How to write a master’s essay
(Last updated: 3 March 2020)
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When considering how to write a master's essay, it can be tricky to understand and achieve the subtle differences between master's and undergraduate level work. In short, a master's level essay will generally require a deeper level of independent thought, which can be shown by adopting the following tried and tested tips.
As the name of the degree suggests, you should ideally demonstrate a mastery of your subject by confidently contextualising your arguments and making reference to trends, themes, theoretical paradigms and traditions within the discipline.
Delineate the scope of your paper
Position the issues you intend to discuss within the broader field of your subject area. This will demonstrate not only your understanding of the breadth of the academic landscape but also your ability to focus on a particular part of it. It is not enough to analyse certain idea, you must recognise their place in the whole.
Independence of thought
All parts of the essay must show more than a regurgitation of ideas and a proficiency in collating material. Discussion, analysis, evaluation and argument must all demonstrate your ability to interpret, understand and critique from a unique perspective. Challenge assumptions and explain the reasoning behind your contentions.
Abstract reasoning and comfort with interpreting unfamiliar concepts is a of work at this level. Do not be tempted to critique the academic literature through vague and impressionistic approaches; demonstrate instead a genuine conceptual engagement.
When considering how to write a master's essay, you need to ensure that your arguments and conclusions are plausible; try throughout to make them properly convincing. Weigh evidence, analyse arguments and develop your own position. If on reading you have successfully convinced yourself, you will more likely convince the reader.
At undergraduate level, evidence of genuine originality almost certainly ensures top marks. At master's level, originality is more routinely expected. A key aspect to this – the most challenging element of academic work – is confidence in your intellectual acuity. Lay the foundations through mastery of the more prosaic elements, then develop the confidence to speak with a new voice.
One of the biggest step-changes between undergraduate and master's studies is the premium placed on research. Go beyond the reading lists provided by lecturers and directors of studies to demonstrate your initiative in finding your own sources. Live in libraries, use internet resources, become familiar with useful journals and, perhaps above all else, follow the footnotes!
Operate within the academic conventions
At this level of academia you should be fluent in your understanding of appropriate referencing, attribution of borrowed ideas and the proper approach to research. Much of this area can be solved through simple diligence, so don’t let minor errors erode the credibility of your essay.
The academic register
Spelling, punctuation and grammar are such basic considerations as to be taken for granted. Instead, the major linguistic concerns at this level are those of tone and style. An academic register is based in precision, formality, thorough understanding of subject-specific vocabulary, and an avoidance of familiarity and inappropriate use of the first person. Many students choose to use academic editors and proofreaders to apply edits to their work in order to ensure that their submission is clear from any errors or omissions.
Perhaps seemingly trivial, presentation should not be disregarded. Demonstrate scholarly professionalism through due care and attention to all aspects of your work.