing space within which the student can write an academic essay that makes sense.
Finally, to know if the essay makes sense, we are pleased to offer expert feedback on essay drafts. Users of EssayJack will be able to share drafts produced on the platform with qualified reviewers well versed in the expectations of academic essay writing. Users can receive feedback on content, structure, mechanics, and grammar and, if so desired, students can request that the essay is properly edited to reflect the expectations of academic writing.
Useful samples and examples: