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Writing Critical Essays: A Practical Guide

by Brian Moon and Bronwyn Mellor
Student handbook Year 10+

Includes online Quickstart Files for writing activities. (Download here.)

Writing Critical Essays: A Practical Guide is designed to give students detailed practical assistance with the difficult task of writing analytical essays about prose fiction texts.

The book goes beyond those teaching methods that only 'encourage expression.' Its aim is to offer a clear framework for writing, with elaborated procedures and explicit models. The authors argue that methods based on 'free discovery' and 'process' tend to ignore the fact that critical writing - like all writing - is rule governed, with recognisable forms and usages. 'It is our view,' they write, 'that such rules and usages can remain a mystery to students unless explicitly taught. This, however, is not to deny the value of students experimenting with alternative ways of writing. But we suggest that such experimentation is most successful when it begins from a sound knowledge of existing practices and the pool of techniques available to writers for achieving certain purposes. By making these generally unspoken rules and techniques visible, and teaching them explicitly, we hope to help students learn the skills they need to develop their critical writing.'

Writing Critical Essays thus aims to develop specific writing skills through detailed and explicit instruction. Among the strategies used are sample essays by professional critics and students which serve as models, scaffolded activities that coach the student through important stages of planning and writing, and tailored writing guides devoted to important topics in contemporary literature study.

Written with the busy student in mind, the book assumes minimal reading time. The key examples and activities are designed around five key texts, allowing the students to practise their writing skills on familiar material.

The texts that are discussed are 'Phone Call' by Berton Roueché, 'Victim' by Oliver Smithfield, the folktale 'Little Red Riding Hood,' Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (here represented by a synopsis and notes) and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (an extract is provided). For convenience, each of the texts is included in Writing Critical Essays along with brief background notes. These texts serve as the 'raw material' for essays on topics ranging from narrative structure and multiple reading practices to readings of class, gender and race. Thus, the text is self-contained. It can be used in the first weeks of a course to establish important skills and understandings, and thereafter as an ongoing reference.

In its approach to the reading and analysis of texts, Writing Critical Essays applies contemporary theory and practices. It emphasises the role of reading practices in the production of meaning from text, and examines issues such as gender, class and race readings.

The book can be used both as a classroom text and as a student reference. Key features and processes of critical essays are introduced in Chapters 1-5, which can be worked through in class to ensure that all students have a solid grounding in important skills. Chapters 6-12, which deal with writing about specific topics such as multiple readings, elements of narrative and narration, and the representation of gender, class and race, can be used in the classroom, assigned as individual study topics, or consulted by students as the need arises.

Activities in the book are available for downloading as Quickstart Files. These files enable students to complete key writing tasks without re-typing the pre-written sections. (Earlier editions contained the files on a bundled CD.)


RRP $39.95
255x210mm 200pp ISBN 1 875136 27 4

A Chalkface Press original

Cover details: #4 from Enigma: A Suite of Variations (1996). [Detail] Janis Nedela. © The Artist. Photograph by Martin Farquharson.


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