• 3-minute read
  • 24th February 2016

Essay Writing: Finding Inspiration Outside of the Library

If you’re struggling for an interesting essay topic, you might have to think outside the box. And by ‘box’, we mean library: simply reading the same set texts and attending the same lectures as everyone else in your class will always make it hard to stand out.

But originality is important when writing an essay, since marks are awarded for critical thinking and independent research as well as understanding the stuff taught in class.

So where can you go to find inspiration beyond the library walls?

1. Books & Journals

A well-stocked university library might have everything you need for your studies, but it’s always worth going beyond the catalogue. One option is to check the bibliographies of set texts to see if any of the cited sources look interesting.

Likewise, these days online journal databases offer quick access to decades of published research at the click of a mouse button. This can be particularly important if you’re interested in the most recent developments in your field.

2. Talks, Conferences & Workshops

Committed students – especially postgrads looking to enter academia – should attend as many talks, conferences and workshops as possible.

In addition to exposing you to the latest research, at events like these you’ll get to meet and talk with fellow academics, which is often the best way to spark new ideas.

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3. The World Wide Web

Ah, the internet, scourge of productivity among academics the world over. However, if you can resist the urge to procrastinate, the internet can be an invaluable resource.

As well as providing access to online journals, the internet lets you connect with other people studying in your subject area, and there are numerous academic forums and message boards where you can discuss your ideas.

Take care though, especially if you plan on citing something in your work, as many internet sources are unreliable: even Wikipedia says that Wikipedia is ‘not considered a credible source’ for academic papers.

4. Magazines & Newspapers

Non-academic media can sometimes provide inspiration too. Trade magazines and industry bulletins, for instance, are invaluable for keeping on top of the latest news in your field.

Newspapers are usually less relevant to essay writing (unless you’re writing about the media), but framing an argument in terms of current events can make your essay topical.

However, you should only do this if the news story is obviously related to your work: referencing the preparations for the Qatar 2022 World Cup makes sense if you’re writing about labour conditions in the Middle East, but contributes very little to an essay about William Wordsworth!

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