Nathanial Gardner, BAS editor
In this edition we are pleased to announce the winner of the Bulletin’s first ever essay competition: Year 13 student Thomas Hilditch. He duly wins a £50 Amazon voucher kindly donated by the University of Glasgow’s School of Modern Languages and Cultures. His winning entry is published on a separate page of this edition.
Ventures like these are always a voyage into the unknown. Will students submit? What will the essays be like? Is it providing the students with the right opportunity?
Now that the essays have been submitted, read, judged and the winner declared, I can share a few of my reflections on the process and results. Hopefully, students can use them to think about how they can tackle these and other types of writing assignments.
I was pleased to see that most entries were submitted in a clear and direct style. This makes your writing accessible and, more importantly, your ideas are more easily perceived. There is always a temptation to write in an obscurantist way that hides your meaning. Do not fall for that trap. It is much better to express your ideas in the clearest way possible. You do risk exposing your ideas to debate more easily, but such discussions almost invariably lead to making them stronger.
This was an area that needed improvement. Almost without exception the essays referred to thoughts, ideas, and sometimes quotes that were not referenced. In some cases, these were just thoughts and notions that were being leaned upon to build an argument. That is great because it shows engagement with outside ideas, which is what you want as you build your thesis. In other cases, quotes were used, but with only a vague indication as to where they might be found. Avoid both scenarios. Referencing is a bit like showing your work in mathematics. The more you show, the more credit you can receive.
Classic or unfamiliar?
You will notice that the winner of the competition focuses on a lesser-known short story, while the runner-up, Kim Le, wrote on a Lorca classic. Is it better to write on lesser-known publications? The short answer is no. You should write on what inspires you. There is nothing like personal engagement with something that really gets your intellect going. The classics are important for many reasons, but unfamiliar works provide fresh insights. Excellent essays can be written on either area.
Show, don’t tell
There is a tendency in essays to want to retell the story. I am not sure if this is because our teachers often do this as they prepare to study a film or novel, or if it is because we do not trust our reader to have read or watch we are analysing. Resist this urge. Trust your reader to know the basics. Lay out your plan of critical attack to your readers as you begin and launch yourself into it. Not only does this free up essential word count in many cases, it leaves your reader to review the text of study if they are not familiar. And, let’s be honest, the author told the story better anyway, didn’t they?
At this level it’s important to address the question ‘why?’ In other words, not just to say that an author does XYZ, but also to explore why he does so and what effect this produces for us, the readers.
Keep writing. “Practice makes perfect” is a timeless adage for a reason.