mindmapparent nodes: [framing] | [introduction] | [key issues] | [mindmapping] | [question] | [quotations] | [research] | [synthesis] | [topics] | [writing process]

defining the problem

Defining the problem is about more than what the words of the question mean on the face of them. Behind any essay question is a whole set of assumptions and expectations which make up the academic field to which the question relates. The module for which the question has been set will have already introduced you to these issues and debates characterising the academic field. Writing an essay which will be relevant to the question involves considering how your answer will engage with this complex intellectual situation. This might involve including some review of the literature in your answer; it will certainly mean making an intelligent and informed use of quotations from, and references to, published writers on similar or related topics.

Your own position in relationship to the relevant academic field forms part of the problem which writing an essay represents for you. You are obviously not in the same position as a writer who has published in the field, who may have spent thirty years studying it. This does not necessarily mean that your writing will be worse than theirs - in fact, well-known writers are sometimes allowed to publish very sloppy and poorly expressed work, because their expertise in the field is taken for granted. As a student, one of the fundamental expectations a reader will have about your essay is that it will demonstrate the expertise you've acquired. What you need to work out about your essay is how it will do this.