It can chafe if you feel you have more to offer on a particular topic than the assignment allows you to include. But balance and structural discipline are essential components of any good essay. Evidence of in-depth engagement and intellectual risk. This is where going "above and beyond" comes in. Everything from your thesis statement to your bibliography can and will be weighed as evidence of the depth of your engagement with the topic. If you've set yourself the challenge of defending a fringe position on a topic, or have delved deep into the theories underlying the positions of your set texts, you've clearly set yourself up for a potential First in the essay.
None of this is enough by itself, though. Don't forget that you need to execute it in a disciplined and organised fashion! Evidence of an emerging understanding of your role in knowledge creation. This one is easy to overlook, but even as a university student you're part of a system that collaboratively creates knowledge. You can contribute meaningfully to this system by provoking your tutors to see problems or areas in their field differently.
This may influence the way they teach or research, or write about this material in future. Top students demonstrate that they're aware of this role in collaborative knowledge creation. It is clear they take it seriously, in the work they submit. The best way to communicate this is to pay attention to two things. First, the content of the quality sources you read in the course of your studies. Second, the rhetorical style these sources employ. Learn the language, and frame your arguments in the same way scholars do.
For example, "What I want to suggest by juxtaposing these two theories is…" or, "The purpose of this intervention is…" and so on. In short, you need to present an essay that shows the following: Clarity of purpose, integrity of structure, originality of argument, and confidence of delivery.
It will take time to perfect an essay-writing strategy that delivers all this while persuading your reader that your paper is evidence of real intellectual risk. And that it goes above and beyond what's expected of the typical undergraduate at your level. But here are a few tips to help give you the best possible chance: Start early Your module may have a long reading list that will be tricky to keep on top of during the term. If so, make sure you get the list and, if possible, the syllabus showing what kind of essays the module will require ahead of time.
If your module starts in September, spend some time over summer doing preparatory reading. Also, think about which areas of the module pique your interest. Once the module starts, remember: it's never too early in the term to start thinking about the essays that are due at the end of it.
Don't wait until the essay topics circulate a few weeks before term-end. Think now about the topics that especially interest you. Then read around to get a better understanding of their histories and the current debates.
Read beyond the syllabus Students who are heading for a good degree tend to see the module reading list as the start and end of their workload. They don't necessary see beyond it. A student considers it a job well done if they've done "all the reading". However, a student capable of a First knows there's no such thing as "all the reading". Every scholarly text on your syllabus, whether it's required or suggested reading, is a jumping-off point.
It's a place to begin to look for the origins and intellectual histories of the topics you're engaged with. It will often lead you to more challenging material than what's on the syllabus. What do you mean by the French Revolution? Is it primarily the violent challenge to royal authority in , the creation of a new political order, a marked ideological discontinuity, the process of socio-economic change, or, if a combination of all of these, which takes precedence and requires most explanation?
What do you understand by causes? These issues need discussing explicitly, out-in-the-open. That is key to a good essay at university level. They should not be left unspoken and unaddressed; and your discussion of them should reflect your awareness that issues are involved in the analysis, and that you are capable of addressing them. You also need to be aware that there will be different answers and this should guide your handling of the concepts. This leads into Methodology. Methodology In this section, you should explicitly address the issue of how scholars, including yourself, can handle the conceptual questions.
You must learn to question all primary source materials that you read, and to accept that different secondary works may well give different accounts of both the narrative and analysis of an event.
This does not mean that you can casually challenge the view of any historian. Clearly, if you wish to question the perceived norm you must have evidence to support your case. If you are approaching a new subject you might wish to start by reading a condensed summary of the basic information in perhaps one or two general text books. At best this will give you an understanding of the bare bones of a topic and, sometimes, a summary of some of the historical problems involved.
Be wary, however, of over-generalisation and out-of-date approaches. Then move on to consult at least two or three more specific secondary works. This may include what appear to be very daunting historical tomes, but do not be put off.
Learn to maximise your productivity by reading selectively and skimming. With a basic understanding of a topic you ought to be able to identify what sections you should read by using the contents page and index. Also try to read primary sources in translation wherever possible to develop a greater understanding of a subject. This may help you to begin to form your own opinions and to question the approaches of current historians. Again this may be strong and obvious, or it may be almost invisible, but it needs to be there.
However, even in those essays that appear to be highly creative, unscientific, or personal, an argument of some kind is being made. It is the argument, and how you decide to present and back up your argument, that will influence your decision on how to structure your essay.
The essay structure is not an end in itself, but a means to an end: the end is the quality of the argument. By creating a relevant structure, you make it much easier for yourself to present an effective argument. There are several generic structures that can help you start to think about your essay structure e. These can be useful starting points, but you will probably decide to work with a more complicated structure e. In addition to these macro-structures you will probably need to establish a micro-structure relating to the particular elements you need to focus on e.
Fluid structures You may feel that, for your particular essay, structures like these feel too rigid. You may wish to create a more flexible or fluid structure. An analogy could be that of symphony writing. This set out a pattern for the numbers of movements within the symphony, and for the general structure of writing within each movement.
The continued popularity of their work today shows that they clearly managed to achieve plenty of interest and variety within that basic structure. Later composers moved away from strict symphonic form. Some retained a loose link to it while others abandoned it completely, in favour of more fluid patterns.
It would be rare, however, to find a symphony that was without structure or pattern of any kind; it would probably not be satisfactory either to play or to listen to. Similarly, a structure of some kind is probably essential for every essay, however revolutionary. Your decisions on structure will be based on a combination of: the requirements of your department; the potential of the essay title; and your own preferences and skills.
An iterative, not necessarily a linear process The process of essay planning and writing does not need to be a linear process, where each stage is done only once. It is often an iterative process i. A possible iterative process is: analyse the title read around the title, making relevant notes prepare a first draft critically review your first draft in the light of this further analysis read further to fill in gaps prepare final draft critically edit the final draft submit the finished essay.
They will be reading and marking many, many student essays. If you make your argument hard to follow, so that they need to re-read a paragraph or more to try to make sense of what you have written, you will cause irritation, and make their job slower.
Realistically, it is possible that they may even decide not to make that effort. Your tutors will not necessarily be looking for the perfect, revolutionary, unique, special essay; they would be very happy to read a reasonably well-planned, well-argued and well-written essay. They will not want to pull your essay to pieces. Do I need to know more about the examples I'm planning to use? Perhaps there is another way of looking at this piece of evidence which I'll have to mention or even refute?
Directed Research Having decided on the line of argument you intend to use, and identified areas where you need more material, search the reading list and bibliographies of the texts you've been using for books and articles which will help you to solve these problems. Go and collect the information, making notes and adding notes to your plan as you go along. Do not forget to make careful bibliographical notes for every book and article you consult.
You will need this information when it comes to footnoting your essay. Revising your Argument Inevitably, the previous stage will turn up things you hadn't thought of and books with better things to say about the topic. Do not panic. Ask yourself: can your argument be saved with a few adjustments? Does the argument need to be re-constructed from scratch? If so, how can I recycle the information I've already begun to collect?
Much will depend upon how confident you now feel about your argument. Follow your instincts: if the argument feels wrong, look for a better one. It is better to start again than to write an essay that lacks conviction. If complete reconstruction is unavoidable, go back to '5. Drawing up a Plan'. Writing the First Draft Having revised you argument and plan , it's time to write your essay.
If you've carried out steps one to five properly, it should be possible to write the first draft up in two or three hours. An introduction should show how you intend to answer the question, by 1 indicating the line of argument you intend to take, by 2 giving an overview of the organisation of what follows, and by 3 indicating the sort of material or evidence you will be using.
It is an effective strategy, especially when writing a short essay, to begin with a bold, attention-grabbing, first sentence which shows the marker that you know what you are doing: that is, answer the question as briefly as possible with your first sentence. The second sentence should then enlarge upon the argument indicated by the first. Intelligent use of paragraphing is crucial to the success of an essay.
Often, it is best to organise the paragraphs so that each makes and defends a point or premise essential the argument of the essay. By 'premise' is meant a point which is part of and essential to the argument of the essay.
Writing the First Draft Having revised you argument and plan , it's time to write your essay. Do I agree with them?
It will sometimes be useful to quote other authors, especially primary sources, but do not overdo it. An analogy could be that of symphony writing. However, even in those essays that appear to be highly creative, unscientific, or personal, an argument of some kind is being made. Once the module starts, remember: it's never too early in the term to start thinking about the essays that are due at the end of it. A good example of this is when a student was writing about the Golden Age of Spain: "In conclusion, the extent to whether this period can be deemed as a "Golden Age" ultimately rests on the context of the time. That is, to explain why they are the best criteria for judging the historical phenomenon at issue.
Think now about the topics that especially interest you. It informs directly: the choice of reading; the structure you choose for the essay; which material to include and exclude; what to do with the material you use; and how to introduce and conclude. Evidence of in-depth engagement and intellectual risk. Citing such works will undermine the credibility of your essay.