Clarify referred to in a piece of work.

Clarify the TaskEnsure that you agree an appropriate title with your tutorAs you progress through your degree, it is possible that you will be given the opportunity to devise your own essay title based on an area of interest.

This is a chance to take control of your studies, especially in preparation for your dissertation. However, many students have been known to write 2,500 words, without consulting their tutor, only to discover they have written the 'wrong' essay. It is essential that you either meet with the tutor or, at the very least, e-mail your suggested title to them in order that they can confirm its suitability.

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Work to the title throughoutStudents often digress from the title and end up with an essay that is disjointed and rambling. The following guidelines will help you avoid this problem but there may also be useful practical steps you can take. For example, write your title on a piece of paper that is then adhered to your work area. This way, it remains in your sight at all times. Check advised length of reference listThere are different schools of thought regarding the length of reference lists. Some tutors feel that it is oppressive practice to dictate to students how many resources should be referred to in a piece of work.

Others argue that a paper cannot be considered as 'academic' without reference to twenty or more sources. Most tutors would probably maintain that a few sources that have been well evaluated are preferable. However, given this disparity, it's obviously worth asking individual tutors for their views if the assignment briefing is not specific. A reference list is compulsory.

It would also be useful to ask you tutor whether they expect to see a bibliography presented.Interpret the titleIn the past you may have looked for key words in an essay title. This can be useful but if you only use this method it is still possible to miss the point of the title. Another approach is to ask yourself 'what do I need to know in order to answer this question?' This pre-empts other questions which should help to ensure that your subsequent reading is more focused. For example, what might you need to know about the following title?E.g.: Critically evaluate the argument that the major causes of premature death in the UK reside in the lifestyle of the individual (2,500 words)Which illness/ disease result in premature death?Which group(s) of people experience premature death?What is meant by lifestyle?What is the evidence linking lifestyle & premature death?What evidence exists to suggest alternative reasons? e.g.

geographical location, income, environment, ethnicity etc.Reading for answers to questions, as opposed to reading around concepts, should help to produce an essay that does not digress from the title. For another example of this approach, look at the material on Reading to Answer Questions.Collect and record informationBe selective in your background readingThe literature search and note taking should be seen as the second phase of preparation and completed BEFORE any writing commences. For example, if you collect information on types of illnesses, write a paragraph, then return to the library for information on the next question, your essay will, again, be in danger of becoming disjointed. Using your reading skills, find a range of information that specifically answers the questions that you set before deciding whether any wider reading is necessary. If you require extra help with your research subject librarians will be pleased to assist.

See the Library page Subject Resources.Record.

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