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The critical essay paper

The introductory paragraph

The introduction should not be too long and detailed and it should focus on the question right from the start.

  • Identify the text and author
  • Use words from the beginning of the question and show why the text is an appropriate one
  • Refer to words from the second part of the question that set the task
  • Indicate the topics/aspects that the rest of the essay will discuss in depth

In a sense, the introduction should be a summary of the whole essay – later paragraphs should not change the direction of the argument or introduce new and unexpected topics.

Example

Expanding the paragraphs

The PEER approach:

Ensure you make frequent links back to the key phrases from the question, not only in the introduction but in topic sentences at the start of paragraphs.

For example:

The main body of the essay should be developed with a combination of statements and evidence.

Many teachers recommend the PEER structure:

Point (topic sentence)

Example (often in the form of a quotation)

Explanation / analysis

Respond in a way that is Relevant to the task

Here is an example of how to use this in a poetry essay:

This question suits Seamus Heaney’s poem Blackberry Picking well, as Heaney uses the poem as a means to reflect on how growing up naturally changes how we see the world. His experience of childhood summers spent picking fruit - only for the vast amount of it to rot - serves as a metaphor for life in general, where optimism and the focus on immediate pleasure are replaced by a natural conservatism and pessimism. There is a clear theme of change in the poem, as Heaney looks back on his younger self through the eyes of an adult, to see how life has changed.

Here is an example paragraph using the PEER structure that deals with the imagery in the poem:

(P) Heaney is convincing in his use of the extended metaphor, which brings to life his observation that childhood innocence must give way to adult realism. Just as the berries inevitably rot when picked from the bushes, we cannot escape the changes we go through when growing up. (E) After wildly picking every berry in sight, the persona and his friends return to the byre the next day, only to find the "glossy purple" berries have been transformed by a "rat-grey fungus". It becomes apparent in that moment that the berries are rotting and that in the children’s "lust for picking" they have failed to consider what might happen to the fruit. (E) By his use of the word "lust", Heaney is suggesting that the children pick the berries with a wild sense of abandon and that their desire to collect them in as vast a quantity as possible is almost uncontrollable. The berries have been transformed from "glossy purple" - connoting life, vitality and freshness - to "rat-grey" – a colour associated ultimately with decay and death. In the context of the poem, this experience clearly highlights the human condition itself, which can be summed up as the passage from innocence to experience. (R) It is only when the children have seen what has happened as a result of their efforts that they accept life isn’t always fair. Heaney leaves the reader pondering the fact that change – whether in terms of the berries or life in general - is inevitable, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time.

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