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Your essay is a lot like cordial - seriously!

Thursday 16th, June 2016

Elyse Popplewell

The cordial theory…

Imagine a glass of cordial. For consistency, let’s all imagine it is pink cordial. The glass contains a whole lot of water, and some really strong cordial concentrate. The glass of cordial is your essay.

You want to be able to strain your essay of all of the water that makes your essay sound (taste) weak. This means removing the waffling sentences, the unnecessary context, the verbose language and anything that doesn’t contribute to the essay’s attack on the question. The more of this water you remove, the stronger your cordial tastes.

When you should use this theory for an essay:

Each and every time you edit your own work. Use this for all of your subjects that require a written response, even the five markers! Imagine your response is a glass of cordial that is too weak and you’re looking for ways to make it stronger. This doesn’t always mean removing whole sentences, but sometimes combining two sentences so that the ending of one sentence isn’t repeated at the beginning of the adjacent sentence.

How do I know what is water?

Examples apply to English subjects:

If your sentences don’t answer yes to any these, then it’s time to cut them out:

Does this contribute to the essay question directly?

Does it provide valuable context that the essay would be worse off without?

Does this show my unique thesis and perception of the texts and essay question?

Does this provide textual analysis?

Does this provide textual referencing (quotes, techniques, structural manipulation)?

Ultimately…

If your essay is too long, go back through each sentence and view it as a pair with the adjacent sentence. What is the least important section of these two sentences? Can you remove it, and then perhaps join the sentences? Or does it remain more effective to leave them separate? Is that extra context important for the essay or do you just like the way it sounds? Would a marker agree with you that this sentence is vital?

An example of a weak cordial:

Essay Stimulus: “W B Yeats explores the certainty of self and change through his poetry.”

“The first stanza reflects peacefulness but also the nature of the passing romantic era. The stanza provides rich imagery. The water motif that flows through the poem is established in the first stanza. The motif is a metaphor for the vitality of water. The vitality of water is important to Yeats because it is a metaphor for what never changes, despite always moving. This is important for W B Yeats because he was ageing and was uncomfortable with that, when he wrote this poem. Similarly, the sibilance in the still-sky reflects the beauty of the immutability of the sky. Yeats yearns for this immutability and is uncertain of his own identity as it is ever changing, unlike the nature in the first stanza.”

Word count: 123

Note how long this takes to get to the point? It provides a lot of watery details that detract from the analysis that you need to prove you are capable of to get the high marks.

An example of strong cordial:

Essay Stimulus: “W B Yeats explores the certainty of self and change through his poetry.”

“The water motif that flows through the poem is established in the first stanza and serves as a metaphor for the vitality of water; how it is ever moving and never changing. Similarly, the sibilance in the “still-sky” reflects the beauty of the immutability of the sky. Yeats yearns for the immutability of the water and the sky, and is uncertain of his own identity as it is ever changing, unlike the nature in the first stanza.”

Word count: 71

This is a strong-cordial version of the previous statement about W B Yeats’ poetry. This section uses sentence structures to the advantage of not having to make separate sentences for ideas that aren’t necessary. It also cuts off 50 words!

But surely you need some water, otherwise the cordial tastes terrible?

This is true! Your marker doesn’t want to read a strict, indigestible body of work. They want to be able to take your work as a whole and not in tiny sips. So, a tiny bit of water comes in handy when you want to make your essay flow on smoothly. If all of your sentences in English subjects contained a quote, a technique and an analysis, you’d have some very long sentences that are super power-packed and your marker would be wishing they had a glass of water to wash it all down with. By using a variety of sentence types, some that involve phrases that are there for no other reason than to make the sentence digestible, then your marker will gladly savour the taste of every sentence.

What do we want?

Strong, tasty, digestible cordial!

When do we want it?

Now!

Looking for some help with memorising essays? You should definitely have a look here.

Want to know more about our FREE essay marking space? You can check it out here.

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