Bioethics: Preparing to write

Resources for students of bioethics

What is the purpose of an essay?

Lecturers prescribe essays to allow you to demonstrate your academic skills. A skilfully written essay is one that:

  • explicitly answers the set question,
  • is supported by evidence from other writers, and
  • shows a suitable command of written English.

Thus, when they are marking, lecturers will ask various questions of your essay; before you submit your paper you need to ask the same questions. These questions are elaborated in this LibGuide and its links.

Lecturers have given advice about writing in the Philosophy discipline.

How do I read and make effective notes?

Taking notes from sources is the next step of the essay writing process. This step will allow you to make sense of the information you encounter, to make it your own.

Reading techniques - experiment with the techniques summarised below

Always familiarise yourself with the reading material by gaining an overview and / or skimming before reading in detail.

  1. Overview
  2. Skim read
    • run your eyes very quickly over large chunks of text
    • you are trying to pick up some of the main ideas without paying attention to detail
    • a single chapter should only take a few minutes-you may read a few words of every paragraph, perhaps the first and last sentences
    • you would choose to skim if there is very little changed print to gain an overview of a text

    For example, a book:

    • Title page and back cover
    • Contents page
    • Chapter headings
    • Diagrams and tables
    • The first paragraph and concluding paragraph of chapters that look useful
    • Index

    For example, a journal article or book chapter:

    • Abstract
    • Headings and subheadings
    • Anything printed in bold
    • First sentence of each paragraph
    • Diagrams and tables
    • Conclusion
  3. Scan
  4. SQ3R 
    • Scan-get key points
    • Question-identify questions you want to be able to answer once you've read the text
    • Read -make connections
    • Recite-what you have just read
    • Review-test your knowledge by trying to answer the questions you came up with earlier

How do I analyse the task?

Before you start researching or writing, you need to spend some time brainstorming, because this is when you define what the essay question asks you to do. You brainstorm to generate ideas and to add to your understanding and analysis of the question.

There are some general questions about your assessment that it might pay to ask before you start writing:

  • When is the due date?
  • How long is the essay?
  • To which parts of the course does the essay relate?
  • What is the essential subject matter of the essay?
  • What do I already know about this topic?
  • How much research do I need to do?
  • What does the person who set the topic expect?

Once you have addressed these questions, you will need to deconstruct the topic. Look at the essay title carefully - word by word. You need a clear understanding of each word or phrase in the question. Use a specialist subject dictionary, not a general one, or a glossary, to check unfamiliar technical or non-technical words or phrases.

  • What are the 'content' words? ie, those that tell you the subject areas of the topic (eg, ethics)
  • What are the 'limit' words? ie, those that tell you the scope or boundaries of the essay (eg, Australian policy)
  • What are the 'direction' words? ie, those that tell you what to do with the topic (eg, discuss)

Ask further questions of your topic:

  • What?
  • Who?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • How?
  • Why?
  • To what extent?
  • How significant?

Planning your essay

This stage is the most intellectually demanding of the entire essay writing process. You need to analyse your notes. Analysis means breaking down a large complex topic into smaller, simpler categories. For example, imagine you have to write a 2000 word essay. If you take off 500 words for the introduction and conclusion, you then have 1500 words for the main body of the essay. By dividing that into three, four or five sections, you end up having to write just 300 to 500 words on each. That’s only a few paragraphs per section.

Your essay needs to adhere to the following structure:

  1. Introduction
    • presents topic in a general way
    • provides a statement of the issue
    • outlines argument to be presented, your thesis/contention
    • presents a framework for paper
  2. Body paragraphs
    • develop the contention
    • main idea presented in topic sentence at beginning of each paragraph
  3. Conclusion
    • sums up your point of view

Books and websites about writing