How to Write an Informative Essay in Shakespeare Studies – a Thorough Student Guide

Writing guide
Posted on July 20, 2020

The purpose of an informative essay is, quite obviously, to inform or educate the reader about a topic. At a glance it may seem similar to most other essay types – after all, isn’t it the point of almost any type of academic writing to give the reader some kind of information? However, informative essays have an important difference from, let us say, persuasive essays – they do not presuppose any point of view on the part of the author. That is, you have to describe something or present complete and comprehensive information about in a completely objective manner – without expressing your opinion, evaluation, criticism or arguments in favor or against something. You may analyze the subject, but you leave making conclusions to the reader. Informative essays usually consist of careful description and analysis of different aspects of the subject matter, possibly involving the use of analogies or references to other ideas, events or objects that are likely to be known to the reader.

When it comes to Shakespeare studies, instructors typically use informative essays to check the student’s ability to study and understand a Shakespearean text without outside help. The student adopts a role of an expert on the topic and has to explain it to the readers – and as we all know, explaining something to somebody is a very effective way to better understand it yourself. It may sound challenging, but with the help of this guide, you will be able to overcome this obstacle.

How to Write an Informative Essay in Shakespeare Studies: First Steps

1. Pick a Topic

When it comes to informative essays, especially in such well-researched areas as Shakespeare studies, it does not really matter what you choose to write about. Your purpose is not to do research and unearth something previously unknown – anything purely informative you write about Shakespeare and his works is well-known to your instructor and probably most of your peers. Your job is to provide information about the subject in a logical, easy-to-digest, concise manner. Therefore, do not go out of your way to find a new and previously untried topic – it is impossible anyway. Instead, focus on the following:

  • Be reasonably original. What we said about ‘new’ does not mean you should choose something like ‘The Concept of the Tempest in The Tempest’. It is way too obvious and your instructor alone saw dozens, probably hundreds of virtually identical essays covering this topic. Be merciful and choose something at least mildly interesting to read about;
  • Stick to something you know well. When you provide information about a topic, you are better suited to do it if you do not have to study everything about it from scratch. If you read neither King Lear nor critical literature dedicated to it, better write about something else;
  • Choose something interesting. If you are partial to any particular work by Shakespeare, write about it – the process will go smoother, and you will get better results;
  • Check the literature available on the topic. To cover the subject comprehensively you will have to study additional sources. If there is not enough literature on it (or if you cannot easily access it), it may get you into trouble;
  • Check if the topic is manageable. An essay is a relatively small piece of writing, and your topic should be consistent with it. Do not choose to write about something that will require fifty pages to describe properly. Do not choose a topic if you have to read a dozen critical works to cover it fully. Pick something you can realistically research and write within the allotted time.

Of course, what fits this description is different for everybody, but here are some examples of what you should be aiming for:

  • William Shakespeare’s Life and Its Correlation with His Works;
  • The Influence of Aristotle on William Shakespeare’s Writing;
  • The Structure of As You Like It and Its Significance in Understanding the Play;
  • Drama and Politics in Shakespeare’s Othello;
  • Shakespeare Apocrypha and Their Role in Overall Shakespeare’s Bibliography.

2. Gather Information

In addition to what you already know about your chosen topic, you can get information from a variety of sources:

  • Start with consulting your instructor. Recount your topic and ask if he/she can recommend any particular reading where it is covered. As an added benefit, your instructor may suggest that you tweak the topic or change it altogether to make your work easier;
  • Go to a library. In addition to using the indexing system, consult a library assistant (especially if you have a dedicated assistant working only with the Shakespeare section);
  • Use online academic databases and search engines. Unlike Google, they only cover academic works, which means that you will not have to sift through hundreds of irrelevant low-authority sources. Academic Search, Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic are all good places to start. Do not stick to a single one – some databases feature sources that are absent in other places;
  • Go through the bibliography sections of the sources you found and look if they contain any other relevant publications.

3. Pick through Your Sources

Not all sources are created equal – their value significantly differs based on where they are published, whether their authors are authoritative and so on. Relatively narrow and well-researched disciplines like Shakespeare studies have established authorities on each topic, so it may be a good idea to start with them. Here are a few questions that can help you evaluate the value of a source:

  • Where is it published? Online sources are the least trustworthy, as they pass no quality control, and virtually anybody is free to write whatever he/she wants without having to prove it. Common periodicals and popular literature go next, followed by scientific books and, finally, papers in peer-reviewed scholarly magazines – these are the most reliable. However, you do not have to limit yourself to them – use a selection of sources of different types. Just make sure to build the foundation on the sources you can really trust;
  • What is the author’s h-index? H-index is a metric that allows you to get a quick impression of how authoritative and productive an author is in his/her area of expertise. It represents the number of peer-reviewed papers that each have been referred to at least the same number of times. E.g., h-index of 8 means that the author has 8 papers that each have been referred to at least 8 times. Naturally, the higher it is, the better;
  • Is it objective? Do you feel that the author (or an entity behind the publication) may have an agenda that influences their objectivity?
  • Is it accurate? Do other scholars support its point of view?
  • Is it current? How long ago was it published? Were other important works on that topic published since then that may have changed the general outlook on it?

4. Write an Outline

Now that you have all your sources, systematize the information you gathered and prepare an outline of your essay. In it, you will cover what you intend to write in each part of the paper: what information to present, how to support it with quotes, how to connect individual parts with each other logically and so on. Do not skip this step – an outline both speeds up the process of writing and prevents you from both forgetting to mention important things and repeating the same things multiple times.

How to Write an Informative Essay in Shakespeare Studies: Writing Per Se

1. Writing the Introduction

The introduction of an informative essay consists of two parts. Firstly, it is the “hook” – the first sentence or two that grab the reader’s attention and motivate him/her to read on even though he/she is seemingly already well-acquainted with the topic. It may be:

  • A provocative question;
  • An unusual or little-known fact about Shakespeare or his writings;
  • A quotation (especially if it initially seems to be out of place, and then you cleverly connect it to the topic of your essay);
  • Or virtually anything that can attract the reader’s attention.

Secondly, the introduction contains your thesis statement – the primary point of your essay reduced to a single sentence. It should set the focus of your essay and define what it will be about. Understand the difference between the topic and the thesis statement. A topic is a short description of what your essay is about (e.g., “Elements of Aristotelian Philosophy and Logic in Shakespeare’s Work”). A thesis statement is a declaratory statement expressing your point about the topic (e.g., “Aristotelian philosophy and logic had a significant influence on Shakespeare’s writing, which is clearly seen in King Lear).
A thesis statement should be:

  • Short;
  • Unambiguous;
  • Focused.

2. Writing the Body Paragraphs

The body of the essay is where you present all the information you intend to share with the audience. Here you expound on your thesis statement and back it up with facts, quotations, statistics and other supporting details.

The body should be divided into several paragraphs – how many depends on the size of the essay (if you do not see the minimum and maximum word counts in the assignment you were given, consult your instructor), but usually no less than three.

Each body paragraph consists of the same elements:

  • Topic sentence. The sentence that organizes the entire paragraph. Although theoretically they can appear in any part of a paragraph, in academic writing (and especially in informative essays) it is usually placed in the beginning. It may be useful to relate the topic sentence to your thesis statement – this will improve the cohesion of the essay;
  • Explanation. If your topic sentence needs further explanation, include 1-2 sentences to clarify it;
  • Evidence. As you provide information rather than your opinions, you should support everything you say with relevant evidence. In Shakespeare studies, it usually means quotations or paraphrases from Shakespeare’s works or critical papers. When quoting, always mention the source and summarize so that the reader better understands the context. Words like ‘confirms’, ‘suggests’, ‘mentions’, ‘states’ etc. are useful when introducing evidence;
  • Explanation of evidence. Evidence by itself is not worth much – you should explain how it supports your point and why it is relevant for the topic;
  • Conclusion. A final sentence that reasserts how what you discussed fits in the overall structure of your essay.

3. Writing the Conclusion

Restate your original thesis (but do not repeat it word for word). Do not introduce any new information – if you feel the need to do so, get back to the body paragraphs and find a way to introduce it there. Reiterate what you learned about the topic and try to encourage the reader to learn more about the subject.

How to Write an Informative Essay in Shakespeare Studies: Finishing Touches

1. Check Your Essay for Subjectivity

Remember that you are writing an informative, not a persuasive or argumentative essay. Do not try to persuade your audience – simply educate them about the topic, recount your findings, share your analysis without adding personal evaluations to the material.

2. Create a List of Your Typical Mistakes

Everybody has his/her own set of “favorite” mistakes – they can fall in any category, from mixing up two similar words to accidentally using informal language. Compile your own list of such mistakes (it will come in handy in other writing assignments as well). Ask your instructor if he/she can point out such mistakes to you. With the list ready, reread your essay multiple times, every time focusing on a particular type of mistakes.

3. Read Your Essay Aloud

When you change the channel through which you perceive your writing, you are more likely to notice flaws and mistakes. Other things you can try is printing it out, using different fonts and their sizes, reading the essay backwards one sentence at a time. Be creative and you will find your own ways of altering your perception.

4. Ask Somebody to Read Your Essay

It may be a professional proofreader, a friend or a fellow student. Ask if he/she sees any mistakes or has any suggestions on improving your text.
We hope that with the help of this guide you will be able to face your next informative essay in Shakespeare studies with much less trepidation than usual!

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