This will be the version 1 of notes that I’ve accumulated for writing a social science essay in university. The reason why I say it is version 1 is because I believe that I will learn more as I go along and some things here may be subjected to correction.

I am going to major in Political Science and from what I heard, the major involves mainly essay writings (as I’ve mentioned in the Grammar post). Thus, essay writing skills will be a major academic tool that I’ll be relying on; hence making it worth researching for. 

The following are some quotes that I’ve selected from the book, How to Succeed in Your Social Science Degree:

“Some students fear that they will fail their assignments if they produce an essay which is merely a patchwork of other people’s opinions… The ability to assemble a patchwork of relevant materials is an important scholarly skill. You will get a reasonable grade for a properly referenced patchwork.” (Arksey, Harris, and Available, 2007)

” you do have to show that you have examined some of the background literature, and SUMMARIZED the main points made in that literature. You may wish to use direct or indirect quotations, with proper acknowledgement of the sources, to show that you have done this correctly and skillfully.” (Arksey, Harris, and Available, 2007)
There are a few things we can take away from these quotes:

Firstly, the backbone of an essay is mainly a patchwork. Basically it is what we researched and put together in a coherent format; with proper citations. Hence about half of essay writing involves research, and the other half will be the patchwork. 

Secondly, the essential tool of patchwork is summarization. Without summarization, there will be too many irrelevant details that would confuse readers, causing us to lose marks.

Here’s another quote from the same book:

” It is not easy to arrange your summaries of different pieces of literature…you will gain credit if you can do so. You can then add addition COMMENTS to add value to this summary.” (Arksey, Harris, and Available, 2007)

The new thing here that we should take note is “comments”. I’ve read the part on comments extensively and it is similar to “evaluation” in history essays when I did my A Levels. The following quotes are what comments are and where you can get them:

“Where do you get comments from? Although you will be focusing on chosen topics for revision purposes, you may well get ideas for interesting comparisons from other topics discussed on your modules or courses. If you have been to most or many lectures and taken notes, you can often get ideas for comparative comments. You will have received lecturer’s comments on your written work, and they can clearly be borne in mind.” (Arksey, Harris, and Available, 2007)

“You can get material for comments from discussing topics with other students, perhaps when you revive together, or from tutorials, including special revision tutorials. Of course, you will have to remember to note down these comments and include them in your mind maps. Many students never do so, even if they do take lots of notes in lectures.”(Arksey, Harris, and Available, 2007)

“You can get ideas for comment from other questions on the exam paper.” (Arksey, Harris, and Available, 2007)

“What is often not realized is that you can also revise and prepare comments as well. Remember that you will need to provide all sorts of alert and intelligent argument and comment on the summaries that you are providing if you want to do well.” (Arksey, Harris, and Available, 2007)

“You can obviously think of comment to make as you do your note-taking and revision, and you will want to record these comments so you can revise them as well. Of course, with any luck, the stress level of taking the exam will be exactly right, and will stimulate you to recall all kinds of additional links, comparisons, and critical comments of both the internal and external kind.” (Arksey, Harris, and Available, 2007)

Internal comments are:

1)comments in challenges to consistency

2) alternative approaches and comparisons

3)on the methods used

4)on additional cases which have not been discussed,including recent developments, 

*comments on the arguments involved shows what they both emphasize and ignore.

The external kind is more of a cross-examination. Taken from a separate topic, be it from the same subject or not, impose the perspective/ new knowledge, conduct comparison and how the current argument is shifted due to this new imposition. For instance, from an economic perspective, the political agenda of the government can be shifted to focus more on freezing the Gini Coefficient. There is also a sociological perspective to this as income inequality greatly affects societal dissension. Hence, the government may not wish to focus solely on the discussed political agenda. This is an example of weakening a point, thus a side of the argument in an essay is also weakened by imposing external perspective.

Basically, comments are additional insights that can alter/ enhance the flow of the argument, thus demonstrating that you have thought things through and is able to exercise critical thinking.
Here is a simple list of where you can get comments if you didn’t read the above chunks:

1) Think of it when doing note-taking and revisions (record them down)

2) other topics in modules or course 

3) lecturer’s comments on written work

4) lecture clues

5) seminars/ presentations 

6) discussion with other students

7) tutorials 

Overall, the most important thing to take away is to WRITE THEM DOWN!!

Arksey, H., Harris, D.E. and Available, N. (2007) How to succeed in your social science degree (Sage Study skills series). Los Angeles, Calif. [etc.]: Sage Publications.


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