Generating ideas for your essay

Your search for relevant information for your essay will undoubtedly generate a mass of material and so it is essential that you develop concise note taking skills. A good place to start is to make a document on your computer just for source material, but divide it into the parts of your essay (for example, if you are writing a dissertation, you may wish to include sections such as introduction, background, methodology, literature review, evidence, conclusion and recommendations). Into this, copy all good sections, quotes, statistics and other useful source material that you find, making sure that you note where you found each piece of information. Each source can be placed into the section (introduction, conclusion etc) where you are most likely to use it. This will give you a rough framework for when you begin writing and will help you form a direction of where your essay is likely to go, based on your findings.

Some key points to bear in mind when taking notes for your essay are as follows:

  • Write down anything you find that is good - and where you found it (including page numbers and search terms so that you can repeat your search if needs be). Don't depend on your memory!
  • If you are writing a balanced or comparitive argument, make sure your source document has both a 'for' and 'against' section so you can find appropriate material for both sides of your debate.

As you read and note sources, you may find that ideas and questions come to you which you may want to address later. Add a box to your source document for these so you can clearly distinguish them from other people's material.

When you come to analyse what you have found, take great care not to simply summarise the source material (i.e. Brown says that "MMR is absolutely safe and there is no evidence to the contrary" whereas Smith says that MMR is an "untested and dangerous vaccination". An essay which merely summarises other people's thoughts without analysing each opinion or finding will score very little marks. You need to develop your own arguments and use other people's findings and opinions to support them.

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