Oftentimes, when presented with an academic essay questions, part of the challenge is to not only understand your particular topic (or object), but to understand its historical, cultural, or ideological significance.
Some tips in finding out the GENERAL THEORY behind you topic (or object) include:
- Using an ACADEMIC resource to understand you topic in an ACADEMIC context, rather than using a resource like Wikipedia that, generally, informs you of the POPULAR CULTURE opinion on a topic (or object)
- Using a SUBJECT-SPECIFIC resource to find out the key theorist and theories in your field of research. For example: if you are studying language & literature, use a literary criticism encyclopedia. Studying visual culture? Then use an art & design encyclopedia. These guides are written by the foremost experts in these disciplines and offer an excellent introduction to your subject.
- Resisting the urge to use Wikipedia! It is tempting, but oftentimes this open access encyclopedia can lead you astray! Instead trust your chosen academic encyclopedia to help orient you in an ACADEMIC framework. Many times one search in an ACADEMIC encyclopedia, like Oxford Art Online, will not yield an exact definition of a topic; but this can be a good thing! The essence of research is finding things you DON'T expect to find and struggling to reconcile this with your own ideas, impressions or opinions on a subject.