Thursday, 22 February 2007

Gathering evidence

When I was first learning how to go about writing academic essays, I felt very confused. There seemed to be a lot of advice to follow. Eventually, my thought processes collapsed under the pressure of confusion. I lay on the floor and watched a woodlouse creep across the boards, its little legs undulating. Then a disembodied voice said, “whenever you make an assertion, you must support it with evidence.” That was enough to get me started. My essay (Leonardo da Vinci as anatomist, in case you were wondering) began to be born.

The WriteNow / AssessmentPlus criteria agree with my friendly discarnate being. ‘Using evidence’ is number two in the list, stating that essays should make,
“…use of externally sourced material, such as research findings, facts, quotations, or other forms of information. Good essays include information from outside sources that backs up the points made in the essay. Better essays explicitly highlight or interpret the evidence to support a more general claim or idea or point being made in the essay.”

In order to satisfy this criterion, it seems to me that it’s crucial (as others have suggested here) to allow enough time to carry out research and become familiar enough with relevant work. As you have seen, I like to begin with two or three general texts, whose overview helps me to begin an adversarial relationship with the ideas I will be evaluating in my assignment. I use these to understand the key issues and formulate some sort of central thesis for my essay, which tends to be primitive at first and hopefully grows in sophistication as my research progresses. At the moment, for example, it seems that my thesis goes something like, ‘Received wisdom would have me believe that Freud’s theory of personality has been discredited, and indeed it sounds quite wacky. But the more I read, the more alive Freudian theory seems. After all, his work suggested functional structures which he hoped would one day be mapped to the living brain. We probably now have the technology to investigate this – so what is being done?

I am still at the stage of using general texts to orient myself, typing my notes into this blog. But soon I’ll be reading research papers and maybe even tackling some of Freud’s actual writings (he was prolific, so I’ll need to choose carefully). I am also in search of perspectives - other than neurophysiological, sociocultural or methodological - from which to evaluate this theory of personality. So far, so good. And it’s fun!

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