English Language

Building Essay Evidence Banks for English Language

Nick Farmer

February 23, 2021

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For an overview of English Language, the study design, what’s involved in the exam and more, take a look at our Ultimate Guide to English Language.

How To Effectively Build an Essay Evidence Bank

Essays in English Language require contemporary examples of language being used in Australia, in order to justify your response to the topic. English Language essays are often said to only be as good as the examples that are used, so it follows that your essays will only be as good and interesting as the examples that you find. It’s a really good idea to start collecting examples, or evidence, in a “bank” from day one, and throughout the year as you prepare for essay SACs and the final exam. Great examples not only lead your discussion, but also make your essay more interesting and therefore stand out.

What Makes a Good Piece of Evidence?

Primarily you want your evidence to comprise examples of how language is being used within a specific context in contemporary Australia. For instance, you might explore how leaders in Australia use overtly prestigious language with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ use of the formal vocative phrase 'my fellow Victorians' at a press briefing. You may not always be able to find a specific instance of a particular language feature being used, which can be especially true for language that is not frequently used in public contexts, such as slang and ethnolects. It is okay to just have general examples that you discuss in these instances; perhaps the ellipsis (omission of understood words) of auxiliary verbs in varieties such as Greek Australian English. What is important is that the majority of your examples are actually instances of language features being used, and not simply a quote of someone else’s analysis of language, such as a linguist’s quote. Such quotes can be used in essays, but should complement your own discussion of your own examples.

Good examples must also be 'contemporary', as per the majority of essay prompts. As a general rule of thumb, ask yourself if the example you have is older than two years, and if so you may want to think of something newer. This does not mean you can never employ an older example. For instance, you may want to discuss language change in an essay, which sometimes necessitates discussing the historical context of certain language features.

How To Build an Example Bank

Many students find it highly beneficial to create a table or list of examples that they will practice and get comfortable with – you cannot bring this into the exam of course, but it is a very effective tool for preparation. In your table or list, consider including the following:

  • Your example itself (this may not always be just a quote, sometimes you might have a phonetic transcription, for instance)
  • The context that surrounds the example
  • The metalanguage that you can use to analyse it
  • The areas of the study design and essay topics it can cover
  • A few short sentences of analysis

An example is given below:

These examples do not necessarily have to be something that you put a huge effort into going out and finding, so long as you make sure that you write down interesting language features that you come across in your day-to-day life. Keep an eye on places like the news, social media (including emojis and text speak), and any Australian television, radio, podcasts you watch or listen to. You will of course also discuss different examples of contemporary language use in class too, so make sure to add them as well.

Getting evidence is only step one of preparing for essay writing in English Language, but is the most important step for writing interesting and engaging essays. Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be a solo activity; collaborating with classmates and group discussions, especially as you prepare for the exam can be a great way to make evidence collection fun. Be sure to check out our other blog, What Is an English Language Essay? for other tips and tricks to make your essays stand out.

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