A week after coming back to university, I’m trying to organise myself for my upcoming deadlines. For me, actually writing an essay isn’t the challenging part of the assignment – it’s research and planning. I’m still getting used to doing it at university level, but I’m finding that by sorting it into clear stages, it’s becoming a lot clearer to see where I’m heading for when I come to writing the essay.
Finding relevant books
You’ve got a really interesting essay title, you think you know where you want to go with it, but need some secondary sources to help out your argument. It can be difficult to know where to start looking – the library will have a lot of relevant books and you obviously can’t read all of them. The library website is really helpful for finding texts that could be useful. I’ve started picking one thing that I think will be most relevant, then going to the library and looking at what books have been placed around it – they’ll all be on the same topic and hopefully will have a few different interpretations.
Placing yourself somewhere in the debate
Once I’ve read the secondary sources, I take a step back from the complexity of the arguments and put the historians in a simple order of strongly agree to strongly disagree. I find it’s a lot easier for me to have a clear image of where they sit in the debate once I’ve done this. Then I read over my notes and decide which historian(s) I most agree with. My argument becomes a lot easier to explain when I know which historians to use within specific points.
Planning the essay
For the essay that I’m currently writing, I wrote an initial list of questions that I thought needed answering in order to fully explore the essay question. I read with them in mind, and the notes I have are turning into paragraphs answering each sub-question. I also find it useful to have an idea of where any primary sources fit into the points, as well as planning which historian’s arguments I’ll be talking about in each part of the essay so it doesn’t become repetitive.
I’m sure my essay technique will keep changing as I move through university, but I’m currently finding that this is the best way for me to get through the planning stage as smoothly as possible. I hope this helps you too!