Adopting an analytical approach

Knowing what information to put aside and what to retain requires a more disciplined appraisal than the more wide-ranging approach you will have followed in your initial reading. Asking certain questions may help you to focus on what is important to your topic. For example:

Who are the key actors in a sequence of events?
What are the important or necessary factors that explain particular situations?
What explanations support a particular view?
What patterns can be identified, for example, short-, medium- and long-term factors?

From your reading and note-making you will begin to find that different authors make similar or contradictory points.

As you begin to identify the different schools of thought or approaches to an issue, you should begin to cross-reference your notes so that you can group authors who subscribe to the same or similar viewpoints.

University work needs more than simple reproduction of facts.  You need to be able to construct an argument and to support this with evidence. This means that you need to draw on the literature that you have read in order to support your position. In some instances, dependent on the topic and discipline, it may be appropriate to present differing viewpoints and evaluate arguments one over the others, and, if appropriate, address counter-arguments to these. What is important is to present a tight, well-argued case for the view you finally present as the one you favour.

Once you have evolved your own response to the task you have been set, you then need to place this within a framework that presents your response in a way that is well structured.

Explore the full range of available material. In the early years of university study many students follow the same practices as they used at school, often with too much reliance on handouts and notes from a single core textbook. At university you will be expected to read more widely by identifying source material beyond titles given as a basic starting point. It is worthwhile exploring your library on foot to browse in the areas related to your studies, where you may find a whole range of material that potentially expands your reading and understanding.

Spend time reading. This is a vital part of the writing process, but you should recognize the dangers of prolonging the reading phase beyond your scheduled deadline. This is an avoidance strategy that is quite common. Students may delay getting down to planning the structure and moving on to the writing phase because they are uncomfortable with writing. Facing up to these next phases and getting on with them is usually much less formidable once you get started, so it’s best to stick to your time plan for this assignment and move on to the next phase in the planned sequence. 

In the process of marshaling information for a writing task you will probably obtain some interesting and potentially useful material that proves to be irrelevant to the current writing task.It is well worth keeping this in your filing system because this topic may come up again at a later date in a subtle way. In exam revision, this personal cache of information could be useful in revitalizing your knowledge and understanding of this topic.

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