An Essay concerning Humane Understanding in four books (1690) by John Locke (1632-1704) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)By Lynne Evans
Sometimes students feel that they have done a lot of research but this is not reflected in their grades for writing an essay. There are many reasons for this, which this article attempts to explain.
First of all there is so much information on the Internet that it can be confusing. It is not enough to simply copy what someone has said and use this as an authoritative statement in your own work. Just because it has been said by someone doesn't make it absolutely true. You need to look for the facts behind the statement, is it backed up with solid evidence? If not, perhaps your "authority" isn't a good one.
When you look up information remember to keep a record of the author, date, title and name of publication and the date you retrieved the information if you got it online. If you can't give this information then you shouldn't use a quotation from that source. You need to check and double-check 'facts' found online.
Don't simply rely on the information in the Internet. Don't ignore it but look into what s available and get an overview of your subject before you go to the library and dig out the academic books that are on your reading list. The Internet is a very good source of information but should not be your only source.
You need to quote from a variety of sources not from only one or two academic texts. Find articles written by well-known academics in your field, and look through new journals in the library to ensure that you have the latest information.
While there are some academic theories which have stood the test of time and need quoting, there are others which have fallen into disfavor in academic circles, so if you quote from older texts, you need to know if they are relevant to current thinking or not. If you wish to give examples of ideas and theories that have fallen by the wayside, then it is useful to quote some, but not to rely on outdated texts for your essay. Too many quotations from one or two sources will appear unoriginal.
You need to keep detailed notes, and remember that you are not only required to write one essay, there will be others, so make detailed notes that will assist you in other writing. This will save you time on research for your next assignments.
In academic writing you have to produce rather a lot of evidence with which to persuade your readers that your work is of merit. This is why thorough research and detailed bibliographies are necessary. It isn't enough to have a theory and to write about it, if there is not a substantial body of evidence to support your brilliant theory, it will not be well-received by your tutor.
You have to argue your point and be able to refute the counter-arguments through quotations from other respected academics in your field.
Lastly, remember not to use "I" or "you" but the impersonal third person "one" in academic writing. You are writing for a formal audience so your language should be formal.
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