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Many students have to write essays at university and one of the common mistakes that they make is that they write about the subject rather than answering the question.

Essay titles in academic study are very specific and usually focus only on one area so that you can explore this area in depth in your answer. As most essays are between 2,000 and 3,000 words, the essay title needs to be specific enough to give you enough words to answer the question. If the essay title is too general, 3,000 words will not be enough to give a thorough answer. So, one of the most important skills students can learn is essay title analysis. By analysing the essay title, you will be able to see what information from your lectures and reading is relevant and what you should do in order to answer the question properly.

So let’s look at an example Business Studies essay title:

Discuss how corporate social responsibility has contributed to an understanding of climate change factors among large corporations. 

You should ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is the topic of the essay? In this title it is corporate social responsibility.

2. Do I write everything about corporate social responsibility? No, just about how it has or has not helped understand climate change factors.

3. Do I write about this in general? No, write about it in relation to large corporations only.

4. Do I write about the history of this or my opinions or why is it important? No, look at the essay word ‘Discuss’ – you must discuss it.

5. What does discuss mean? It means give both sides of the argument. In other words say how it has and has not contributed to the understanding of climate change factors. Give support for both sides (has and has not contributed) and then reach a conclusion saying which one there is more evidence for.

So, by asking these questions what you are doing is trying to find the specific focus of the essay so that you answer the question instead of just writing about the subject. You need to identify the topic, the specific part of the topic and the actual question. One good way to do this is to talk about and analyse your essay questions with other students on your course.

Fiona

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