Skills for Learning

Essay Writing

Overview

An essay is a piece of academic writing that answers a question or explores one specific topic. Essays are the most common form of assessment in universities. You will be expected to build an argument based on evidence gathered from information sources. Essays tend to have three main parts: the introduction, main body and conclusion.

How to approach your essay

ACCORDION: Converted tabs - this tab opens by default

Use the question you’ve been set to help you develop a plan for literature searching. For most topics, there will be many books and journal articles available. When searching the Library Catalogue and subject databases, focus on key words from the question. Look for instruction words and phrases. These provide clues as to what the question is asking you to do. The key words in the question might include ‘What?’, ‘When?’ or ‘Why?’, in addition to topic-specific terms. Download the Understanding Assignment Questions Worksheet from our Resources & Worksheets to help you.

After doing some research, you can begin to organise your ideas. Making an essay plan will help you to formulate an answer. You should plan before you start to write so that your answer is clear and logical. Try making a detailed list of your ideas using bullet points. Download the Essay Planning Worksheet from our Resources & Worksheets for helpful methods to organise your thoughts.

An academic essay is usually an argument, where you give evidence to make a case. A thesis statement is a summary of your main argument. It is usually expressed in one sentence in the first paragraph of your essay. The purpose is to tell your reader how you are going to answer the question. An example thesis statement might be: ‘Coffee is more effective at improving energy levels than tea because it contains a greater amount of caffeine’.

Your essay should provide evidence to show that your thesis statement is valid. Keep referring to your thesis statement throughout and be sure to maintain one central argument. This approach will allow you to remain focused as you write.

ACCORDION OPTIONS: enable collapse / start fully collapsed

The structure of your essay is very important. Each paragraph should contain one key idea, and each idea should link to the next. The order of the paragraphs should be logical. Think about grouping similar ideas together – you might structure chronologically or by theme.

Each paragraph should contribute to your overall argument. Download the Paragraph Structure Worksheet from our Resources & Worksheets to help you develop this skill. The PEAL model (which stands for ‘Point, Evidence, Analysis, Link’) provides a basic structure for your paragraphs. With this approach, each paragraph is built around one clear point backed up with evidence. Before moving on to the next paragraph, you must explain the relevance of the point. Finally, link back to your main argument or forward to the next paragraph. PEAL is especially useful if you struggle to structure your academic writing.

Your first draft does not have to be perfect. In fact, it may look very different from the finished essay. The first draft is about having a go at answering the question. Certainly, you should not see your first attempt as the final piece. You will always gain more marks by editing your work before you submit your assignment. Try making notes in the margins of your first draft to remind you of what to add or change.

This is your opportunity to check your work thoroughly. Examine the content and structure of the essay. Have you answered the question and fulfilled the assignment brief? Is your answer structured logically? Are there problems with grammar and spelling? Leave yourself plenty of time before the deadline to edit your work. You may want to put the essay aside for a day or so. When you return to it, you’re more likely to notice issues that need resolving.

Top tips! Keep referring to the question to see if each paragraph contributes to your overall answer. Take a look at our editing and proofreading advice to help with the editing process.

The final read-through is when you check for spelling, typographical and formatting errors. It’s also wise to check your referencing (both in-text citations and the reference list) is consistent and accurate. Take time and care over this stage. Your tutor is sure to notice if you skip this important step.

Top tips! Don’t leave proofreading until the last minute! If you rush, you’ll miss obvious problems and your work will be less polished.

Find out more about proofreading.

Main features of an essay

Introduction

This tells the reader how you are going to answer the question. Give your reader a clear summary of what you are going to argue (your thesis statement) and what points you will make. Additionally, outline any methodologies or theoretical frameworks you will use. In short, show what you’re aiming to achieve with the essay. The main body of the essay will expand on these aims.

Main body

This is the analytical part of the essay, where you will demonstrate your knowledge. You should use critical thinking skills to form your own argument. Each paragraph should make a different point and contribute to answering the overall question. The paragraphs should be presented in a logical order. You must give evidence from your reading to back up your argument. This is the longest part of the essay and your opportunity to show what you know!

Conclusion

The conclusion is where you summarise how you have answered the essay question. Return to the key points established in the introduction. Explain how the main body of the essay has examined these points to create your argument. In many essays, the conclusion can also be used to put forward your own ideas for future research.

Activity

Links

{{You can add more boxes below for links specific to this page [this note will not appear on user pages] }}

Skills for Learning FAQs