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Student blog: Essays are not a flash mob

Here’s a definition of a flash mob:

a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.

Incredibly, this is also defines most HSC English (History, Studies of Religion, Economics, and Legal Studies) essays: an unusual but largely pointless assembly of points which are quickly dispersed.


Most essays don’t argue. They sort of flaunt bits of themselves in good-looking postures like a beginning Instagrammer.

What makes an argument? Connection, my little vegetables. Only Tinder users are hungrier for connection than an essay. And an essay requires a lot less explaining than a Tinder connection if you do it right.


There are superficial and authentic connections. Sticking ‘Furthermore’ at the beginning of a paragraph fools nobody, but it’s cute that you tried. It’s the POINT that has to connect, not just the last sentence of the paragraph to the first sentence of the next one.


This is why your thesis statement is really important. You should be able to write the points of an argument (i.e. your topic sentences) down in a list which anyone could read and recognize an argument leading from premises to conclusion.


An example


Here’s a question from the Common Module:

How has your prescribed text explored the individuality of stories about human experience?


And the thesis statement and the topic sentences:


Thesis statement Although Kenneth Slessor’s poems relate common human experiences – frustration at life’s many small hindrances, a difference of opinion about a local haunt, the memory of old neighbours and lovers – these stories become unique through Slessor’s subtle handling of poetic form and coherence of voice.


Point 1/Topic sentence 1 ‘Gulliver’ relates the common experience of frustration at the many minor obstacles we face in physical and social life, but the poem gains its individuality through Slessor’s innovative use of the dramatic monologue form.


Point 2/Topic sentence 2 By contrast, ‘William Street’ is a statement of individual preference, made in an anonymous but uncomplicated voice which we can (more securely than in ‘Gulliver’) identify with the poet.


Point 3/Topic sentence 3 This coherence of perception is evident also in ‘Wild Grapes’ which, despite exploring the common human experience of melancholy recollection, is individual even to the point of being cryptic.


Do you see how I made my broad point in the thesis statement, and then each paragraph gave a more specific example of that point? And that the three points were connected by contrast and addition?


Argument under exam conditions is really hard, and markers recognize that. Even if you try but don’t produce the most convincing one, it’s still better than the old trot through three disconnected points that you’ve been polishing up for six months.

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