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Supervisor's view

"Don't do it soon. Don't jump at a title or question that ties you down. It might make life easier, but it'll take away a chance to achieve more in your essay. When you read something carefully, you notice things. If you notice things that link to one another, and you think that linkage is significant, then you have a topic for an essay. To make that grow into an argument you'll probably need to re-read bits of the texts, criticism, contextual writings, and all the while you'll be refining a line of argument. You can probably make this argument without a title at all, because your topic - the area and implicit questions you're addressing - will keep you grounded. A good time to add a title might be right at the end!"

Having the freedom to set your own agenda and investigate your own interests is perhaps one of the biggest adjustments to make when beginning your studies at Cambridge. It can be very liberating and rewarding, yet setting your own essay title is a challenging task. Even with an essay title that has been given to you, there is scope for interpreting it in a number of ways, and you need to be sure that your own approach to it is valid. A good essay question needs to be:

Without the detailed subject knowledge of your supervisor, it may seem difficult to be certain that your own question or interpretation meets these criteria; even in postgraduate or professional academic work, scholars may pursue a question before realising that it is not workable. However, you have the experience of your supervisor to guide you, and also the knowledge that the supervision is a place in which to explore ideas, rather than arrive at a definitive answer. You can always discuss potential titles with your supervisor to check if they are appropriate.