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Skidmore College Department of Classics

Purpose of Essays
Questions and Topics
Planning the Essay
Writing The Essay
Sample Essay


Study Skills /
Writing In Classics / Essays

Essays, whether as part of examinations or as separate assignments, are usually introduced by questions or topics, which pose a problem to be examined or issues to consider. One of the first things an instructor will look for in an essay is the extent of your response to the question or topic.

The wording of the essay question is therefore vital. Your first task is to decide exactly what is being asked of you. If you are wrong, the essay could be a complete disaster. When in doubt, ask for clarification.

In particular, make sure you understand the meaning of key words. Key words are of two types:
     instructional - discuss, compare, contrast, describe, examine
     conceptual - nationalism, classes, genders, societies, periods.

As you think about the key words, it may be worth rewriting the essay question in your own way. In fact, you might want to incorporate the rewriting into your essay, defining the terms and drawing out the overall meaning of the question in your introduction.

You should also think about the built-in assumptions in the essay question, if any. For example, "To what extent did Athens increase its influence in the mid-fifth century B.C." almost invites you to agree with the assumption that the city of Athens did increase its influence. You might think otherwise. If you choose to disagree in your essay, your argument should be well supported with evidence.

ŠAugust 2000 Skidmore College Department of Classics
 Created and Maintained by Alexander Carballo '01
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