4. What Would Sherlock Do?

All right. If you want to use an essay to communicate your thoughts to other people, you need to tidy them up.

But have another look.

It’s a bit hard to know where to start.

Let’s do it one step at a time.

The first thing to do would be to find out exactly what you’re dealing with. That means you need just to collect everything you have about the essay and put it in one place.
And I mean

E – V – E – R – Y – T – H – I – N – G

… whether it seems important or not. Just gather everything that might have something to do with the essay.

SORRY. I’m not here to teach you about collecting the actual material. You’ll have to go somewhere else for help with that.  These pages are about turning the  material you have, all the stuff, into an essay.

Here are some things you might have

In our example essay …
* You might have taken some notes in class (do people even do that these days?)
* You might have a book about dogs,
* Someone might have given you a stack of handouts about animation, and you might have actually read them (!) and highlighted the bits that matter.
* You would’ve read some reviews online.
* And maybe you’ve even had some thoughts of your own (whoah) about the movies, or about dogs.

* And maybe you’ve got a picture of a vole


and you don’t know why it’s important, but it makes you think about loyalty and captivity and overeating, and that seems somehow connected to ideas about dogs. (That’s not a joke. At this stage, just throw it all in.)

It could be anything. You might have written a haiku


or done an interpretive dance

interpretive dance

All right. I know. But you get the idea.

An-y-w-a-y-y …
the point is, collect as much random stuff as you can that has anything to do with the essay question. And then get it all

on paper

(You’ll see why in a minute).

So that means you’ll have to photocopy pages in books, print things from the net, write any thoughts down.

And then …

Well, then you’ll have something that isn’t really that much help …

pile of papers

What are you supposed to do with that?

All right. Now, I’m a big fan of murder mysteries, and that includes police shows on TV. So when I’m faced with a big pile of disorganised information, I ask myself:

What would Sherlock do?

And the answer is, Sherlock would do this:

You ‘ve all seen this. You might have done it. People call it different things. It’s a bit like a mind map, except THIS ONE ISN’T ORGANISED. It’s more of a mind dump.

I call it a clue board.

On it are all the things you’re going to stitch together to make your essay. Remember, nothing is sorted out yet. Everything is all over the place, and some of the clues will be red herrings and won’t ever appear in the final thing.
It’s really just a spread-out and vertical version of the pile.

You might be able to organise the clues a bit as you put them up, or scribble headings or notes on them, and maybe put some sticky notes with words in big letters, to identify different bits.

But that really doesn’t matter at this stage. The point is, now you can see what you’re dealing with.

So that’s my first big idea about essay writing.

The ONLY thing you have to do, before you PUSH THE ESSAY QUESTION AWAY, is collect everything you’ve got and stick it up on the wall.

clue board

It’s so easy you might think it won’t help. But it will. It will help immensely.

It even makes it OK to just …

046 walk away JPEG


And on Page 6 I’m going to tell you why.
But first I have to tell you …

the most important thing about writing an essay.


Thanks to these people for the images

“Entanglement” by Simon Brass on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/dogbomb/526961087 under creative commons licence

“vole” By AnemoneProjectors (talk) (Flickr) (Bank Vole (Myodes glareolus)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Basho by Kinkoku c1820”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Basho_by_Kinkoku_c1820.jpg#/media/File:Basho_by_Kinkoku_c1820.jpg

“Women’s interpretive dance class” 1949, University of Wisconsin-Madison digital collections on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/uwdigicollec/2232415707

wall poster stickers By Ilokaqnue (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“walk away” by xEvy-Chanx on DeviantArt http://orig11.deviantart.net/f999/f/2009/148/0/7/walk_away___by_angelixa193.jpg under Creative Commons licence