The PEEL method is the most-commonly taught method when it comes to essay writing in Singapore. Despite that, many students still struggle with understanding how to use the PEEL method across different subjects.
In this three part series, we’ll discuss the keys to communication through essay-writing, break down the PEEL method (complete with examples), and how “Science persons” are not at a disadvantage in humanities essay writing.
Before we dive into what the PEEL method is and how to apply it, let us first understand what the goal is when you write an essay.
Whether it is for history, geography, literature or social studies, you’re asked to write an essay for one sole purpose: to determine how much you understand the subject.
In other words, your teacher is testing you to figure out if you’ve understood the topic at hand sufficiently to have an opinion about it, and whether you’re able to persuade others sufficiently to accept your opinion.
As such, the keys to writing a good essay (or to even argue any opinion) are:
- Having an in-depth grasp of the topic at hand; and
- Having good communication skills.
The Art of Communication
Communication, contrary to popular belief, is not about making the loudest noise, wearing the fanciest clothes, or using the biggest words. That’s sales.
Communication is about getting as many people as possible to be interested in what you’re saying, and to understand what you’re saying.
Look at the picture above. The man on the soap box is talking. However, everyone else is just walking by him. He has not arrested the attention of anyone, except a dog. Perhaps it’s because he is using the wrong language, perhaps it’s because he isn’t talking about anything interesting, perhaps it’s because his thoughts are not organised which makes it difficult to understand what his motives are, perhaps it’s because he has not enough knowledge about the topic and is uttering such gibberish. Whatever the reason is, the result is the same: he is talking, but he is not communicating.
So, what must you do to ensure you’re communicating well?
- Communicate in a language that your target audience understands – when it comes to essay writing, that means legible handwriting and proper English.
- Communicate with the words that your target audience understands – for example, if I’m trying to change the minds of farmers, I would use allegories and examples related to farming, like crop rotation, seasonal changes, sheep shearing, etc. If you’re writing about history, you talk about rebellions, uprising, civil disorder, and war. Saying that the people merely got angry and fought means very little. If you’re writing about literature, you discuss themes, plot, setting, character development. Saying that Macbeth was at first a good person, but then became a bad person later on is too simplistic, and shows a lack of understanding of the topic matter, and your target audience.
- Know your subject matter – we have a certain president of the free world who purports that wind turbines are bad because the noise they make affect human health, and birds will just be dropping from the skies because wind turbines are bird slayers. The majority of newsreaders mock said president, and are unable to take anything he says seriously. Likewise, you need to know your subject matter, most thoroughly, so that when you give an opinion, you can substantiate it with evidence, and explain it so that more people understand your opinion, and are persuaded to agree with you (or at least, are unable to disagree with you).
- Communicate in an easy to absorb flow – as with most other areas of your life, having a plan and being organised is so vital. Your essay structure is your strategy. How you first introduce your stand, then moving from one point to the next, each well substantiated and explained, each point linking to the next, rounding off with your conclusion – these things all help your audience to understand your stand. If your target audience is lost from trying to even understand what your stand is, much less your points, then it doesn’t matter if you’re communicating in well-written English, it doesn’t matter if you know your subject matter and all the right words, you’re still leading your audience round a wild goose chase. What you’ll get in the end is a barrel of fish, because they will be gawping at you like wide-eyed goldfish – none the wiser.
- Communicate with balance and without prejudice – if you only argue for one side, listing 3, 4 or even 10 points to support your stand, it does make you sound like you do know your stand. It also gives the impression that you’re prejudiced (biased), or, you don’t know what the other side’s reasons are. It’s hard to change people’s minds if you don’t even know why they think the way they do. “Know your enemy”. If you argue only for your stand, completely disregarding what other people think, you’re effectively telling them that everything they know is wrong, and they should listen to you instead. In other words, you’re telling them they are stupid. No one is going to accept what you think, if you cannot even begin to understand what they think. Acknowledge opposing opinions, and how they may be right in some aspects, and show how your points are right too, and perhaps even more so.
That was a quick summary.
The art of communication is far more complex but there’s only so much you can learn from reading an article. Like swimming, you can read about the techniques from a picture book, but eventually, you’ll have to jump into the water and figure it out. So, keep on practicing. Get yourself an assessment book full of essay questions, keep writing, and get feedback from your teachers/tutors.
In the next article, we’ll break down the PEEL Method, complete with examples to show you how it can be applied across subjects. Stay Tuned!