Essays - Getting started

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Advice Leaflets

Advice leaflets originally produced for the Study Advice Service in the University of Hull, which holds the copyright:

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There is a range of approaches: these are the most common:

A) Make a plan, which will also guide your choice of reading and the gathering of information. This can alter as you progress. Ask yourself:

  1. - What are the main ideas or issues to be covered?
  2. - How will I cover them? Draw on primary texts and/or authorities in the field, personal experience.
  3. - What examples/illustrations/references/quotations will be useful?
  4. - What conclusions may or will be reached?

B) Make a list or brainstorm, by writing down ideas as they occur to you. This will reveal how many ideas you have and therefore what further reading, discussion or thinking you will have to do. Even if you think you have enough ideas to answer the question without further research, you may well be wrong. Few people, if any, know everything! You can then complete this, if necessary, by further reading and number the ideas in the order in which they will be presented in the essay. Sequence the essay based on the notes you have made and assign approximate word counts to each planned section so that they all add up to the required word length and give the whole answer proportion and balance.

C) Write a mind map. After writing down your ideas, try linking them in terms of logic or relationships. Here is one example of many which could be made:

D) Use the start of a mind map to tease out your ideas.

E) Talk to tutors or other students. This can be a useful way of generating or clarifying ideas, of testing your ideas on others and of discovering other sources of information. Ensure, however, that you consider the question adequately yourself before you do this; you would not want your tutor, for example, to think he or she was being asked to do your thinking for you!

F) Write a rough draft immediately and then read for more ideas. This method can be adopted for a word-processed work since it is very easy to cut, paste and move things around, but it may be more time-consuming.

G) Read first, then make a list or plan. Care is needed here to ensure that the reading you do is relevant and targeted. As you read and make notes, ideas and strategies will often occur to you and a plan may fall into place almost spontaneously.