Developing an open platform for writing support in the disciplines across the faculties
Genre guide to academic essays and critiques
What are academic essays and critiques, and why are they assigned?
The genre families of academic essays and critiques share the central function of ‘developing powers of independent reasoning’ (Nesi & Gardner, 2012, p. 36-39). In critiques, students are expected to develop an understanding of the area of study, and demonstrate the ability to evaluate and/or assess the significance of the area of the study. In essays, students are expected to develop ideas, and demonstrate the ability to make coherent connections between arguments and evidence and to develop a personal proposition by employing critical thinking skills (p. 38).
In the context of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), writing assignments are distinguished in various ways across disciplines (p. 26) and subjects. For instance, the ‘academic essay’ required in the Cluster Area Requirement (CAR) subject, BME1D02 Wearable Healthcare and Fitness Devices for Everyone, which is a general education subject in the Biomedical Engineering discipline, can be categorised specifically as a Product Evaluation in the Critique genre family; while the ‘academic essay’ required in the CAR subject, LSGI1B02 Climate Change and Society, by the Land Surveying and Geo-Informatics discipline is considered as a member of the Essay genre family. Table 1.1 below shows the genre members of the Critique and Essay families found in the undergraduate assignments of three disciplines by Nesi and Gardner (2012).
Both Critiques and Essays, particularly at the junior undergraduate levels in the PolyU, aim to encourage students to interpret central phenomena and claims in the related subjects and disciplines, which is similar to the situation in British universities (p. 37). Skills such as research, summarising, paraphrasing, evaluative, argumentative, and disciplinary and academic English writing skills are expected in both assignment genres. Yet, the structures of these assignment genres largely depend on the assessment focus and subject requirements. Therefore, it is important for students to strictly follow the conventions for the structure, style and content of academic essays and critiques in different disciplines, subjects and at different academic levels. For reference, Table 1.2 below summarises the characteristics of Critique and Essay suggested by Nesi and Gardner (2012).
What are the benefits of writing academic essays or critiques?
Writing academic essays, critiques or other writing assignments can benefit you in the following ways (McMillan & Weyers, 2007, p. 3-9). They:
How do you tackle writing academic essays or critiques?
As mentioned in Table 3.1, an analytical approach is usually adopted in essays or critiques. You then have to filter the information and focus on what is important to your topic by considering the following points (p. 36):
You have to be able to construct an argument, support your argument with evidence, and strengthen your position by drawing on the useful and relevant information from the literature you have read. Counter-arguments may be required depending on the topic, subject and discipline. It is important to present a well-argued case to support the view that you favour and finally express in your writing. Once your response to the writing task has been developed, you have to present it within a well-structured, logical and evidential framework (p. 36).