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Library Guides

Essay Writing: Research

Importance of research

Good essay writing involves doing a considerable amount of reading. Your aims are to:

1. Understand the issue(s) referred to in the essay topic

2. Develop a view (an answer to the question) 

3. Gather examples and evidence to support the view that you will put forward

Your examples and evidence must be referenced using the referencing format required by your department.

When you're reading academic texts, pay attention to how authors structure their arguments. How did they state their aim? How did they move from point to point? How did they use evidence? 

From general to specific and further reading

  • In deciding what to read, your first stop should be your reading list. Which of the readings relate to the topic?
  • Next, follow up any interesting works that are referenced in these readings. What books and articles did this author use? Could they be useful to you?
  • If you're struggling to understand certain fundamental concepts, or can't see how the arguments of various authors relate to one another, have a look at introductory works dealing with the general topic area. Again, what works are referred to, or suggested as 'further reading'? 
  • The Finding Sources Guide provides help on finding sources in the library. 

Active research

You should not attempt to read everything you come across that might be vaguely relevant to the topic. If you have taken the time to think about the essay topic, you will start your research and reading with thoughts in mind that will direct you to answering the question. In other words, you’ll be engaged in active research targeted to the requirements of the essay – a much more effective way to undertake your reading.

Critical reading

It's important to approach your reading as an active thinker. Scholars are not the Voice of Authority and their works should not be passively absorbed as 'undisputed fact'.

  • For every claim you encounter, ask 'how' and 'why'.
  • What evidence has been offered?
  • How has the author reasoned about this evidence?
  • Could there be alternative explanations?
  • How does this argument compare to the arguments of others? 
  • What school of thought is the author working in? Are they approaching the issue from a certain perspective?

If you think carefully about the claims you encounter in your reading, you will be able to develop your own view on the issue, and discuss the views of others in a considered and convincing way. When lecturers tell you to use your reading rather than simply repeat the ideas in your reading, this is what they mean.

Check the guide on Critical Thinking for more information on Effective Reading and Critical Reading. The video below also offers helpful advice on approaching texts critically. 


As you read, make notes, keep track of your references and start building your bibliography. Check the guide on Citation and Referencing for guidance on referencing and plagiarism.  

desk with papers and pens and some homework