The First Coursework Submission

As this blog was set up to follow my journey from archive student to archive professional, I thought I should post a blog about the coursework in my Archives & Records Management MA. I’m a part-time student studying two modules per term, I have two pieces of coursework due in before Christmas, but I’ll post about the second piece of coursework separately, as it is completely different.

Concepts and Contexts

The Concepts and Contexts module spans over this Autumn term 2016 and the Spring term  2017. The first piece of coursework due in for this module was handed in yesterday (yay!), and the other piece of coursework is due in April next year. The first piece of coursework was a 1,200 word critical reflection. For this, we were given three topics to choose from

  1. Discuss whether and how effective record keeping is fundamental to society,
  2. Discuss whether the ‘record’ is a conceptual or physical entity.
  3. Discuss whether archivists and records managers should be managing ‘evidence of me’ rather than ‘corporate records’.

I chose the second option.

For those of you who have read some of my other blog posts, you may know that an earlier post was on the subject ‘What is a Record?’. Looking back through that blog post it feels a little immature – I can now see how little I touched on the real subject and how much I left out altogether! I’ve only been blogging for a little over a month, so we’ll just put that one down to a learning curve in my blogging and archival education.

Back to the essay. I chose that topic for a number of reasons. I’m finding the Concepts and Contexts module quite hard (I’m not ashamed to admit it), because it involves lots of conceptual, abstract and theoretical thinking, and that is not my strong point. However, from the reading, research and lectures so far, I felt more confident in answering the second topic. I had already formed my own opinions on the subject, but I could understand why different people might have other opinions, and it just grabbed my attention more than the other two (not to say that the other two topics are uninteresting!).

The trickiest part about the essay was the word count: 1,200 words. With such a small word count you have to be very careful to be analytical, critical and reflective, but not too descriptive (something I know I need to work on). It also means that you have to limit yourself. There simply isn’t the space to talk about everything that has ever been written on the subject or explore every avenue.

The Process

As we had already started looking at archival theory, conceptual thinking and what makes a record in class, I went back to the beginning. I read through all of my lecture notes and homework for a refresh, and then I created a (very messy) brainstorm of my initial thoughts. The use of a brainstorm was suggested to the class by our lecturer, and whilst I had never used that process before, it actually worked really well for me. I’ll definitely be incorporating it into future essay prep too.

From the brainstorm, I could work out some particular themes. I decided to read around these themes, so I looked through the module reading list for potential reading material and scoured the library for resources. Some of the sources I read didn’t make it into my essay, but my final bibliography was comprised of 16 sources, a mix of journal articles, web pages, books, standards and reports. Once I had made notes on the sources I wanted to include and thought that I had enough material to write the essay it was time to start planning.

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Throughout my time in education it has been drilled into me that it is absolutely essential that you plan an essay before you write it. The planning stage will allow you to form your themes into a coherent structure, and if you follow the essay plan, you know what you want to say, where you want to say it, and where you are going to quote or reference your sources. The way I make my notes from the sources I use involves referencing as I go, so that all my notes can be traced back to the particular author, source and page number. Having learned to do this at the start of my undergraduate degree many years ago, it makes the planning and writing stages of the essay a lot easier, as I can pop the reference into the footnotes and the source into the bibliography as I go, and not have to resort to a frantic search for the source I used at the end. Once the plan was finished, the essay-writing process was fairly smooth, and I just had to follow the plan that I had set out.

My essay went through four drafts before being submitted. Once I had written the first full draft, I shut down my MacBook and did something else, only coming back to look at the draft the next day. I find this process incredibly insightful. There are so many times where I’ve come back to look at a previous draft and find that the structure of the paragraph just isn’t quite right, or that a quote or reference should be somewhere else. I’ve always found that no matter how many times you plan an essay, it never comes out how you would like it the first time. Essay writing is a long process, and the more drafts you can do, the more you can refine it. When I’m doing essays, reports, or any other type of coursework,I always try to do at least 3 or 4 drafts before submission.

The thing is, I’m not an A grade student, and I’m absolutely fine with that. I am a consistent B/B+ grade student, with the occasional C (sometimes we all just miss the point or make a mistake), and a few A grades (yahoo!). The important thing to remember is that not everyone learns the same way, and not everyone can produce an A* piece of work, and that is absolutely fine. (It’s taken me a while to realise this). Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has the capacity to learn more, so being a B/B+ level student is absolutely fine. It means there is always something to improve on, a B grade is good (and you can celebrate that bit more when you do get that A grade!).

The marking criteria for this postgraduate degree is a little different, as you are scored a distinction, merit, pass, condoned pass, or a fail. Whilst I’ve been working in archives for the past 4 years, writing about archival theory and archival practice is completely new to me and I’ve found the archival theory and conceptual thinking quite hard. I’m not expecting to get a distinction. I would be happy with a pass for this first essay, but obviously I’d be thrilled to get a merit!

From talking to some of the other students in the Concepts module, most people have found this essay interesting but a little hard. Obviously that’s fine – if we all found it plain sailing and incredibly easy then we wouldn’t be here in the first place! Conceptual and theoretical thinking isn’t everyone’s strong point, and it certainly isn’t mine, but it is very interesting, and a side of the archival world that I hadn’t encountered before. I do feel relieved now that I have the first piece of coursework out of the way. The last essay I had written before this was in April for my undergraduate degree. Although that’s only 6 months away, it’s surprising how rusty you get! It’s good to know that I can still research, plan and write an essay after a while away from academia.

As the saying goes, there is ‘no rest for the wicked’, and I’ve another coursework deadline in a month, so fingers crossed that I’ve done well in this essay, and that the next coursework submission goes well too!

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