The aim here is to generate your personal handle on the field without getting brainwashed by published authorities. The printed word has an authority which is hard to resist, so the first thing to decide is NOT TO READ ANYTHING until you have found your bearings. There are ways to achieve this without reading! So think:
- What are you trying to achieve?
- To put yourself in control of the material or topic
- To demonstrate that control through discussion
- Possibly, to answer a set question
- How are you going to do that?
- a. Start by gathering material
- In this case, you want pictures of artefacts/buildings, with full identifications, size, materials, locations - as relevant (you may scan texts for this information ONLY)
- b. Arrange this material in chronological order
It happened in chronological order. Chronology gives meaning. You
will treat it in chronological order as far as possible in your final
paper. Even if you take a conceptual approach, you will still treat the
various aspects chronologically!
- c. STARE at the material. DO NOT READ ANYTHING YET!
- Know it so well that you
recognize it instantly whenever you see it. Describe it to yourself.
Notice things about it: apparent purpose, subject matter, style, details,
possible influences. Compare earlier objects with later ones - do you
notice any sudden or gradual changes? What are those changes? Compare
the work of one artist or country with another. Do they both seem to have
the same purpose? Ask the material questions - does it have a physical or
cultural context? Is it in good condition? Why is it (or was it)
where it is (or was). Why has the artist done what he has done?
Why would you have done it, if you had been the artist? If the
artefacts seem to have been poorly made, refuse to assume bad workmanship
or misunderstanding by the artist: why else might the artist have
chosen to make it look the way it does? Etc.
- d. Digest your initial thoughts
- Note down your current understanding of the field:
development, problems, possibilities. Note down any questions that occur
to you, together with possible answers. Note down any opinions you have.
Note down some wild speculations. Build your own theories, if you like.
Get all your thoughts in writing. Number the pages as you go (this
will help you find it all again when you come to write up).
- You are now armed with opinions, observations,
questions, theories. You know the material. You can no longer
be brainwashed! Now you are ready to go into dialog with the published
authorities. So now you may read your course books and get books
and periodicals from the library.
Collect any additional information which throws light on your questions,
theories, etc. Note in down, with its sources (full reference and
information on aspects which did not occur to you before. Note it down,
with its sources, as before
- Now consider
all this new material in the light of your own knowledge of the material
(stage 2). Does it help? Does it account for everything you wanted to
know? What is missing, if anything? do you need to find more
information? Do the authorities seem to have the same problems as
- Reassess your original ideas
- Have the published authorities
helped you at all? Note down how.
- Do you still
think what you originally thought? Perhaps the published authorities
provided you with support for your theories? If so, note down how. You
will have to credit them. You should be feeling good!
- Do you now
think what the published authorities think? Perhaps they convinced you
they were right. If so, use your original ideas as a source of useful
discussion in the paper. Very scholarly!
- Do you now
think something somewhere in between? Perhaps the published authorities
disproved some of your first ideas but gave you some new and better ones
instead. Note it all down. This is going to be a great paper!
- Do you still
think what you originally thought, but are your ideas are in conflict with
the published authorities? This is potentially rich and fruitful, not a
disaster. Be ready with everyone's arguments (crediting authors) and
prepare to fight to the death!
- Are the
published authorities in conflict with each other as well as with you?
This is a sign of an unresolved field which would benefit from further
research. Make sure you say so in your paper. Note the main camps.
Decide between them or stick to your own guns, giving reasons in each
case. This will be a rather analytical paper, which the field obviously
- Begin to organize all this material
Pick out the various issues, ideas, etc and decide which are the most
useful for your paper. Of these, which ones are mentioned most
often by the authorities? They are important and must be included
in your final paper.
- Pick out the
stuff you want to include in your paper. This is always a bit of a
gamble. No two authorities exactly agree, and that includes you and your
professor. So brace yourself and plunge in. Exercise the vital scholarly
skill of selection. Relevance is what you're after. What does
your reader need to know in order to follow your discussion?
Include it. What can your reader do without (even if it is
interesting) and still follow your discussion? Leave it out. Choose a
representative range of examples. Include the best-known ones.
They are the proof that you know the field. Leave out the little-known
ones unless you feel they shed important new light on the field. Make
sure your examples include all relevant media.
- Now put them
all in order of importance for your paper. Use chronological order
where possible. Use it for tracing developments. Use it for comparisons.
If taking a conceptual approach, use it within the categories. If
deciding between two equally important things, put the earliest one first.
Make a list of the results. This is the working order for your
discussion. Make each one into a temporary subheading now.
- Flesh out the paper plan
Refer to your subheadings. What do you want to say about each one?
Using short notes, refer to each aspect you propose to cover. If
the plan is for your own use, give the page numbers where you will find
the details in your notes. Be very specific. For example, do not
say "Insular influence?", say "Alcuin at Charlemagne's court (new line),
enlarged decorative initials, ribbon interlace (new line, indent) Insular
influence?". If your supporting material includes publications, give the
reference beside the note, e.g. "Possible Italian influence? (see Hubert,
Porcher, Volbach, p 23)". This will become a footnote in your paper.
- Make complete
bibliography, giving the abbreviations used in your plan. Attach it to
- Turn to The Art of Persuasive Writing
- You are
now in a position to decide on your introduction and conclusion. These
are vital parts of the paper. Their function is to establish your
authority from the word go, and to make sure the reader remembers your
conclusions at the end. They are discussed in The Art of Persuasive Writing.
- Now is also the time to consider the best ways of presenting your
arguments. These, too, are discussed in The
Art of Persuasive Writing.