It’s completely normal to find your first History essay quite the challenge, but try not to feel disheartened. First things first: no essay needs to be a literary masterpiece – instead, think of it as the blueprint for an interesting discussion with your tutor about the topic you’re working on. If you’ve done some of the recommended reading, thought about different ways of tackling the question(s) you’ve been set and come up with some kind of argument or line of reasoning, you’re doing a great job.
When you’re reading and making notes, it can help to think ahead about a possible argument that you might want to pursue in the essay. But you really don’t need to reinvent the wheel – just answer the question in as engaging and informed a way as you can, drawing on some of the evidence that you’ve located.
It’ll be helpful to plan your essay before writing, in as much or as little detail as you want. It should help you to feel in control and will make the writing process feel easier. My first essay was a dizzying 16-paragraph stream of consciousness about the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, but I’d strongly recommend sticking to a limited number of paragraphs and circling back to your original argument as often as possible. As tempting as it can be to pack all of your notes into the essay, you’ll be able to show your tutor the scope of what you’ve read in your bibliography.
As the deadline nears, give your essay a final proofread but don’t worry if it isn’t ‘perfect’. With time, the process will come to feel a lot more natural. It might not feel like it at first, but submitting the first essay of your History degree is a major achievement in itself – congratulations!
Originally from Rugby, Oliver is a third-year Historian at Merton and Editor-in-Chief at OHR. Fun fact: He’s a descendant of Anthony Babington, the leader of the Babington plot against Elizabeth I in 1586!