Essay-writing skills

The European World
October 2015
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?
What to include:
A second year 2000 word essay should aim to include at least ten sources, which can be a
mixture of both primary and secondary.
 Primary sources are defined as either visual or textual pieces of evidence that were
produced in the period that you are studying.
 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.
Unlike footnotes, a bibliography is ordered alphabetically, by author’s surname, and not by
numbers or order of appearance within the essay.
 Make sure that the bibliography is clearly separated from the main essay, by dividing it with
the title ‘Bibliography’ and starting it on a new page.
 If using primary sources, divide these from your secondary sources by using sub-headings;
when using sub-headings ‘primary sources’ should be placed before ‘secondary sources’.
 Consult the Student Handbook available on the History Department website – all the
information relating to bibliographies is on page 68 – to ensure that your referencing is
correct. Whereas the Undergraduate Style Guide is on pages 62-71.
Selecting Material:
 Your first point of call should be the European World website, where for each week there is
a large collection of recommended reading.
The European World
October 2015
Each section of the course book is accompanied by a list of useful primary sources,
secondary literature, web resources, and questions that will help you to think about your
essay titles in a broader sense.
Look at what the leading scholars in your essay’s topic are referencing in their work, and find
these sources if you believe them to be relevant and useful.
Research broadly: type keywords into Encore, Google Scholar, JSTOR etc, and see what you
Keep in mind, that you will be expected to include a variety of sources: monographs, journal
articles and edited collections.
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?