How to Do Research For an Essay

So, you have an essay due for school and are unsure of how to start it and how to go about doing the relevant research...

Whether it’s History, Geography, or Modern Studies you will, at some point, be asked to write an essay for your subject at school. To write a good essay you need good information to work from and research is key!

Getting started

You’ve been given an essay title but don’t know how to get started. Firstly you have to identify what kind of essay you are being asked to write. Ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of the essay?
  • Are you are being asked to present your view on the topic, find a solution to a problem or compare the different arguments on the subject?
  • Do you understand all the words in the question? The wording of a question is very important to how you answer it. If you don’t know the meaning of a word you have to look it up!

Before you've done any research start with a wee brainstorming session. After reading the question, scribble down what your main arguments might be and what information you are looking for.

Try to construct a base structure to your essay, identifying what you are going to say in your introduction and what you think your main arguments will be. If you don’t know them yet don’t worry, you’ll soon know after some reading!

Choosing the right evidence

Choose the right evidence to support your arguments. To write an essay you will need to do some reading to gather information and opinions on a topic.

You may have been given a reading list by your teacher, or you might have to find some other books that you think will be relevant. Choose your books carefully; you don’t want to spend too much time reading information that you will never use. Ask yourself how useful the book be? Browse through the contents of the book and if there are no relevant sections, you may wish to look for another source!

When reading a passage from a book remember that you don’t have to read it all word for word. It might be more effective for you to skim read or scan the chapter for relevant headings and words!

Don’t rely on the same source or author too much! Doing this will make your work look unoriginal and repetitive.

Making notes from your reading

  • Take note of any information, statistics or quotations that you think will add to the argument you are making.
  • Be selective! Don’t get bogged down in writing down every piece of related information.
  • Only take note of information you think is relevant to your essay and that you can see yourself using. Too many people waste time taking down too many notes ‘just in case’ but don’t end up using them!
  • If you aren’t sure of what your arguments are yet, try to notice any new themes or arguments from the reading.
  • Write down where you got the information from and who wrote it. When writing an essay you need to acknowledge where you have taken the information from. To pass off someone else’s information as your own is called plagiarism!

If something catches your eye, like a quote, write it down ASAP! Make sure to include the full quote/statistic and other important things like the author, the title of the book, the page it is on, the publisher of the book, and when the book was published. It might be useful to keep a sticky note next to the relevant quote so you can come back to it if you don't have the time to write it down or add it to a word document.

Organising your notes

After you have done your research the next step is to organise your notes. Divide your notes into the different arguments you are going to make.

You can do this by physically organising your notes into different piles or folders, or getting your highlighters out and marking your most important points; a different colour for each argument!

Writing the essay

Once you have organised your notes the writing is the easiest stage!

  • Your essay should start with an introduction. In the introduction provide some background information on the topic, address what the issue is and state what your main points are.
  • The main body of the essay follows the introduction. This section should be the longest one and should include your main arguments, added supporting statistics and quotations, as well as your own conclusions.
  • Finish with a conclusion. Recap your main points and repeat your conclusions from your arguments.
  • Try to be as objective as possible when writing and not show too much favour to one side of an argument.
  • Use quotations, but don’t go overboard! Instead of quoting the same author all the time, why not paraphrase? This means putting the authors’ information into your own words