writing history essays: some advice
Professors in the Department assign essays expecting their students to demonstrate definite cognitive skills in their written assignments. Such expectations include a demonstration of “superior grasp of the subject matter,” “familiarity with the appropriate literature and techniques,”, a demonstration of “critical,” “constructive,” and “high degree of creative and/or logical thinking,” and the ability to “organize” ideas, “analyze” issues, and “integrate ideas.” These expectations are fully described in the Undergraduate Academic Calendar of the University of Guelph.
The essay is a tool your professors use to build in you those cognitive skills that you are expected to acquire during your time as a student in the university. For instance, essay-writing demands that you:
- understand (correctly interpret the requirements of) the essay topic
- read around the topic
- gather relevant information from the library
- take notes to use in writing your essay
- analyze and interpret your evidence
- outline your arguments
- arrange your evidence around such an outline in an effective order.
You are asked at every turn to make important decisions and judgements and to make assessments and evaluation of orders of significance. On top of all of these is the skill of effectively communicating your ideas to others in a clear, concise, logical and convincing manner. Your professor can assess what skills you have, how well you have deployed them and what areas of weakness remain that need attention just by reading your essay.