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Where do I start?

To get a sense of the overall process of writing an essay, it is a good idea to refer back to the research diagram or to Quick Ref 4 'Researching to Writing' which outline the steps involved. The starting point and the key to writing a good essay is to have a sound understanding of the topic or question.

When analysing your topic, take note of any direction words. These terms, like discuss, assess and evaluate indicate how many parts there are to the question and the sort of response you are required to produce. Use this analysis as an initial guide to potential research pathways. You should also pay attention to content words, which specify the scope of the task and relate to your course material. If you are unsure about the meaning of any of the words in the essay question, use a general or subject specific dictionary for a precise and relevant definition.

Read the following essay topic from the Photomedia in Modern and Contemporary Art unit.

To what extent does digital imaging mean that photography is now closer to painting?

Explore with examples.

  1. What are the direction words in this question?
  2. Your answer:

  3. What are the important content words in this question?
  4. Your answer:

  5. Which other key words will influence your answer?
  6. Your answer:

Some units allow you to devise your own essay topic. In this situation, don't confuse a general area of research with a distinct topic or question. The aim is to narrow the focus to enable you to take a position and develop an argument. Always construct a specific topic using direction and content words to guide your research and writing. It's a good idea to confirm the wording of your topic or question with your tutor before you begin.

Once you are clear about the topic and understand all other requirements including word length and due date, you can begin to brainstorm ideas. Don't hold back. Be as creative as you like and use whatever method best suits you. This could mean devising a list of words, drawing a diagram or making a map with arrows indicating how different ideas and themes connect. Next, plan your time. Work backwards from the deadline and ensure that you allow ample time to research, write, redraft and edit your essay.

Sift through the notes you made during your brainstorm and start to think about the main points you need to make in your essay. Consider where the gaps in your knowledge lie and begin investigating these as well as following existing research pathways. At this point, your focus should be on assessing what resources are available, rather than reading in detail. Don't forget to look at the research guides for Art & Design provided by both the Caulfield download a word document and Gippsland download a word document libraries.

When you have an idea of the sort of resources and information you can find, revise your plan. Add in more detail, then get serious about your research. Use your reading and notetaking skills to skim, scan and look in detail at the resources you have found. Remember to record all references, especially if you are likely to cite them in your text. Often your research will also involve observing and analysing various artworks, objects or designs.

Equipped with these notes, observations and your plan, you are now ready to write.

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