A level – writing in a critical style

Sumera has asked me to write a quick post about writing essays in a more analytical and precise style. Hopefully, this will help you adopt a more effective and concise essay writing style particularly when under the pressure of timed exam conditions. Here are my tips:

  • Try to analyse and/or evaluate the information that you are discussing. A quick and easy way to do this is by using adjectives such as: comprehensive, exhaustive, perceptive, thoughtful, limited, outdated, deterministic, persuasive, presumptuous, authoritative etc. For example:                                                                                                                    There is much contemporary evidence to support Neo-functionalist, Robert Bellah’s perceptive argument that the United States has “an elaborate and well-instituted civil religion”.
  • The first sentence of every paragraph should often link to the last paragraph using connectives: , such as ‘however’, ‘consequently’, ‘moreover’, ‘a contrary explanation is that’, ‘although’, ‘as a consequence’, ‘as a result’, ‘accordingly’, ‘an equally significant aspect of…’, ‘another, significant factor in…’, ‘by the same token’, ‘but we should also consider’, ‘despite these criticisms’, ‘consequently’, ‘correspondingly’, ‘conversely’, ‘despite these criticisms’, ‘evidently’, ‘importantly’, ‘notably’,  etc…
  • Link the first sentence to the question. This will immediately demonstrate that you are not merely presenting information, you are applying it. For example, if the essay was asking you to evaluate the contribution of Marxism to our understanding of the role of religion in contemporary society, you might write something like:                       It is perhaps easy to dismiss Karl Marx’s analysis of the role of religion as overly deterministic and unable to understand the complexities of a late or postmodern society such as the UK. However, Neo-Marxists offer a more relevant and all encompassing model…

Essay writing: critical links

#In addition to discursive markers, critical links help you evaluate the previous point/views/theories/evidence (A02 at A level). These will illustrate that you are attempting to evaluate. You could also use some of the following expressions to help you structure your essay answers:

  • An alternative theory to…view…was developed by…who…stated that…..
  • A major criticism of the…view is….
  • A major weakness of the…theory is….
  • Whereas the…view focuses on…the…view explores….
  • Analysis may stretch further when examining….
  • Although the…theory is supported by a variety of evidence, certain evidence contradicts the theory
  • A different explanation of…. Has been offered by…
  • A major strength of the…theory is….
  • Once a paragraph has been introduced, the following points may help you structure the paragraph. A paragraph must contain the following features…..
  • It should be attempting to make one point
  • It should begin with an opening sentence, which expresses the main point; the opening sentence might well link with previous paragraphs.
  • Support sentences should follow. These support sentences should include…. An example if applicable. In addition, a brief mention of further examples could be included to broaden the scope of the main point.
  • Finally, the paragraph should end with a concluding sentence. This may well clarify your main point and can help lead into the next paragraph.

A2: Significance of religion in contemporary world

Raif Badawi

Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for setting up a website that championed free speech in the autocratic kingdom. His blog, the Saudi Free Liberals Forum, was shut down after his arrest in 2012.(The Guardian)

This is a brilliant example of the tensions between Western ideas of secularisation, the advance of technology and conservative religious societies such as Saudi Arabia. It is a perfect example for Marxism because clearly the Saudis will not tolerate a critical analysis of their ‘religious’ approach to governance and thus supports the idea that religion is utilised by the hegemon to oppress the powerless majority. The example can also be used within the social change debate – clearly religion is being used an excuse to maintain the status quo and restrict any challenges.

Here are some quotes from the blog:

“Secularism respects everyone and does not offend anyone … Secularism … is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the third world and into the first world.”

“No religion at all has any connection to mankind’s civic progress. This is not a failing on the part of religion but rather that all religions represent a particular, precise spiritual relationship between the individual and the Creator. ..However, positive law is an unavoidable human and social need because traffic regulations, employment law and the codes governing the administration of State can hardly be derived from religion.”