Focus on directive essay words: “to what extent…”
(Last updated: 13 May 2021)
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In a nutshell, an essay question that asks, “to what extent…” is generally prompting you to explain how much you agree with the idea being posed. It is not – as is sometimes thought by students – asking whether you outright agree or disagree with the idea.
With these types of essay questions, if you choose to not agree with the idea being posed, you might end up with a very short essay, or worse, with a failing grade.
So, if the answer to a “to what extent…” essay question is nearly always “yes, I agree”, you might wonder what the point of the essay is.
The key here is in understanding the purpose of these types of essay questions. They are inviting you to state how much you agree with something, using either side of the argument to posit your stance. These types of essay questions are particularly great because they allow you to show a variety of skills in a relatively short amount of space.
What the instructor is looking for in a “to what extent…” essay is that you have created a really logical and coherent argument (while agreeing with the statement, at least in some capacity) and that you have highlighted the importance of other issues that generally impact the topic of the essay. Through doing this you are not only able to display your depth of knowledge, but also your independent judgement. This shows that you are able to think for yourself and provide a certain level of critical thought.
In this post, we are first going to discuss the two parts that you should include in all “to what extent…” essays, followed by a breakdown of how we think the essay should be structured. By knowing these points, you should be well on your way to the creation of a very successful paper.
What should I always include?
We highlighted in the introduction that it is important to demonstrate an in-depth knowledge, but you might question how this can be fully achieved. A good “to what extent…” essay is supported by detailed source evidence; therefore, it cannot be only about what you think, but more about what you know. If you struggle with searching for sources, you might consider contacting your school librarian, or seek help from a qualified writer who can guide you to appropriate literature on the subject.
Including resources is imperative, but not the only aspect that contributes to the demonstration of knowledge. This information also needs to be presented in a logical and coherent way. This can be achieved by writing a paragraph for each point you are making.
When writing a paragraph, you would generally begin with a good topic sentence – a phrase that sums up what the paragraph is going to be about (the idea). In discussing this idea, you need to include examples (e.g. data, statistics, scholarly literature, etc.). Make sure that you are providing some level of critical thinking. You cannot just end with an example or quote; you must be really focused on justifying why the example you included is relevant and valuable. Once you have done this, end the paragraph with a really strong transition or concluding sentence. To make your essay stand out above the ones written by your peers, include subject-specific vocabulary that is particularly relevant to your field of study.
Once you have demonstrated your depth of knowledge through a selection of paragraphs, you also need to make sure that you are creating links to wider issues, topics, or arguments. This might seem counter intuitive. You might feel like you are straying from the original argument, but acknowledging wider ideas within your essay writing is rather essential. It increases the significance of your original argument and continues to demonstrate your extensive knowledge of the subject area.
How should I structure a “to what extent…” essay?
By university level, you should be familiar with incorporating an introduction, body and conclusion into all your essay writing. But the structure of a “to what extent…” is much more detailed.
Remember that your introduction must briefly answer the question and agree (to some extent) with the original statement. Next, the first few paragraphs of your essay should demonstrate that your first statement/answer to the question is true. Here, you are providing justification, through the use of evidence, that you know what you are talking about. You would provide reasons to why the initial statement is true, but perhaps more importantly, where the initial statement is weak or not true.
Providing weaknesses to an argument does not make your essay weak by comparison. It is important to remember that the original prompt asks, “to what extent…”. This means that the instructor knows that the statement is not entirely true, and demonstrating that you understand this too is essential.
This brings us to the second half of the essay. In this half of the essay you are elaborating on all the ways where you see the first statement or assumption being ‘not true.” Here, it is your job to show the flaws in the logic. This is again done through the use of examples, data, statistics, or scholarly literature. It is not just your own opinion. In this section, it is also your responsibility to offer alternatives to the original statement. You might achieve this by explaining how the original statement could be improved, or by expanding the topic area that it addresses.
The final component to a “to what extent…” essay is a strong and logical conclusion. You are not presenting any new information in the conclusion, but rather you are recapping the arguments you have made throughout the essay. Remember also that a “to what extent…” essay requires a specific final decision. You generally have three options when ending your paper, which all relate to how much you agree with the original argument. You can say that you agree “to a certain extent”, “to a great extent”, or “to a very small extent”.
Let us recap for you the points of a successful “to what extent…” essay. First, make sure you plan before you begin; make an outline and provide supporting evidence for any claim you make. Ensure that you have made links to wider issues or arguments, while demonstrating any flaws in the logic that you have identified. Close with a summary of your key points and a clear answer to the original prompt. Finally, proofread your essay and ensure that it includes subject specific vocabulary that relates to your subject area. Once you have achieved this, you are ready to submit.