'History is a subject where debate and opinion are part of professional practice, so don't forget the power of argument, authority and persuasion'
Writing with authority is about acquiring the ability to carry the reader with you as you present your argument and make them willing to accept what you say. However, it is important to note that 'authority' is not synonymous with 'dogmatism'. You are not bashing the reader into submission (which is counterproductive) but persuading them that in this matter your views can be trusted.
It follows that is is acceptable to register uncertainty where appropriate - viz where there is something we don't or can't know. But don't be tentative about your own interpretation; there are lots of possible interpretations out there, none of which is going to be final, so you don't need to emphasise that yours might be wrong. Leave it to the reader to decide.
Planning your essay
This is just a brief section to reinforce the importance of planning your essay. For more detailed notes, refer back to the Planning section in this resource.
Spending a good amount of time on planning your essay is well worth it; if you don't know where you are going, why should the reader follow you?
The key points are:
- Don't waffle - state your argument clearly and back it up with supporting evidence. You are not telling a story, but arguing a case.
- Articulate your own views clearly and explicitly - your supervisor or examiner needs to know what you think
- Don't just walk around the question prodding it from time to time; engage with it directly from the start
For longer pieces of work get a non-historian friend to read a draft; being deeply engaged with your essay, you are less likely than they are to spot areas where you haven't been explicit enough or have missed a stage in your argument (easy to do when you know what you mean). They may also spot errors in spelling, grammar and language.