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Essays are the most commonly assigned form of writing at University and are central to the academic process. Through essays, scholars communicate with one another; in them, professors and students present data to one another and explain fresh ways of thinking about ideas or events.

Professors assign essays to you because they want to give you the chance to think, in a deep and prolonged manner, about a topic. They want you to examine a historical question, create a unique and interesting response to that question, and use sound historical evidence to prove that reaction.

While they can take many forms and range in length from one page to thirty or more pages, academic essays share a set of central characteristics. Most significantly, all essays are made up of two basic elements—an argument and evidence—and they generally all go after a similar writing structure.

Very first, let us consider what we mean by the idea that essays are made up of arguments and evidence.

The arguments within the essay are your interpretations of a given topic or response to a question.

Take, for example, an essay assessing the influence of Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis; your argument would be YOUR assessment of what that influence was. For example: Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s indecisiveness during the Cuban Missile Crisis not only bruised his chances of re-election but also hurt Canada’s picture abroad.

Your arguments are summarized in a clear thesis statement that is introduced at the beginning of the essay. For more information on how to write a strong thesis statement, please see the module entitled Constructing an Argument .

The evidence in an essay is the information and examples that you use to prove to the reader that your argument is coaxing.

Evidence can take the form of historical events, figures, concepts, pictures, or historical documents or literature that are relevant to the argument that you are making.

The evidence is generally introduced in the figure of your essay. In presenting it, you need not only to give the example, paraphrase, or quotation, but also explain how it illustrates the arguments that you are making.

Whether they are two pages in length or fifteen, most essays go after a similar structure.

Essays always begin with a clear introduction. The introduction sets up the historical question, presents a clear thesis to the reader, and establishes the scope of the essay–the time period, places, and subjects discussed in the essay.

In a brief paper, the introduction is one paragraph in length. In a longer paper (over ten pages), it could be two or three paragraphs in length. Introductions will be covered in more detail later in this module.

Following the introduction, the essay contains bod paragraphs. These paragraphs systematically, and in a logical order, develop and prove each argument. In the figure paragraphs, you present and explain the evidence that supports your thesis.

There is no set number of assets paragraphs for an essay (you are NO LONGER writing only five-paragraph essays). Use as many paragraphs as you need to develop the arguments within your thesis.

The essay finishes with a clear conclusion. The conclusion brings together the points made in the essay and draws out their larger significance.

In a brief paper, the conclusion is one paragraph in length. In a longer paper (over ten pages), it could be two or three paragraphs in length. Conclusions will be covered in more detail later in this module.

The Building Blocks of Essays: Paragraphs

Whether you are writing the introduction or the figure of your essay, you will always be writing paragraphs. Indeed, the paragraph is the most basic building block of the essay. It is essential, then, for you to familiarize yourself with how a good, clear paragraph is constructed.

What is a good paragraph?

A good paragraph is a group of sentences that is unified around ONE central point.

This point is voiced clearly in a topic sentence.

This point is then developed in the paragraph through details, examples, and explanations.

A good paragraph is like a mini-essay; it commences with a clear topic sentence and develops the point in that sentence through examples and discussion.

Guidelines for Writing Good Paragraphs

Make sure that you and your reader are clear on the ONE main point that the paragraph is attempting to make.

In general, paragraphs in an essay should be about 150-200 words. Avoid overly long paragraphs as they usually cover more than one main point and leave your reader confused. Don’t be afraid to begin a fresh paragraph!

Avoid one or two sentence paragraphs.

Transitions are words or phrases that connect ideas and/or demonstrate the relationship inbetween them. Use transitions to connect the sentences within your paragraphs. Examples of transitional words and phrases include: • Nevertheless • However • Therefore • In addition • As a result • Identically significant

You can also use transitional statements at the beginning and/or end of paragraphs to connect the paragraph to the paragraphs before or after as well as to your thesis

Of all the different paragraphs, many people consider introductions the most difficult to write. This is because the introduction must grab the reader’s attention and provide an absolutely clear, but adequately concise explanation of the paper’s main point. In a shorter paper, the introduction will only be one paragraph. In a longer paper, it could be lengthier and involve numerous paragraphs.

Structure of the Introduction

  1. Grab the reader’s attention and introduce the historical question the paper will explore.
  2. Clearly explain the scope of the essay – the time period, places, and subjects discussed in the essay.
  3. Give basic background if needed and explain the historical setting.
  4. State thesis and give an overview of main points or categories of evidence.
  5. You can also use your introduction to introduce your main primary sources, if used, historiography, or theoretical framework.

Good Ideas for the Introduction

Begin with a quotation and demonstrate its relevance

Or, begin with a story, example, or anecdote

Or, begin with a paradox or apparent contradiction

Or, emphasize the difference inbetween your evidence or interpretation and the arguments of other scholars

Always provide background information and establish the historical setting if necessary

Always clearly state your thesis and provide a road map to your reader of what is to come

What to Avoid in the Introduction

Using dictionary definitions

Echoing the instructor’s question exactly

Using inflated declaration or a cliché (Across human history; The more things switch, the more they stay the same)

Apologizing for the deficiencies in the paper

Quoting extensively – the words and ideas should be your own

Including gratuitous individual preambles (such as long digressions about your private feelings about a topic).

Like the introduction, the conclusion can be a challenging paragraph to write. This is because the conclusion must review the main points without being repetitive or boring.

Structure of the Conclusion

Sum up and review your main points.

Re-examine your thesis in light of everything that you have proven

Point toward the larger significance of your ideas. If your readers now believe everything in your thesis, what do they now know and why is it significant? In other words, so what?

Good Ideas for Conclusions

If your essay began with a question, include the reaction in your conclusion

Use a brief, significant quotation or anecdote that summarizes the main intent of the essay

If your essay pointed out a problem, suggest solutions

Widen the perspective of what you have discussed; in light of your thesis, what does your reader now know about a given time period?

What to Avoid in the Conclusion

The phrase, “In conclusion, I have shown that…”

Recopying your topic sentences or introduction exactly

Putting in minor details or afterthoughts

Using inflated declarations or cliché

Apologizing for what you failed to do in the essay

Going off in an entirely fresh or unrelated direction

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The Process of Writing a Research Paper

Below, you will find a diagram that lays out the steps involved in writing a research paper. Not remarkably, you will notice one word that is repeated again and again: research. This is because at each stage of your work — from choosing a topic to drafting your paper — you will likely need to do research. This module will discuss the process of writing a research paper as well as how to choose and develop a topic for a research paper.

Preliminary research on areas of interest

Proceed with preliminary research on your chosen topic

Narrow the Topic

Find Secondary Sources and Primary Sources (if suitable)

Take Notes on Sources

Determine the historical problems or questions raised by the sources

Thesis Question and Tentative Thesis

Find More Research to Support Thesis if Necessary

Research any gaps in outline

The very first section of the previous diagram involves the steps needed to choose and develop your topic. Choosing a topic may seem like an effortless step, but it should be done with care. You will be spending a superb deal of time and effort on the paper; you will want to make sure that it is of interest to you. Further, some topics lend themselves to the creation of a clear thesis and outline, and some do not. Make sure that you develop a topic that permits you to research and write a good paper.

The very first step in choosing a topic is to conduct some preliminary research. Your reading at this stage does not need to be in-depth or extensive. You simply need to familiarize yourself enough with the sources on the topic to know whether it will work for you. If there are suggested readings for the topic, begin by examining them. They will provide you with a good overview of the topic. If there is a textbook for the course, see if it contains any information on the topic. As you do this reading, determine whether the topic you are considering is a good one.

Working with an Assigned Topic

In many history courses you will be provided with a list of topics to choose from. You will still need to work with your assigned topic to ensure that it provides you with ample chance to write a good paper.

Make sure that you understand the topic. Define all of the words in the assignment sheet.

Break the question up into smaller parts and consider what you will need to research in order to reaction each part.

Understand why it is being assigned. What themes of the course does it reflect? What related topics have been discussed?

Determine whether you need to narrow your topic. Can you cover it in its entirety? Or, do you need to concentrate on a specific time period, event, or group of people to make sure that it is manageable?

If you do not know how to commence working with an assigned topic, attempt imagining or brainstorming different ways to reaction the question.

If the assignment is phrased as a topic, such as “religion and the Black Death,” attempt rephrasing it as a question: “How did religion form reactions to the Black Death?”

If you still have trouble getting began, see your seminar leader or the Academic Abilities Centre for advice and guidance

In some courses, finding a good topic for your paper is part of the assignment. At times, you may be given only a general topic or text to work with, such as film and history, terror in world history, World War I, or the Crusades. Your job is to find a good, focused topic.

You may want to begin by examining your syllabus and course materials. Are there topics or readings that you found particularly interesting? Was there a lecture that raised questions that you found particularly compelling? Were there significant questions posed in seminar that were left unanswered? Any of these can be fertile ground for a good topic.

It is suitable for the course and addresses the question or essay guidelines. Make sure to read the requirements cautiously. Is there a theme (such as terror) that your topic should be clearly related to? Is there a time period that you need to stay within?

It is feasible to research or response given the materials that you have to work with. Make sure that there are enough scholarly sources that you will have access to in order to write a good paper. You may have a wonderful idea in mind, but unless there are available scholarly sources that cover it, your idea will not be a good paper topic.

It is manageable in scope. It can be adequately dealt with in the time and space that you have. It would be unlikely, for example, to write a ten-page paper on the battles of WWI; indeed, historians have written entire books on the topic. You will need to narrow your topic in order to make it manageable, perhaps by examining one battle in depth or exploring two or three battles in relation to one another.

It is challenging andpermitsyou to suggest a unique perspective, analysis, or interpretation. Reminisce that your paper will need a thesis that presents an argument. A good topic presents a question, theme, or problem that you can analyze and formulate into a thesis. For example, “The Battle of Ypres” is not a paper topic that asks a question or invites analysis. In contrast, the topic, “The Influence of Fresh Military Technology on the Battle of Ypres,” permits you to make an assessment and create a thesis.

It is interesting to you!

An Example of a Narrowed Topic

What goes after is an example of the process by which a student might narrow his or her topic. Notice that the student uses questions to help determine what he or she indeed wants to write a paper on.

Slavery (This is too broad. When? Where?)

Slavery in the Americas in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (This is still too broad. Where exactly do you want to concentrate on?)

Slavery in the southern United States (What themes or events are you interested in?)

Marionette revolts in the southern United States (All of them?)

The Stono Rebellion of 1739 in South Carolina (What interests you about this rebellion?)

Narrowed Topic: How successful was the Stono Rebellion and how did it form the marionette system inSouth Carolina?

Once you have lodged on a good, narrowed topic you are ready to proceed with your research. Before you rush to the library to find sources, however, take a bit of time to set a research agenda. Read the essay instructions cautiously. Are there requirements that you must go after in terms of numbers and types of sources? Analyze your topic cautiously. Break it down into smaller sections. What information do you need to find for each section?

You will also need a plan for organizing your research. As you find sources, do a quick evaluation of them to see if you think they will be helpful to you. If they seem useful, take time to organize your sources by category or topic. Eventually, know when to stop researching! It is often lighter to look for sources than actually to read them. Avoid this by periodically stopping the search process and embarking to take notes.

A historiography is a summary of the historical writings on a particular topic – the history of the marionette trade, or the history of the French Revolution, for example. It sets out in broad terms the range of debate and approaches to the topic. It identifies the major thinkers and arguments, and establishes connections inbetween them. If there have been major switches in the way a particular topic has been approached over time, the historiography identifies them.

In writing on a topic, historians essentially come in into a dialogue with those who have written on the topic before. A historiography sets out the main points of that discussion, and serves to situate the author’s work within this larger context. This adds authority and legitimacy to a history essay as it confirms the author’s familiarity with his or her topic, and coerces the author to acknowledge and explain disagreements with others. It also serves to bring the reader up-to-date on the most significant works and debates on the topic.

How to Write a Historiography?

The most significant step in writing a historiography is to become familiar with the history of your topic in broad terms. A good historiography is written from a position of authority on a topic.

A historiography is best situated early on in an essay, preferably in the introduction in order to familiarize the reader with the topic and to set out the scope of previous work in broad terms.

Your historiography should establish:

  • the major thinkers on the topic, and
  • their main arguments (or theses).

Your historiography may also explain:

  • the perspective from which the authors are writing (e.g. Marxist, feminist, etc.)
  • the type of history they have written (e.g. political, social, cultural, economic, etc.)
  • A good historiography will present this information in a way that shows the connections inbetween these major works. For example, does one work react to an argument set out in another? Does it expand on that argument or disagree with it? A good historiography will also situate the author’s work within the dialogue, explaining whether his or her thesis builds on or rejects the work that has come before.

    The following example is from “Women on the Third Crusade,” by Helen Nicholson:

    With the modern interest in “putting women back into medieval history”, the role of women in crusading has received some attention. [This sentence identifies the scope of her inquiry and the perspective – she is situating her essay within a dialogue about the role of women in medieval history.] Yet historians disagree profoundly over the extent and nature of women’s involvement. For example, Ronald Finucane, noting the various accounts of women taking part in crusades, observed that “there are clear indications that women sometimes took a more active part in the fighting.” [Here she identifies a major argument in the role of women in crusades, clearly identifying the author’s thesis.] However, Maureen Purcell, while admitting that women took part in crusades, denied emphatically that they were true crusaders, crucesignata. except for a brief period in the 2nd half of the thirteenth century. When they accompanied a crusade, they did so as pilgrims rather than as crusaders, and they certainly did not fight. [Here Nicholson identifies an significant counter-argument, explaining where the two authors agree and disagree.] James Brundage commented on the various roles women played in the armies of the Very first Crusade, supporting the fighting guys with food and water, encouragement and prayer. He noted that some women were killed in act, but not that they actually took an active role in the fighting. [This author does not address the debate directly, but adds extra information to the discussion.] James Powell studied the role of women in the Fifth Crusade, and argues that women certainly did take the cross and went in person “to fulfill their vows by carrying on significant functions,” such as serving as guards in the camp, killing fugitives, and perhaps tending the sick and wounded. However, he was not sure whether they took part in the general fighting. [This author’s work suggests the question that Nicholson attempts to response in her essay.]

    So did women take part in the Third Crusade, and did they fight. Overall, it seems likely that women sometimes fought on crusade. [The author presents her thesis.]

    Nicholson, Helen. “Women on the Third Crusade.” In Journal of Medieval History 23, no. Four (1997): 335-349.

    The following example contains excerpts from the introduction to a chapter on marionette life in Peter Kolchin’s work entitled American Slavery, 1619 – 1877 .

    Until fairly recently, most historians of slavery paid far more attention to the behavior of the masters than to that of the marionette; subs, the vast majority of whom were illiterate and therefore left no written records, appeared in their works primarily as objects of white activity. Scholars differed in many of their evaluations of slavery – some portrayed it as benign, whereas others depicted it as harshly exploitative – but with the partial exception of a little number of black and Marxist scholars, they focused far more on what slavery did to the subs than what the gimps did themselves. [Kolchin sets out in broad terms the perspective from which most historians have written about slavery until recently.]

    During the very first half of the twentieth century, a major component of this treatment was often elementary racism, manifest in the belief that blacks were, at best, imitative of whites. Thus Ulrich B. Phillips, the era’s most celebrated and influential accomplished on slavery, combined a sophisticated portrait of the white planters’ life and behavior with crude passing generalizations about the life and behavior of their black victims. Noting that “the planters had a telling… that a negro was what a white man made him,” Phillips portrayed the plantation as a “school permanently training and controlling pupils who were in a backward state of civilization”; through this educational process the gimps “became largely standardized into the predominant plantation type.” … [Kolchin identifies a major writer on the topic and sets out his perspective and main arguments.]

    Kenneth M. Stampp’s “neo-abolitionist” book The Peculiar Institution (1956) differed sharply from Ulrich B. Phillips’s American Negro Slavery (1918) in its overall evaluation of slavery, its main subject remained the treatment – now the mis treatment – of marionettes. Stampp took the subs far more gravely than did Phillips, but the sources that Stampp relied upon – plantation records, letters and diaries of marionette owners, travel accounts written by Northern and European visitors who almost invariably stayed with white hosts – exposed more about the behavior and thought of the masters than of the victim, whom he portrayed as “culturally rootless people.” [Kolchin introduces another historian’s treatment to the material and compares it to the previous historian’s work.]

    The depiction of antebellum gimps as victims reached its peak in Stanley M. Elkins’s 1959 volume, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life. one of those infrequent historical works that not only excite intense controversy but also promote acute reversals of historical interpretation. …Elkins argued that the unusually harsh conditions faced by Southern marionettes produced a “closed” environment that stripped them of their native African culture, prevented the emergence among them of any meaningful social relations, and turned them into childlike “Sambos” who almost totally internalized the values of their masters. …

    Despite its ingenuity, the Elkins thesis soon came under withering attack from critics who blasted it as contrived, illogical, and unsupported by empirical evidence. … Research by scholars seeking to test the Elkins thesis provided enlargening evidence that antebellum victims lived not in a totally losed environment but rather in one that permitted the emergence of enormous multitude and permitted slsaves to pursue significant relationships with persons other than their masters, including those to be found in their families, churches, and communities. [Kolchin identifies this work as pivotal. He sets out Elkin’s thesis and the response to Elkins’ work.]

    Ironically, however, that thesis – and the controversy it provoked – played a major role in redirecting historical scholarship on slavery. As historians sought to rebut Elkins’s assertion of sub docility, they found it necessary to concentrate far more than they previously had on the marionettes as subjects in their own right rather than as objects of white treatment. … As the concentrate of historical attention shifted increasingly to the marionettes, historians found themselves coerced to exploit “fresh” kinds of historical sources, which had previously been little used, to shed light on the subs’ world. Scholars probed archaeological remains, analyzed black folklore, and toiled over statistical data culled from census reports and plantation records, but in their efforts to explore gimp thought and behavior they found two kinds of sources especially useful: autobiographies of former marionettes… and interviews with former subs… [Kolchin explains how Elkins’ thesis impacted the investigate of slavery, namely in a shift of concentrate and the use of previously unexamined sources.]

    … Albeit these scholars do not agree with one another in all particulars, the excellent majority of them have abandoned the victimization model in favor of an emphasis on the victims’ resiliency and autonomy. As I suggest below, I believe that some of these arguments for gimp autonomy have been overstated and eventually will be modified on the basis of future evidence. [Kolchin identifies the prevailing contemporary treatment to the explore of slavery and his position on the issue.]

    Kolchin, Peter. “Antebellum Slavery: Sub Life.” In American Slavery, 1619 – 1877. 133-138. Fresh York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

    Preparing for a Seminar Presentation

    I n many ways, preparing to make an oral presentation in a seminar is similar to preparing any other type of history assignment. Very first, you will need to read the instructions with excellent care. How long do you have to present? What do you need to cover? Do you need to provide the class with handouts or create a PowerPoint to accompany your presentation?

    Next, you must read your sources critically and analytically. If you are making a presentation on your own research paper, you should re-read it. What are your main arguments? What evidence is most interesting? Reminisce that you only have a brief time to speak: you need to concentrate on your most significant ideas and most significant research discoveries. If you are presenting and leading a discussion on a set of assigned readings, identify their thesis statements and how they are organized. Are you wooed by each work? How do they compare to one another or to other works that you have read in the course?

    Ultimately, you need to plan out your presentation in detail and write out your speaking notes. While some outstanding public speakers can stand and speak without planning what they are going to say, most people cannot. Indeed, most students who simply stand at the front of the room with their research paper or readings in arm and roll through them as they attempt to formulate their thoughts end up making a disorganized, rambling presentation that fails to do justice to the sources. You need to plan ahead so that you can highlight your best insights.

    What Kinds of Notes and Photos Should You Take to the Presentation?

    One of the keys to preparing a successful presentation is finding a system of making speaking notes that works for you. The purpose is to find a note system that is detailed enough to permit you to speak confidently while liberate enough to permit you to actually talk to your audience rather than simply read something to them.

    Some students choose to write out an entire “script” for their presentation that includes everything they want to say. This strategy works well for many people and gives them a sense of security and confidence. But beware: for some speakers, having a utter script leads to a less engaging talk. If you don’t practice your talk a good deal, you will end up with your head buried in your script stumbling each time that you miss a word.

    Other students choose to write their notes in brief bullet points. They then elaborate on these ideas while making their presentation. This style has the benefit of making your talk sound more natural and extemporaneous. But, again, beware. Without prep, you may end up simply reading off the bullet points and end up with a presentation that is not detailed enough or going into too much detail and ending up with a talk that is too long.

    Clearly there is no right or wrong way to take notes for your presentation. Either style can work so long as you prepare. So, take some time to consider which treatment would make you feel more comfy and leave yourself time to practice your talk.

    Photos and PowerPoint

    Audiences often appreciate having some sort of visuals as they listen to a presentation. As you prepare your talk, you may want to identify paintings, photographs, or drawings that could help demonstrate the ideas that you are talking about and keep your audience engaged. However, make sure to choose and discuss your pictures with care. Pictures need to be relevant to your topic and, generally, from the time period that you are discussing. Also, you should spend some time analyzing the photos, explaining how they illustrate the points that you are attempting to make. This will permit the pics to become a significant part of the talk rather than just a window dressing.

    You may wish to use PowerPoint to present pics and other lumps of information during your talk. PowerPoint can be an excellent way to provide your audience with key terms and dates as well as to go after the main points that you are presenting. Make sure, however, that you use the slips to present key points in a concise manner; avoid writing out your entire talk onto PowerPoint slips as this lessens the influence of your speaking.

    Presenting Your Own Research

    One of the most common presentation assignments, especially in a fourth-year course, is to present your research paper. This can be a daunting task. You have been working on your topic all year and have read so much about it. How do you explain your work to others in such a brief period of time? What do you concentrate on?

    Many professors will provide you with a model for your presentation, and if they do, go after it with care. If not, you will need to find your own way to organize your presentation. Below, we suggest one way to think of organizing a research presentation. Keep in mind that it is only one way; there are many other models that can lead to success.

    As in a paper, your audience needs an introduction to draw them into the presentation and give them a sense of what is to come. Here are some elements to include in the introduction:

  • A. Hook
    A hook is an interesting idea, example, or question that draws the listener into a topic. Commencing your talk with a hook is a superb way to get your audience’s attention and make them excited about what is to come. You could begin with an intriguing example or anecdote from your research or an interesting picture. After discussing your hook, explain how it typifies or exemplifies the issue that you will discuss in your talk.
  • B. Background and Research Question
    At some point in the introduction, you need to layout the time period, region, and topic that you have explored. You should also identify the question or issue that your paper investigates. What is it that your paper is attempting to accomplish?
  • C. Thesis and Organization
    You should clearly state the thesis of your research paper and give the listeners some sense of how it is organized. What topics do you examine as you develop your argument?
  • II. Historical Context and Historiography

    This section may or may not be necessary depending on the course. If your audience knows nothing of the time period or topic you are discussing, you may wish to provide some brief historical context. You may also wish to survey what other historians have said about your topic, highlighting areas of consensus or contention within the field. But, make sure to keep this section brief. Your concentrate should be on explaining your research and supporting your thesis.

    You will not be able to present your entire paper in a brief presentation. Instead, you will need to choose several of your best supporting examples, examples that clearly illustrate your thesis. In your presentation, you can provide a detailed description of each example and explain how it supports your argument.

    You conclusion should tie your ideas together, providing your audience with a concise review of your argument and how you have supported it. You should also comment on the significance of your argument. How does your research help us better understand a time period or issue? How does it compare to what other historians have said? Why is it significant?

    Often the class will be given time to ask you questions about your research. Listen cautiously as people ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question. Attempt to reaction questions directly and fully.

    Leading a Seminar Discussion

    Another common assignment is to lead the discussion on a particular week’s readings. Again, there is no one “right” way to lead a discussion. As you prepare, however, keep the following points in mind:

    Write questions that deal with the most significant themes and ideas within the readings. Your objective is to help your classmates come to understand a set of readings better. A question on a puny detail from one reading will likely not help reach this purpose. Instead ask questions that permit your peers to grapple with the major issues. From what perspective does the author write? How persuasive is his or her argument? How is evidence used? How does the work compare to others that you have read in the course?

    Pay attention to how you order your questions. Commence with more basic questions that can help the class to get into the discussion. What questions are the readings attempting to response? What arguments do they put forward? Kicking off with more concrete questions can help to invite participation. You can then budge toward broader and more comparative questions.

    Write open-ended questions. Questions that have effortless, “yes” or “no” answers do not invite discussion. Attempt to write questions that permit for many different ideas and opinions.

    Make sure that your questions are clear. Nothing kills a discussion like a question that your classmates don’t understand. Make sure that what you are asking is clearly and concisely worded. Break down multi-part questions (very first, 2nd, and third) into separate questions. If possible, ask your questions to a friend before you attend class.

    Don’t instantly response your own questions. It can be scary to put forward a question and then wait for a response. Some discussion leaders react to this fear by instantaneously answering their own questions. While their ideas can be good, by so quickly putting them out there, these leaders often fail to begin an actual discussion. Be patient; permit people time to formulate answers and participate. If responses still don’t go after, you may need to clarify your question or give a prompt to the section of the reading that you are referring to, but attempt not to provide an actual reaction yourself.

    Tips for Effective Public Speaking

    Practice, Practice, Practice

    Nothing is more significant to making a good presentation than practice. The very first duo of times that you read through your presentation you will likely journey over your words and identify places that are awkward or unclear. This is fairly normal. Practising permits you to build up confidence and to fix rough catches sight of before speaking before an audience. It also enables you to know your points well enough to actually talk to your audience rather than to simply read to them.

    Make sure to time yourself as you practice and adjust your talk to fit the course requirements.

    After practice, the 2nd most significant peak for making an effective presentation is to slow down. In casual conversation, we speak far swifter than we should during a formal presentation. And, when we get jumpy, we often speed up even more. Make a conscious effort to slow down so that your audience has time to understand and absorb what you are attempting to say.

    Don’t be a Walking Essay

    While presentations are formal, your speaker’s voice should be different from your writer’s voice. Long sentences may work well in an essay, but they can be hard for listeners to go after. You won’t have time to read everything in your essay; concentrate on the most significant points.

    Use Clear Wordy Cues

    Because your audience only gets to hear your presentation once, it is essential that you provide clear wordy cues to help them understand what you are discussing. Using a cue such as: “Now I will budge away from a discussion of ___ and budge toward an analysis of ____” signals to your audience that you are making a transition and helps them to concentrate on what is significant. When you provide a list, you may wish to use cues such as “very first,” “next,” and “eventually.”

    Smile and Love Yourself!

    The best way to succeed at public speaking is to attempt to love it. Think of the presentation less as a test and more as an chance to share what you have learned. Be enthusiastic about your work, and your own excitement will be contagious.

    As you read, write. Recording ideas and bibliographic information is, fairly simply, efficient. Hours of precious day-before-due-date time can be wasted relocating that all-important chunk of information essential to your argument or making one more journey to the library to obtain publication dates. Notetaking has other advantages as well. Through writing about a text, the reader becomes more engaged than when reading passively. The act of taking notes facilitates critical reading; it requests that you understand and evaluate, continually seeking content and argument relevant to a particular concentrate.

    Beginning to research by copying down bibliographic information may seem tedious, and pausing to paraphrase just at the moment when meaning becomes clear can be frustrating. Taking notes well, therefore, requires a method so meticulous, so ritualized, that the act of jotting information down becomes 2nd nature. The prizes, however, are excellent. Having detailed notes will help you write an essay that is well-documented, is clearly supported by evidence, and displays a thorough and analytical understanding of the subject.

    The notetaking method described in this module is based on the traditional pen-and-paper treatment. You may, of course, adapt it if you take notes electronically; to that end we suggest suggestions for electronic notetaking via the module.

    Purposeful Reading and Notetaking

    The research process involves continual oscillation inbetween thesis and discovery. As reading and research progress, you will revise and modify your research question and tentative thesis. At the same time, however, your research question and tentative thesis will provide direction for your reading and notetaking. Your objective should be plasticity without chaos: do investigate fresh paths of information, but guard against tangents that might take you totally off course. Never work without a research question in mind. Otherwise, texts take control of you, rather than the more desirable switch sides practice. Your thesis and outline can be revised and developed as you read, take notes, and write, but having them roughed out at this stage will give direction to your notetaking.

    The research process reaches forward to writing as well: the form and size of the finished essay must be considered continually so that the specific requirements of the writing task are met. As you take notes, therefore, keep an outline in mind or, even better, on paper or on your computer. Reminisce, the aim is not to gather a fine mass of notes but to gather notes directed to a particular end. Thinking about the various areas that must be explored to establish your argument should help you to know when you have reached the point of diminishing comebacks. Reminisce, too, that your essay has a finite length, so there is no excellent virtue in taking many more notes than you can hope to use. At the same time, do not skimp on space. Leave room to add comments, cross-refer to other notes, and so on.

    Either index cards or ordinary paper can be used for taking notes. Many people choose the card method, mainly because a set of note cards can be shuffled around and arranged into an outline neatly and without confusion. A 2nd good reason for using cards is that they can be filed lightly since they are all the same size and contain only one note each. Not everyone feels comfy, however, working within the limitations of a Three” x Five” space. If you choose the roominess of full-sized paper, use sheets of standard size so that you can keep them together. If using paper, you may wish to use different colour hi-lighters or post-it notes to identify materials relevant to different parts of your argument.

    You may choose, alternatively, to take notes electronically, using a desktop, laptop or similar device. The benefit of this method is the capability to keep your notes in one place, to store them in files with helpful names to identify themes, and to sort or search for information quickly and efficiently. But, as with all computer technology, you must recall to save often and create an electronic or hard-copy backup of your notes.

    R esearch Question: Write out your research question and the topics you think it should include on an index card or chunk of paper and post it above your desk so that it is always visible as you work. If you are working on a laptop in a multiplicity of locations, make a separate electronic file for your research question and always have it open while you work on your essay. This will help you to keep your research focused. Refer to the question often and revise it as necessary.

    Bibliographic Information: Before you take notes, write out the bibliographic information for the source, decently formatted, on its own card (see the module on footnoting and bibliographies for decent bibliographic format). If you are taking notes on a computer, make a separate file for bibliographic information. That way you can keep the entries organized alphabetically, and you will save yourself the trouble of later having to open several files to compile your bibliography.

    Notes: Before taking the note, write the page number at the top of the card, or in a column on the left arm side if you are using a sheet of paper or a computer. There are several different types of notes you will be taking: quotations, facts and figures, summaries or paraphrases, individual observations, and words or ideas that need clarification. If you are working with index cards, write each note on its own card. On a computer or sheet of paper, leave several lines inbetween each note to leave room for adding comments, and to make it effortless to see where one note completes and the next embarks.

    When to quote: In most history courses, while it is acceptable to use quotations from primary sources to support your argument, as long as the quotations are decently introduced, analyzed, and explained, you will be discouraged from quoting secondary sources extensively. Usually it is better to paraphrase quotations from secondary sources in your own words (with a note). Quoting from secondary sources should be done infrequently and with a specific purpose in mind. For example, you might use a quotation as a kicking off place for your argument or might quote an author’s exact words so that you can challenge them. In the case of primary source quotations, s ometimes the wording in a passage is so precise that it cannot be paraphrased without loss of meaning, or the stylistic qualities of the passage may request comment. Consider the example of Churchill’s World War II speech, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. ” 1 You might quote this passage, not to draw attention to its literal meaning, but to demonstrate that the manner in which Churchill voiced himself affected the public’s response to what he was telling.

    Quotation length: When quoting, the shorter the quotation, the better. Your own reading practice tells you that quotations must be succinct; reading nine or ten lines of quoted text is difficult and irritating. Usually, if you can’t write the passage on a Trio” x Five” card, it is too long to quote in its entirety in the essay.

    Quotation format: Always place quotation marks around direct quotations in your notes. Failing to do so may lead to unintentional plagiarism. Use square brackets to indicate that you have added something to a quotation or switched it ever so slightly to make its meaning clearer. Ellipsis dots (. ) are used to indicate that you have left something out of the quotation (see Module 6 for more details). When you take notes, guard against quoting an author out of context. Introducing ellipsis dots or quoting only a sentence fragment may contort the meaning of the passage quoted. Be true to the author’s intention; any other treatment is dishonest.

    1. Winston Churchill, Blood, Sweat and Tears (Fresh York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1941), 297.

    Be meticulous about recording significant facts and figures. Check the data you are recording cautiously before you come back your source to the library. Facts and figures do not need to be placed within quotation marks. The reader will understand that you have borrowed the data directly, provided that you document the source.

    Very likely most of your notes will be paraphrases or summaries. Many novice researchers assume that if paraphrasing means putting a passage “into your own words,” this can be accomplished simply by substituting synonyms for key terms. The process is actually much more complicated. Decent paraphrasing depends on thorough comprehension of material, not on a thesaurus. You must read the passage you wish to paraphrase, think about it until you understand it, and then write notes as if you were explaining the idea or issue to yourself. If you have thought about the passage cautiously enough, there should be no need to consult the text again while you write the summary. In addition to the above, effective paraphrasing and summarizing should be:

    Accurate: As you paraphrase or summarize, strive for accuracy. Do not confuse what you want research to demonstrate with what it does display, and do not paraphrase a point out of context. The note must reflect the author’s intent.

    Detailed: When summarizing or paraphrasing, make sure you include the key details that permit you to attribute information decently when you write. Attribution is the decent acknowledgement of sources and deeds within the main bod of an essay. Your reader will want to know both where an idea or opinion came from (who wrote about it) and who the source of an activity was (who did it). For example, when an essay announces that “Ontario Supreme Court Justice Jane Doe reached the decision in the 1990 court case. ” the reader knows the person, the person’s title, and the date of the decision, and is able to assess the reliability of the decision made. If, instead, the student had written, “The decision was reached in a court case,” the reader would have no way to evaluate the ruling. Failure to attribute is not plagiarism, but it is a serious weakness in scholarship.

    See the next module for more details and examples of effective paraphrasing and summarizing.

    As we have stressed, an essay involves interaction inbetween you and the topic. Through reading, you will build up private insights and will little by little develop your own opinions and perceptions. Record these insights as you read; your notes will then provide that necessary balance inbetween yourself and the material. If you find a particular interpretation of an historical event to be the most creative and ingenious discussion you have ever read, write yourself a note explaining why. If a sociological theory helps you to understand a individual practice, write that down as well. Recall, you are reading critically, and to do that you must interact with the material.

    Words and Ideas to Look Up

    Make sure you understand the terms of the discussion you have entered into. Make a note of words or ideas you aren’t clear on. If subsequent reading does not define them clearly, consult a specialized dictionary.

    Whether you are taking notes on cards, paper, or in electronic form, it is essential to keep them organized. Keep index cards organized in an appropriately-sized box. Use separators to divide your cards by work, and organize them alphabetically by author so that retrieving information is quick and effortless. If you are taking notes on paper, organize your notes in a similar manner in a binder or file folder. Alternatively, you can use a notebook. This will ensure that you do not lose any notes, but has the disadvantage of making it difficult to re-order or organize your notes.

    On a computer, use a consistent naming convention for your files. If you name your file with the author’s last name and a few key words from the title of the work, for example, they will be effortless to sort and identify. Keep all the notes related to your essay in a single, well-labeled file folder.

    Record all bibliographic information before you begin to examine a source.

    For all notes taken on a text, clearly indicate the page reference. If you are putting notes on separate cards, you will also need to indicate the author and title of the work on each card.

    Place all direct quotations inwards quotation marks. If you modify a quotation, use square brackets or ellipsis dots to indicate the switches you have made.

    As you paraphrase, ensure that you do not borrow syntax or phrasing from the original text. What you cannot put in your own words, put inwards quotation marks.

    Keep your quotations brief: attempt not to record passages too lengthy to be used as quotations in your essay.

    Following this system scrupulously will save you from both inadvertently plagiarizing and unnecessarily providing an author credit for your own ideas.

    Related video: School of Arts & Sciences


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