Writing Better University Essays/Discussion
After presenting the main argument, it’s usually necessary to discuss what this all means. The argument of the essay may have implications on policy, implications on the use of certain theories, or implications on how we (should) understand the world. Not always are these implications novel or big. Nevertheless, you should always discuss the implications of what you have just said. If you don’t do so, you risk leaving your reader with the feeling of so what?
Obviously, this is something we want to avoid. The discussion of what it all means can often be incorporated inside the main section of the essay. This is often a good idea, too, because the repetition of the same points can be avoided. However, even where the implications of the argument are discussed as part of the main argument, it’s a good idea to use at least one paragraph to make explicit that you have invested time into this section.
Rather than summarizing the argument, this section is here to draw the different sections together. Depending on the essay question, the discussion can be rather large (such as in an evaluate question), or very short (for example if you’re asked to describe something).
A number of essay questions directly or indirectly ask you to evaluate the persuasiveness of an argument or theory. There are a number of points you can look out for when making such an evaluation: coherence, empirical adequacy, and comprehensiveness.
A good approach is to think about the coherence of the argument, the empirical adequacy, and the comprehensiveness. By coherence I refer to the reasoning and the argument. Does it make sense? Is the argument elaborate enough? Are there gaps in the line of reasoning? Is the argument clear? Does one point follow the other? Is it a logical argument?
Empirical adequacy is about the extent to which there is support for the argument. Does the evidence support the argument? Does A always lead to B? Are there alternative explanations?
Comprehensiveness, finally, is about the limits of the argument. Is it true in other places? Was it true in the past? Will it be the same in the future? Do other cultures do things the same way? Is the argument explicit about its limits? Does the argument attempt to cover everything (universal)?
Thinking about these three aspects alone will help evaluate arguments and claims. You’ll find that sometimes the answers to the questions here are difficult to answer. Sometimes, the answers lie in the assumptions, or in what is not said.
Where you’re asked to evaluate the usefulness of models or terms, consider the following criteria. You should not just state that X is being used, but always try to establish criteria for the usefulness of the model.
For definitions, look out how clearly something can be defined. Can we recognize an X if we see one? Are all X the same? Is X a neutral term? Is X value-laden? Does the definition of X depend on something else? Is X the same in every context? How can X be measured?
You may also want to consider the analytic dimensions of concepts. Is X as a concept more useful than Y? Does X contradict Y? Is X complimentary to Y? In which cases is using X rather than Y more useful? What does X capture better than other terms? What does X capture that other terms don’t? But also, what does X not capture?
There is often also a normative dimension to terms (what should be). A full evaluation will include such normative aspects, too. What does X suggest about policies? Given X, how should society be organized? How should the world be seen?