Essay Writing in French

In citing electronic resources, you should in the first instance follow the same general rules as for printed sources, as the following example of a reference to an item contained on the (vast) Gallica site of the Bibliothèque nationale de France indicates:

  • the name of the author and of the text cited should be given in full, e.g. Louis de Bonald, Économie politique, p. x.
  • next, you should cite the name of the webpage or web service that provides the source, e.g. Website: BNF Gallica
  • next, you should cite the URL of the source itself
  • finally, you should give the date on which you last accessed this URL

A complete reference would thus look something like this:

Louis de Bonald, Économie politique (Paris, J.-P. Migne, 1859), p. x. Website: BNF Gallica.
URL: Last consulted: 12 December 2001.

Your bibliography should also record this information, together with the full publication details of any published work cited. Here is a further example:

Website: Calendrier des spectacles sous l'Ancien Régime (Barry Russell, Oxford Brookes University). URL: Last consulted: 12 December 2001.

For further information, consult the following sources.


Your bibliography should figure at the end of your essay, and should give information concerning authors, titles and publication details for all primary and secondary works used:

Primary sources

Baudelaire, Charles, Les Fleurs du mal, ed. by C. Pichois (Paris, Gallimard, 1996)

   ------, Le Spleen de Paris, ed. by D. Scott and B. Wright (Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 1987)

Secondary sources

Auerbach, Erich, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, tr. by W. Trask (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1953)

Bersani, Leo, Baudelaire and Freud (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977)

Laforgue, Pierre, 'Baudelaire, Hugo et la royauté du poète: le romantisme en 1860', Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, 96 (1996), 966--82

Pichois, Claude, Baudelaire, tr. by Graham Robb (London, Hamish Hamilton, 1989)

Thélot, Jérôme, Baudelaire: violence et poésie (Paris, Gallimard, 1993)

The following points should be noted:

  • in the case of any item published as a book, the place of publication, publisher and date should be given;
  • where a text is cited, the name of the editor should be given, as in the examples of texts by Baudelaire above;
  • the titles of books or of journals are generally printed in italics (or simply underlined, if your essay is written by hand);
  • where an article is cited, its title should be given in single quotation marks, and the volume number, year of publication and precise page references should all be given.



Work must be submitted on the stated deadline. Under certain circumstances (e.g. certified illness) an extension may be granted by the lecturer concerned. Your essay should have a cover-sheet:

Name: A. N. Other

Student number: 99999999

Language and Cultural Studies French II

FR2202: Literary seminar I

Lecturer: Dr Untel

Date of submission: 30 January 2002

Note the following points:

  • you should write your name, your degree programme and year and your student number clearly on your essay;
  • you should also write the name and the course code of the module of which the essay forms part (e.g. FR2501: French thought and the history of ideas I: Political thought);
  • you are required to submit two copies of each essay (one of which may be a photocopy); one copy of the essay will be returned to you.


One of the key features of the study of French is writing: in each year of the programme, you have the opportunity to work on seminar presentations and essays, developing an account of a specific theme or topic --- and you can thus develop skills in argument and in the effective organization and communication of your ideas.



An essay is based on your own thinking and writing, and involves close discussion of the texts and other materials on which you have been working. All essays are written with a specific question or topic in mind and relevance to the topic is a primary requirement of a successful essay. If the topic requires you to write, say, about the dramatic impact of Racine's Athalie, don't deal at length with the theme of courtly corruption; if the essay titles specifies, say, that you should write about word-order as a feature of French syntax, you will probably stray from the topic if you start to write at length about regional variations in the use of French.

An essay also provides a reasoned justification of your point of view. Try to present your ideas in an orderly way. You should use relevant examples to justify the points you make. In reaching your conclusion, you should seek to take into account objections to your own argument. You should also think carefully about alternative conclusions: does your conclusion present the most likely explanation?

Be precise in your use of texts to justify your point of view. Make sure that any claims you make about the text are true. If you use quotations, make sure that they help your argument. Avoid retelling the story. An essay is a piece of independent work. It will involve the discovery and use of relevant information. In your essays, you may need to use a wide range of sources, including the texts on which you have been working, other relevant texts, and critical works. As well as quoting from these works, you may need to cite them (in other words, make a brief reference without quoting).

Persuasive writing demands clear and concise expression. Be clear, precise and consistent in your use of the key terms in your argument (e.g. irony, classical, diegetic, popular, metalanguage, determiner).


Sources — and plagiarism

The sources of all quotations and citations should be clearly noted in your essay. Your essay should also include a bibliography, or an alphabetical list of all texts and sources cited. Your essay will be assessed in part according to the relevance and the cogency of your use of your sources. It is therefore most important that you acknowledge all your sources. Systematic failure to do so may lead to plagiarism, or unacknowledged use of the words or ideas of others. Patent plagiarism will justify a fail mark (in extreme cases, a mark of zero).

In the course of your research and your writing, therefore, you need to think carefully about your use of sources. Finding relevant information to support your analysis and argument is one of the key skills which you will acquire in your work --- for further guidance, see the page devoted to French subject and information resources. When reading texts or critical works, you should take care to include in your notes page references for ideas to which you wish to refer, or for passages which you transcribe for later use. When you use an idea or where you quote from another source, you must acknowledge this use by giving the title of the work in question and a precise page reference, which may refer, as in the example below, to a page-range:

Thélot's discussion of the poem, on the other hand, stresses its paradoxical qualities (see Baudelaire: violence et poésie, pp. 378--81), a view that enables us to give a more persuasive account of its opening.

It is not always necessary to quote from a critical source, but in all cases where you make use of another person's ideas, you must acknowledge that you have done so. If you make use of points made in lectures, you should say so by including a reference in a footnote. You must make sure also to provide references for factual statements:

Baudelaire was convicted of offence to public morality and was fined 300 francs (see Pichois, Baudelaire, p. 232).



An essay is a carefully structured piece of writing. Aim to communicate clearly and make sure to use paragraph breaks to enable your reader to follow the flow of your ideas. In your written work, you should strive to be legible. If you use a word processor, it may be helpful to write a first draft of your essay by hand.

Brief quotations from texts or other works should be introduced by a colon and enclosed within quotation marks, as follows: '— Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!'. You should take care to ensure that your quotations (including accentuation and punctuation) are accurate. Longer quotations (i.e. longer than about forty words) may be set off (see how to set quotations off when using a word-processor). In this case, no quotation marks are needed:

Sois sage, ô ma Douleur, et tiens-toi plus tranquille.
Tu réclamais le Soir; il descend; le voici:
Une atmosphère obscure enveloppe la ville,
Aux uns portant la paix, aux autres le souci.

Baudelaire, 'Recueillement', Les Fleurs du mal, ll.1--4

The source of all quotations should be included in your essay, preferably in notes at the foot of the page or the end of the essay (see advice online on how to insert footnotes when using a word-processor). You must take sure to be precise in transcribing quotations from texts (and take special care to include accents in quotations from French --- follow the advice on inserting accents when using a word-processor).

You should take care to present the titles of your sources — full-length works, poems, essays, articles — in as clear a way as possible. You will see in critical works that the title of a work is italicized, so as to distinguish, say, between a character in a text and the text itself: 'Athalie is undoubtedly the most awesome figure in Athalie'. If you write your essay by hand, you should underline the titles of full-length works: Madame Bovary, Phèdre, Les Fleurs du mal, L'Amant. This convention should be used also with critical works and with journals: Mimesis, Modern French Drama, Figures, French Studies. References to any work quoted or cited should include a page reference:

Auerbach argues that styles of representation can point to the fragmentation of reality into reflections of various individual consciousnesses (Mimesis, p. 551).

The titles of shorter works, or parts of a work, or of articles, are given in quotation marks, as in the example from Baudelaire above, or as follows:

'Le voyage' is the closing poem in Les Fleurs du mal.


Citing electronic sources

Useful sources are increasingly available online --- see again the guidance on French subject and information resources. Your use of such sources must be documented, just as your use of books and articles, say, must be.

Now, the citation of materials maintained online presents certain problems, in part because Uniform Resource Locators (or URLs, or typical web 'addresses' in the form give information precisely on locations, and not as a rule on what a file may contain, or its title. In general, therefore, you should give the title of the website (as indicated on its home or main page) as well as the name of the page which you are citing, together with the URL. Because URLs are not absolutely persistent (a file may disappear, or the page cited may move to a different location, even without changing its content), you should also give the date on which you last referred to the file or page. In general, the title of a page is what appears in the title bar of your browser:

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