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Rob Halpin, a 3rd year PhD student in Geography, talks about his experience of essays

What do essays look like in your discipline?

An essay is a short piece of writing on a particular subject. Essays in geography are often set with a specific title/subject area for the student to focus on and will generally include a word count target in the range of 1,500 – 5,000 words. There is no set template for an essay, but it will (more often than not) include a:

Introduction: this is where you introduce the topic you are discussing and provide a thesis for the discussion.

Main body: here you will introduce and explain your main arguments/points of the essay.

Conclusions: this is where you provide a concise summary of the body and how it relates to your thesis.

How do you prepare for writing an essay?

A great way to prepare for an essay is to do a literature search for available literature on your chosen subject. This can be done on the TCD library website using the stella search. There is a range of ways you can search for literature (e.g. by author, title, keywords, etc.). The search will inform you what resources (e.g. books, journal articles, etc.) are available within Trinity’s libraries for your use. If you require additional reading material, resources such as Google Scholar provide another easy way to search for scholarly literature.

Once I have found all the literature I think I will need for the essay, I will read as much as possible and take notes on what I think is the most important information from the various sources I have acquired. I also like to keep a record of references in my notes, as it makes it much easier to accurately reference the correct literature while writing the essay.

The final piece of preparation I would do for an essay is to create a layout in a word document using section headings. This breaks up the essay into specific sections/themes and allows me to focus on one topic/theme at a time.

Tell us about your experience of doing essays

My experience with essays has ranged from an incredibly enjoyable experience, to a somewhat tortuous one. Often, my enjoyment of the assessment will depend on my level of interest in the subject matter. This is why it is important to choose a subject for your essay that genuinely interests you, if there is scope to do this within the assignment.

Another aspect that impacts my experience with an essay is the time allotted to write the piece. The more time I have, the less rushed I will feel and therefore, the easier the task will be to complete. Giving myself enough time to achieve a task is a huge part of completing a piece of work I will be happy with, as it gives me the time to make adjustments to my essay and make sure all the information I wanted to include is present.

What key tips or advice would you give to anyone doing essays?

Use critical analysis while writing an essay and don’t just restate information you have read. This means evaluating the information you have gathered, comparing and contrasting theories and providing your own thoughts on the subject. If you want to achieve a high grade in an essay, this is vital.

Be concise. Try not to waffle to increase your word count and instead, read more and include an extra argument if you feel your piece is coming up short.

Create a layout for your essay with section headings, prior to beginning the writing of an essay. This breaks up the assignment into more manageable chunks and can be changed at a later point, if required.

Make notes of relevant sources and information which you think might be important for the essay, prior to beginning writing. This means when you begin to write the essay, you will have most of the required information at your fingertips.

Give yourself enough time to complete the essay and avoid having to rush to submit on time.

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