Writing Essays

Notes on Essay Writing

Analytical Essays

Dramaturgical Essays

Theatre Review

The Essay Writing Process

Assignment Pitfalls


General Note on Essays

All essays share one thing in common: they are written for a purpose. However, essays can be written for different purposes, so they can also have very different features. Considering why you are writing an essay will help you determine how to produce a good essay. You should therefore always consider the reasons why you are being asked to write an essay before you begin developing your arguments.

It might be tempting to think that the only reason you are writing an essay is to get a grade that will enable you to pass your course. However, you are likely to lose many opportunities to advance your learning and communication skills if this is the only reason you can find to write essays. When you are given an assignment topic or question, you are being offered an opportunity to learn more about a particular subject related to the course you are studying. The assignment topics or questions set by your teachers are carefully designed to focus your attention to important elements associated with the study of drama, theatre and performance. A number of elements you will be asked to consider will also require you to develop new ways of thinking about various subjects. Two key areas you will continue to reflect upon throughout the course of your studies are:


The Social Significance of Plays you Study

As historical circumstances and cultural developments influence the writing, production and reception of plays and performances, the social significance of any play is essential to interrogate if you wish to understand all the features of plays you are studying. This type of study may require you to research a range of social and historical concepts, events, developments and phenomena that appear to be extraneous or external to the play itself. For example,


The Performance Significance of Plays you Study

Written forms of plays are often recognised as the permanent records of dramas while performances of plays are recognised as ephemeral activities that are difficult to record. While the construction of plays and performances are two separate crafts, the performance of a play is ultimately the only way to test whether or not a play actually works for an audience and the elements of a performance that support a production of a play are essential to consider and distinguish from the play. While practical activities in tutorials enable you to experiment with performance possibilities, the plays you will study have usually already been produced. Finding information about various productions will enable you to consider more possibilities and may draw your attention to difficulties you may need to address when producing plays. This kind of information also prompts you to consider the technical limitations and developments that have influenced the evolution of theatrical performances and why so many differences are evident in productions of the same play in different eras or cultures. Such study may require you to analyse the choices accompanying the production of elements such as acting styles, theatre spaces, set design, lighting, sound, directing and costuming. This kind of study may also require in depth analysis of reviews of performances or consideration of any particular edits or translations of texts used for a production. For example,

Writing Essays:

Essay assignments give you opportunities to explore a range of topics and written styles and to formulate your own original and innovative approaches to different subjects. For example, if your essay question gives you scope to look at a number of different plays, try to avoid common or popular choices and look for ways of offering a view or analysis that is insightful or unusual. Your lecturer has probably read a million essays on Shakespearean comedies or analyses of well-known Australian plays like The Removalist or Blackrock so they will appreciate and respond to original ideas and innovative arguments you are able to develop and defend.

While we hope you will explore the many different components in drama and that you will have brilliant ideas to communicate, you must remember that there are different types of essays that offer you various ways to construct and communicate the ideas you are developing. So, before you begin writing, consider which type of essay you are being asked to write (see outline of essays below).


Websites: Books:

“Foundation Pages” section of The Academy: Literature and Drama Website

Essay Writing Center: essayinfo.com/

Basic Guide to Essay Writing: members.tripod.com/~lklivingston/essay/

Write an Essay: www.write-an-essay.com/

Anderson, Jonathan and Millicent Poole. Thesis and Assignment Writing. Brisbane: John Wiley & Sons, 1994.

Bate, Douglas and Peter Sharpe. Harcourt Brace Writer’s Handbook: For University Students. Sydney: Harcourt Brace, 1996.

Clanchy, John and Brigid Ballard. Essay Writing For Students: A Practical Guide.  Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1991.


Analytical Essays

There is always some degree of analysis involved in essay writing and most assignments develop your abilities to analyse and research. However, when you are asked to provide an analysis of a set play or topic, you are being asked for a particular type of essay. Analysis involved more than a description of a field of study and more than a list of your observations or a survey of observations made by others. Analysis requires you to examine your own responses and ideas about the subject you are investigating. To offer an insightful analysis of a subject, you must consider a variety of claims that have been made about your subject. To find the variety of claims, you MUST conduct research. Research is important because you will only be in a position to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the subject you are investigating when you have located a variety of information and opinions. As it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of material and the range of resources available for research, students need to remember that they are researching a particular topic that is part of a large field of knowledge. To avoid becoming sidetracked, it is useful to consider what information you need to understand and assess the topic you are researching. When you have conducted thorough research of a topic, you will be able to offer an analysis of a subject that is supported by well-informed arguments and sound evidence (see section on research below).


An analytical essay offers your view.

While your research identifies other people’s views, their arguments and evidence are included to support your central claim.

An analytical essay can often include the following sections in various orders:


A sample assignment topic for an analytical essay:

The Medieval Play Everyman is described as a morality play. In a well-argued essay, identify at least three moral virtues included in the play and consider whether these virtues were likely to be developed by people in the era and culture in which the play was produced. Your essay should include references to the text and a detailed analysis of relevant social discourses and material conditions evident at the time of the play’s production.


For more tips on writing an analytical essay try these links:





Dramaturgical essays:

Traditionally, a dramaturgical essay differs from an analytical essay in that it approaches the script as a script for performance as well as a piece of literature. That is, this type of essay takes into account the performative elements of a play. A person writing a dramaturgical essay therefore has to be able to imagine and analyse elements that are used in a production of the play. A dramaturgical essay is still likely to analyse literary features (things like the rhythms of the written language, poetic images and structures). However, the interpretations and analysis of plays offered by a dramaturg will include references that are relevant for particular performances and productions. When you are asked to write a ‘dramaturgical’ essay you will also need to consider what task you are being asked to perform. Since there are many jobs and many types of analysis conducted in a theatre production, you will need to understand the specific aspect of a production you are expected to research, analyse or develop. To do this, you need to understand what is involved in dramaturgy.

Dramaturgy is a word used to collectively describe the arts and techniques used to analyse and produce theatre. Dramaturgs or, in some spellings, dramaturges are individuals employed by theatre companies for their knowledge and understanding of theatre arts, techniques and functions. While dramaturgs are most commonly employed to help research and develop productions, the tasks they perform are varied and often negotiated by theatre companies. Tasks can include:


As dramaturgy is an evolving field, it is also a good idea to research the various roles and organizations that are associated with this activity before writing your essays (or accepting a contract with a theatre company!)

A sample topic for an assignment that requires a dramaturgical essay:

Queensland Theatre Company is mounting a production of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. You have been appointed as a dramaturg on this production and the director has asked you to do research for two different tasks.


Websites: Books:

Theatre Links www.theatrelinks.com/dramaturgy.htm

Dramaturgy Resources www.artslynx.org/theatre/drama.htm

The Dramaturg’s Network

Cardullo, Bert. What is Dramaturgy? New York: P. Lang, 1995

Meagher, John C. Pursuing Shakespeare’s Dramaturgy: Some Contexts, Resources, and Strategies in His Playmaking. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2003.


Writing a theatre review:

A theatre review evaluates the impact of a production as a whole rather than focusing on one element such as the choice of play, the script, the playwright or any other component involved in mounting a production. Unlike an analysis of literary components of a play, a review offers your evaluation of all the components in a performance and discusses whether the components were used to successfully (or unsuccessfully) convey meaning in a production. Your evaluation will need to consider the successes, failures or tensions within the production and will demonstrate your ability to identify and analyse a number of elements involved in a performance. Some of the components that may be contained in a review include:


A sample question for a theatre review:

Write a 1000 word review of Queensland Theatre Company’s production of Edward Albee’s play The Goat: Or Who is Sylvia?


Have a look at how some theatres and festivals suggest students write reviews:

The Goodman Theatre in Chicago, USA -- http://www.goodman.theatre.org/how2write.asp

The Cork Opera House in Cork, Ireland -- http://www.corkoperahouse.ie

Emily Carr Institute, Canada -- http://www.eciad.bc.ca/wc/theatrereview2.html


Essay writing skills common to all styles of essays


A good place to start is to imagine a PICTURE of your essay structure. A common structure found in most academic essays is the one below.

While getting an overall picture of your argument helps you organise your material, your essay must demonstrate your ability to research appropriately and demonstrate your ability to use and understand a number of analytical and literary skills. You demonstrate these skills when you communicate your ideas effectively through a clear structure, a persuasive argument, a good range of evidence to support your argument (research and referencing) and appropriate expression of your argument and evidence (the language and style you select to convey the ideas being outlined). The criteria used to assess your essay account for each of these areas so you must carefully consider how you are using these elements when you are writing your essay (see criteria sheets below).

Clive. Manual of Style for Essay Writing. St Lucia, Qld: Dept. of History, The University of Queensland, 1999.




Examples of criteria used to assess your essays:

1. Criteria for assessing essay Structure  





High Distinction

Imprecise and vague focus on the problem

Vague focus on the

The problem is defined

The problem is clearly defined.

Concise and accurate statement of

No clear statement
of method

Vague statement
of method

Statement of method presented

Statement of method presented using appropriate terminology

Clear and systematic statement of
method using appropriate terminology

Essay shows little
relevance to topic

Essay relates to
the topic

Essay appropriately
discusses the topic

Essay discusses the topic in an informative way

Essay discusses the topic in an insightful way


2. Criteria for assessing essay Argument  





High Distinction

Much of the evidence inaccurate or

Limited amount of supporting evidence

The evidence is reliable

Accurate presentation of evidence

Accurate presentation of appropriate evidence

Essay rambles and lacks continuity

The focus of the essay is weak

Material presented in
a logical order

Material presented in
a logical order which helps to build an argument

Logical argument that makes solid statements about the topic

Little evidence of originality

Essay covers material on a general level

Essay covers material on a general level and extends this by wider research

Essay presents some new ideas which were not covered in class

Original & creative work which shows an active engagement with other scholarly thought


3. Criteria for assessing essay Research & Referencing  





High Distinction

Inadequate acknowledgement of sources

Refers to general sources

Adequate acknowledgement of academic sources

Good acknowledgement of academic sources

Excellent acknowledgement of scholarly sources

No evidence of Research

Evidence of small
amount of general research

Evidence of research that is relevant to the topic

Evidence of wide research

Evidence of wide scholarly research

Inadequate consultation
of sources

Essay has used a small number of sources

Adequate consultation of sources

Essay relies on a broad range of sources

Excellent choice of scholarly sources

No referencing

Incorrect referencing

Some inaccuracies in

Correct referencing using an accepted citation method

Correct referencing using an accepted citation method


4. Criteria for assessing essay Language & Style





High Distinction

Clumsily written with
much incorrect punctuation

Awkward use of expression

Correct punctuation

Fluent piece of writing

Fluent piece of writing which uses sophisticated language

Much inaccurate usage

Several ungrammatical sentences

Grammatical sentences

Accurate usage of grammar

Grammar used with stylistic flair

Much incorrect spelling

Several incorrectly
spelt words

Mostly correct spelling throughout

Correct spelling throughout

Correct spelling throughout

Chaotic Bibliography

Several errors in
the Bibliography

Occasional error
in the Bibliography

Bibliography appropriately
set out

Bibliography correctly set out using MLA Style


*For good advice on how to improve sentence or paragraph construction have a look at:

Durham, Marsha and Roslyn Petelin. The Professional Writing Guide: Writing Well and Knowing Why. Warriewood, NSW: Business and Professional Publishing, 2001.


The Essay Writing Process

The follow graphic will help to visualise the process that is required when you write an essay:
















Common Assignment Pitfalls:

Under-researched work:

The biggest pitfall for students writing Tertiary Level essays is being under-prepared for the topic. Researching your area thoroughly is an important elementary task. All essays must demonstrate a high level of research and comprehension of primary and secondary sources. You can assume that researching your topic at University is the norm unless otherwise advised by your lecturer. The types of research material that will be most useful to students in the Humanities include books, journal articles, book reviews, newspapers, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, etc.

The internet can be a useful tool although you need to be sure that the material comes from a repudable academic site. Over-reliance on internet sources is not acceptable.

Research Tools:

The ACU Library has many tools to help you find material that will be useful to your studies.

ACU subscribes to many useful databases. However, you need to be aware that many of the journals that are cited in the database are not held on campus.

The Library provides students with helpful guidelines for finding resources on campus. There are Library 'finders' for many disciplines including Drama.


All essays need to follow a standard model of referencing. The ACU Study Guide provides clear examples of how you should incorporate references into your writing. This is essential reading for all subject areas offered at ACU. If the ACU Study Guide does not cover the specific item that you are wanting to include in your essay you can refer to the comprehensive manuals that are located in the Reference Section of the Library. For Drama essays students should use the MLA method of referencing. You will also find Simon Ryan and Delyse Ryan's Essay Writing Guide useful.

Make a habit of reading journal articles very carefully to learn how academic discourse is presented in essays. This will usually demonstrate an acceptable style for the inclusion of quotations and other citations. Look carefully at the way writers discuss the material. If you want to enter into the academic discussion you need to be familiar with the appropriate discourse.


Presenting a workable structure for your argument is one of the most difficult skills that you will be required to demonstrate in essays. You must order your material in a coherent and logical manner. Make sure that everything you say is directly relevant to your topic. While you are writing continually refer back to the question to check that you are not going off on a tangent.

Sweeping Statements:

Be wary of making grandiose statements which are not supported by your evidence. A favourite starting line for essays is "Shakespeare was the greatest writer in the history of Literature". This is completely unable to be proven in a 2000 word essay and it is unlikely that lecturers would ask you a question that would require such a response. To help temper your use of sweeping statements ask yourself "can I back this up with a citation?"—if you can't then leave it out.

Forgetting to Cite Your Sources:

You must always cite your sources. All of your information has to have come from somewhere. Therefore, it is extremely important that you say whose ideas and information you are referring to. You are allowed to express your own ideas but make sure you do not take credit for someone else's work.

Copying someone else's exact words or ideas:

Students should familiarise themselves with ACU's rules regarding plagiarism. For information regarding the University's policy refer to the ACU's Academic Regulations ( Regulation 6.4) and the Academic Honesty Policy (Item 7).

Poorly presented work:

Presentation is an important part of assignment writing. Hand-written work is not acceptable. Student access to computers is available on campus. All work should be typed and include a Cover Sheet.

Spelling and Grammatical Errors:

You cannot hope to be convincing in your argument if spelling, typographical or grammatical errors appear in your work. Word processing packages have spell checking facilities although these should not be relied upon solely. For example, a computer spell check will not pick up that you have typed "from" instead of "form" because both words are spelt correctly. There is no substitute for proof-reading your work. Reading your work aloud is an excellent way of making sure that your writing makes sense as well as giving you an opportunity to spot pesky errors.



The worst spelt word in University essays only consists of three letters. Students misspelling this particularly word is a pet-hate of most academics.

its vs it's

its = possessive

Example: "The dog's bone is buried" could be written as "Its bone is buried"


it's = a contraction of "it is"

Example: "The dog is asleep" could be written as "It's asleep"

Getting Help:

If you are having trouble with your tertiary studies ACU has staff who are here to help you. Ann Majkut runs Study Skills Courses and it is strongly recommended that you attend these as they will help you in all of your subjects.

Assessment Links on this Site:




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