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Tips for tackling Oxford essays (Humanities)

By Matilda Trueblood

Tackling essays at Oxford can be very daunting, especially since it is probably so different to anything you have done before coming to university. But don’t worry! Here are some tips to help you confidently take on any essay!

It’s important to take note of your deadlines and work back to figure out how much time you need to get the essay done. It’s usually good to read somewhere between 6-8 things for an essay, although this will vary depending on how long and useful the things that you look at are. If this is one of your first essays, you might not know exactly how long it will take you to read, but probably allocating 2-3 days for reading will be a good idea.

When choosing the reading, first look at the title of the essay and consider what elements are key to it. Use that to roughly plan what areas you will cover in your research, and it will make it easier to choose items to read. In most reading lists, you are not expected to read everything, but to choose certain items for your essay. Some titles are really helpful and tell you exactly what they cover, some are really vague so there’s a certain element of guessing from certain articles, but usually you can assume most of the things on a reading list will be helpful in some way! Reading may also not cover introductory concepts or key terms, so don’t be afraid to google things.

It’s important to plan an essay in advance. It will speed up how fast you can write the essay, and also ensure that it has a coherent structure and argument, and includes all of the points you want to make. Think about what each reading contributes to the general topic, and to your essay specifically, and try to consider that in your essay. It’s also important to have an argument that you support with evidence, even if you are arguing that the essay question can’t be answered. Try to set up the argument from your introduction, and use that to keep your essay focused on the question throughout.

You should remember that essays are a chance to gain the knowledge you need for exams, and to experiment with different forms of essay writing. Don’t be afraid to try different structures, tone, or different amounts of reading, and focus on building on the feedback from previous essays. Most of all, remember that a bad essay isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. What’s most important is to move on and focus on the next task!

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