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Essay Writing Hints: Signposting

It’s all very well to say you should be signposting your essays or your masters dissertation, but what exactly does this mean?

Essay example – poor signposting

Essay structure - signposting

Take a look at the following passage.  It demonstrates what happens when you ignore the importance of signposting:-

Professor Jo Carter is a renowned expert on forensic science, however, she is better known for her crime writing mysteries.  She first began writing in the ‘Whodunnit?’ genre when she was studying for her PhD, but it wasn’t until her fourth novel, and the introduction of the popular Chief Inspector Matthius that she sprang to fame.

The University will be holding it’s annual meeting on 5th June.  There will be a dinner with wine, and tickets are priced at£45.  All proceeds will go to the library fund.

There doesn’t appear to be any connection between these two paragraphs.  It’s almost as though they were collected at random.  Then at the bottom of the passage was the line:-

Professor Carter will be the after dinner speaker.

Now the connection between Professor Carter and the university’s annual meeting are made clear.  But your readers shouldn’t have to work this hard to work out the connection between your paragraphs.  How do you avoid this sort of issue in your writing?

Essay Structure – Breaking It Down

Have a look at the following sentence examples.  What sort of information would you expect to read next?

The MP put forward forceful arguments to curb expenditure on the hospital.

They study looked at the amount of platinum used in the creation of different brands of mobile phone.

Property prices in Dublin fell rapidly after the election.

It is widely believed that the use of calculators in exams has led to declining numeracy skills amongst students.

You can get a sense of the sort of material that ought to follow these sentences.  As the reader, you would be startled if any one of these sentences was followed by, say, a line about the film industry in 1950s Los Angeles.  You are expecting a particular sort of information to follow.  There is more essay guidance about sentences elsewhere in the blog.

You need to detach yourself from your own essay writing in the same way.  Look at each sentence and try to imagine what your reader expects to see next.  You may need to add some linking phrases or signalling words in order for it to make sense.  Need more help on this?  Post a comment below to let us know.

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