Essay Tip: Cite the Set Reading

Students are often surprised when they hear the number of texts I would expect to see referenced in a university-level History essay. I’ve blogged before on how to go about finding the books and articles to use, but perhaps it’s worth saying that you won’t always need to do all that work for yourself.

Yes, at university you are expected to do a lot more on your own initiative than previously, but don’t let that trick you into thinking nothing will be made easy for you. In fact, it’s a regular grumble of university staff that students want everything handed to them but then don’t make use of it when it is.

One thing you should always do in an essay is make use of the set readings from relevant seminars.

If a book, chapter or article has been chosen by your tutor as a set reading, that means something. It’s either an important text that you should know about and discuss for this course, or it’s a particularly good example of something you’ll be covering. Either way it’s been flagged up as worth looking on this topic, so take the hint.

In the process of selecting set readings

And this isn’t just about what your tutor is trying to tell you (in fact, has told you) but about lightening your own workload a little bit. If you’ve done the reading for class, then why not make use of it again when writing your essay?

One worry students sometimes have is that they might be cheating by doubling up and trying to get credit twice for the same work. This only applies if you are submitting another assignment based on or being marked on the work in class when you use that set reading. If you’re not sure, ask your tutor. But even if that is the case, it doesn’t mean pretending you haven’t read something relevant will help you get a good mark for your essay. You just need to pick a different quote or once again put a reference to the text while phrasing your summary of the relevant point as suits the essay you’re writing now.

So make it part of your process for picking an essay topic to check for relevant set readings. After all, the person marking your essay is unlikely to be forgiving should you not mention something important if it was covered in something you were supposed to have read for class.

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