A seminar essay is original research work in which a specific thesis is presented to a group of interested peers, usually in an academic setting. For example, it can function as your cumulative work from a college course. Seminar essays have specific purposes and guidelines in some places (for example, law school), but the format and process are generally the same. The steps below will guide you through the process of researching and writing a seminar essay and provide tips for developing an essay that is well received.
Part 1 of 4: Get Started
Step 1. Learn what the basic characteristics of a seminar essay are
While a seminar essay is an advanced piece of research writing, it has many of the same characteristics as a regular research essay. Before you start writing your seminar essay, it is important that you make sure you understand how it differs from a research essay. Unlike a basic research essay, you will also need to include the following in a seminar essay:
- an argument that makes an original contribution to schooling that already exists on the subject
- extensive research to back up your argument
- long footnotes or endnotes (depending on the style of documentation you are going to use)
Step 2. Request clarification if necessary
You may have written many essays in the past, but it's important to make sure you understand the details of your current job before you begin. As soon as your teacher assigns you the essay, you should read the guidelines carefully and highlight anything you don't understand. In case there is something that seems unclear or you simply do not understand the assignment, you can ask your teacher to clarify the instructions. You could also talk to your teacher about your intended topic to make sure you are on track.
- Make sure you understand how to cite sources for your essay and use the style of documentation your teacher prefers (for example, APA, MLA, or Chicago Manual of Style).
- Avoid feeling bad if you have questions, as it is better to ask and be sure you understand than to do the job poorly and get a bad grade.
Step 3. Plan ahead
Because your teacher will expect original analysis, extensive research, and excellent writing, it is important to start early and do the best work possible. You should start working on the essay as soon as you are assigned and take advantage of your university's writing center, if there is one, for additional help.
- It is best to divide a seminar essay into individual steps, so it is recommended that you create a schedule, which you can adjust as needed.
- Avoid trying to do the research and write the seminar essay in just a few days. Extensive research is required for such a trial and will therefore require you to plan ahead. You should start as soon as possible.
Step 4. Generate ideas for your seminar essay
Before you get down to writing it, you need to spend some time exploring your ideas and jotting down a few things on paper. As with other types of writing, basic inventive activities (for example, making lists, free writing, grouping, and questioning) can help you develop ideas for your seminar essay.
- List makingMake a list of all the ideas you have for the essay (good or bad) and then review the list you have made, grouping the ideas that are similar. Then expand those lists by adding more ideas to them or using some other prewriting activity.
- Free writing: write non-stop for about 10 minutes. You must write everything you can think of without editing. When finished, review what you have written and highlight or underline the information that is most useful. Repeat this free writing exercise, starting with the passages you have underlined. This exercise can be repeated several times to keep you refining and developing your ideas.
- Group: In the center of a sheet of paper, write a short explanation (a phrase or a short sentence) of the topic of your seminar essay and circle it. Then draw three or more lines extending from the circle, writing a corresponding idea at the end of each of these lines. Keep building the group until you've explored as many connections as possible.
- Question: write "Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?" on a sheet of paper, leaving about two or three lines of space between each question so that you can write your answers there. Then answer in as much detail as possible to each question.
Step 5. Come up with a question as a way to help guide your investigation
A research question is what you intend to answer with your research. Setting up a research question will help you stay focused as you do your research. It can also be the starting point for your thesis later on.
- For example, in case you want to know more about the uses of religious relics in medieval England, you can start with something like "How were relics used in medieval England?" The information you gather on this topic may lead you to develop a thesis on the role or importance of relics in medieval England.
- Your research question should be kept simple and focused, as you should use it to narrow the scope of your research. After you start gathering information, it's okay to revise or modify the research question to match the information you find. Similarly, it is always possible to narrow the scope of the question a bit if you come across too much information.
Part 2 of 4: Conduct the Research
Step 1. Collect research for your essay
In order to find support for your argument, you will need to gather information from a variety of sources. Check the job guidelines or check with your instructor if you have any questions about the type of sources that are suitable for your seminar essay. Some of the sources you might consider are books, academic journal articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, and trustworthy websites. You could do some background research to start with, and then move on to more focused research as you learn more about the topic.
You should use your library's database (for example, EBSCO or JSTOR) rather than doing a general internet search. University libraries subscribe to many databases, with which you can access articles and other resources for free that you usually cannot access through a search engine. In case you don't have access to these databases, you can try Google Scholar
Step 2. Evaluate your sources to determine their credibility
In a seminar essay, it is important that you use only sources that you trust. Otherwise, your own credibility as an author will suffer. Also, it will be helpful to use the library's databases to ensure that you get a large number of reliable sources for your essay. You need to take into account several things in order to determine if a source is reliable:
- The credentials of the publication: takes into account the type of source (for example, a refereed magazine or book). You should look for sources that are academically based and that have been accepted by the research community. Also, the sources you use should be unbiased.
- The author's credentials- Opt for sources that feature an author's name and give you their credentials. These should include something related to why this person is qualified to speak as an authority on the subject. For example, an article about a medical problem will be more reliable if the author is a medical doctor. If you find a source where no author is listed or whose author does not have credentials, it may not be trustworthy.
- The references: consider whether or not the author has investigated the subject sufficiently. Look at the author's bibliography or works cited page. In case you have included few or no sources, this source may not be reliable.
- Bias: consider whether or not the author presented an objective and well-reasoned account on the subject. How often does the tone indicate a strong preference for one side of the argument? How often does the argument dismiss or ignore the other's concerns or valid arguments? In case this happens regularly at the source, it may not be a good option.
- The publication date- Consider whether or not the source presents the most up-to-date information on the subject. It is particularly important that you take note of the publication date in the case of scientific topics, as, due to new technologies and techniques, some previous findings have become irrelevant.
- The information provided in the source: In case you continue to question the reliability of the source, you can check some of the information that appears in it with that of a trusted source. If this author submits information that contradicts any of your trusted sources, they may not be a good source for your essay.
Step 3. Read your research
After gathering all your sources, you will need to read them. You should read them very carefully, several times if necessary, and be careful to fully understand them. If you misinterpret and misrepresent your sources, this can harm your credibility as an author, as well as negatively affect your rating.
- Give yourself plenty of time to read your sources and make an effort to understand what they say. In case there is something that is not clear to you, you can ask your teacher to clarify it.
- Consider if it is easier for you to read and take notes on your fonts digitally or if you prefer to print them and do it by hand.
Step 4. Take notes as you read the sources
Highlight and underline significant fragments so that you can easily return to them. Also, as you read, you should extract meaningful information from your sources by taking note of it in a notebook. Use quotation marks and include information about the source (for example, the author's name, the title of the article or book, and the page number) to indicate when you have quoted a source verbatim in your notes.
Make sure to cite sources appropriately when taking notes. Even inadvertent plagiarism may result in you failing your essay
Part 3 of 4: Write your essay
Step 1. Write a thesis
After developing the ideas for your seminar essay and reading your sources, you should be ready to write your thesis statement. Effective thesis statements express the argument clearly and directly. Do not forget that a thesis should not be longer than one sentence.
- Be careful to present an original point of view in your thesis. Seminar essays are advanced writing projects, so be sure to present an advanced and original point of view in your thesis.
- For example, in case you've done your research on the uses of relics in medieval England, your thesis might be "Medieval English religious relics used to be used in ways that are more pagan than Christian."
Step 2. Develop a rough outline based on your research notes
It will be helpful to write an outline before you start writing your seminar essay in order to organize your information more effectively. The outline can be as detailed or sparse as you like. You just have to keep in mind that you will have a greater amount of material ready to include in your essay the more details you include in the outline.
Organize your outline according to the parts of the essay, and then divide these parts into subsections. For example, the first part can cover the introduction, after which you can divide it into three subsections: a) the introductory sentence, b) the context or background information, c) the thesis statement
Step 3. Engage readers from the start
The first sentence needs to be interesting enough that readers want to know more. The introduction also needs to be engaging. Start discussing the topic immediately and help readers understand your position from the first paragraph of your essay. Consider what you will talk about in the rest of the essay as a way to help you determine what should be in the introduction. Use the introduction to establish an infrastructure for your essay, explaining how your research fits with current ideas on the topic and why your ideas are important.
- For example, in the case of an essay on medieval relics, you could introduce it with a striking example of the way relics were used or with a vivid description of an unusual relic.
- Note that you should identify the main idea of your seminar essay in the introduction, and that this should serve as a preview for the rest of the essay.
Step 4. Provide relevant background information as a way to guide readers
Providing adequate background information or context will help guide readers through the essay. Consider what your readers will need to know in order to understand the rest of the essay, and include this information in the first paragraph. Do readers need to know about the background of the topic? Do they need to know what other scholars have written about? The topic and argument you intend to make will determine what information your readers need to know.
- For example, in the case of an essay on relics in medieval England, you may want to give readers examples of the types of relics and how they were used. What was its purpose? Where were they kept? Who could have relics? Why did people value relics?
- Keep in mind that you should use background information as a way to help readers understand your perspective.
Step 5. Present your claims and your research in an organized manner
Don't try to discuss various aspects of the topic in a single paragraph, but instead be careful that each paragraph in the body focuses on a single statement or piece of evidence. Discussing each of these separate topics should help to verify your thesis. You should do the following with each body paragraph:
Don't forget to use topic sentences to structure your paragraphs. At the beginning of each paragraph, you should make one claim and then back it up with at least one example from one of your sources. Don't forget to discuss each piece of evidence in detail so that readers can understand the point you want to make
Step 6. Consider organizing your essay using headings and subheadings
Seminar essays are typically 10 pages and up, so many writers use headings and subheadings as a way to help organize the essay. These headings and subheadings are helpful for readers to follow your argument by showing them what each section is about before they start reading it.
For example, in the case of an essay on medieval relics, one of the headings could be "Uses of relics" and the sub-headings could be "Religious uses", "Household uses", "Medical uses", and so on
Step 7. Conclude the essay
It can be difficult to conclude a seminar essay, especially if the argument you presented is long and complex. You can conclude it in a number of ways that will be useful and interesting to your readers. Before writing the conclusion, you should take some time to reflect on what you have written and try to determine the most logical way to conclude the essay. These are some possibilities for the conclusion of your essay:
- Summarize what you have discussed: put everything together for the readers and explain the other lessons that can be learned from your argument. How might this discussion change the way others perceive the topic?
- Explain why the topic is important - Helps readers understand why this topic deserves their attention. How does this topic have an effect on readers? What are the broader implications of the topic? Why is the topic important?
- Go back to the introductory discussion: In case, near the beginning of the essay, you included an anecdote or a quote, it may help to return to that introductory discussion and explore how the information you have gathered engages that discussion.
Step 8. Create the bibliography
You must follow the instructions of your instructor for the preparation of the bibliography. Be careful to use the correct style and to cite all sources. Before concluding the essay, you will need to make sure that you have cited all sources, as failure to do so, either through in-text references or a page of works cited, could be considered plagiarism and cause you to disapprove of your rehearsal or even the course.
- In case you're unsure, check with your teacher as to which style of documentation they prefer you use.
- Visit your school's writing center for additional help with the works cited page and in-text references.
Part 4 of 4: Review the essay
Step 1. Give yourself enough time for the review
Just as you should plan to start working on the essay as soon as possible, you also need to plan to finish it soon. You should give yourself plenty of time to thoroughly review your essay, so plan to finish it at least a few days before the due date. If you give yourself plenty of time, this can help you avoid simple mistakes and also some big problems (for example, bad logic or flawed arguments).
Step 2. Wait a few days before reviewing your essay
If you take a break after you finish writing your essay, your brain will be able to rest and you will have a fresh perspective when you return to the draft. It's important that you start writing your essay early enough so that you can give yourself a few days or even a week before the due date for your review. If you don't give yourself this extra time, you will have a greater propensity to make simple mistakes and, as a consequence, your grade could suffer.
Step 3. Review your essay
The review is not the same as the correction. When reviewing your essay, consider the content and how you could improve it, while proofreading is helpful in fixing minor problems (for example, grammar and punctuation errors). As you review your essay, you should consider the various aspects of your writing so that you are sure that readers can understand what you have written. For example, you can create a reverse outline from the text as a way to determine how well you presented your argument. During your review, consider the following questions:
- What is your main point? How could you clarify it?
- Who is your audience? Did you take their needs and expectations into account?
- What is your goal? Did you make it with this essay?
- How effective is your evidence? How could you strengthen it?
- Is each part of your essay related to the thesis? How could you improve these connections?
- Is there anything about the language or organization that is confusing? How could you clarify the language or the organization?
- Did you make any grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes? How can you correct them?
- What might someone who disagrees with you say about your essay? How can you address these opposing arguments in your essay?
Step 4. Edit your essay in a printed version
You should read it out loud as a way to make sure it's refined and ready for your teacher to read. You can use that last reading as an opportunity to spot typos, grammar errors, verbose or incomplete sentences, and other small errors that could negatively affect your grade. Highlight or circle these errors and revise as necessary before printing the final copy.
- When coming up with a specific thesis, you should start by arguing something general and then gradually make the points you want to argue more specific.
- Take precise and detailed notes on your sources. If possible, you should write your essay in such a way that you can still consult the sources so that you can ensure that you have accurate quotes and that you do not plagiarize.
- When conducting original research, it is always recommended that you approach the research topic from multiple angles. Use search terms that might initially seem illogical, and look for books and articles that don't have a direct relationship to your topic. Relevant information is often buried in otherwise unimportant sources.
- Don't choose something that looks like it will be interesting to others but instead go for a topic that interests you. It will be much easier and more pleasant for you to write about something that matters to you.
- Keep in mind that seminar essays vary by discipline. Most of them have certain characteristics in common, but your discipline may have certain unique requirements or characteristics. For example, for a seminar essay for a Chemistry course, you may need to include original data from your experiments. On the other hand, in the case of a seminar essay for a language course, you may need to include a bibliographic review. You should consult your student manual or ask your instructor to determine what the special features of seminar essays are for your program. Also, before you start, be careful to check with your teacher regarding their expectations.
- You should not be afraid to admit any deficiency or difficulty in your argument. If you openly identify the problematic or unresolved parts instead of skimming them, your thesis will be strengthened.
- Plagiarism is a serious offense in academia. Plagiarizing your essay could result in you failing the assignment or even the entire course. You should be careful to fully understand what is considered plagiarism and what is not before writing your essay. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your educational institution's plagiarism policy, please consult with your teacher.