The top three most asked questions of your English teachers:

  1. How many quotations should I use per paragraph?
  2. What’s the best structure for a comparative essay?
  3. What are the markers looking for in a conclusion?

Well, the bad news is there are no definitive answers (we are not talking Mathematics here).

No magic number for quotations per paragraph, but interwoven snippets into your own sentences are best for scoring higher marks in organisation and development of ideas. Aim for three to four. Please no chunks of quotations. Always, pull it apart and use your language knowledge to identify how techniques and conventions operate in what you have just quoted. Connect to the overall meaning.

Essays that ask to compare and contrast can be structured by dealing with both texts in a similarities paragraph/s, differences paragraphs/s, then evaluating in the final third. OR Text A, then Text B, then paragraphs comparing and contrasting. Just keep track of your topic sentences so that there are no abrupt jumps. This is where your planning time is really important.

A conclusion should never just sum up what has come before. Aim to come to new understandings of the texts based on what you have analysed and appreciated in the discussion before it. My students are given critical literary theories and asked to offer what a feminist reader, postcolonial critic or psychoanalytical theorist may make of the text. This allows your marker to see that you understand there are different ways to interpret what we read.

If you’d like to know more about critical theories and how to implement them in your analysis, keep an eye out for my next post.