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How To Choose An Essay Title

I always advocate choosing an essay title based on one of the five given comments. Choose one and make it your essay title. Which one do you choose? The one you understand the best.
All the big marks on the exam go for three things:

  • Showing you understand the quote you are responding to
  • Demonstrating that you’ve thought deeply about it
  • Communicating those thoughts in a clear and structured manner

Taking one of the given quotes to be your essay title forces you to respond to it directly. It infuses your writing with this specific focus and prevents you from losing marks for wandering off topic.

Below is an essay sent in by a student. Have a read of it, and afterwards I will explain how it could be improved by further developing the principles I just explained.

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“I can get a better grasp of what is going on in the world from one good Washington dinner party than from all the background information NBC piles on my desk”

– Barbara Walters

In the past, word-of-mouth was the only way to stay communicated with the society’s daily news. With the emergence of innovative and efficient technologies came the media. The media delivers daily news quicker than word-of-mouth, even news obtained from word-of-mouth is usually from the media. Whether the media is better than the traditional word-of-mouth is still a question as it is part of the human nature that there is word-of-mouth.
Why would people prefer obtaining information from the media when they can easily be updated through talking to others? One reason if that the media provides much more thorough information compared to word-of-mouth. The media has people stationed in the location of the event and relays first-hand information from the subject of interest back to the media centre. Sometimes this news is directly broadcasted from the scene, thus the viewers can see the scene, further supporting the credibility of the news.
On the other hand, word-of-mouth isn’t that reliable or accurate. Meanings can be easily misinterpreted while being told to others. When the information is being told to another, the way the teller phrased the sentence might give a different meaning to the listener. Thus the listener then tells it told another and this cycle of misinterpretation goes on. The information imparted via word-of-mouth might also be clouded by a person’s judgement of the issue. There might be some addition of the person’s judgement to the original issue and it might then be merged together with the original issue.
However, albeit the news delivered by the media is reliable, it might not be entire truth. The news delivered by the media is controlled by the government. Thus, the outflow of the news to population is restricted. However, this does not mean that the media isn’t reliable, it just isn’t the whole truth.
Proven by the game “Chinese Whispers”, it shows that word-of-mouth can change the original truth and meaning of the original information, sometimes even the entire truth. Although the media does not deliver the entire truth to the population, there is at least some credibility in the news that they broadcasted to the population. All in all, it would be better to read news from the media rather than relying on solely word-of-mouth.

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There are two things this essay needs to improve.

1) More Specificity. More Precision.

In the past => When in the past? —> Before the printing press

The media => Which media? —> Popular broadcast media

Being precise requires thought. But ‘depth of thought’ is exactly what Section 2 is a testing, so this is good! Each time you write ambiguously you are forcing the examiner to work harder to understand you.
“The media” is a colloquiallism. It’s a popular one, so it’s likely the examiner will understand what you mean from context, but its popularity is not enough to justify its use in a formal essay. The GAMSAT is not a conversation, it is a competition. Do not give the examiner any excuse to misinterpret you and take marks away. If you want to use an ambiguous phrase you must first define its usage, as I will demonstrate in a minute.

 

2) The question the essay seeks to answer should directly relate to the comment chosen as the title.

“Why would people prefer obtaining information from the media when they can easily be updated through talking to others?”

This is not the question you want to answer. It’s too general, too imprecise and too inaccurate. Why would people in general prefer this? It’s hard to say. It’s questionable whether they even do prefer this.

The question should be:

“Why does Barbara Walters prefer dinner parties to mass media communications?”

This second question is better because:

  • It allows you to demonstrate your understanding of Barbara Walters’ comment. (you get marks for this)
  • It keeps you on-topic. The examiner can’t say you didn’t respond to the comment directly.
  • It keeps your focus specific and therefore limits your tendency to make generalisations.
  • It’s manageable. You can’t solve global issues in 400 words, but you can solve this.

Here’s a new introduction for the same essay which takes on board all of the above:

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Prior to the popularisation of the printing press, word-of-mouth was the primary way of keeping up with the society’s daily news. With the emergence of innovative communications technology came popular broadcast media organisations, such as NBC, together often colloquially referred to as “the media”. The media has the power to communicate large amounts of information quicker than person-to-person oral communication would otherwise allow. Journalists distill news from a broad range of subject areas and package it concisely for mass consumption. It is an efficient form of mass communication which has a major influence on public knowledge and opinion on any given topic.

Why then, does Barbara Walters feel she can get a better understanding of what is happening in the world from a simple dinner party? There may be a number of reasons…

(Now all you need to do is come up with reasons!)

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Here are some ideas, a number of which were already mentioned in the original essay:

  • The government controls the public media. Censorship doesn’t exist at dinner parties.
  • Information omitted from the news can be discussed openly at parties.
  • “Chinese Whispers” exists in the media as well. Biased communication is not limited to word-of-mouth.
  • It’s easier to tell when someone is lying face-to-face.
  • It’s possible her dinner parties are somewhat unique in that they feature a number of very well-connected individuals who have access to knowledge that, for a number of reasons, is not widely known.
  • The media distils the news from the happenings of the day. They do exactly this. Only the things considered extraordinary are reported and the rest is discarded knowledge. We don’t hear about things if the media deems them to be uninteresting, ordinary or contradictory. They may be truthful in their reporting of the facts but the meaning of a story can be subverted entirely through the omission of even one.