Writing Help

Scholarship and Award Essays

The Body

The body of an outstanding scholarship or award essay has the same features as outstanding essays in general. Again, see Admission Essays and Academic Essays for significant advice. Remember that each body paragraph should be a discrete unit with a clear point, taking the next reasonable step as you proceed through a consistent line of argument.

Dealing thoughtfully and intelligently with counter-claims and counter-evidence is often essential to award-winning essays. Readers want to know that you have considered your position carefully. This includes demonstrating that although you have considered other positions, you remain persuaded that your position is the strongest. The following advice also is essential for essays in which you do not take a position but present a variety of possible claims in order to demonstrate your knowledge or interest in a particular issue.

When you treat any claim that is not your own, especially a counter-claim, present it fairly and, as much as possible, on its own terms. Give each position everything (but no more than) it deserves. You even should "help out" that position by making it as strong as it should be--if possible, stronger than even its defenders have argued. When you give an opposing position every benefit of the doubt, you show a great deal of thoughtfulness, honesty, and justice. Then, you will have the prerogative, and your readers will be likely to join with you as you proceed to show why, "nevertheless," that position is flawed and that your position or someone else's is stronger.

At the same time, pay attention to the relative amount of effort that the essay expends on your position versus the other positions. Usually the majority of the essay should focus on your own position, so do not get bogged down in refuting other positions at length. Likewise, do not worry about responding to every potential challenge to your position; it normally is quite enough to include your responses to the best and most significant challenges that could be offered.

In covering the ground of your own position, make sure that you are using a high standard of evidence. Remember that evidence is often a quotation from another source. Do not cite a second-rate source, including most encyclopedias, dictionaries, newspaper articles, popular magazines, and most of the material on the Internet. Even a strong Internet source is suspect among readers, simply because it shows that you did your research from the relative ease of your computer rather than at the library. Whenever you can, find a published source (usually a book or journal article) to cite in place of an Internet source.

It ought to go without saying that your evidence also should be (1) relevant, (2) interpreted thoughtfully and accurately, and (3) appropriate.

(1) Relevant evidence is that which pertains to the particular point being made in the paragraph if not also the entire argument of the essay. When you are searching for and choosing from among relevant pieces of evidence, look for phrases that are memorable and which use some of the key words that are used elsewhere in your point or in the overall argument.

(2) Accurate interpretation of evidence involves understanding the evidence in its larger context as well as in itself. Thoughtful interpretations also bring out the importance of the quotation in its new context, the particular location in your essay where the evidence is brought forth.

(3) Evidence is appropriate when it has the right length (not too long or too short given the amount of weight that it carries), the right tone (objective, combative, or whatever is necessary for you to illustrate or develop the point), the right source (a trustworthy rather than a suspect source), and the right form (in some places it makes sense to quote a speech or lines of a poem, but in other places only written prose will do).

Although the evidence in the body of your essay often will come from sources that you quote and statistics that you cite, some evidence may take other forms. Winning essays often rely on a wide variety of relevant and appropriate evidence. For example, sometimes the outcome of a minor line of argument becomes a piece of evidence, that is, one of the premises of your major line of argument. Sometimes your own observations are the most important evidence, such as in essays that describe your own experience or achievements (including many admission essays as well as reports on your own scientific experiments). And sometimes your evidence is so obvious or commonplace that it need not be cited, although it might be essential to your argument, such as the idea that Einstein revolutionized Newtonian physics with his theory of relativity.