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Good English is the secret code by which educated

people recognise each other.

INever start an essay by "In this essay I am going to..." We know that that's
what you are going to do, because that's what you've been asked to do. It's
well-known that an examiner makes up his mind about whether or not he is
going to enjoy reading the essay from the first few sentences. That phrase is a
Please, no dictionary definitions. They are just so very sterile...and a real
turn-off for the examiner!
Answer the question. If the question is "Can terrorism be justified?", and
you've said in your introduction that this is what you are going to answer, then
it's no good having an excellent argument exploring "Can terrorismsucceed?".
Avoid dangerous phrases. "There are other aspects which can be
discussed, such as ..." demands that you discuss them; if you don't then
you've started a hare. Don't use beg the question where you mean poses the
question; the misused phrase means 'to fall into the trap of assuming what you
want to prove as part of the proof'. For example: Democracy is a good thing
because the majority are always right is begging the question. The Guardian
has an interesting article about this "frightful clich" here (it was written in
response to a letter I wrote to the paper!)
Try to refer back to the question by using words from it: if the title is 'Is
Equality of Opportunity attainable or is it only an ideal?', the phrase 'women
are being given equal rights in employment to those of men ... is only a dream'
is much more powerful if you write it as ' only an ideal.' Similarly, the
paragraph ending with 'This creates quite a social problem' is dramatically
strengthened when ended with 'This inequality of opportunity creates quite
a social problem.' I once marked an essay on "standards in television" which
did not use the word standards until the eleventh paragraph and the essay
was only twelve paragraphs long!
Use secondary resources - an essay will be more impressive when you do -

but you must give a bibliography page.

Refer to current affairs by all means - topicality shows your active interest in
the subject - but treat media information just like any other resource: don't just
put Yesterday the Prime Minister looked blank, specify at least the
date: Yesterday (23rd August 2006) the Prime Minister .. .

Punctuation and spelling

watch out for words that sound the same - were and where, their andthere.
sentences - begin with a capital letter, end with a full stop, and
are neverjoined together by a comma.
Have a look at this page if punctuation is a problem for you.

paragraphing - consecutive sentences without a change of topic should be

held in the same paragraph

A or An?
Before all normal words or diphthongs an is required (an actor; an eagle; an
illness; an orange; an uncle).
Before all consonants except silent h, a is usual: a book; a hero; a home; a
household name; a memorial service; a puddle); but, with silent h, an hour; an
Then there's the "hotel" issue. An hotel used to be the preferred pronunciation
among educated people because hotel is a French word and educated
(pretentious) people pronounced it in the French way "'otel", therefore it
sounds like a vowel. Nowadays we are all common, so only elderly people
who remember the old days say "an otel" and the rest of us say " a hotel"!

"Different to" or "different from"? The better form is "different from". Why?
Well, we say (for example) that "oil differs from water", so if nothing else it is
inelegant to say that "oil is different to water". Why does it matter? Here's an
extract from a letter to the Guardian where the writer is utterly confused as to
which form to use:
In this country we are still stuck rigidly in a class system where those in the elites have an
entirely different culture to those who arent in power. Desert Island Discs takes guests from
the great and good, a tiny elite whose tastes are radically different from those they rule. Why
else does the opera get so much money? Its been the same since the days when the

Normans went hunting and spoke a different language to the peasants. (Notes and Queries 28.02.02)

Apart from his ineptitude in not sticking to the same form throughout, his final
sentence is ambiguous. Does it mean that the Normans spoke one language
amongst themselves but a different language when they were speaking to the
peasants, or does it mean that the Normans spoke a language which differed
from the language spoken by the peasants?

General points
if the subject is big, focus on one issue. For example, if you are writing
about Animal rights then concentrate on one aspect such as the Animal
Liberation Front or on the use of animals for food.
write only on one side of the paper; don't recycle "the other side" of paper
for submitting an essay - your tutor will be distracted by the flipside,
particularly if it's a letter from your wine merchant!
don't use inflated language - e.g. present epoch (an astronomical term)
where present century will do; you don't need highfalutin language to write a
good essay, and attempts to use it will often obscure your message.
avoid jargon words - comprise means to contain or to include. Thus:...the
schedule included [not comprised of] informative and educational material.
avoid clichs like the plague - [Certain] phrases are used so often they are
used without thinking. When first used they may have served a purpose as a
fresh way of describing something, but when they are used over and over
again for the wrong reasons, they lose all meaning. John Lister, of the
Campaign for Plain English. Read the most irritating paragraph ever here!