Writing an Essay

The process entails a number of basic steps…

First select a manageable and interesting topic area and loosely formulate a research question, while taking into consideration any specific marking criteria, if applicable.

Complete your initial literature search and begin reading and asking questions, noting down other possibly useful reference material by backward chaining of references or an author’s footnotes to find more reference material.

If working to a deadline, make sure you chose your topic relatively early, to allow time for extensive reading and literature searching. It is useful to discuss the suitability of your chosen topic with your assessor early on, if possible.

The searching process may take longer than expected with historical projects, because while many texts are now available online, you may find some reference material is initially difficult to find. Some material may not have been digitised yet and so may not be available online and will need to be ordered and copied for you or you may need to visit a specialist library if circumstances allow this.

Practical tips

  • Keep your question in mind and write it down and be prepared to articulate what it is you are aiming to achieve to others. This often helps you to clarify this for yourself.
  • Be prepared to clearly explain the relevance of your findings – some people call this the ‘so what?’ factor.
  • The essay should discuss things in a broadly chronological order; the reader may need to be guided and kept informed of dates from time to time.
  • When writing for publication, have in mind the writing styles and referencing systems of popular publishers and the expectations of academic reviewers. Alternatively, make sure you follow the recommended system of referencing.
  • Consider the factors which may have influenced developments in your subject and complete a contextual analysis of the possible influencing factors. For example,the influence of :
    • science and technology
    • war and famine
    • economics and industrial climate
    • religion
    • educational status of society
    • politics and government styles
    • serendipitous events