A logical structure that's appropriate to the task. Have you ever been asked to write a comparative essay, say on a couple of literary texts? And did you have lots to say about one of the texts but not much at all about the other? How did you approach that challenge?
We've all written the "brain-dump" essay. You shape your work not around the question you're supposed to be answering, but around topic areas that you can comfortably write a lot about. Your approach to a comparative essay may be to write words about the text you love, and tack words onto the end about the one you don't care for.
If so, your mindset needs a bit of adjusting if you're going to get that First-class degree. A First-class essay always presents its arguments and its supporting evidence in the order and manner that's best suited to its overall goals. Not according to what topic areas its author finds the most interesting or most comfortable to talk about.
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. Search through the bibliographies of the texts on the syllabus to discover the texts they draw from, and then go look them up. At undergraduate level, set texts are often simplified versions of complex scholarly works and notions. They're designed to distil intricate ideas down into more manageable overview material.
But wrestling with complex articles is the best way to demonstrate that you're engaging with the topic in depth, with a sophisticated level of understanding. Build your bibliography as you research Keeping notes of all your sources used in research will make writing your bibliography later far less of a chore.
Given that every single text on your syllabus likely references thirty more, bibliography mining can quickly become overwhelming. Luckily, we have to hand the integration of web searches and referencing tools.
These integrations make the challenge of compiling and sifting through references far easier than it once was. Get into the habit of exporting every reference you search for into the bibliographic software program of your choice. Your institution might have a subscription to a a commercial tool such as RefWorks or Endnote.
But the freeware tool Zotero is more than capable of compiling references and allowing you to add notes to revisit later. Then it will store all the details you need to generate a bibliography for your essay later no matter what reference style your university demands.
It will also store the URL of the source so you can retrieve it later. Make sure you organise your research into categories.
Making notes helps you to summarise arguments and ideas, to select points relevant to your essay, to clarify and adjust your understanding of the essay question and of the topic it bears upon. But your main priority should be to discover an argument. Drawing up a Plan Once you have come up with a working argument, you need to draw up a plan to guide the next stage of your research. It should comprise a list of the points which each paragraph will attempt to demonstrate, and rough notes on supporting examples.
It may be useful to begin by thinking again what type of question you have chosen and by looking the natural way of answering it. In order to draw up a plan you will need to evaluate its merits: What points will I need to make in order to sustain this argument? Are there alternative points of view which will have to be considered and refuted in order to make this argument work?
Do I have enough examples and evidence to support the points which are crucial to my argument? 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.
It must be entirely clear how your points fit into the argument: essays which meander around the topic leaving the marker to join the dots to comprise an answer are not acceptable, since they fail to demonstrate understanding.
It is a good idea to use 'topic sentences' to signal the subject and make explicit the point of each paragraph. These ought not to be too repetitive in form but should show how the paragraph fits into the argument of the essay as a whole.
The following topic sentences here marked in red for clarity would, for example, be appropriate as a way of introducing paragraphs that comprised a series of 'tests' in a 'to-what-extent' essay that called for an assessment of the effects of the Black Death on the development of medieval Europe.
It is also possible to assess the extent of the catastrophe by looking at the level of demand for land in the major urban centres. In Genoa, for example, land prices fell sharply from a high in of The dramatic fall in the prices of land within urban centres implies an equally sharp fall in the numbers of people wanting to live in cities and, thus also, a sudden decline in the actual number of people living there.
The picture conveyed by these financial records is scarcely representative, however, of the situation throughout Europe as a whole. At some point in your research, you should begin thinking about the contention of your essay.
Remember, you should be able to express it briefly as if addressing the essay question in a single sentence, or summing up in a debate. It should sound like the voice of someone well informed about the subject and confident about their answer. Plan an essay structure Once most of your research is complete and you have a strong contention, start jotting down a possible essay structure. This need not be complicated, a few lines or dot points is ample. Every essay must have an introduction, a body of several paragraphs and a conclusion.
Your paragraphs should be well organised and follow a logical sequence. Every paragraph should be clearly signposted in the topic sentence. Once you have a plan, start drafting your essay. Write a compelling introduction Many consider the introduction to be the most important part of an essay. The introduction is important for several reasons. It is where you begin to signpost the direction your essay will take. Aim for an introduction that is clear, confident and punchy.
Get straight to the point — do not waste time with a rambling or storytelling introduction. Write fully formed paragraphs Many history students fall into the trap of writing short paragraphs, sometimes containing as little as one or two sentences. This sentence introduces the paragraph topic and briefly explains its significance to the question and your contention.
Good paragraphs also contain thorough explanations, some analysis and evidence, perhaps a quotation or two. Finish with an effective conclusion The conclusion is the final paragraph of your essay. A good conclusion should do two things. You should always avoid introducing new information or evidence in a conclusion. Reference and cite your sources A history essay is only likely to succeed if it is appropriately referenced.
Your essay should support its information, ideas and arguments with citations or references to reliable sources. Referencing not only acknowledges the work of others, it also gives authority to your writing and provides the teacher or assessor with an insight into your research. More information on referencing a piece of history writing can be found here.
Proofread, edit and seek feedback Every essay should be proofread, edited and, if necessary, re-drafted before being submitted for assessment.
Essays should ideally be completed a few days before their due date, then put aside for a day or two before proofreading. Look first for spelling and grammatical errors, typographical mistakes, incorrect dates or other errors of fact.
Think then about how you can improve the clarity, tone and structure of your essay. Does your essay follow a logical structure or sequence? Is the signposting in your essay clear and effective? Do you repeat yourself?
What historians or sources might be useful?
What does a First-class essay look like? What's important is that they're ahead when they leave the table! How did you approach that challenge? Write a detailed essay plan, with different points per paragraph. 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.
As up to a quarter of the new graduates hitting the job market do so with a shiny new First-class degree, top employers will routinely come to expect this in applicants for their very best jobs. But that's why we said at the outset that you need to be a gambler — this approach will pay off far more often than it will fail.
Then read around to get a better understanding of their histories and the current debates.
Second, the rhetorical style these sources employ. Plan an essay structure Once most of your research is complete and you have a strong contention, start jotting down a possible essay structure. Even if you didn't quite hit your target score for this module, your engagement with the topic will have been far richer. A lot of this stuff — risk-taking, depth of knowledge, and developing a unique "angle" — can sound pretty abstract. You also need to be aware that there will be different answers and this should guide your handling of the concepts.
How did you approach that challenge? Conclusion Sounds difficult? History essays test a range of skills including historical understanding, interpretation and analysis, planning, research and writing. Helping you achieve the grades you want at university is what we're here to do. Your approach to a comparative essay may be to write words about the text you love, and tack words onto the end about the one you don't care for.
Or if the person who wrote it had only a basic grasp of the main concepts. You can only do this if you revisit the brief repeatedly while writing. I will go through all three, but do not worry.
But you'll achieve far more marks if you shoot for originality and accuracy.
If, for instance, you are asked why Hitler came to power, you must define what this process of coming to power consisted of. In rare circumstances, a few sentences of narrative may form part of the evidence cited in support of a point, but the essay as a whole should be organised according to a logical structure in which each paragraph functions as a premise in the argument. You should always avoid introducing new information or evidence in a conclusion.
Be creative with your research , looking in a variety of places. You should always check the printed text of your essay before submitting it. You may also find our page on writing for history to be useful. There are, however, limits to the field of possible solutions, since they must fit in with 'the evidence'. You should consider the merits of a variety of responses.