Reading around the subject
What does it mean?
Tutors are always telling students to do this and essays that show evidence of it usually get better marks than those that don’t. In a nutshell, it means using a wide range of sources and showing that you’ve done it. It means thinking creatively about where you can get information that will help you answer your essay question and help you to show a developing knowledge of your subject. Here are some of your main sources:
Lectures and seminars
Lectures usually provide introductions to and overviews of a subject. Seminars are where this material is explored in more depth. However, all tutors have different styles: one may work through the set course material while another may introduce exciting, unexpected material. Understanding these differences in personal styles will help you get the most out of lectures and seminars.
These can seem incredibly daunting. Discuss them with your tutors. They know you won’t be able to read all the books on the list so ask them for more guidance.
Find out what’s relevant to your subject. If you are a Media Studies student then you need to know that The Guardian and The Independent have media supplements on particular days of the week which not only report the latest news but have opinion pieces on current issues in the industry. Back copies will be in your library and many newspapers – e.g. The Guardian – have extensive online archives.
These are specialist publications aimed at particular industries. As with newspapers, find out what’s relevant to your subject. Trade magazines report what’s current in a particular industry. They also have features on successful companies and profiles of leading figures. For example, if you are writing an essay on advertising there are a number of magazines covering this sector such as Campaign. If you are writing an essay on the retail sector then look at The Grocer. If you are writing an essay on purchasing then look at Purchasing and Supply Management. If your university library does not have what you want then go to the local city library – you’ll be surprised at the range of magazines there.
There will be a wide range of journals relevant to your subject. For example, in English Literature, Textual Practice and English publish articles on a wide range of subjects. There are also journals dealing only with Shakespeare or with Romantic writers or Victorian writers. Get into the library and find what they stock.
Most departments invite specialists from outside to come and talk to staff and students. This is sometimes an opportunity to hear major figures in a particular field or to learn about current thinking.
You can use this in all sorts of ways. Many national newspapers now have extensive online archives. The internet is also a good place for finding quick, useful definitions of things – e.g. globalisation – and for finding pointers to further sources. There are also an increasing number of academic journals that are only published electronically.
Postgraduate dissertations & theses
All university libraries archive postgraduate work and this can sometimes be a good source of information.
Local and national Government publications
They can be good sources of information for matters of public policy. Imagine you are writing an essay on initiatives to promote healthy eating: local and national government departments will have published materials about this. Or imagine you are writing an essay about the future of broadcasting: the government will have published a number of consultation documents and policy statements on the subject.