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Guidelines for Essay Writing

General guidelines

In the course of the year you will be asked to produce several essays, one for each lecture course on the programme. You will of course be used to producing essays as part of your schoolwork, and will have acquired many important skills and much experience already. In addition, you should bear the following points in mind as you prepare your essays:

Read the ancient texts
Part of the purpose of an essay is to demonstrate you have read and understood the ancient material. Make sure you have read the sources thoroughly before you begin writing your essay.

Read modern scholarship

A bibliography is distributed for all lecture courses, which includes the best and most accessible work by modern scholars that is available in the library. Consulting the books and articles on this list will stimulate your thinking and help you form your own ideas about the ancient material. You should always credit the original author when you have based your ideas on those of another person: if you use other people’s ideas without showing your sources, you may be accused of plagiarism, which carries severe penalties under University regulations. See below.

Ask ‘Why?’ as well as ‘What’?

Don’t just write narrative essays which retell the story of the Odyssey or give a potted biography of Julius Caesar. Of course you should show that you know what has happened, and you are entitled to spend some time in your essays going over this type of detail. However, at university level you are also expected to ask why things happened, to analyse the causes and motivation behind events. A good essay will also ask, for example, why Homer tells the story of the Odyssey in a certain way, or why Julius Caesar behaved the way he did. As long as you keep reading the ancient material and thinking about what it means, you will not go far wrong.

Word-processed work

For word-processed work, the following layout is recommended:

The purpose of this is twofold: (i) to conform to generally accepted standards of presentation, and (ii) to make your work easier to read and write comments upon.

  • Paper: A4, single-sided only.
  • Number each page sequentially.
  • Font: 12 point Times New Roman (or any other easily readable font such as Arial or Helvetica).
  • Line spacing: 1.5 or 2 line spacing.
  • Quotations: Short quotations (no more than one or two sentences in length) may be included in the main body of text, enclosed within quotation marks. Longer quotations should be indented from the main text and should not be enclosed within quotation marks. These may be given in single line spacing.
  • Notes: Either footnotes (at the bottom of each page) or endnotes (all notes given at the end of the text). These should be numbered consecutively, in Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3 etc.): they should not begin again at 1 on a new page.
  • Margins: Leave a margin of at least 30mm at the left hand edge of your page. This gives your marker space to make comments.
  • Remember to proofread your final version before you hand it in, and to check for errors in spelling and grammar. All good word processing programs have a spellchecker for this purpose – but remember that spellcheckers only check the correct spellings, and not whether you have used the appropriate word. Your tutor will be happy to help you in matters of layout and style.

Plagiarism: what it is and how to avoid it

The Student Code for UCD defines plagiarism under Section 6 (“Breaches of Discipline”) as follows:

Plagiarism…is the copying of another person's writings or works or ideas in any thesis, essay,…or other exercise which forms part of the requirements for an academic course, where such copying is either unauthorised by the copyright owner or unacknowledged in the thesis, essay, project, laboratory report or other exercise or both. This means that taking material, without acknowledgement, from any of the following sources counts as plagiarism:

  • A published book
  • A journal article
  • An essay in a collection of published papers
  • An internet site
  • Another student’s essay
  • Any other piece of work, whether written or oral, which is not the result of your own efforts.

The purpose of essay work at university level is to demonstrate proof of your own ability in and understanding of a subject area. Plagiarism, which attempts (intentionally or otherwise) to disguise other people’s work as your own, is therefore a very serious offence, whether intentional or accidental. Be sure to credit all sources scrupulously in order to avoid any risk of plagiarising. If you are in any doubt, consult your tutor, who will be happy to help. There are further guidelines on the Library website.

References and Bibliography

How to cite references and produce a bibliography:

There are many different standards in use for referring to ancient and modern sources. A suggested scheme is outlined below. It doesn’t particularly matter if you decide to adopt a different system: all that matters is that you should be clear and consistent.

i. Referring to ancient works

For ancient prose sources, you should give the author and title of the work in brackets, followed by as much information as possible to pinpoint the exact source of the quote – book, chapter, paragraph numbers et cetera. For example:

My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last for ever. (Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 1.23)

It is also acceptable to give the page number of the translation you are using, e.g.:

My work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last for ever. (Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War Book 1, p. 48)

For ancient verse sources, give the author and title in brackets, followed by the line reference (chapter and verse) of the poem, e.g.:

We should live, my Lesbia, and love,

And value all the talk of stricter

Old men at a single penny. (Catullus Poems 5.1-3)

Note that verse should be written as verse: it is not appropriate to lay out a passage of poetry as if it were prose. However, should you be using a prose translation of an ancient poet, it is appropriate to refer to it as if it were a prose source, e.g.:

I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son. The whole world talks of my stratagems, and my fame has reached the heavens. (Homer, Odyssey 9, p. 124)

You will need to indicate which translation you have used in your bibliography. For example, for the above quotations your bibliography should include the following entries (given in alphabetical order):

Catullus, The Poems of Catullus. Tr. Guy Lee. Oxford 1990.Homer, The Odyssey: A New Prose Translation. Tr. E.V. Rieu, revised D.C.H. Rieu. Harmondsworth 1991.Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War. Tr. M.I. Finley. Harmondsworth 1988.

ii. Referring to modern works

Every time you quote a modern author in your text, you should insert a footnote or follow the quotation with a reference to your source. Equally, whenever any of your ideas are derived from a secondary source, you should give a reference to that source in the text or in a footnote. Broadly speaking, there are two conventional styles for giving references:

(a) The Harvard style

Here, after you have referred to or quoted an author, you give the name of the author and the year in which (s)he published the text, followed by the page or pages from which your reference is drawn, and all enclosed in brackets. Two examples follow, both taken from Sir Ronald Syme’s The Roman Revolution (Oxford 1939):

Sir Ronald Syme argues that the rise to power of the first emperor Augustus “was the work of fraud and bloodshed, based upon the seizure of power and redistribution of property by a revolutionary leader” (Syme 1939: p. 2).

Syme argues that the government of the emperor Augustus was based not on Republican liberty but on a brutal despotism (Syme 1939: pp. 1-9).

You can find further details on the Harvard style in Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, New York 1999 (available in the library).

(b) Footnoting

In this style, you follow the quotation or reference with a footnote (or endnote); and then, in the footnote or endnote, you give the name of the author, the year of publication (this should be in brackets), and the page number(s) to which you are referring. For the same examples:

Sir Ronald Syme argues that the rise to power of the first emperor Augustus “was the work of fraud and bloodshed, based upon the seizure of power and redistribution of property by a revolutionary leader.”1 Syme argues that the government of the emperor Augustus was based not on Republican liberty but on a brutal despotism.2


1 Syme (1939) 2.

2 Syme (1939) 1-9.

The Harvard style is more convenient if you are submitting handwritten work; either style is suitable for word-processed essays. Note that whichever style you choose, you do not need to give full details of the source either in the text or in the footnote. This is because you will give the full details in your bibliography at the end of your text. If you are in any doubt about referencing, please consult your tutor, who will be glad to help you.

iii. How to lay out a bibliography

Your bibliography should include every source you refer to in the text and footnotes. The information you include should be as follows:

For books:

Give the author, title (in italics), place and date of publication. The place and date of publication are usually given on the page following the title page. If the book is a translation of an ancient author, give the name of the translator as well.

Griffin, J., Homer: The Odyssey. Cambridge 1987. Syme, R., The Roman Revolution. Oxford 1939.Homer, The Odyssey: A New Prose Translation. Tr. E.V. Rieu, revised D.C.H. Rieu. Harmondsworth 1991.

For journal articles:

Give the author, title (in inverted commas), journal name (in italics or underlined), volume number, date (in brackets), and page numbers:

Hales, S. “At Home with Cicero.” Greece & Rome 47 (2000) 44-55.

For essays in a book of collected papers:

Give the author, the title (in inverted commas), then the editor(s) of the collection, the title of the book (in italics or underlined), the place and date of publication, and page numbers:

Cairns, Francis “Catullus in and about Bithynia” In D.Braund & C.Gill (eds.) Myth, History and Culture in Republican Rome. Exeter 2003.

For a website:

Give the author’s name, date of most recent update, title of page, URL, and date accessed (or as much of this information as is available), e.g.:

Galinsky, G.K. (1997) “The Speech of Pythagoras in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.” http://www.utexas.edu/depts/classics/faculty/Galinsky/pythag.html.Accessed 10/9/2003.

Your tutor will be happy to help you if you have any queries or difficulties with the appropriate style.

Source: The First Year Handbook (Martin Brady 2005)

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