Topics, questions and titles


Professional History       

  • Explore a professional issue or a past dispute
  • How a government health policy emerged and what influenced its development
  • Emergence of a specialism

History of a clinical practice

  • Study of a disease or a therapeutic intervention
  • A biography of a person who made a significant contribution to practice or to your profession

Questions and Titles

Chose a working title to keep you focussed. This may need to be adapted if your findings are unexpected.

Descriptive titles often lead to descriptive pieces of work so perhaps base it on an interrogative sentence?. Look at some of the essay titles in some of the higher impact academic journals…for example, Social Hist Med, Medical History, Bulletin of History of Medicine

Study any essay guidelines and assessment criteria thoroughly and answer the question, demonstrating any expected skills outlined in marking criteria. Remember, it is depth of analysis, not the breadth of your study that is most important to the quality of your work; Select a manageable and enjoyable topic and ensure it will fit the assigned word length.

You may have to consider how accessible the information you will require to write your essay will be and whether you are able to interpret it effectively. More recent periods of history are easier to access and interpret and these sources are much more numerous. Occasionally your research question may be too narrow and it may need to be refined and broadened. More often, the subject is too wide and may have to be limited, perhaps to within a certain time period between to historically significant events, or within a limited geographical area, or from a certain cultural perspective.

If you are writing for assessment, discuss your selected topic with your supervisor early on, as quite a lot of time will be needed to research your topic, during which time your question will emerge from the literature.

At undergraduate level a thorough analysis of existing material with some primary sources included may be sufficient. For higher degree level work, original contributions to knowledge are expected. Given that historical evidence is finite, offering new perspectives on familiar material, known as revisionist history, is as valid as unearthing new data.

Now you are ready to go to the source materials to see what has already been written and what evidence is available for analysis. This will be the first of many interactions with the sources which may take you down unexpected avenues of investigation. After your search you may wish to refine your question.

Searching the literature