Understanding the question

Look, it’s my favourite word!

The author confesses

About 25 years ago, when I was an undergraduate studying English Literature, I was given an essay to write on the connections between T. S. Eliot’s and Ezra Pound’s ideas about poetry and nineteenth century French poets’ ideas about poetry. No problem: I’d just been reading Laforgue and Mallarmé and had found their work interesting and unusual so off I went. Except . . . about two thirds of the way through my first draft I realised I was writing a brilliant essay about the poetry of Laforgue and Mallarmé. In fact, it was so good I don’t think I’ve ever understood their poetry better! However, of the connections between Laforgue’s and Mallarmé’s ideas about poetry and T. S. Eliot’s and Ezra Pound’s ideas about poetry, there was not a whisper.

We’ve all done it at least once

I’d made the classic mistake we’ve all made at least once: I’d seen something I was interested in or that I’d recognised in the essay title and started writing about it. I hadn’t understood the question. This part of the guide will help you to answer the right question.