1. Confidence. It can be rather daunting to set about heavily critiquing authoritative texts, and takes some courage to put out fresh ideas of your own. As long as you are comfortable with the basic requirements of essay writing and academic conventions, you should be assured in your intellectual abilities and have the confidence to take a risk.
2. Unusual sources. Everyone’s ideas are informed by the other material out there. Rather than sticking to the basic texts or standard sources, consider following the footnotes to more unusual areas to find challenging new ideas in unexpected places.
3. Often originality will emerge after a long familiarity with central, core source materials and more contemporary and less established texts. In writing your essay, aim to move on quickly from repetitive discussions and cut to the chase. Establish the bulk of your analysis in new and emerging areas of research.
4. Critical perspective. A critical engagement with the available literature is essential for any hope of finding fresh and original ideas. Be on the look out for unwarranted assumptions in the arguments of others, and don’t be afraid to challenge these as you see fit. Disrupt the normal lines of argument to establish an original voice in your work.
5. Academic rigour. Only in mastering the basics can you reasonably hope to move on to more exciting and original substance in your writing. Familiarise yourself with the conventions of writing an academic essay, and with the standard lines of inquiry in your given subject area.
6. Wide reading and research. Originality seldom comes from isolated genius, but from critical exposure to the literature. Read widely and engage at a serious level with the available and relevant research in order to lay the foundations for originality in your essay.
7. Unorthodoxy. By choosing from the outset to adopt an unusual or marginal argumentative position, you set yourself a considerable challenge by aligning yourself against the weight of opinion. However, you will also increase the likelihood of demonstrating original ideas and avenues of inquiry. Be assured that you will be judged not on the position you take, but on the strength of your arguments.
8. Organisation. Often the main thrust of the major paragraphs in your essay will be determined by the material to which you are referring, and the references may well present an obvious set of relationships. Chronological arrangement is common as it represents the development of ideas; consider juxtaposing classic and contemporary sources to provoke new insights.
9. Language. It remains important always to use appropriate linguistic conventions and maintain the academic register throughout. Nevertheless, adopting a slightly more assertive tone can lift the quality of your writing by emphasising your own critical perspective and moving away from tired repetition of familiar discussions.
10. Outside theories. Many academic disciplines treasure a certain corpus of theoretical approaches. Occasionally, however, it is possible to bring in theoretical ideas from other related disciplines to shed a new light on old material. Such a tactic can be very enlightening, but be sure to do so only when your grasp of the outside theory is assured.