It’s week five: you return from your supervision with marked essay in hand. Usually, this would be the time to hide those darned papers and forget you ever thought about “the tension between silence and the spoken in the works of Virginia Woolf”. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be like this.
By using the following techniques from the world of advertising and marketing, you might just change those supervisor comments from “?” to “good” – and perhaps even a coveted “Excellent!”
Capture their attention with your opening line
We all know it: the ever-present clickbait.
Despite its faults, the clickbait technique is fundamentally designed for humans. Supervisors (along with all humans) are driven to follow their curiosity. Make your first sentence a promise of what’s to come – without fully revealing your argument. Don’t stick to the high school rule of “explaining the contents of my argument”. Compare these two opening lines:
“In this essay, I shall argue that Thomas Hobbes is an optimist rather than a pessimist, which can be highlighted by comparing his work to that of Descartes, although there are some limitations to this view.”
“When comparing Thomas Hobbes to Descartes, the former’s status as a ‘pessimist’ quickly proves to be a fundamentally false categorisation.”
Which one makes you want to read on?
Say the simple stuff
Just do it. Every little helps. I’m Lovin’ It. The phases of late-night essay writing? Perhaps not.
In advertising, catchy and effective slogans are surprisingly simple. Short and simple sentences demonstrate clear thinking, which is what supervisors find truly impressive. Sometimes it’s easy to convolute your essay with overly sophisticated words – we’ve certainly had a few moments where we’ve “sanctimoniously promulgated my intelligence under spurious pretences”. Not only does it make your essay sound dry, it makes it look like you’re hiding. You forget what you’re trying to argue, or your supervisor can’t figure out what you’re saying. You will stand out by scaling back.
Three is the magic number
What you might also have noticed about the slogans above is that all of them are comprised of three words. The rule of three is like the number 23 in that Jim Carrey movie – once you’re aware of it, it’s everywhere. Why? Because it works. Try splitting your essay into three main paragraphs, then adding an introduction and conclusion based on three snappy points. You’ll satisfy your supervisor, structure your thoughts and practice more complex reasoning (see what we did there?).
Treat your supervisor like a customer
What does your supervisor want? Pretend you’re providing a service. With your business brain on, ask yourself: are you fulfilling your supervisor’s needs? Have you given them half an essay on visual pathways and spent the rest discussing EEG research development in the 21st century? When you order an iPhone, you don’t want a Sony Xperia with Apple headphones. Write the essay your supervisor is asking for.
Kate Ross and Ida Svenonius