Essay Writing Prompts

Sunday, March 25, 2012

How to Read the Essay Prompts

Essay writing prompts are your first level of interaction with the essay. To start writing the essay, you have to first understand the prompt given to you. The prompt is basically another name for the essay topic on which you have to write.

The prompt will tell you what to do, and it is important to read it as carefully as possible so as to not miss out on any words or phrases. Misreading the prompt can be fatal for your understanding of the essay topic and its treatment. Each word in the prompt is crucial and will guide you in the act of writing the paper.

So how do you understand the prompt given to you? Remember, that you will be under pressure to understand, write, edit, and submit the paper. In this circumstance, it is possible to overlook a word or phrase, a particular verb or adjective that could be important to the overall interpretation of the essay writing prompt. So let us understand the prompt step by step.

Example: Analyse the use of soliloquies in Shakespeare’s tragedies Hamlet and Macbeth.

This is a simple one-sentence prompt. You need to look carefully at the word “Analyse”. This is your main function in this essay, your focus. You want to explain and explore, find out the what, why, and how of this topic. Here are some points to consider:

  • What is a soliloquy?
  • What is typical of or special to Shakespeare’s soliloquies?
  • Are these used in his tragedies only?
  • What role does the soliloquy have in Shakespearean tragedies?
  • Now focus on Hamlet and Macbeth.
  • Discuss them briefly as tragedies.
  • Now discuss the what, why, and how of soliloquies in these tragedies: what/which soliloquies would you like to focus on, what purpose do they serve in these plays, how do they serve this purpose, and what happens because of this.

Essay writing prompts will have specific words or verbs that will tell you what you are expected to do in the essay. Look out for words/verbs such as explore, analyse, discuss, critique/criticize, narrate, describe, argue or compare and contrast. These words are your cues for the essay. They tell you how to approach the topic and what parameters to work within.

Once you have read the prompt and understood what to do, try to create an outline for the paper. This outline will follow the parameters set for the type of essay you have to write. Within this outline, whether it is linear, circular, or free flowing, you could arrange all the points you want to discuss the prompt.

Now that the outline is in place, you want to take up each point in it and write out the paper completely, keeping in mind always, the prompt. Check yourself time and again to see whether you are doing what is required of you. Are you arguing when the prompt requires you to analyse? Are you critiquing instead of comparing?

Essay prompts guide your writing and thought process. You do what the prompt asks you to do.

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