How to Write an EPQ essay (including lessons I’ve learned from writing my book)
I often get emails from my blog readers asking me how to write an EPQ essay. It's a big project and can be quite daunting. However, I think this type of independent academic research is incredibly important in preparing you for the kind of work you'll be expected to do at university.
Having just finished re-writing my book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take (due to be published in February 2017) I thought now was the perfect time to share the lessons I've learned from doing an extended piece of writing like this so you can apply them to writing your EPQ essay.
How to write an EPQ essay – 9 Steps
1. Your idea
The first place to start is with an idea. My advice here to is study something that you are genuinely interested in and also really want to learn more about. It's also helpful to study something that furthers your larger aims. So, if you know you're particularly interested in a certain area of the subject that you want to study at university, go deeper into that interest with your EPQ research.
I did exactly this with my book. I want to become known as an expert in study skills and exam skills. The perfect way to do this is to write a book about it. Hopefully lots of new people will find me as a result of reading my book and want to work with me. My book is furthering my long-term aims (as well as being something I've always wanted to do – yippee for being a published author!).
2. Brain dump
Once you've come up with an idea brain dump everything you already know about it. This is important because your current knowledge is the foundation of where you're going to go next. It will also enable you to identify the gaps in your knowledge and therefore what further research you need to do.
Believe it or not, over the last eighteen months or so my brain dump has been my blog! As I've listened more and more to my readers to hear what they need help with and what problems they have I have learned more and understood more about the field of study skills. I've researched, thought and read to improve my knowledge and understanding and put all that knowledge into my blog.
3. Identify your title or question
The next step is having some idea of what your title might be or what question you want to answer with your work. Throughout your research you need to ensure that you're finding information that will help you to answer this question.
With my book, the title dictated the structure that the book would take. It helped me to stay focused on what I needed to include as well as exclude.
4. Create a structure for your finished piece
From what you know already and the title you have identified you can create a draft structure or plan for your finished piece of work. Again, this structure will help to keep you focused on what research you need to do to properly answer your question. However, remember that you can always change your structure if what you find in your research deems it necessary.
When I was writing my book I had the overall structure which started with four parts and the ten chapters were divided up between those four parts. When I sat down to write each chapter I wrote a list of what I wanted to include in each of those chapters and decided in what order it was logical and sensible to write about each of those things. Doing this made the actual writing part easy – the book almost wrote itself!
5. Do your research
Now is the time to fill in the gaps in your knowledge by doing your research. Make sure you stay focused on your title and structure all the time that you're doing your research. It's also really important to keep a clear record of where you've gained your information for your references and bibliography. I remember in my early days at university writing endless notes that then got in a muddle and I could never identify the source text which meant I couldn't use that information in an essay because I couldn't reference it. I learned my lesson and soon put a system in place so that I could always identify where my notes, ideas and quotes came from!
With my book my research was listening to my readers and clients and reading books that helped me to solve the problems that they were dealing with. For example, I read a book called ‘Mini Habits' by Stephen Guise – and used that book as the basis for a blog post. I have now incorporated those ideas into the book.
6. Review your structure
As you're doing your research, and particularly once you've finished it, you'll need to review your structure. Your structure is essentially a summary of the argument you want to make in your essay. If the information you've found has lead you to an opinion that you can't express through your original structure then the structure needs to be altered or changed. This is the time when you need to be 100% sure that your structure provides with the framework to say exactly what you want to say in answer to the question or title you have set yourself.
I have found this to be particularly important with my book. The original version of my book was written before I even started my blog. The ten steps I included were all the clearest things I'd learned from my own experience as a student and from teaching geography in schools. However, through my blog, reading and coaching I gained more insights about my own experience and what really helped others. This meant that when I came to re-write the book I had more to say so that I had to change the structure to accomodate all this new understanding and knowledge.
7. Allocate a word count to each section of your structure
You know your essay has to be 5,000 words long and you know which sections you want to put into it because you've planned your structure. To make life easy for yourself you should now allocate a word count to each section. This means that you won't fall into the dreadful trap of writing way too much and having to cull all your hard work to be within the word limit.
I did this for my book. My publisher said that he'd like a 30,000 word book. The original book was about 14,000 words so I had to more than double it. I knew that I had ten basic chapters plus an introduction, foreword and other bits and pieces. So, I set myself the target that each chapter should be approximately 3,000 words. In the end some of the chapters are slightly shorter and others are slightly longer than this but I easily hit the 30,000 word marker by making sure I was reaching the word count for each chapter as I went along.
Can you believe we got to number eight before you actually started writing? Well, this is because all the planning and research you've done up until now will make the writing process really, really easy. The essay should almost write itself!
This is what I found with my book. My plan was so detailed and I'd done so much research over the preceeding eighteen month period that the writing bit was just easy. I sat down for between one and two hours a day for just eighteen days and the first draft of the book was written. It was utterly painless. I then spent two weeks reviewing and editing as well as writing the introduction.
9. Get feedback
The final step is to get feedback on your work. Give it to a friend, parent or mentor to read it through and give you some feedback. The more they know about your subject and academic writing the better. Listen carefully to the advice that they give you and incorporate it as best you can into your work.
The first person to read my book after I'd finished it was my editor. She was thrilled with it and said that ‘it reads wonderfully' and that there was very little she had to change. I credit my thorough planning process for this praise. I hope that your thorough planning leads to the same type of praise.
Some useful EPQ resources from the web
This information from The Student Room gives some really useful background information about the EPQ: http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki/Extended_Project_Qualification
This post from the UCAS student blog helps you with where to start with your EPQ: https://www.ucas.com/connect/blogs/epq-where-start
You can download this essay guide from the TES website: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/epq-guide-essay-structure-6359383
If you know of any other really useful EPQ resources then leave a link in the comments below.
Over to you
I hope these tips really help you to write a brilliant EPQ as easily as possible. I've learned how to structure and organise my work in this way through years and years of experience researching, writing, reading and marking essays. Hopefully you won't have so much trial and error!
Leave me a comment below to tell me what you're studying in your EPQ and what challenges you're facing with it at the moment. I'll be sure to reply to every comment.
Get on the wait list!
My book, The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take, will be published by John Catt in February 2017. If you'd like to know when you can pre-order make sure you're on my mailing list – you'll also get a free exert from the book when you sign-up.
Get on the waitlist here
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Posted by Lucy Parsons
in Study skills
Writing a conclusion can be challenging but
it need not be. Here are some words that will
help you to write the conclusion to your EPQ.
Most of the time, using the word or phrase in
the middle of a sentence is better thanmaking
it the first word of the conclusion.
for these reasons
as a result of
all in all
A generic structure that youmay find useful is:
Brief recap of what you have covered in relation to the essay title.
Reference to the larger issue.
Highlight the most important aspects.
Evaluate the main arguments.
See page 95 for a detailed explanation of these. Here is an exemplar conclusion:
Structure of this section of your report
How does Geoffrey Chaucer present women in
The Canterbury Tales?
This essay has looked at the debate surrounding the way in which Chaucer
presents the role of women in his work.
to the larger
In Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’, female narrators and characters function
as a focus to explore women’s gender roles and their struggle for maistre
(sovereignty). Even though Chaucer is a man writing about women, he
experiments with the feminine voice, thus he uses his tales to disseminate his
knowledge of women’s unfair oppression, perhaps hoping to spark a discussion
on women’s subjugation.
Chaucer wrote in a misogynistic era where women were seen as either pure or
sinful, known as the Mary and Eve dichotomy. Yet many of his tales challenge
this medieval stereotype of women. According to Martin (1990) Chaucer’s
female narrators cannot be judged by today’s standards of feminism; however,
when they are examined from the medieval point of view, ‘the undertone
of feminism in their behaviour and tales emerges. They are concerned with
bettering the conditions for women, they challenge the authorities in their tales’.
In the ‘Clerk’s Tale’, I have highlighted Griselde’s qualities of weakness and virtue
that comply with the medieval Mary stereotype but consider the alternative view
that in her pursuit of virtue Griselde abandons motherly compassion. Concerning
the Merchant’s Tale, May’s ability to deceive conforms to the Eve stereotype
but alternatively as a peasant woman who overpowers her socially superior
husband she is arguably a Marxist feminist figure of interest. In the ‘Wife of
Bath’s Tale’ the protagonist can be seen as both a pro- and anti-feminist model.
Finally, Chaucer finds a middle ground between the chaste and pure women by
presenting Dorigen in the ‘Franklin’s Tale’ as her husband’s equal in marriage
but also as a woman striving to maintain her reputation and faithfulness. She is
unafraid to assert her opinion and this is what leads to success in marriage.
Chaucer’s varied portrayal of female characters suggests that he completely
rejects the accepted medieval female stereotypes, opting to portray that there
existed not just one single medieval woman but some who conformed to the
medieval ideal while others did not.
Highlight the conclusion words used in the text below and identify the take-
Whether ‘medical marijuana’ (
used to treat a wide variety of
pathologic states) should be accorded the status of a legitimate pharmaceutical
agent has long been a contentious issue. In effect the decision whether to legalise
the medical use of marijuana should be based on a dispassionate scientific analysis.
Indeed, a number of such investigations have recently been published in the peer-
reviewed literature. Data from these
studies suggest that medical marijuana has
demonstrated safety and efficacy in
treating several devastating human pathologies.
Some individuals as a result may believe
that this documentation now warrants
marijuana’s approval for use as a legitimate therapeutic agent. Others may think
that additional scientific scrutiny is necessary. So should marijuana be approved as
a bona fide medication? In conclusion, this essay was not intended to provide an
answer, instead it has strongly argued in favour of the concept that scientific data and
methodology, rather than political and ideological considerations, ultimately should
lead to a rational decision. Whether the data derived from current and future scientific
investigations will justify the approval or disapproval of medical marijuana remains a
challenging issue for the future.
See suggested answers on page 124.
Items that can usefully go in the appendices are
those that a reader would want to see, but which
would take up toomuch space and disrupt the
flow if placed within the main text. Make sure
you reference the appendices within the main text
Each appendix should be identified by a Roman
numeral in sequence, i.e. Appendix I, Appendix
II, etc. Each appendix should contain different
Don’t go overboard and produce masses of extra
material – it won’t win the respect of a moderator
who then has to wade throughmasses of material.
Make sure you include the essentials from this list:
Raw data, e.g. test scores for each participant.
Explanation of formulas for data analysis.
Specialised computer programs for a particular
Full generic names of chemicals or compounds
that you have referred to in somewhat
abbreviated fashion or by some common name
in the text of your paper.
Diagrams of specialised apparatus.
Copies of questionnaires (one blank and one
completed with names removed).
Figures and tables in appendices
Figures, graphs and tables are often found in an
appendix. These should be formatted as discussed
previously (see page 85) but are numbered in a
separate sequence from those found in the body of
the paper. So, the first figure in the appendix would
be Figure 1, the first table would be Table 1, etc.
Chapter 4 Deve lop and real i se
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