In many subjects, you may be given only broad indications of suggested areas for work, together with bibliographies. In this case, the topic should be formulated as a question, hypothesis, problem, or tentative argument. In first-year subjects, in particular, you will usually be given a bibliography to accompany the question you have chosen. You are expected to do all of this reading. At other times, you will be asked to construct your own reading list. In this case, you should get the habit of using as many reference books and bibliographies as possible to be sure that you have also combed secondary works for further sources, both secondary and primary,and for a better understanding of your topic.
The latest edition is the 16th edition. There is a step-by-step guide on the Chicago Manual of Style Online web page. Please use the tabs towards the top of the page. Taking notes is an art in itself. A good essay cannot be written from scrappy or unsystematic notes. Each writer, according to his or her subject, purpose and temperament will evolve an appropriate system of note-taking, but the following principles apply to most undergraduate essays. A note is always taken for a purpose and the organisation of a set of notes should reflect the purpose for which they are taken.
From the beginning of a project you should be selecting the information relevant to your question and indicating, by headings, marginal notes or a simple filing system, how each piece of information relates to the general topic. It is important to make your own notes, for in doing so you begin to think actively about the material, while piles of photocopies remain undigested. Well-organised notes in which you write out what you found useful in each text will put you half way to a good essay!
Be selective about what you do photocopy and annotate your copies as soon as possible after copying. Before you begin to take notes, you should spend a few moments sizing up the book or article: scanning the table of contents, index and preface, and making a preliminary assessment of its relevance to your topic. Whatever other notes you take from the source, be sure first to take the full bibliographical details - author, full title, number of volumes, date and place of publication, publisher, etc.
Above all, don't forget to note down the relevant page numbers as you make notes; there is nothing more annoying than to finish writing your essay and then to discover that you forgot to note the date or the page number of one of your references. Learn to vary your reading speed and the detail of your note-taking.
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Some books merit only scanning; some have chapters that deserve closer study; some important texts will need to be read attentively more than once. You may read an introductory text to familiarise yourself with a subject and take no notes beyond the title and a brief summary. Another source may have just a nugget or two of useful information that you will carefully record. Remember that if you own a book yourself, or can easily retrieve it for further study, it may be sensible to summarise only the main points and note the location of quotations or detailed information for possible later reference.
No piece of information can be considered apart from its context, and the purpose of making such a summary of a book or article is to provide a clear record of the writer's. Because such a summary is likely to run beyond a paragraph or two, many researchers find it easiest to make this kind of note either in a notebook or, preferably, on separate sheets of paper which can be held in a simple filing system.
Sometimes these will consist of quotations or summaries from primary sources or passages of primary source material quoted in secondary sources. With most research essays you will find it useful to take notes on separate cards or pieces of paper, so that each new source, idea, or fact may be consulted independently of all others. In this way, you will be able to digest the information yourself and not blindly copy the authors you are reading. Note-taking should be an active and critical task.
Develop the habit of writing down the ideas that come to you in the course of your reading. Either use 'reminder cards' which may be inserted at the relevant place in your file of notes being sure, of course, to distinguish your own thoughts clearly from those of your sources or use a separate 'ideas' notebook. These will include suggestions about how your argument might be developed and documented.
Remember that basic research is only the first stage of essay work; the most important part comes when you put your notes into some sort of order, think about the question, and write the essay.
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Always try to allow enough time to do this properly. Finish the basic research at least a week before the essay is due. Allow yourself enough time to write more than one draft, to check points that arise in the course of writing, and to polish your final draft. To get your argument clear in your mind and to avoid unconscious plagiarism see the important section under this heading below , it is sometimes useful first to jot down the main points you wish to cover; second, to write up a detailed plan divided into two, three or four main sections with the main points listed for each section; and third, to write as full a brief draft as you can without any reference to your notes.
This can then be developed, filled out and modified into the complete essay, incorporating your evidence. We are often asked if expression 'will count'. The answer is that a good argument is necessarily one that you express with clarity and forcefulness. For the reader, your writing is your thought.
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Essays should observe normal standards of written English. Good writing requires correct spelling and the correct use of words. Use a dictionary frequently to check spelling, meaning and usage. Strive for simplicity and clarity above all. A short and very useful guide that will improve anyone's prose is William Strunk Jr. If you do not understand the need for clear expression of your ideas, read George Orwell's essay, 'Politics and the English Language', which may be found in Orwell, Inside the Whale and Other Essays Penguin, Harmondsworth, The final authority on style is H.
Burchfield Oxford University Press, Fowler is an indispensable aid to serious writing. Virtually every word that may be misused has an entry. There are as well many general entries for principles of grammar and usage. In addition to a style manual, we recommend that you purchase, read, and consult regularly a good essay writing guide. Here is a list of useful guides you can obtain at the University Library or many bookshops. Academic Skills is the part of the University which provides advice and guidance to students in writing and studying.
It offers brochures and workshops as well as individual counselling. Make use of this resource to improve your essay writing. A generalisation alone will not convince anyone; it requires supporting evidence and arguments. A note, on its own, is not proof: it tells the reader where to go to check the source of your statement, but the paper itself must make clear to the reader why you argue as you do. An important part of historical analysis is to put the source in its context.
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You should always be aware of who the writer or speaker is and of the circumstances in which he or she writes or speaks. This, of course, does not require you to supply a biography of each author as he or she appears, but where identity of the source bears closely upon its value as evidence, you should explicitly take account of this in your interpretation. As you make the effort to prove your points, they will gain weight.
Your first, tentative formulation of a point will lead you to search for supporting or contradicting evidence.
You may find the idea contradicted and discard it in favour of another; or it may be strengthened and developed as you work it out. One such coherent idea, or set or ideas, should serve as the basis of the essay. The essay will then be the consistent exposition of an idea, proceeding logically and never leaving the reader in the lurch.
If you do not know what a paragraph contributes to your argument, leave it out. Use quotations sparingly.
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Weaving a short phrase into your text, especially if it is characteristic or powerful, is the best way to quote. Quotations are useful for purposes of illustration, but generally do not constitute proof, which will be found in the construction you give of the evidence.
The most frequent justification for quoting is that the way in which something, usually from a primary source, is said constitutes part of your evidence; how a source articulates a point is often as important as what it articulates. In such cases, you will do best to give your quotation down to the essential position you wish to analyse and to follow it closely with analysis.
Avoid long slabs of quotations. Never assume that the quotation makes its point by itself, without your analysis. Resist the temptation to quote frequently or at length: an essay which consists of long quotations linked by short passages of connection prose wearies the reader and defeats its main purpose, which is to convey the writer's own thoughts on the subject.
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Sometimes you may quote especially important phrases from secondary sources, but remember that quoting historians or other secondary sources does not provide evidence for your arguments. Errors that may seem erroneous to the reader should be indicated by [ sic ] Latin for thus, that is, 'it really is so' in square brackets, eg "Gibbon's erudition are [ sic ] amazing.
Surround any words interpolated in a quotation with square brackets , not round , eg "Many men's cynicism amuses; Voltaire's astonishes" could be quoted thus: "Voltaire's [cynicism] astonishes.
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