Preface: Writing Critical Essays
Writing Critical Essays is designed to help you write essays that analyse works of literature. It focuses on the kinds of writing tasks that are commonly set for assignments and tests, and it gives practical help in the form of sample answers and step-by-step guides for writing. The book is not a “bluffer’s guide” that will help you avoid difficult tasks. It is an instructional text that will help you to understand and cope with the tasks that you are set.
As well as helping you to develop your writing skills, the book aims to extend your thinking about literary texts and ways of reading them. It contains explanations, activities and examples that will improve your understanding of important concepts and techniques. In this way the book will build on the reading and study of literature you have done in class and with other textbooks.
The various chapters deal with a range of topics but require you to read just five key texts, all of which are included in the book. In this way you can develop your writing skills using a small number of texts with which you will become very familiar. This means you can work through the whole process of critical analysis – from reading the text, analysing the question, revising essential concepts, and doing background research, to writing the final essay – without increasing your reading load.
How to use the book
The book is divided into two main sections.
Part 1 is a detailed introduction to writing critical essays using modern approaches to texts. It introduces the purposes and main features of a critical essay. It also offers step-by-step demonstrations of essential essay skills, including:
- how to analyse essay questions
- how to decide what revision and research are needed
- how to develop ideas and arguments;
- how to plan and structure an essay.
You should work through this part of the book first. Even if you have some experience in essay-writing, you will find there is much to learn from it.
Part 2 contains chapters that teach you how to write about important topics such as alternative readings of a text, elements of narrative, and issues such as gender, race and class. These sections are self-contained and can be studied in any order. Each one contains:
- brief background notes on the topic
- examples of common essay questions on the topic
- example discussions of the topic
- complete essays that demonstrate how to tackle common questions
- step-by-step guides to help you practise writing on the topic.
Once you have worked through the relevant section, you should be better prepared to tackle assignments or tests on that topic.
Note to teachers
Writing Critical Essays is designed to give students practical assistance with the task of writing analytical essays about literary texts.
Unlike most composition guides, this text does more than offer general advice about “approaches” to essay writing. It develops specific writing skills through detailed and explicit instruction. Among the strategies used are complete sample essays and demonstrations by professional critics and students, which serve as models; scaffolded writing activities that coach the student through important stages in the planning and writing of real essays; and tailored writing guides devoted to important topics in contemporary literature study.
Working through the materials will help students develop sound understandings of the general purposes and conventions of critical writing as well as learning specific skills such as building arguments, developing effective paragraphs, using quotations, and citing sources.
Written with the busy literature student in mind, the book assumes minimal reading time. The key examples and activities have all been designed around just five key texts, each of which is included within the book. These texts serve as raw material for essays on topics ranging from narrative structure and multiple reading practices, to readings of gender, race and class. The text is thus fully self-contained and so can be used in the first weeks of a literature course to establish important skills and understandings, and thereafter as an ongoing reference.
It its approach to the reading and analysis of texts, Writing Critical Essays applies contemporary theory and practices. It emphasises the role of reading practices in the production of meaning from text, and takes up issues such as gender and race readings.
The CD ROM
The accompanying CD ROM contains all of the major activities in the book, stored as text files. If you have access to a computer, you can complete the essay activities without retyping the pre-written sections. The number of the relevant text file is given in the activity sections next to the CD symbol.
Over the last couple of weeks, our blog has been focused on the varying aspects of a book’s frontmatter – from dedications to forewords to today’s post, which focuses on the preface. The preface is a section that comes before the story, and it is often jumbled up with the introduction, foreword, and prologue. These terms aren’t interchangeable. However, it’s important for self-publishers to know what a book preface is and how it is different from other frontmatter.
The definition of preface (n) is, “an introduction to a book, typically stating its subject, scope, or aims.” A preface is written by the author, and it is about the book: how it came to be, what inspired it, what the writing process was like, etc. A preface is a place for the author to discuss the situation surrounding their book, essentially, and is more often used in nonfiction books. Often, the author will conclude it with a list of acknowledgements: thank yous to editors, publishers, or other influential people who helped bring the book to life.
How is This Different From Other Frontmatter?
Prefaces are different in that they discuss the inspiration, writing, and publishing of the book. Introductions are solely about the content (themes, characters). Forewords are essays written by other writers/authors about the book and its author. Prologues are a part of the story and are comprised of a scene or multiple scenes that are pertinent to the plot.
How to Write a Preface for Your Book
This should be easy after writing a book! This section of the frontmatter can be as short or as long as you’d like. It’s a place to be honest and open with your readers about the writing of the book – be it a fictional, romance novel or a biography of Abraham Lincoln. With interest in the book comes an interest in the author and how they created the work, so readers are naturally drawn to the preface.
Keep these things in mind when writing:
- Your readers want to know you. Be an open book.
- Writing a book is hard work, and this is the place to talk about that.
- How your book came to life is a journey in itself. Showcase it.
- Make it clear to the reader why they should read the book. The preface is a good marketing tool.
Below are some preface examples to give you an idea on how to write a preface for your book:
Into the Wild (Nonfiction, Biography) by Jon Krakauer
Jon Krakauer prefaces Into the Wild, the biographical account of the disappearance and death of Chris McCandless, with a quick two-and-a-half-page essay on how he came to write about the topic in the first place and how his coverage was received by friends and family of the late Chris McCandless.
Early Work (Poetry) by Patti Smith
Smith’s preface works as a note to the reader: to explain to them why she wrote what she did in the 1970s, how it differs from what she thinks now, and how she remembers it. In this short statement, she says, “The seventies. When I think of them now I think of one great film in which I played a part. A bit part. But a part nonetheless that I shall never play again.”
Sarah’s Key (Historical Fiction) by Tatiana de Rosnay
Tatiana de Rosnay prefaces her Holocaust novel with a brief author’s note, stating that while the story is fictional, certain events within it actually happened.
If you feel there’s something that needs to be said for the writing of the book, be it an explanation or a clarification, the preface is a great place to do so. Self-published authors, especially, face a unique and exciting journey when they set out to publish a book, and the preface is a great place to discuss that.
What is a Preface in a Book? was last modified: November 3rd, 2017 by Hannah GordonWritten by Hannah Gordon