ESSAY WRITING 3 Research Gather together information you already have Assemble in front of you all lecture notes and hand-outs relating to your essay topic. Read over these first of all, highlighting points that will be useful to you in answering your essay title. Be aware that some points will not be relevant. You might find a handful of highlighter pens useful at this stage. Select one colour to highlight any points relating to each particular section of your outline plan. Collect your reading material. If you are a slow or struggling reader, it‟s a good idea to aim to read only the most essential texts at first. If the length of a recommended reading list looks unmanageable, your academic tutors should be able to point out the texts most relevant to the particular essay title you have chosen, and these must be read with particular care. Make ease and enjoyment your priority Once you have collected your reading materials, decide which of these look most interesting or reader-friendly. This will help you become more easily engaged with the task, establish a general understanding of the subject matter and feel more familiar with the core ideas and vocabulary. As you grow in confidence about the essay task as a whole, subsequent reading of the harder or less appealing reading materials should seem less daunting. Deciding which essential reading texts are most readable is entirely down to you. You may prefer looking at images or diagrams first of all, reading the shortest texts or the work of a particular author who writes clearly and concisely. Personalise the texts Photocopying key parts of a text allows you to enlarge the print, highlight key points and useful quotes and make jottings on the margins. Copying onto larger paper provides space around the text to make your own notes. Electronic texts offer the same and additional advantages. Once copied onto a word document, you can modify the format to suit your particular needs: enlarging or changing the typeface, altering the colour of the text or the background, widening the line-spacing and so on. Adapting the format in these ways can help you to feel more comfortable and „in control‟ of the text you are reading. Be an active reader Keep your essay title in front of you at all times and a pen in your hand, so that as you read you are actively looking for relevant information. Help yourself to stay active by first of all writing down a few specific questions about what are you looking for in this particular text. Is it general background reading? Is it a search for a definition of a theory? Is it a way of confirming or reinforcing your understanding of a particular idea? Browse First of all, flick through or browse over the text you are about to read, to get familiar with the layout. Books that offer a glossary, a detailed contents page and headings within chapters can be especially helpful in allowing you to hone in on the pages most worth reading for the purposes of your essay. Scan reading Scanning is a way of finding a very specific piece of information such as the correct spelling of a publication or a clear definition of a particular theory. Scanning involves letting your eyes move swiftly across a text without taking in the meaning, in search of a key word or phrase. Highlight the word or phrase when you spot it, then go back to the paragraphs where the word is used and read just these parts, noting down what you find that is useful. Indexes support this strategy by providing quick access to the page numbers where a particular word or name is referred to. Skim reading Skimming is a way of getting an overview of a text, whether it be a chapter, an article or a whole book. Skimming will help you decide which parts - if any - will be useful for you to read in detail. Try the following routine: 1. If you are dealing with a whole book, start by reading the contents page. Decide from the titles of each section or chapter which look most useful to you and select one of these to tackle first of all. 2. Read the abstract or chapter summary if there is one. 3. Read all the section headings within the text if there are any. 4. Read the first paragraph of the text 5. Read the last paragraph of the text 6. Read the first sentence of every paragraph in the text. You should now have an overview of what the text is about. Read relevant parts or the whole in detail If you think the whole text (chapter, book or article) looks like worthwhile reading, go back and read each paragraph in order. Alternatively, go back and read only the paragraphs that looked useful to you when you skimmed the text. Stay active Keep a pencil and highlighter pens ready to hand and highlight or jot around any useful points as you read. (Use post-it notes instead if the text is not your own copy!) Remember, active reading is key, so keep those specific questions in mind as you read or - better still – keep them on paper in front of you to remind you of your purpose! Go back over the text, reviewing what you have highlighted, one paragraph at a time. Recording your findings For each reading source, keep the notes together on a separate document or sheet of paper, clearly headed with the reference details (see examples below). This should help you retrieve your points and quotes easily when you come to write your essay. Example: Theories of Learning (2003) Smith L & Young R Hayward Press: London Authors argue that.... (Chapter 2, p34) Authors cite person X: “quote” (Chapter 3 p45) Theory X is criticised as….. (Chapter 3 p47) Argument supporting X:……. (Chapter 3 p48) Study Skills (1999) Johson & Jones, Penguin, London Studies by X shows…. (Chapter 6, p22) Argument supporting Y is that…. (Chapter 7, p3) Alternatively, if you have a clear outline plan for your essay, you can save time later at the writing stage by sorting reference material from all your reading sources directly onto separate sheets corresponding to different sections of the essay. Example: Section 1 Theory X “xxxx” Smith p.23 xxxxxxx Harris p.223 xxxxxxx Anderton p.413 Section 2 Counter-Theories xxxxx Mortimer p.85 xxxxxx Smith p.98 Section 3 Alternatives “xxxxxx” Smith p. 122 xxxxxxx Johnson p.6 Conclusion Solutions Xxxxxxx Mortimer p. 108 Further areas of Study Smith p.277 xxxxx Consolidate and Refine Repeat these reading and recording techniques for every text you read. And, of course, adapt them to suit your own preferences or needs. As you develop and refine a research routine of your own, the process will begin to feel natural. You should start to find that your research notes are wellorganised and ready for use. That way the essay writing stage should be much easier. Tackling further reading Once you have read and made notes from essential reading material, you may have time to move on to heavier, less appealing texts. Remember to browse over them first of all and to use the skimming and scanning techniques to check if they are still useful or relevant to your essay. Improve your vocabulary and reading comprehension Compile a notebook of definitions or vocabulary relating to your subject. For each word you list, quote a phrase or sentence containing the word from an academic text that clearly demonstrates how to use it well. This will come in handy for future essays.