Essay-writing skills

The European World
23rd October 2014
Essay-writing skills
How do I select a question?
Questions on the European World website in two places:
o LECTURE AND SEMINAR PROGRAMME -> seminar topic page, e.g. Daily life in Early
Modern Europe -> top of the page
and Economy, Religion, Culture and Politics
Choose a topic that interests you – you will enjoy the research process more and think about
the question in greater depth!
Choose a topic that you have recently studied – if you already have some grounding in it, you
can read further into the heart of the matter. Save later themes for later essays.
When choosing all three questions, aim to cover as many of the themes in the course as
possible – the course is 100% exam-assessed, so variety will maximise your ability to address
questions in the exam.
So what? When choosing a question think about why the question is important; why did the
module convenor set this as a question? What is significant about this question?
It is acceptable to reuse essay material in the exam.
Do not answer questions on topics covered in other modules. You may not be allowed to
answer specific questions in the exam that reflect any module overlap.
You have the option of creating your own questions, with the permission and assistance of
your seminar tutor.
If still in doubt when selecting a question, ask your tutor for advice!
How do I construct a bibliography?
Technical issues –
 At least six, though generally between five and ten secondary and primary sources.
 Citing parts from the European World course book is generally not deemed an acceptable
secondary source- it is an outline rather than an intensive study.
 Primary sources are defined as either visual or textual pieces of evidence that were born in
the period you are studying, use those you have engaged with in your seminars!
Selecting material –
 Course book - Each section is accompanied by a list of useful primary sources, secondary
literature, some web resources, and questions to think about your essay titles in a broader
 European World website –under ‘Further resources -> Further topics and reading’.
 Library search engines –Encore – if you go onto the Warwick library webcat, you will see
‘Encore’ available as a search engine - try keyword searches to cover a wide range of
academic journals (including Ingenta Connect, JSTOR, Project Muse) and online catalogues
such as COPAC, Google Scholar and Google Books.
 Oxford Bibliographies – available through Warwick Library website
 Looking around classmarks –When you look up a classmark in the library for a specific book,
do browse the surrounding shelf titles.
 Country and theme-specific bibliographies: BBIH,
Formatting –
 Unlike footnotes, a bibliography is ordered in alphabetical order by author/title name, rather
than by numbers or order of appearance within the essay.
The European World
23rd October 2014
Please consult the Student Handbook available of the History Department website – all the
information relating to bibliographies is on page 47 – to ensure that your referencing is
How do I structure my essay?
answer the question - the object of the undergraduate essay is application not regurgitation
no single correct structure, but all deal with the same considerations
introduction must cover:
o context - historical and historiographical
o scope - what are you going to do?
o approach - how are you going to do it?
o identify and defuse problematic terms
o one point per paragraph
o privilege analysis over narrative
o historiographical context
o add nothing new
o summarise each paragraph in one sentence
o overall conclusion incl. historiography
Historiography- ‘concepts, theoretical or historiographical perspectives or methodological
Historiography generally refers to two things: a history of “history”, and a process of reflection upon
how history has been and is written (that is- what concepts, theories and methodologies are
employed). You will find explicit discussion of it in the introductions of most academic books, and at
the start of many journal articles. But more importantly, you can carefully read a work and make your
own judgement as to what approach has been taken.
2:1- ‘competent manipulation’
 Paraphrase (don’t quote) the arguments of other historians.
 Demonstrate an awareness of how historians have approached the topic:
o If there is a historiographical debate, cover both sides.
o If the approaches taken have changed over time, explain how.
 Tell, and show, us that your opinion matches or differs from a / several other historians.
1st- ‘critical analysis’ (this is meant to be difficult)
 Explain why your opinion matches or differs from that of other historians.
 Analyse the approach(es) historians have taken to the topic: what are its strengths &
weaknesses, why was it taken, what questions does it (not) ask?
 Situate your own work- what approach have you taken? How is this similar / different to
existing and past approaches?
 For a high first: why is your approach better, what can it tell us that we don’t know already,
and why does that matter?