The biggest difference between school and university is the amount of independent work you're expected to do. Your lecturers aren't going to tell you everything you need to know about a subject. They will sketch the outlines, introduce the key issues and debates, offer guidance on what books you should read and generally try to point you in the right direction.
It's your responsibility to read around the subject and think about what they've told you, and to come up with your own interpretation rather than simply repeating what you've heard in lectures or read in books. Here are some suggestions to help you study most effectively:
You will find a number of books dealing with study techniques in Waterstones - next to the Library - and other bookshops, e.g. Patrick Dunleavy, Studying for a Degree in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Palgrave, formerly Macmillan Press, 1986); pbk, £10.99.
Lecturers will set essay subjects and provide you with bibliographies at least 4 weeks in advance of the closing date.
You are strongly advised not to write an essay until you have done extensive reading and thought about the text or subject concerned. Note that essay bibliographies are rarely if ever definitive; these are the books which your lecturer thinks are most important and/or most accessible, but there will always be plenty of others which you might consult if you make the effort to research the subject thoroughly. You are reminded that it is your responsibility to plan ahead, and in particular to ensure that you can get hold of the books you need. Books most heavily in demand are generally held in the Short Loan Collection in the Library, but you cannot rely on them being always available in the weeks leading up to an essay deadline.
All essays must be submitted with a completed cover sheet. These are available by the essay pigeon holes or from the Department Office.
All first and second year essays must be submitted via the pigeon-holes marked 'First Year Essays' or 'Second Year Essays' in the foyer of 11 Woodland Road. Only third years should submit essays direct to lecturers.
First year students should submit only one copy of each essay. Second- and third- year students must submit two copies.
A first-rate essay will exhibit most, if not all, of the following virtues: sound knowledge of the subject as a whole; control of the material; the ability to isolate problems and make reasoned and independent choices between possible solutions; incisive passages of close reading or analysis; the skilful use of particulars to illustrate general points; some quality of individuality; evidence of interest in the subject; a clear and elegant style; careful presentation; a sense of direction.
If you're writing an essay on a set text, start with that; read it carefully, and think about it in connection with the question you are answering. Only then read the secondary literature, testing your preliminary ideas against those of others. Never write an essay on the basis of the secondary literature alone: the derivative nature of your essay will always be apparent, and the mark will be lowered accordingly. Read the secondary literature critically; do not assign it unexamined authority.
If you're writing an essay on a wider topic - e.g. on some aspect of ancient history - you're likely to be much more reliant on secondary literature. Start with the general books on the subject (e.g. those listed as Essential Reading in the unit outline), so that you've got a solid grasp of the background, and then move on to more specialised works. You should pay attention both to the arguments of the secondary sources and to the evidence on which they base their arguments, and you should always read them critically.
Many essays are poorly structured; that is, they do not present a coherent and continuous discussion of an issue, and there is no overall sense of direction. Individual points are not organised into a developing argument. The essay, as a whole, has no subject. To avoid this, remember at all times to concentrate on providing an answer to the question you've been set.
Paragraphs are meant to clarify the structure of the essay. Complete absence of paragraphs, or very long ones, makes an essay wearisome to read. Endless short paragraphs create a jerky effect, and point to a lack of continuity in the argument. Each paragraph should be a unit, in which the particular points fit together.
Your essay should have both.
These should not be handled in too mechanical a way (e.g. avoid the formulae, 'In this essay I will show (a) (b) (c) . . .', 'In this essay I have shown (a) (b) (c) . . .'), but you should make sure you introduce the problem and the issues at the beginning and sum up your argument at the end. If possible the introduction should also catch the attention of the reader: an essay which begins 'The poet Virgil was born in 70 B.C.' does not arouse expectations of intellectual riches ahead. As for the conclusion, don't let your essay merely peter out, and do not introduce completely new issues into your final sentences.
Essays on set texts should always show detailed knowledge of the text(s) discussed. Generalisations and arguments must always be supported by reference to the text. The ability to analyse particular passages in detail will receive special credit.
Address yourself to the question in hand. Consider the arguments for and against your various propositions, and how they can be answered. You are attempting to persuade the reader of your particular view of the matter; this cannot be done by unsupported assertion, or if you fail to address obvious objections to your position. Think carefully about the logical status of your arguments, and also about your implicit assumptions and presuppositions. Avoid too much mere description, plot summary or narrative.
An essay should be analytical and argumentative. You are called upon to argue a case, or analyse a piece of writing; you need to pose questions and offer possible answers. An essay which consists of nothing but facts will never get very high marks; we take it as read that you're capable of producing summaries of the information contained in books, we want to see what you then do with that information.
There is no such thing as a 'correct' length for an essay; it's a matter of your judgement (and the marker's judgement) as to whether you've discussed the issues at sufficient length and in adequate detail. A very short essay is not likely to be very searching or detailed; as for long essays, on the one hand, it's always possible to say more, to give more examples, to pursue an issue at greater length or take account of wider ramifications, and on the other hand very long essays are often rambling and repetitive. It is certainly a useful skill to be able to say what is necessary as economically as possible, which is why we set standard lengths for essays: approx. 2,000 for first years, approx. 2,500 for second years and approx. 3,000 for third years.
The aim of an essay is to communicate with another person; hence an essay is inter alia an exercise in rhetorical persuasion. Poor presentation always detracts from its effectiveness. Moreover, faulty English and inexact thinking usually go hand in hand. Try to write clearly, concisely and elegantly. Take pride in the craftsmanship involved. Try to put yourself into the position of a reader, and ask yourself if what you have written is likely to be intelligible to him/her. Please pay particular attention to the following points:
Poor spelling gives an immediate impression of ignorance and slovenliness. Make sure you have access to (and preferably own) an English dictionary.
Please leave generous margins, and use 1.5 line spacing, so that markers have room to write in comments.
Correct punctuation makes reading much easier and more pleasant. A particularly common error is the use of a comma to link complete sentences, which creates an irritating 'stream of consciousness' effect, and leaves logical connections unclear (for an example see below).
Rules of grammar help to ensure exactness of communication. Construct your sentences properly (e.g. there should normally be a verb in every sentence).
A common mistake is the misuse of the apostrophe, especially it's (= it is) for its (= of it). ('We saw the dog and its puppy,' not 'it's puppy.') It is best to avoid the split infinitive (e.g. 'to boldly go' should be 'to go boldly'). Avoid the 'hanging participle' (e.g. 'having said that . . .' plus an unrelated subject).
Avoid slang, or unduly colloquial, or abbreviated language. Example: (a) Incorrect: 'Virgil's Aeneid was written to celebrate Augustus' achievements, its influence has been considerable, it's helped to shape modern views of the Principate.' (b) Correct: 'Virgil's Aeneid was written to celebrate Augustus' achievements. Its influence has been considerable, and consequently it has helped to shape modern views of the Principate.'
The Faculty of Arts offers an On-line Grammar Tutorial with practice exercises.
You will often need to support your argument by giving a quotation from an ancient text or a modern author. Quotations should be clearly marked out as such (see the section on plagiarism).
Short quotes should be enclosed with quote marks (' ', " "); longer quotes (anything over 40 words or so) should be set out from the text with a line space above and below the extract, and indented if possible. You should be careful to copy out the original accurately. You may omit words or sentences if this does not affect the sense and if they are irrelevant to your argument; this should be indicated by dots (. . .). Words which you have inserted should be in square brackets (e.g. "He [Augustus] claimed to have restored the Republic."). When quoting verse, do not write it out as if it were prose.
Quotations should not be left to 'speak for themselves.' As a rule of thumb, long quotations should be followed by at least an equal amount of commentary, in which you explain the significance of the quote and how it fits into your argument. Do not treat modern authors as authorities to be followed without question, assuming that a quote from Finley or Goldhill is sufficient to close the argument. You should treat their views critically; even if you agree with them, you should make it clear that you are aware of contrary arguments.
The reader may wish to check the context of any quotation you give. Always give precise references: line numbers for poetry (e.g. Aen. 5.1-6), chapter, paragraph, page or other numbers as appropriate for prose (e.g. NH 34.5, Pol. 1274a31-2, C. Leg. II.4.3). Standard abbreviations for ancient authors and their works can be found at the front of standard Greek and Latin dictionaries and in the Oxford Classical Dictionary. You may refer to modern works in an abbreviated form (e.g. Finley, Ancient Economy p. 37) provided that you give full details of place and date of publication, full title etc. in your bibliography. Titles of works, books, journals etc. should be italicised or underlined (e.g. Tacitus' Annals, Syme's Roman Revolution); titles of articles, essays or short poems should be in inverted commas (e.g. J. Goddard, 'The tyrant at table' in J. Elsner & J. Masters, eds, Reflections of Nero (London, 1994)).
References may be given in the text at the end of the quote, or in a footnote or an endnote. If you are writing out your essay by hand, notes in the text or endnotes are preferable; hand-written footnotes are frequently illegible, and certainly a waste of your time.
You should also make some acknowledgement when you are indebted to a modern author for an idea but not for a specific verbal formulation. This is discussed in greater detail in the section on plagiarism. As a bare minimum, you must make some reference in the text to the author to whom you're indebted; "As Goldhill argues in Foucault's Virginity . . .". In many cases a more precise to a chapter or to specific pages may be necessary to help the reader follow and engage with your argument.
If, for example, you are summarising the overall argument of a book or an article, it may be sufficient to acknowledge this with a general comment: "In The Ancient Economy, Finley presents the primitivist view of antiquity." If you've derived your idea of what Finley says from a review or another book you must of course acknowledge this specifically. However, if you are using the reference to make a specific point - "Finley argues that Pliny's letters show no trace of economic rationality" - you should provide the page reference.
The art of supporting your argument by quotation or reference is one of the skills which you should acquire in the course of your university career. Your teachers therefore expect to see some progression in your ability to provide proper references in your essays and other written work. In your first year, they are more concerned with your grasp of the subject and your ability to construct a coherent argument. In the second year, you will be given credit if you include full and proper references, but you will not be penalised for omitting them (provided that you acknowledge your sources; see section on plagiarism). In the third year, and above all in your dissertation, you will be penalised for failure to provide adequate references.
Always list the books and articles you have cited or which have influenced your thinking about the essay topic at the end. These should be listed in alphabetical order of authors, and should include information on date and place of publication and, for articles in journals, the name, edition and date of the journal. For example:
Abrams, P., 'Introduction', in P. Abrams & E. A. Wrigley (eds.), Towns in Societies, Cambridge 1978: 1-23.
Alcock, S.E., Graecia Capta: the landscapes of Roman Greece, Cambridge1993.
Barnish, S.J.B., 'Pigs, plebeians and potentes', PBSR 55 (1987) 157-85.
You'll find further information on how to write a bibliography on p. 38 of your undergraduate manual.
The Examinations Regulations of the University define plagiarism in this way:
'[Plagiarism is] the incorporation of passages from other works (or a paraphrase of such) without acknowledgement and with the intention of passing them off as one's own work.'
When you signed a copy of the University Regulations upon registration, you made an undertaking not to engage in any form of plagiarism. This rule applies to all assessed work. If you submit work containing plagiarism, the Department will regard this as a serious disciplinary matter; the piece of work will be heavily penalised and there may well be damaging consequences for the classification of your degree.
The Department will identify as plagiarism any incorporation of work that is not your own. This means that you must acknowledge your sources when you quote or paraphrase them; it also means that you must not, under any circumstances, make use of other students' essays by reproducing passages from them in your own. Where close verbal parallels between your work and another source are found and there is no citation or acknowledgement made, the Department will treat this as evidence of intention on your part and act accordingly. Depending on the degree of plagiarism penalties may include:
If the plagiarism occurs as a result of borrowing another student's work, both students will be penalised; the one who lent the essay and the one who copied it.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you do not open yourself to suspicion of plagiarism. You should not lend your essays to other students. You should, particularly, always be careful when taking notes from secondary sources to distinguish when you are summarising the writers' ideas in your own words, so that you don't incorporate unattributed or unacknowledged quotations or close paraphrase in your essays. For even when plagiarism is a result of such careless working habits and not a result of intention to deceive, it will be penalised.
A lot of information about the ancient world is, essentially, held in common amongst all critics and students of the subject: you do not, ordinarily, have to acknowledge this. For example, you may not have known that Cleisthenes was archon under the tyrant Hippias in 525/4 BCE, but the writer you are reading mentions this. If you want to make use of the fact in your essay, there is no need to acknowledge that writer specifically because the date of the archonship is not his or her unique discovery. While certain areas of factual information are unique to the writer (who will have discovered these for himself or herself, and will make this clear), most information of this kind is held in common, and is, in part, what you are here to learn. If you remain in doubt in any particular case, cite your source, and ask your Lecturer afterwards whether or not this was indeed appropriate.
Here, citation and acknowledgement will be in order. When you want to quote from a writer, you must always acknowledge your source in a note. If you wish to condense and paraphrase what a writer says, again you must make it clear that this is what you are doing, either in the text of your essay, or in a note. Below is a passage taken from Simon Goldhill, Foucault's Virginity: Ancient Erotic Fiction and the History of Sexuality (Cambridge University Press, 1995), p113:
From Augustus' legislation on marriage and adultery, through the rise of Christianity with its violent debates on the proper place of sexuality within marriage, marriage as the cornerstone of society became a key area of contest in social and intellectual discourse. Where the historians who have treated this question have argued largely from laws, inscriptions, documents, moral-treatises and birth-rates to a view of the practice of marriage in society, I shall be turning to a different set of written materials to explore how the questions of chastity and sexual difference play a founding role in such a discourse; I want to explore how difficult it is to move through such writing towards cultural practice.
If you were writing an essay on the Greek novel, and you wished to make use of this passage, you might incorporate it like this:
Traditionally those who have debated the centrality of marriage in this period have tended to look to texts which are more easily identifiable as 'historical'. But Simon Goldhill has argued that literary texts too have their part to play (1), even if there are substantial problems involved in the 'move through such writing towards cultural practice'. (2)
1. Goldhill, Foucault's Virginity (Cambridge, 1995), esp. Ch.3.
2. Ibid., p.113.
Here the essay's indebtedness, both for specific verbal formulations and for ideas, is explicitly acknowledged. Below is an example of a plagiarized version, where extracts from the Goldhill passage are being passed off as the essay writer's own work:
Ever since Augustus passed legislation on marriage and adultery and the rise of Christianity, social and intellectual discourse contested the role of marriage. Historians use laws and inscriptions, as well as evidence from moral treatises and birth rates, to explain how important marriage was in society but other written texts too argue that it is difficult to move through such writing towards cultural practice.
The writer here is either quoting Goldhill or paraphrasing him very closely, and no acknowledgement of this is made. Even if Goldhill's book were to appear in the essay's bibliography, this would be a clear case of plagiarism. Note how, in making small changes to and rearrangements of Goldhill, the writer has garbled the source to the extent that it is pretty nonsensical. This all too often happens when the writer of an essay is copying a passage from a book or article without really understanding what it means.
You should not think that your use of critics or historians is governed solely by the need to avoid plagiarism or that, so long as you avoid plagiarism, you can be passive in your relation to the writers you read. It is important that you should be able to think through their ideas in your own terms, and explore them in your own idiom, rather than merely transmitting them (with all due acknowledgement) in your essay: critical books do not contain the 'answers' to the kinds of problems you will be dealing with, but they can help you in putting those problems into focus. Good undergraduate writing uses other writers; weak undergraduate work follows them, seeing them too simply as authorities and failing to understand the processes of disagreement in which they play a part. All the books which you have read prior to writing an essay should be included in the bibliography.
Plagiarism, which regards secondary sources (or, indeed, other students' essays) as an easy way out of independent reading and writing, constitutes a cynical rejection of the whole enterprise of academic discussion, and is an act of intellectual dishonesty which it is the Department's obligation to penalise in a severe way. NB: Even when plagiarism is a result of careless working habits and not as a result of an intention to deceive, it will be penalised.
For most of your units, 50% of the assessment marks will come from a written examination, held in late May or early June. This is no-one's idea of fun - especially trying to revise something you studied back in November - and is always going to be stressful, but there are ways of making the exams period a little less awful. Here, you will find some advice on how to approach revisions and exams. First, there are a couple of important things you will need to know for your exams:
If you have any problems, tell your Tutor or the Dept Office as soon as possible.
If you have chosen to write your dissertation in TB1 or over the whole year, you must submit your title to the Department Office by the end of the first week of TB1. If you are writing the dissertation entirely in TB2, you must submit your title by the first Monday of term after Christmas. These titles are subject to approval by the Department, and may be modified after discussion at a Departmental Staff Meeting. This meeting will also allocate you a supervisor, who may or may not be the member of staff with whom you've already discussed your dissertation subject.
You have an entirely free choice of subject; many students choose to study something which relates to a unit which they took in their second year or which they are taking in their third year, but you could choose to do something completely different. The Department is concerned simply that the subject chosen is suitable for a dissertation: not too narrowly defined or well worn (in which case you're likely to find it difficult to find enough to say), not too broadly defined (in which case you're likely to get lost and/or overwhelmed).
A good dissertation need not present totally new or unheard-of solutions and approaches, though in general the very best dissertations do attempt to say something new rather than just summarise the arguments of others. A good dissertation will show a sound knowledge of the subject as a whole, a clear, incisive organisation and presentation, and the ability to isolate problems and make reasoned and independent choices between possible solutions. Close acquaintance with the ancient sources, in translation or in the original, and with other relevant evidence, should be shown where appropriate.
It is a requirement for credit that students should attend three meetings with their dissertation supervisor. As soon as your title has been approved and you have been allocated a supervisor, you should make an appointment as soon as possible to see him or her to discuss your ideas. Within four weeks you should submit an abstract of your project, outlining the subject and your main arguments, along with a sample bibliography; you should also make an appointment with your supervisor to discuss this abstract. You should have at least one further meeting with your supervisor, before submitting the dissertation, to discuss your progress and any queries you may have about content and presentation.
The dissertation should comprise around 10,000 words, exclusive of short notes, references, illustrations (including quotations from primary sources) and appendices. The upper limit on length is to be taken seriously. Dissertations which significantly exceed the upper limit will be penalised. If you include an appendix, it must not be disproportionately long and must be necessary for a proper treatment of the subject.
The dissertation may be written either in continuous essay form, or broken up into sections or chapters, according to the student's choice and to the demands of the subject. Full references should be given to primary and secondary sources (see guidelines on pp.2-3), and a complete bibliography of primary and secondary sources should be appended. In general, the dissertation should conform to accepted 'academic' form; in other words, make it look like a 'proper book' as far as possible.
The dissertation should be typed, on paper of A4 size, double-spaced, and should be presented in a finished and corrected form. Typescripts that have obviously not been corrected for spelling, punctuation and typing errors will be penalised. If you are producing the dissertation yourself on a word processor, be aware that automatic spell-checkers can play havoc with passages which use a lot of Greek or Latin words; you must proof-read your work carefully. If you are planning to use a professional typist, be aware that this can be expensive; moreover, the typist will need to be given notice, the typing may take up to a week or longer, and you will need to provide a clear double-spaced manuscript; finally, few typists will be able to cope with Greek.
Dissertations can either be stapled together at the top left-hand corner, with your name shown in the right-hand corner of the front page (and on the cover), or they can be bound quite cheaply in plastic ring binders.
Computers crash: fact of life, but you can minimise the consequences. Save your work regularly, and save it on disk as well as on the hard drive. Produce draft printouts regularly. Whatever you do, don't let yourself get into the position of trying to print out your dissertation the night before it's due in; start a week in advance, so you have plenty of time to deal with equipment failures, proof-reading etc. Sloppy, rushed-looking dissertations lose marks; and the Department does not accept computer problems as a sufficient justification for late submission, so the reductions on marks outlined below will apply even if you genuinely cannot get it printed out in time.
Always a confusing issue. You can make use of material from other units, including work done for essays and seminar presentations, in your dissertation, provided that it is relevant and fully incorporated into the argument. You should not, of course, simply copy out large chunks of an essay; we expect your work in the dissertation to be more detailed and sophisticated, a development of your earlier ideas rather than a repetition of them.
You should not duplicate material from your dissertation in any exam: you may be well advised to avoid answering questions relating to your dissertation topic, to avoid any suspicion of duplication. This is not to say that you can never make any use of work done for the dissertation; it is quite legitimate to draw on your background reading. For example. if you wrote a dissertation on Sophocles' Antigone, you could certainly make use in the exam of any reading you'd done on Greek tragedy in general, or on Sophocles. What you should NOT do is answer any questions on the Antigone, or answer more general questions on Sophocles or on tragedy by focusing on the Antigone, even if the question would allow this.
You must submit two copies of your dissertation, to the Departmental Office. Students writing their dissertation in TB1 only must submit their dissertation by the end of the second week of TB2; all other students must submit their dissertations by the end of week 9 of TB2. Late submission will result in a 10% reduction of marks per week late, up to a maximum of a 60% reduction.