A feature of most academic writing is that it draws on the work of other writers and researchers. Therefore, reading and researching are vital to essay writing. Researching provides the knowledge and evidence that allows you to develop a thesis and argument to answer the essay question.

 See the ELISE tutorial (from the UNSW Library)

Reading for the essay

Start reading early so you have plenty of time to familiarise yourself with the topic and develop your ideas. Always read with a purpose. Ask yourself:

  • What do I already know about the topic? Start with what you know. If a topic is unfamiliar, do some introductory reading. See your lecture notes and course readings for help.
  • What do I need to read to be able to answer the essay question?
  • Is this material useful and relevant to my thesis/argument?
  • How will this material further explore my argument?

 See The Learning & Career Hub guide to Reading effectively for tips and methods

Reading lists

If you are given a list of suggested readings, consult as many as possible. Otherwise, locate relevant material in the library. Use the catalogue to perform topic and subject searches.

Once you have your readings:

  • use the table of contents and the index to find relevant material
  • skim through the text to locate specific information
  • when you find something you need to read closely, flag the pages with a post-it note so you can return for a close reading
  • photocopy useful sections of texts so you can underline and make notes

Taking notes from your readings

It’s important to take notes from what you read. Your notes will be the basis of your essay.

  • Don’t take notes during your first reading. If you are reading photocopies, underline or highlight relevant information. You can return to it when you re-read and take notes.
  • Always make notes with the question clearly in mind. You must use evidence to support your argument, so look carefully for relevant information. This can include summaries or direct quotes from texts, useful examples, case studies or statistics.
  • Note all sources of information. Copy down the bibliographic details of everything you read. Include author, date, title, publisher and place of publication. For journal articles, include volume and issue numbers. This will help with referencing.

See The Learning & Career Hub guide Effective note-making from written text

See next: Organising your ideas

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