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Essay and dissertation writing skills

Planning your essay

Writing your introduction

Structuring your essay

  • Writing essays in science subjects
  • Brief video guides to support essay planning and writing
  • Writing extended essays and dissertations
  • Planning your dissertation writing time

Structuring your dissertation

  • Top tips for writing longer pieces of work

Advice on planning and writing essays and dissertations

University essays differ from school essays in that they are less concerned with what you know and more concerned with how you construct an argument to answer the question. This means that the starting point for writing a strong essay is to first unpick the question and to then use this to plan your essay before you start putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).

A really good starting point for you are these short, downloadable Tips for Successful Essay Writing and Answering the Question resources. Both resources will help you to plan your essay, as well as giving you guidance on how to distinguish between different sorts of essay questions. 

You may find it helpful to watch this seven-minute video on six tips for essay writing which outlines how to interpret essay questions, as well as giving advice on planning and structuring your writing:

Different disciplines will have different expectations for essay structure and you should always refer to your Faculty or Department student handbook or course Canvas site for more specific guidance.

However, broadly speaking, all essays share the following features:

Essays need an introduction to establish and focus the parameters of the discussion that will follow. You may find it helpful to divide the introduction into areas to demonstrate your breadth and engagement with the essay question. You might define specific terms in the introduction to show your engagement with the essay question; for example, ‘This is a large topic which has been variously discussed by many scientists and commentators. The principle tension is between the views of X and Y who define the main issues as…’ Breadth might be demonstrated by showing the range of viewpoints from which the essay question could be considered; for example, ‘A variety of factors including economic, social and political, influence A and B. This essay will focus on the social and economic aspects, with particular emphasis on…..’

Watch this two-minute video to learn more about how to plan and structure an introduction:

The main body of the essay should elaborate on the issues raised in the introduction and develop an argument(s) that answers the question. It should consist of a number of self-contained paragraphs each of which makes a specific point and provides some form of evidence to support the argument being made. Remember that a clear argument requires that each paragraph explicitly relates back to the essay question or the developing argument.

  • Conclusion: An essay should end with a conclusion that reiterates the argument in light of the evidence you have provided; you shouldn’t use the conclusion to introduce new information.
  • References: You need to include references to the materials you’ve used to write your essay. These might be in the form of footnotes, in-text citations, or a bibliography at the end. Different systems exist for citing references and different disciplines will use various approaches to citation. Ask your tutor which method(s) you should be using for your essay and also consult your Department or Faculty webpages for specific guidance in your discipline. 

Essay writing in science subjects

If you are writing an essay for a science subject you may need to consider additional areas, such as how to present data or diagrams. This five-minute video gives you some advice on how to approach your reading list, planning which information to include in your answer and how to write for your scientific audience – the video is available here:

A PDF providing further guidance on writing science essays for tutorials is available to download.

Short videos to support your essay writing skills

There are many other resources at Oxford that can help support your essay writing skills and if you are short on time, the Oxford Study Skills Centre has produced a number of short (2-minute) videos covering different aspects of essay writing, including:

  • Approaching different types of essay questions  
  • Structuring your essay  
  • Writing an introduction  
  • Making use of evidence in your essay writing  
  • Writing your conclusion

Extended essays and dissertations

Longer pieces of writing like extended essays and dissertations may seem like quite a challenge from your regular essay writing. The important point is to start with a plan and to focus on what the question is asking. A PDF providing further guidance on planning Humanities and Social Science dissertations is available to download.

Planning your time effectively

Try not to leave the writing until close to your deadline, instead start as soon as you have some ideas to put down onto paper. Your early drafts may never end up in the final work, but the work of committing your ideas to paper helps to formulate not only your ideas, but the method of structuring your writing to read well and conclude firmly.

Although many students and tutors will say that the introduction is often written last, it is a good idea to begin to think about what will go into it early on. For example, the first draft of your introduction should set out your argument, the information you have, and your methods, and it should give a structure to the chapters and sections you will write. Your introduction will probably change as time goes on but it will stand as a guide to your entire extended essay or dissertation and it will help you to keep focused.

The structure of  extended essays or dissertations will vary depending on the question and discipline, but may include some or all of the following:

  • The background information to - and context for - your research. This often takes the form of a literature review.
  • Explanation of the focus of your work.
  • Explanation of the value of this work to scholarship on the topic.
  • List of the aims and objectives of the work and also the issues which will not be covered because they are outside its scope.

The main body of your extended essay or dissertation will probably include your methodology, the results of research, and your argument(s) based on your findings.

The conclusion is to summarise the value your research has added to the topic, and any further lines of research you would undertake given more time or resources. 

Tips on writing longer pieces of work

Approaching each chapter of a dissertation as a shorter essay can make the task of writing a dissertation seem less overwhelming. Each chapter will have an introduction, a main body where the argument is developed and substantiated with evidence, and a conclusion to tie things together. Unlike in a regular essay, chapter conclusions may also introduce the chapter that will follow, indicating how the chapters are connected to one another and how the argument will develop through your dissertation.

For further guidance, watch this two-minute video on writing longer pieces of work . 

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Basic essay structure

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Improve your writing

Organise your essays to demonstrate your knowledge, show your research and support your arguments

Essays are usually written in continuous, flowing, paragraphed text and don’t use section headings. This may seem unstructured at first, but good essays are carefully structured.

How your assignment content is structured is your choice. Use the basic pattern below to get started.

Essay structure

An essay consists of three basic parts:, introduction.

The essay itself usually has no section headings. Only the title page, author declaration and reference list are written as headings, along with, for example, appendices. Check any task instructions, and your course or unit handbook, for further details.

Content in assignment introductions can vary widely. In some disciplines you may need to provide a full background and context, whereas other essays may need only a little context, and others may need none.

An introduction to an essay usually has three primary purposes:

  • To set the scene
  • To tell readers what is important, and why
  • To tell the reader what the essay is going to do (signposting)

A standard introduction includes the following five elements:

  • A statement that sets out the topic and engages the reader.
  • The background and context of the topic.
  • Any important definitions, integrated into your text as appropriate.
  • An outline of the key points, topic, issues, evidence, ideas, arguments, models, theories, or other information, as appropriate. This may include distinctions or contrasts between different ideas or evidence.
  • A final sentence or two which tells the reader your focal points and aims.

You should aim to restrict your introduction to information needed for the topic and only include background and contextual information which helps the reader understand it, or sets the scene for your chosen focal points.

In most essays you will have a considerable range of options for your focus. You will be expected to demonstrate your ability to select the most relevant content to address your focal points.

There are some exceptions. For example, if an assignment brief specifically directs the essay focus or requires you to write broadly about a topic. These are relatively rare or are discipline-specific so you should check your task instructions and discipline and subject area conventions.

Below are examples of an opening statement, a summary of the selected content, and a statement at the end of the introduction which tells the reader what the essay will focus on and how it will be addressed. We've use a fictional essay.

The title of our essay is: 'Cats are better than dogs. Discuss.'

To submit this essay you also would need to add citations as appropriate.

Example of opening statements:

People have shared their lives with cats and dogs for millenia. Which is better depends partly on each animal’s characteristics and partly on the owner’s preferences.

Here is a summary of five specific topics selected for the essay, which would be covered in a little more detail in the introduction:

  • In ancient Egypt, cats were treated as sacred and were pampered companions.
  • Dogs have for centuries been used for hunting and to guard property. There are many types of working dog, and both dogs and cats are now kept purely as pets.
  • They are very different animals, with different care needs, traits and abilities.
  • It is a common perception that people are either “cat-lovers” or “dog-lovers”.
  • It is a common perception that people tend to have preferences for one, and negative beliefs about and attitudes towards, the other.

Example of closing statements at the end of the introduction:

This essay will examine both cats’ and dogs’ behaviour and abilities, the benefits of keeping them as pets, and whether people’s perceptions of their nature matches current knowledge and understanding.

Main body: paragraphs

The body of the essay should be organised into paragraphs. Each paragraph should deal with a different aspect of the issue, but they should also link in some way to those that precede and follow it. This is not an easy thing to get right, even for experienced writers, partly because there are many ways to successfully structure and use paragraphs. There is no perfect paragraph template.

The theme or topic statement

The first sentence, or sometimes two, tells the reader what the paragraph is going to cover. It may either:

  • Begin a new point or topic, or
  • Follow on from the previous paragraph, but with a different focus or go into more-specific detail. If this is the case, it should clearly link to the previous paragraph.

The last sentence

It should be clear if the point has come to an end, or if it continues in the next paragraph.

Here is a brief example of flow between two summarised paragraphs which cover the historical perspective:

It is known from hieroglyphs that the Ancient Egyptians believed that cats were sacred. They were also held in high regard, as suggested by their being found mummified and entombed with their owners (Smith, 1969). In addition, cats are portrayed aiding hunters. Therefore, they were both treated as sacred, and were used as intelligent working companions. However, today they are almost entirely owned as pets.

In contrast, dogs have not been regarded as sacred, but they have for centuries been widely used for hunting in Europe. This developed over time and eventually they became domesticated and accepted as pets. Today, they are seen as loyal, loving and protective members of the family, and are widely used as working dogs.

There is never any new information in a conclusion.

The conclusion usually does three things:

  • Reminds your readers of what the essay was meant to do.
  • Provides an answer, where possible, to the title.
  • Reminds your reader how you reached that answer.

The conclusion should usually occupy just one paragraph. It draws together all the key elements of your essay, so you do not need to repeat the fine detail unless you are highlighting something.

A conclusion to our essay about cats and dogs is given below:

Both cats and dogs have been highly-valued for millenia, are affectionate and beneficial to their owners’ wellbeing. However, they are very different animals and each is 'better' than the other regarding care needs and natural traits. Dogs need regular training and exercise but many owners do not train or exercise them enough, resulting in bad behaviour. They also need to be 'boarded' if the owner is away and to have frequent baths to prevent bad odours. In contrast, cats do not need this level of effort and care. Dogs are seen as more intelligent, loyal and attuned to human beings, whereas cats are perceived as aloof and solitary, and as only seeking affection when they want to be fed. However, recent studies have shown that cats are affectionate and loyal and more intelligent than dogs, but it is less obvious and useful. There are, for example, no 'police' or 'assistance' cats, in part because they do not have the kinds of natural instincts which make dogs easy to train. Therefore, which animal is better depends upon personal preference and whether they are required to work. Therefore, although dogs are better as working animals, cats are easier, better pets.

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Better Essays: Signposting

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How to write an undergraduate-level essay

What's in this guide: site map.

  • 2. Create a preliminary document plan
  • 3. Draft your thesis statement
  • 4a. Become familiar with information sources
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  • 4c. Develop effective searches
  • 4d. Beyond keyword searching
  • 4e. Find statistical information
  • 4f. Evaluate the resources you find
  • 4g. Read, absorb, and organize the information you find
  • 5. Create the final version of your document plan
  • 6. Double-check your research
  • 7. Start writing the first draft
  • 8. Overcome writer's block
  • 9. Revise the draft
  • 10. Edit the draft
  • 11. Prepare the final version
  • 12. Submit the assignment

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The Basics of Essay Writing

What does a good essay need.

An academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence .

  • An academic essay should answer a question or task .
  • It should have a thesis statement (answer to the question) and an argument .
  • It should try to present or discuss something: develop a thesis via a set of closely related points by reasoning and evidence.
  • An academic essay should include relevant examples , supporting evidence and information from academic texts or credible sources.

Basic steps in writing an essay

Although there are some basic steps to writing an assignment, essay writing is not a linear process. You might work through the different stages a number of times in the course of writing an essay. For example, you may go back to the reading and notetaking stage if you find another useful text, or perhaps to reread to locate specific information.

Possible steps (In no strict order)

  see next: getting started, essay and assignment writing guide.

  • Getting started
  • Research the topic
  • Organise your ideas
  • Write your essay
  • Reference your essay
  • Edit your essay
  • Hand in your essay
  • Essay and assignment planning
  • Answering assignment questions
  • Editing checklist
  • Writing a critical review
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Reflective writing
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How to write an essay

Essay writing is an inevitable part of the student experience. To achieve top grades on these assignments, discover how to compose a well-written essay

You might think you know how to write a good essay from your time at school but writing an essay at undergraduate level is a whole new ball game. Taking the time to properly plan your work can lead to higher marks, with lecturers welcoming a logical structure that clearly demonstrates your understanding of the subject.

However, knowing where to begin and how to go about completing the assignment is not always easy - especially if you're still adjusting to university life and you haven't written at undergraduate level before.

'There is an art (and a bit of a science) to every type of writing,' says Dr Rushana Khusainova, lecturer in marketing at the University of Bristol. 'By mastering the art of academic essay writing, you'll also be mastering the skill for writing general and business emails, reports, etc. Overall, it's a vital skill to have.'

Katherine Cox, professor and head of department for humanities and law at Bournemouth University agrees. 'Getting feedback on your development is a key part of developing as a student. Essay writing is an excellent opportunity for formal feedback on your progress, and like any skill it needs practice and polish.'

Here we'll cover the seven main points of planning and executing a well-written essay:

  • understanding the question
  • researching and gathering helpful resources
  • putting together an essay plan
  • writing the essay
  • tackling the introduction and conclusion
  • reviewing what you’ve written.

Mastering how to write an essay early on will also help you prepare for  writing your dissertation  in your final year.

Understand the question

The first step in tackling an essay is to make sure that you understand what is being asked of you.

'I recommend that you read and re-read the essay question,' advises Dr Khusainova. 'With each time, the question will feel clearer.' Break it down into its component parts and pay particular attention to instruction words, for example, 'explain', 'discuss', 'outline' - what do these mean in practice? What are you being asked to do? Be aware that essays take several different forms and a 'compare and contrast' essay requires a different approach to an analytical ('analyse') or argumentative ('critically examine') essay.

For example, the question, 'Compare and contrast the representation of masculinity in two James Bond films from the 1960s and 2000s', can be classified like this:

  • instruction (i.e. compare and contrast)
  • topic (i.e. the representation of masculinity)
  • focus (i.e. in two James Bond films)
  • further information (i.e. from the 1960s and 2000s).

'Take coloured pens and highlight each sub-question or sub-task within the essay brief,' explains Dr Khusainova. 'Write bullet points for all sub-questions of the essay. I would recommend using pen and paper. Research suggests that when we use pen and paper to write down our thoughts, our brain structures information in a more efficient way.'

Ask yourself:

  • What is significant about the question and its topic?
  • What existing knowledge do you have that will help you answer this question?
  • What do you need to find out?
  • How are you going to successfully address this question?
  • What logical sequence will your ideas appear in?

If you still don't understand the question or the complexity of the response expected from you, don't be afraid to ask for clarification from your lecturer or tutor if you need it. If you have questions, speak up when the essay is set rather than leaving it too late.

Gather resources

With so much information available, it's vital that you only look for directly relevant material when researching. Decide where the gaps in your knowledge and understanding are, and identify the areas where you need more supporting evidence. Make a list of keywords that describe the topic and use them to search with.

Useful resources include:

  • course material
  • lecture notes
  • library books
  • journal articles

Engage in active reading and keep organised with effective note-taking. Once you've done your research, create a mind map. Carefully note the key theories, information and quotes that will help you to answer all components of the question. Consider grouping these into three or four main themes, including only the most significant points. You must be ruthless and exclude ideas that don't fit in seamlessly with your essay's focus.

Create an essay plan

'You can write an essay without planning, but I'm not sure you can write a good essay without planning,' says Katherine.

When you have an idea of the points you're going to address in your essay, and a rough idea of the order in which these will appear, you're ready to start planning. There are two main ways to do this:

  • Linear plans  - useful for essays requiring a rigid structure. They provide a chronological breakdown of the key points you're going to address.
  • Tabular plans  - best for comparative assignments. You'll be able to better visualise how the points you're contrasting differ across several aspects.

Scrutinise the notes you've already made - including those from your evaluation of relevant materials from your literature search - and ensure they're placed into a logical order.

There are different approaches to planning an essay. Some students might prefer a step-by-step, structured approach, while others might find it helpful to begin in a more fluid way - jotting down keywords and ideas that they later develop into a more structured working plan.   Essay planning can take several forms, 'for example, you might try a mind map, a collage, or use headings. You might prefer to plan in written form or online. You'll also turn ideas over in your head - just remember to jot down these insights,' adds Katherine.

'In my experience most students find it helpful to start by writing an essay skeleton - a bullet pointed structure of the essay,' says Dr Khusainova.

'I also advise taking an inverted pyramid approach to the storyline. This is where you start broad and slowly narrow down your focus to the specific essay question.'

Write clearly and concisely

Most university essays are set with a word count and deadline in place. It's therefore important that you don't waste time or words on waffle. You need to write clearly and concisely and ensure that every sentence and paragraph works towards answering the essay question.

Aim to write a first draft where you cover everything in your plan. You can then refine and edit this in your second draft.

'A successful essay is one that answers all parts of the essay question,' explains Dr Khusainova. 'Also consider elements such as the level of critical thinking and whether it's written in a suitable style.

'One of the most important (and coincidentally, the most challenging) elements of essay writing is ensuring your assignment has a logical storyline. Make sure no idea is coming out of the blue and that the discussion flows logically.'

Also consider your method of referencing. Some institutions specify a preferred citation style such as The Harvard System. Whatever referencing system you're using ensure that you're doing so correctly to avoid plagiarism. It should go without saying that your writing needs to be your own.

If you need help Katherine points out 'you can turn to your tutors and your peers. Perhaps you can you organise a study group and discuss one another's ideas? It's tempting with new and emerging artificial intelligence technology to turn to these resources but they are in their infancy and not particularly reliable. A number of universities advise you to avoid these resources altogether.'

Carefully consider the introduction and conclusion

Starting an essay and writing an impactful conclusion are often the trickiest parts.

It can be useful to outline your introduction during the early stages of writing your essay. You can then use this as a frame of reference for your writing. If you adopt this approach be aware that your ideas will likely develop or change as you write, so remember to revisit and review your introduction in later stages to ensure it reflects the content of your final essay.

While the conclusion may not be the first thing you write, it's still helpful to consider the end point of your essay early on, so that you develop a clear and consistent argument. The conclusion needs to do justice to your essay, as it will leave the greatest impression on your reader.

On the other hand, if you're unsure what shape your argument may take, it's best to leave both your introduction and conclusion until last.

Evaluate what you've written

Once you've written and edited your essay, leave it alone for a couple of days if possible. Return to it with fresh eyes and give it a final check.

'Reading an essay out loud works well for some students,' says Dr Khusainova. 'Swapping drafts with a classmate could also work on some modules.'

Don't skip this step, final checks are important. This is when you can pick up on formatting and spelling errors and correct any referencing mistakes.

  • Check that your introduction provides a clear purpose for your essay.
  • Ensure that the conclusion provides a clear response to the essay question, summarising your key findings/argument. 
  • Check the structure of your paragraphs for clear topic and link sentences. Are the paragraphs in a logical order with a clear and consistent line of argument that a reader can follow?
  • Read your essay slowly and carefully. Writing has a rhythm - does your writing flow and is it correctly punctuated?
  • Remove unnecessary repetition.
  • Review the examples and evidence you've used. Is there enough to support your argument?

'Receiving feedback can be an emotional experience - so be honest with yourself,' advises Katherine. 'What is the feedback telling you - what are your strengths? What areas could you improve?'

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  • Struggling with your workload? Here are  5 ways to manage student stress .
  • Discover  how to revise for exams .
  • Take a look at 7 time management tips for students .

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How To Write An Essay: Beginner Tips And Tricks

How To Write An Essay # Beginner Tips And Tricks

Many students dread writing essays, but essay writing is an important skill to develop in high school, university, and even into your future career. By learning how to write an essay properly, the process can become more enjoyable and you’ll find you’re better able to organize and articulate your thoughts.

When writing an essay, it’s common to follow a specific pattern, no matter what the topic is. Once you’ve used the pattern a few times and you know how to structure an essay, it will become a lot more simple to apply your knowledge to every essay. 

No matter which major you choose, you should know how to craft a good essay. Here, we’ll cover the basics of essay writing, along with some helpful tips to make the writing process go smoothly.

Ink pen on paper before writing an essay

Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash

Types of Essays

Think of an essay as a discussion. There are many types of discussions you can have with someone else. You can be describing a story that happened to you, you might explain to them how to do something, or you might even argue about a certain topic. 

When it comes to different types of essays, it follows a similar pattern. Like a friendly discussion, each type of essay will come with its own set of expectations or goals. 

For example, when arguing with a friend, your goal is to convince them that you’re right. The same goes for an argumentative essay. 

Here are a few of the main essay types you can expect to come across during your time in school:

Narrative Essay

This type of essay is almost like telling a story, not in the traditional sense with dialogue and characters, but as if you’re writing out an event or series of events to relay information to the reader.

Persuasive Essay

Here, your goal is to persuade the reader about your views on a specific topic.

Descriptive Essay

This is the kind of essay where you go into a lot more specific details describing a topic such as a place or an event. 

Argumentative Essay

In this essay, you’re choosing a stance on a topic, usually controversial, and your goal is to present evidence that proves your point is correct.

Expository Essay

Your purpose with this type of essay is to tell the reader how to complete a specific process, often including a step-by-step guide or something similar.

Compare and Contrast Essay

You might have done this in school with two different books or characters, but the ultimate goal is to draw similarities and differences between any two given subjects.

The Main Stages of Essay Writing

When it comes to writing an essay, many students think the only stage is getting all your ideas down on paper and submitting your work. However, that’s not quite the case. 

There are three main stages of writing an essay, each one with its own purpose. Of course, writing the essay itself is the most substantial part, but the other two stages are equally as important.

So, what are these three stages of essay writing? They are:

Preparation

Before you even write one word, it’s important to prepare the content and structure of your essay. If a topic wasn’t assigned to you, then the first thing you should do is settle on a topic. Next, you want to conduct your research on that topic and create a detailed outline based on your research. The preparation stage will make writing your essay that much easier since, with your outline and research, you should already have the skeleton of your essay.

Writing is the most time-consuming stage. In this stage, you will write out all your thoughts and ideas and craft your essay based on your outline. You’ll work on developing your ideas and fleshing them out throughout the introduction, body, and conclusion (more on these soon).

In the final stage, you’ll go over your essay and check for a few things. First, you’ll check if your essay is cohesive, if all the points make sense and are related to your topic, and that your facts are cited and backed up. You can also check for typos, grammar and punctuation mistakes, and formatting errors.  

The Five-Paragraph Essay

We mentioned earlier that essay writing follows a specific structure, and for the most part in academic or college essays , the five-paragraph essay is the generally accepted structure you’ll be expected to use. 

The five-paragraph essay is broken down into one introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a closing paragraph. However, that doesn’t always mean that an essay is written strictly in five paragraphs, but rather that this structure can be used loosely and the three body paragraphs might become three sections instead.

Let’s take a closer look at each section and what it entails.

Introduction

As the name implies, the purpose of your introduction paragraph is to introduce your idea. A good introduction begins with a “hook,” something that grabs your reader’s attention and makes them excited to read more. 

Another key tenant of an introduction is a thesis statement, which usually comes towards the end of the introduction itself. Your thesis statement should be a phrase that explains your argument, position, or central idea that you plan on developing throughout the essay. 

You can also include a short outline of what to expect in your introduction, including bringing up brief points that you plan on explaining more later on in the body paragraphs.

Here is where most of your essay happens. The body paragraphs are where you develop your ideas and bring up all the points related to your main topic. 

In general, you’re meant to have three body paragraphs, or sections, and each one should bring up a different point. Think of it as bringing up evidence. Each paragraph is a different piece of evidence, and when the three pieces are taken together, it backs up your main point — your thesis statement — really well.

That being said, you still want each body paragraph to be tied together in some way so that the essay flows. The points should be distinct enough, but they should relate to each other, and definitely to your thesis statement. Each body paragraph works to advance your point, so when crafting your essay, it’s important to keep this in mind so that you avoid going off-track or writing things that are off-topic.

Many students aren’t sure how to write a conclusion for an essay and tend to see their conclusion as an afterthought, but this section is just as important as the rest of your work. 

You shouldn’t be presenting any new ideas in your conclusion, but you should summarize your main points and show how they back up your thesis statement. 

Essentially, the conclusion is similar in structure and content to the introduction, but instead of introducing your essay, it should be wrapping up the main thoughts and presenting them to the reader as a singular closed argument. 

student writing an essay on his laptop

Photo by AMIT RANJAN on Unsplash

Steps to Writing an Essay

Now that you have a better idea of an essay’s structure and all the elements that go into it, you might be wondering what the different steps are to actually write your essay. 

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Instead of going in blind, follow these steps on how to write your essay from start to finish.

Understand Your Assignment

When writing an essay for an assignment, the first critical step is to make sure you’ve read through your assignment carefully and understand it thoroughly. You want to check what type of essay is required, that you understand the topic, and that you pay attention to any formatting or structural requirements. You don’t want to lose marks just because you didn’t read the assignment carefully.

Research Your Topic

Once you understand your assignment, it’s time to do some research. In this step, you should start looking at different sources to get ideas for what points you want to bring up throughout your essay. 

Search online or head to the library and get as many resources as possible. You don’t need to use them all, but it’s good to start with a lot and then narrow down your sources as you become more certain of your essay’s direction.

Start Brainstorming

After research comes the brainstorming. There are a lot of different ways to start the brainstorming process . Here are a few you might find helpful:

  • Think about what you found during your research that interested you the most
  • Jot down all your ideas, even if they’re not yet fully formed
  • Create word clouds or maps for similar terms or ideas that come up so you can group them together based on their similarities
  • Try freewriting to get all your ideas out before arranging them

Create a Thesis

This is often the most tricky part of the whole process since you want to create a thesis that’s strong and that you’re about to develop throughout the entire essay. Therefore, you want to choose a thesis statement that’s broad enough that you’ll have enough to say about it, but not so broad that you can’t be precise. 

Write Your Outline

Armed with your research, brainstorming sessions, and your thesis statement, the next step is to write an outline. 

In the outline, you’ll want to put your thesis statement at the beginning and start creating the basic skeleton of how you want your essay to look. 

A good way to tackle an essay is to use topic sentences . A topic sentence is like a mini-thesis statement that is usually the first sentence of a new paragraph. This sentence introduces the main idea that will be detailed throughout the paragraph. 

If you create an outline with the topic sentences for your body paragraphs and then a few points of what you want to discuss, you’ll already have a strong starting point when it comes time to sit down and write. This brings us to our next step… 

Write a First Draft

The first time you write your entire essay doesn’t need to be perfect, but you do need to get everything on the page so that you’re able to then write a second draft or review it afterward. 

Everyone’s writing process is different. Some students like to write their essay in the standard order of intro, body, and conclusion, while others prefer to start with the “meat” of the essay and tackle the body, and then fill in the other sections afterward. 

Make sure your essay follows your outline and that everything relates to your thesis statement and your points are backed up by the research you did. 

Revise, Edit, and Proofread

The revision process is one of the three main stages of writing an essay, yet many people skip this step thinking their work is done after the first draft is complete. 

However, proofreading, reviewing, and making edits on your essay can spell the difference between a B paper and an A.

After writing the first draft, try and set your essay aside for a few hours or even a day or two, and then come back to it with fresh eyes to review it. You might find mistakes or inconsistencies you missed or better ways to formulate your arguments.

Add the Finishing Touches

Finally, you’ll want to make sure everything that’s required is in your essay. Review your assignment again and see if all the requirements are there, such as formatting rules, citations, quotes, etc. 

Go over the order of your paragraphs and make sure everything makes sense, flows well, and uses the same writing style . 

Once everything is checked and all the last touches are added, give your essay a final read through just to ensure it’s as you want it before handing it in. 

A good way to do this is to read your essay out loud since you’ll be able to hear if there are any mistakes or inaccuracies.

Essay Writing Tips

With the steps outlined above, you should be able to craft a great essay. Still, there are some other handy tips we’d recommend just to ensure that the essay writing process goes as smoothly as possible.

  • Start your essay early. This is the first tip for a reason. It’s one of the most important things you can do to write a good essay. If you start it the night before, then you won’t have enough time to research, brainstorm, and outline — and you surely won’t have enough time to review.
  • Don’t try and write it in one sitting. It’s ok if you need to take breaks or write it over a few days. It’s better to write it in multiple sittings so that you have a fresh mind each time and you’re able to focus.
  • Always keep the essay question in mind. If you’re given an assigned question, then you should always keep it handy when writing your essay to make sure you’re always working to answer the question.
  • Use transitions between paragraphs. In order to improve the readability of your essay, try and make clear transitions between paragraphs. This means trying to relate the end of one paragraph to the beginning of the next one so the shift doesn’t seem random.
  • Integrate your research thoughtfully. Add in citations or quotes from your research materials to back up your thesis and main points. This will show that you did the research and that your thesis is backed up by it.

Wrapping Up

Writing an essay doesn’t need to be daunting if you know how to approach it. Using our essay writing steps and tips, you’ll have better knowledge on how to write an essay and you’ll be able to apply it to your next assignment. Once you do this a few times, it will become more natural to you and the essay writing process will become quicker and easier.

If you still need assistance with your essay, check with a student advisor to see if they offer help with writing. At University of the People(UoPeople), we always want our students to succeed, so our student advisors are ready to help with writing skills when necessary. 

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Essay structure and planning

Information on how to structure and plan your essay.

Studying

What is an essay?

An essay is a focused, academic discussion of a particular question, problem or issue.

Many of you have been writing essays for years, and are probably good at it. That's great, and everything you look at here will build on and develop those skills.

But it's worth asking: are there different things expected of a university essay from those for school, college, or other contexts?

The obvious answer is yes, and it takes time and effort to learn the range of writing skills needed to produce university essays effectively.

There are all sorts of reasons why essays are common forms of assessment. They allow you to explore a problem in-depth, express yourself concisely and precisely, and debate other people's published opinions on a topic.

They're also a good warm-up for traditional forms of academic publication, such as a journal article.

Academic essays usually follow an established organisational structure that helps the writer to express their ideas clearly and the reader to follow the thread of their argument.

An essay's structure is guided by its content and argument so every essay question will pose unique structural challenges.

301 Recommends: Glossary of Instruction Words

Our Essay Structure and Planning workshop will outline how to analyse your essay question, discuss approaches logically structure all your ideas, help you make your introductions and conclusions more effective, and teach how to link your ideas and ensure all essay content flows logically from the introduction. The Putting it into Practise workshop  

Have a look at our  Glossary of Essay Instruction Words (PDF, 100KB) , or watch this short  Study Skills Hacks video  on identifying the tasks in a question to help you identify what is required.

Planning stages

Essay writing is a process with many stages, from topic selection, planning and reading around, through to drafting, revising and proofreading.

Breaking the task down and creating a clear plan with milestones and intermediate deadlines will allow you to focus attention more fully on the writing process itself when you put your plan into action either as part of an assignment or an exam.

1. Understand the question

  • Is the question open-ended or closed? If it is open-ended you will need to narrow it down. Explain how and why you have decided to limit it in the introduction to your essay, so the reader knows you appreciate the wider issues, but that you can also be selective.
  • If it is a closed question, your answer must refer to and stay within the limits of the question (ie specific dates, texts, or countries).
  • What can you infer from the title about the structure of the essay?

2. Brainstorm for ideas

  • What you know about the topic – from lectures, reading etc
  • What you don't know about the topic, but need to find out to answer the question
  • Possible responses or answers to the question – any ideas about your conclusion.
  • Consider using a mind map to organise your thoughts…

3. Make a plan

  • Planning your essay makes it more likely that you have a coherent argument
  • It enables you to work out a logical structure and an endpoint for your argument before you start writing
  • It means you don't have to do this type of complex thinking at the same time as trying to find the right words to express your ideas
  • It helps you to commit yourself to sticking to the point!

The Hourglass essay

If you're stuck on an overall structure for your essay, try this simple model for organising a typical academic essay. An hourglass essay introduces a broad area, before narrowing the focus towards the specific question that you are answering. It finishes by placing that narrow area back into a wider context. 

Introduction: the funnel of the hourglass

Set the scene and lead your reader into your essay by introducing the broad area of interest and then narrowing towards your specific focus:

  • Start broad with a hook to catch the reader's attention
  • Provide some context for the hook. What does your project add to it?
  • Focus on the narrow area of your essay: can you summarise it in a single sentence mission statement?

Body: the stem of the hourglass

The body of your essay should be as narrow and focused as possible. Body paragraphs will take one sub-topic at a time and provide a logical flow of ideas for your reader:

  • Start each paragraph with a topic sentence to tell your reader what it will cover
  • Fill your paragraph with a range of supporting evidence and examples
  • Finish your paragraph with a final wrapping-up sentence to summarise and/or link ahead

Conclusion: the base of the hourglass

Your chance to reinforce your key messages and go out with a bang:

  • Revisit your mission statement: how have you addressed it?
  • Summarise the main points of your argument or findings
  • Finish with a broader scope, explaining how your topic might inform future research or practice, or where gaps remain

301 Recommends: Essay Planning Template

Use this template (google doc) to plan a structure for your essay, paying particular attention to the ways in which you have broken down the topic into sub-themes for your body paragraphs. 

Top tips and resources

  • Start planning early, leave your plan for a couple of days, and then come back to it. This may give you a fresh perspective.
  • It is often easiest to write the introduction last, but when you are planning your essay structure make sure you have your mission statement.
  • A good plan will make it much easier to write a good essay. Invest the time in making a plan that works.
  • Check what your tutor wants, but it is often best to focus on one element in great detail, rather than discuss several aspects superficially.
  • Make sure you allow time to proofread your work before submission!

Internal resources

  • Library Research and Critical Thinking - Referencing
  • English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC)– Language Resources  

External resources

  • Royal Literary Fund–  Writing Essays
  • University of Reading–  Planning and structuring your essay
  • Cottrell, S (2008) The Study Skills Handbook. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Bailey, S (2003) Academic Writing: A Practical Guide for Students. Routledge
  • Reading University–  Study Resources
  • University of Manchester–  Academic Phrasebank

Related information

Academic Skills Certificate

Scientific writing and lab reports

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As an undergraduate student at university, you will probably be expected to do some writing in most of your courses. Even if the course doesn't require you to submit a paper, it may require you to write an essay examination. Therefore, an important part of learning at university includes becoming familiar with the structure of an essay as well as achieving the level of competence in writing expected by university professors. Writing skills are emphasized in assignments at university because writing is an essential tool for communication in the working world; these assignments help you to develop the critical thinking and writing skills that will be important even after graduation.

Some students believe that writing ability is evaluated only in courses within English departments. This isn't true at the University of Guelph, where all faculty are directed by Senate to grade not only the content of the assignment but also "the student's ability to use correctly and effectively the language appropriate to the assignment." What this means is that no matter how well-chosen your topic, how well-researched your information, how innovative your ideas, or how brilliant your understanding of the material, your grade will suffer if you cannot convey all that to a reader through a well-organized, clearly written paper. Writing is an expression of your thoughts. If your writing isn't clear, a professor may assume that your thinking wasn't clear on that topic either.

Written assignments in university can vary in length from a one-page essay question on an examination to a 20 or 30 page research paper. They can also vary in the level of analysis as well as in the amount and type of research required. You may be asked simply to describe a process or event, or to analyze or evaluate how and why that process or event occurs. Some assignments will require you to read and discuss a single work assigned to you, while others will require you to conduct some kind of library research to find out about your topic and to bring together in your paper information from a variety of sources. This is called secondary research, and requires you to learn to properly acknowledge your research sources when you write. Primary research occurs when you yourself make some observations on an experiment, survey or study, as is expected in science lab courses as well as in some social science and humanities research courses. But even those papers produced from primary research will usually involve the use of some kind of secondary research to discuss how your results compare to those of experts in the field.

The term essay is used broadly for many different kinds of papers. Essentially, an essay is a written document that discusses, explains, analyzes, interprets, or evaluates a topic in an organized and coherent manner. The terminology used to refer to an assignment and the requirements for length, level of analysis, and amount of research vary not only between disciplines but also between courses within a discipline. Following are some examples of terminology which may be used in various disciplines.

In an introductory English literature course, you may be asked to write a literary essay or literary analysis which interprets a poem, short story or novel, and which uses only that piece of work and your own ideas as your sources. In more advanced English courses you may also be using the published opinions of other critics to support and expand your interpretation.

Some other words for essay include: 

  • Research essay
  • Research paper
  • Term assignment
  • Term paper 

The terminology is not necessarily consistent: a term paper may tend to be a longer paper written in advanced courses, but not necessarily. You may be assigned a specific topic or asked to choose your own from subjects relevant to the course; the assignment will require you to read up on a specific topic, using either books or journal articles, and to integrate those sources to inform or persuade a reader.

An assignment requiring a literature review  may be asking you to choose a specific topic and then to read journal articles written by experts about their own research. In this kind of paper you will be summarizing and comparing the results of research conducted on that topic. In some advanced courses, you may also be required to do some critical evaluation of the kind and quality of research being done. The term ' literature', as it is used in this assignment, refers to published research material rather than English literature or fiction.

Although the word 'report' may occasionally be used for many of the assignments described above, it is most often used to describe a lab report or research report written in science, psychology, sociology, or business courses to report primary research.

A book review  is usually a summary of your critical opinion of one or more books, possibly supported by research into what other critics have said.

Overall, the message here is not to worry about what the assignment is called, but instead to concentrate your efforts on reading and understanding every detail of what is asked of you in the assignment description. Some professors may include details about not only the length and due date, but also the number and kind of research sources to use, the kind of information to include, and even the method of organization to follow. Pay close attention to those instructions, because they are the professor's guidelines to you about what he/she will be looking for in evaluating the paper. Therefore, when you receive an assignment, the first and most useful thing you can do is to read the assignment instructions carefully and make sure you understand what is required before proceeding. Check with the professor if you are uncertain about any of the requirements.

An essay may ask you to do one or more of the following:

  • explain an idea
  • persuade your reader
  • analyze a concept or text
  • argue a point

The specific purpose, length, and amount of research will vary from assignment to assignment.

Many essays will require you to support your ideas with information from other sources. Check out these other guides for help finding sources.

  • Find Scholarly Articles by Library WebTeam Last Updated Sep 1, 2022 249 views this year
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  • Last Updated: Oct 27, 2022 10:28 AM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.uoguelph.ca/UniversityEssays

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English and Comparative Literary Studies

How to write an essay.

This handbook is a guide that I’m hoping will enable you. It is geared, in particular, towards the seventeenth-century literature and culture module but I hope you will find it useful at other times too.

I would like to stress, though, that it is not the only way to do things. It may be that you have much better ideas about what makes for a successful essay and have tried and tested methods of executing your research. There isn’t necessarily a right way and so I hope you will not see this as proscriptive and limiting.

You should talk to all your tutors about what makes for a good essay to get a sense of the different ways that you might construct an essay.

1. Essay writing (p.2)

2. Close reading (p. 4)

3. Research (p. 6)

4. Constructing an argument (p. 8)

5. Help with this particular assessment (p. 9)

6. Grade descriptions (p. 10)

1. ESSAY WRITING (and historicist writing in particular)

Essay writing has four stages: reading, planning, writing and proof-reading. Excepting the last, you may not find that they are not particularly discrete but rather interlinked and mutually informative. If any stage is skipped or done badly, though, it will impair your work.

1) Read the text and make sure you understand it. Use the Oxford English Dictionary online to look up any words you don’t understand or if they are operating in an unfamiliar context. Available on the Warwick web: http://www.oed.com

2) Do a close reading. Make a list technical features (cf. the page in this booklet entitled ‘close reading’; refer to the section on poetic form in the back of your Norton Anthologies pp. 2944-52). Ask yourself: ‘how does the text achieve its effects?’ Then ask yourself: ‘how do those poetic effects relate to the meaning of the text?’.

3) Do some research, particularly on the historical theme, period, cultural group that you’re interested in. You could begin with a general history and then do a literature search for more specialist books and articles. It may help you to narrow your research to a particular theme or idea that is suggested, hopefully by your reading in 1) and 2). Rather than trying to find out about the whole of seventeenth-century culture, limit your research to the restoration, cavalier culture, medicine, the family or whatever. (See the handout on research).

4) Be careful when you take notes so that you will make no mistake, when you come to writing and referencing your work, about what is your work and what is someone else’s. Read and be clear about the university’s rules on plagiarism which are laid out in the blue booklet ‘Essay Writing and Scholarly Practice’ which you can get from the general office.

B) Planning

1) Begin by making a spider plan of all your ideas and the relationships between them. IF YOU DON'T LIKE SPIDERS FORGET THIS BIT.

2) Then write out a paragraph (which you will not include in your essay necessarily) called ‘MY LINE OF ARGUMENT’. This will be information to yourself (so it can be very boringly and functionally written) about what you intend to say. Ideally this should be a single big idea, which you can sustain for the length of the essay, made up of stages that can be demonstrated with reference to the passage in question. It may well be that you want to write something similar to this ‘line of argument’ paragraph, only in a more dynamic and elegant way, for your introduction. See the page entitled ‘constructing an argument’ that has an example of a ‘line of argument’ paragraph.

3) Then write out a linear plan of your essay with a logical ARGUMENT, an argument that is assertively stated and then proved through the course of your piece. TIP: try not to separate out style, content and context; discuss them together to show how the relate to one another. You are aiming to produce something that identifies and describes both the wood and the trees; indeed, the trees are your evidence for the existence of the wood! You need to put together a big argument out of lots of bits of evidence.

1) Everyone has his or her own way of writing. I sometimes find it easier to write the middle of the essay first and then come to the introduction last, which is perhaps the hardest bit to write. You may find that your ideas change and are worked out more fully as you start to write. In which case go back to B) and produce another plan. Present your ideas as a finished thought, rather than a thought process.

2) Keep yourself closely to your argument by imagining your reader. Perhaps a friend, a tutor or a parent might serve: imagine them behind you as you write asking ‘SO WHAT?’, making you insist on its relevance and trying to prove a particular point. Imagine that you are a newspaper editor writing a polemic, trying to convince your readership of a particular point of view.

3) Inventing a title and writing an introduction. You should try to make your essay interesting to an examiner. Which do you think is the best of these three titles: ‘Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko’; ‘Discuss the question of race in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko’; ‘The “gallant slave”: the idea of the noble savage in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko’. Similarly with the introduction. The first sentence should grab the examiner immediately. Which is a better first sentence: ‘Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko was published in 1688 and is a prose work about Surinam’; ‘At the heart of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko stands the deep paradox of the ‘royal slave’.

4) Using secondary literary criticism. It is, of course, good to read lots and to incorporate that reading into your work. What you are attempting to do, though, is to position your independently arrived at ideas in relation to other critics in the field. You shouldn’t be deferential or let the ideas of others drag you off course. You should USE other people’s work in the service of your own argument. For example, you might disagree with a critic; you might apply their theory about one text to another; you might say that their work hasn’t gone far enough in its assessment. Never use a quotation from someone else to clinch an argument: just because someone famous has said x or y it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily true. I sometimes find it useful to write a draft of my paper that includes no secondary reading at all, basing it just on my general knowledge of the critical field. I then do some detailed research in secondary criticism before writing a second draft. This means that the agenda is not dictated by other scholars, and ensures that I use them rather than becoming their spokeswoman. Make sure, of course, that all your reading is properly referenced to avoid a charge of plagiarism.

D) Proof-reading

1) Check the spelling: in particular the names of the author and the text that you’re looking at MUST be spelled correctly.

2) Check your punctuation. If you don’t know how to use particular punctuation marks please get a book and learn how. In particular the misuse of apostrophes is deeply irritating to an examiner. The Collins gem guides are really good also Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves is fun and informative.

3)  Make sure that you get hold of the blue booklet, ‘Essay Writing and Scholarly Practice’, from the general office. You must use the reference guide in there. I favor the MHRA guidelines; you may prefer the MLA style. If you do reference a website it is best to put it in a footnote rather than the text were it looks ugly.

2. CLOSE READING

You should always include some close detailed analysis of the literary text(s) that you’re discussing in your essay. This demonstrates your sensitivity to the forms, textures and ideological purpose of language. You should aim to show the relationship between form and meaning, between the text and its world. Before you can put together an argument about the relationship between a text and its time you will need to do some close reading, compiling a list of technical features in a text or an excerpt from a text. Choose excerpts that relate to themes or passages that interest you. Then you can develop a checklist of features to look for. Use this as a guide but you may want to add to, or amend it.

*** What you see will be very different from what other people see. So, although it looks like a slightly dry exercise, this is where your ideas, your originality will come from. Close reading, in any module, will make your essays sparkle. ***

Big questions:

 Prose, drama or poetry?

 Genre? (e.g. is it panegyric, epic, restoration comedy or what ever)

 Does it remind you of anything? Can you compare or contrast it with something of a similar date? Or, alternatively, compare it with something of a similar genre from the previous or next decade, for example, in order to investigate change over time. 

Smaller questions:

 Poetry: metre, rhythm and rhyme. Look at the section on poetic form at the back of the Norton Anthology (p. 2944) and other guides. Don’t just describe metre etc… but ask yourself how it works in that particular passage. How are units of meaning created by the line divisions? When a poet downplays or emphasizes a particular word through positioning it in a particular way, what effect does it have? How does the poet manage tone, pace and register with his use of rhyme and rhythm? iF THESE FEATURES ARE NOT IMPORTANT IN YOUR PIECE IGNORE THEM.

 Drama: look at the length / speed of the speeches, the stage directions, the entrances and exits.

 Prose: rhetorical features and clause structure are the things to look out for in particular. Are the sentences complex or simple? Is it in hypotaxis or parataxis? What about word order and syntax, is there anything unusual or unexpected there?

 What is the overall structure of the passage / text? Are there abrupt changes or a progression from one idea to another?

 What other structures are there? Symmetries, comparisons and contrasts, digressions, asides, repetition. Is there any dialogue? Are the arguments circular or progressive?

 Are there any words you don’t fully understand? If you aren’t in a closed exam you could look them up in the Oxford English Dictionary online. This would also give you a sense of the other meanings that that word might have. Are there any puns?

 Think about grammatical features: tenses, conditional constructions, the passive voice. Is the passage in the first, second or third person? Perhaps there are tense or person shifts; what effect do these produce?

 Look out for predominance: several superlatives or comparative adjectives and adverbs; a lot of words that mean a similar thing, repetitions of possessive pronouns or what ever.

 What kind of language is being used? i.e. what register is it in? Is it elevated or earthy, legal or lyrical, rhetorical or religious? Why?

 Look for particular rhetorical features: metaphor and simile, hyperbole and litotes, personification, metonymy and so on.

 Look at punctuation (but be careful: it could be the intervention of a printer or a later editor). Look out for: enjambment, parentheses, direct speech? When the punctuation is sparse, why? Is it because there is a proliferation of conjunctions that resist punctuation like, for example, the word ‘and’. This may indicate parataxis or a very conversational style.

 Look out for allusions and references, often to the bible or classical stories. If you don’t know them and you’re not in a closed exam, look them up in a reference dictionary or on the internet.

 What is the tone of the passage? Is it homiletic, comic, anxious, melancholy or ironic? How is this effect created?

 Where else does that poet use similar phrases, ideas, patterns and images? What does it say about his or her concerns and art?

TIP: Don’t make simple associations between sense and sound. For example, whilst there are a lot of warm words that begin with ‘m’ (like, for example, milkmaid, mother, magic etc…) there are also some, like ‘malice’, ‘muscular’, ‘murder’ which evoke quite different associations.

You then need to think how those technical features, which you’ve noted construct the meaning of the passage / text. Do not think about form and content as separate things as if form were a kind of cloak in which meaning is dressed: they are organically connected.

Above and beyond that you will also need to think about how that text (both its form and its meaning) relate to the particular concerns and fashions (literary, political, philosophical etc…) of its time. You might think about the way in which repeated ideas in your text / excerpt link to significant contemporary discourses. Look for substituted vocabularies: i.e. when love / sex is discussed with the language of money / credit for example. Could that be related to prevailing economic trends and ideas?

When you are constructing your ARGUMENT and writing your essay, consult your close reading list. Not everything there will be relevant to your ARGUMENT; you only want to include the things that relate, that offer evidence for a particular point of view about how the text is placed culturally, politically, socially and / or historically.

3. RESEARCH

Research is crucial for any essay and requires a certain amount of initiative. You will partly have to learn by trial and error. Here are a few tips and ideas, though. Read both narrowly (and address the theme of your essay) and also widely. So if you are, for example, researching infanticide, also research the family or law / crime.

When you research a context it might be worth look at the work of philosophers, painters, and theologians and see what they were saying / doing in this period. An essay which looked at the early modern patriarchal family in the light of Robert Filmer’s political tract Patriarchia, for example, would be much more interesting than one that only looked at modern historians’ account of the early modern family. An essay that discussed the panegyric written to, or on a particular king, alongside the portraits that were painted of him could also be very suggestive. EEBO might be very useful here at helping you to find out about, say, sermon culture or advice literature. (look at the last page of this booklet for some help here).

Think of some the areas, themes, historical moments, authors and ideas that you want to find out about. List them as key words. For example: Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, race, royalism, restoration, early modern, colonialism, slavery etc… Do not be limited here. Think of terms / phrases that will give you some background too. How about ‘cheap print’, ‘renaissance politics’ etc…

Then begin on the computer. Be careful of stuff that you find on the ordinary WWW. It is not usually very reliable. Often this is stuff that people can’t publish in proper books. Use it is a guide and be very critical.

1) http://www.jstor.org (through the Warwick network only). Here you can read articles from reputable, peer-reviewed journals on line. An excellent starting point. Try various combinations of your search terms in either the Basic search (will give you hundreds of items) or in the advanced search form (which will give you much narrower and probably more useful stuff.

Try it out; go to the advanced search form:

A) In the box marked ‘All of these words’ insert the word ‘Behn’. Then tick the box marked ‘title’ and then also the box marked ‘article’.  Press the ‘Search’ button. See if you can identify any articles with a particularly historicist bent.

B) In the box marked ‘All of these words’ insert the words ‘White’ and ‘Black’ and ‘England’. In the box marked ‘exact phrase’ enter ‘Seventeenth-century’. Press search and see what you get out. Try other, similar search terms.

C) In the box marked ‘All of these words’ insert the word ‘Royalist’. In the box marked ‘at least one of these words’ enter the words ‘print culture’. Perhaps limit to articles by checking the relevant tick box. Press search and see if any of those are useful. [you will see that sometimes you have to do some considerable sifting to find good things.]

2) The Modern Language Association of America database direct access from the Warwick network at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/electronicresources/databases/#m

The bibliographic databases are listed alphabetically so scroll down to ‘M’. Select ‘MLA’. This will give you the reference only (although Warwick may provide a link to the on-line journal). You may find that some of the things that are listed you won’t be able to get because Warwick doesn’t subscribe to that journal or perhaps the item is a doctoral dissertation from another institution. Don’t worry, you’re not expected to read everything under the sun. Leave those things that you can’t get.

Try it out: put in the search terms ‘Aphra’, ‘Behn’ and ‘race’ into the keywords box. Press search and see what you get.

3) Historical abstracts: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/subjects/arts/elecresources/#databases_internet

Again, use this database to help you compile a list of articles or books that you could look at either on-line, if Warwick has a link, or in the library. Ignore the things that you can’t get hold of.

Try it out:

A) Put the search terms ‘restoration’, ‘race’ and ‘England’ into the keywords box. Press search.

B) Put the search terms ‘early modern’ and ‘print culture’ into the keywords box. Press search. Again you will have to decide what’s useful / relevant.

4) Use the library catalogue, don’t limit yourself to books about English. Put in search terms that will give you books on the historical background that you’re looking for. Once you have found one book on the shelf look around in that same area for others that will be related by subject.

5) Look on your reading list for general background books.

 CONSTRUCTING AN ARGUMENT

Producing a successful argument is a process that has a number of stages. Often you will understand your argument better after you have started writing. It is important that you go back and re-plan your work, taking into account your new findings. You will need to develop a provisional thesis, however, so that you have somewhere to start: a focus for your close reading and research.

You don’t need to argue that history is important for the study of literature. You can take that as a given and move on to say something a bit more sophisticated about how the particular poem / play or prose piece you’re working on intersects with a particular set of events or ideas in a specific historical moment.

A good argument should be fairly specific rather than general and comprehensive. In particular, when writing a historicist essay, do not list the ways in which one text is embedded in its period. Instead choose one of those ways and research it in more depth. So, rather than writing about, say, Ben Jonson’s interest in Anabaptists, Spanishness, alchemy, the plague, etc… in The Alchemist, choose one of these themes and find out about it in the historiography of the seventeenth century and couple this research with a close reading of those sections of the play that treat that theme.

Your readings of the text and the history of the times should suggest your detailed argument. Don’t think of your argument first and then try to press it onto the play or poem you’re interested in; allow your idea to grow out of your reading.

Below is my best attempt at a LINE OF ARGUMENT for an essay on Rochester and Milton. Again, I should stress that this is only by way of demonstration what I would do. This is very different from what you would do. There is no one way and your ideas will be as interesting / valid as mine. Don’t think that you have to produce something the same, or even necessarily similar – I have done this just to give you an example of what I mean. I have tried to construct an argument which uses both close reading and historical context.

Imagining the future in the restoration: a critical comparison of the poetry of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and John Milton.

Line of Argument:

This essay will argue that Rochester’s poetry is not only everywhere fascinated by time, regularly exploring what it is and how it operates, but that this interest betrays his sophisticated engagement with contemporary political philosophy. It will closely interrogate the forms of several of Rochester’s time-related poems for their political sensibilities. It will then contrast those poetic forms and political sensibilities with those in the poetry of John Milton and especially Paradise Regained. Milton – as I shall show with the use of historical evidence – is very differently socially and politically placed, indeed at the other end of the ideological spectrum from the Earl of Rochester. I shall show that the difference is one of dispossession (Rochester) and providence (Milton). Rochester’s narrators exist in fear of, and subject to an arbitrary and absolute future; Milton’s Paradise Regained, on the other hand, asks an imagined republican reader to wait in anticipation of a future in which God will deliver their political success. I shall explore the way in which Rochester’s pessimism – the idea and tone of dispossession in his poetry – and Milton’s optimism – the visionary quality of his providential allegory – stand in contrast to the respective fortunes of the political groups to which those poets actually belonged and at the particular times when the poems I’m discussing here were written and published: i.e. Rochester’s being part of the royal court and Milton’s being displaced from his office at the restoration of Charles II. This will arrive at, by way of conclusion, the demonstrable sadness of some of Rochester’s verse which indicates the complex circumspection with which he viewed his own aristocratic, political community and its limited expectations of monarchical authority.

HELP FOR THIS PARTICULAR ASSESSMENT

Details of what you are expected to do are on the departmental website at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/undergrad/modules/second/en228/assessedessay2/

There you will find a list of texts and details of how to find them on EEBO (Early English Books Online). Their website is at: http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home

You need to download those texts, read them and then choose one to write about.

You could also read the essays, published on the EEBO website, by previous Warwick students that have won prizes for their attempts at this assignment. http://www.lib.umich.edu/tcp/eebo/edu/edu_win_03.html

You might also use EEBO in your essay research. Try the subject list in particular. If you get yourself to the search form at http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search you can click on the link marked ‘select from a list’ next to the subject keyword box. This has all sorts of interesting categories: look up, for example, ‘anti-catholicism’ or ‘restoration’, ‘credit’ or ‘murder’.

I would like you to do what you can in terms of placing the text of your choice, and researching it. Then I’d like you to come and see me at the end of term with a title and a line of argument. You could also, if you wish, bring a longer essay plan.

This is Isabel talking to her group. We will all be available on email over the holidays--do ask. Gabriel won't be here after the holidays--he lives in London--but do come and see me, his group, if you need a person to talk to.

USING THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY

The OED can be found online (through the Warwick network) at http://www.oed.com. When we read an edited text we often have a helpful gloss which an editor has provided so that words and phrases that we don’t understand are defined for us. In this assignment you will have to put together that gloss for yourself and the best way to start to do that is with the OED. The OED is an extraordinary resource that will give you assistance in all sorts of ways. For example:

a) it will obviously help you to understand words which you don’t understand or unusual applications. It will also help you to find obsolete and dialect words.

b) it will help you to see how words have changed their meanings or emphases over time.

c) it will help you to identify puns. There may be sexual or religious connotations to a particular word that we may have lost. Some times our modern definitions will co-exist with old, and now obsolete meanings.

d) it will tell you the earliest use of a particular word. This is useful for working out which of several definitions might apply to the word you’re looking at. Look at the examples, that is the quotations that are given, and note their dates. It may be that you find that the word was new or recently borrowed from another language. Click the ‘date chart’ button to see the uses represented on a time line. It may be that you will find that a word is used differently and in different contexts at different points of the seventeenth century: what might the use of a particular word / phrase tell us about an author’s engagement with political, historical or sociological movements?

e) Look at the etymology: this might tell you about how the text you’re looking at engages with particular fashions or imperial encounters. Look up, for example, ‘chocolate’ where does the word come from? At what period does it come into the language?

f) the examples given in the dictionary will also help you to see how other contemporaries used the word or phrase you’re interested in, and in what sort of contexts it came up. In this way it can operate as a concordance. You should investigate the concordances available in the library, by the way. Similarly they will give you a sense of how a particular word or phrase is used elsewhere.

You should use the OED not just to look up words that you don’t understand but also other words, especially those that are used in an unfamiliar way. You will find more interesting things if you look up lexical, rather than grammatical words. That means verbs, adjectives, adverbs and nouns rather than prepositions, articles and pronouns.

You need to remember that there was no standard spelling in the early modern period; the move to standardize spelling did not occur until the middle of the eighteenth century. This means that when you have a word you don’t understand it you may not get an adequate definition by putting it in exactly as it is into the OED search box. Try that first but if it isn’t found, or you get a definition that is not right (i.e. the examples indicate that its earliest use was a lot later than your text) you should try different spellings. In particular the vowels are often interchangeable. Try every vowel combination that you can think of. Try substituting ts and cs, us and vs and other related consonants.

Try out the OED. Look up the following words: how have their meanings have changed? Where do the words come from? How were the words used at different points in history? And in the seventeenth century in particular?

 Isabel Davis

Essay writing: Introductions

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“A relevant and coherent beginning is perhaps your best single guarantee that the essay as a whole will achieve its object.” Gordon Taylor, A Student's Writing Guide

Your introduction is the first thing your marker will read and should be approximately 10% of your word count. Within the first minute they should know if your essay is going to be a good one or not. An introduction has several components but the most important of these are the last two we give here. You need to show the reader what your position is and how you are going to argue the case to get there so that the essay becomes your answer to the question rather than just an answer.

What an introduction should include:

  • A little basic background about the key subject area (just enough to put your essay into context, no more or you'll bore the reader).
  • Explanation of how you are defining any key terms . Confusion on this could be your undoing.
  • A road-map of how your essay will answer the question. What is your overall argument and how will you develop it?
  • A confirmation of your position .

Background information

It is good to start with a statement that fixes your essay topic and focus in a wider context so that the reader is sure of where they are within the field. This is a very small part of the introduction though - do not fall into the trap of writing a whole paragraph that is nothing but background information.

Beware though, this only has to be a little bit wider, not completely universal. That is, do not start with something like "In the whole field of nursing...." or "Since man could write, he has always...". Instead, simply situate the area that you are writing about within a slightly bigger area. For example, you could start with a general statement about a topic, outlining some key issues but explain that your essay will focus on only one. Here is an example:

The ability to communicate effectively and compassionately is a key skill within nursing. Communication is about more than being able to speak confidently and clearly, it is about effective listening (Singh, 2019), the use of gesture, body language and tone (Adebe et al., 2016) and the ability to tailor language and messaging to particular situations (Smith & Jones, 2015). This essay will explore the importance of non-verbal communication ...

The example introduction at the bottom of this page also starts with similar, short background information.

Prehistoric man with the caption "Since the dawn of man..."

Defining key terms

This does not mean quoting dictionary definitions - we all have access to dictionary.com with a click or two. There are many words we use in academic work that can have multiple or nuanced definitions. You have to write about how you are defining any potentially ambiguous terms in relation to  your  essay topic. This is really important for your reader, as it will inform them how you are using such words in the context of your essay and prevent confusion or misunderstanding.

Student deciding if 'superpower' relates to the USA and China or Superman and Spider-man

Stating your case (road mapping)

The main thing an introduction will do is...introduce your essay! That means you need to tell the reader what your conclusion is and how you will get there.

There is no need to worry about *SPOILER ALERTS* - this is not a detective novel you can give away the ending! Sorry, but building up suspense is just going to irritate the reader rather than eventually satisfy. Simply outline how your main arguments (give them in order) lead to your conclusion. In American essay guides you will see something described as the ‘thesis statement’ - although we don't use this terminology in the UK, it is still necessary to state in your introduction what the over-arching argument of your essay will be. Think of it as the mega-argument , to distinguish it from the mini-arguments you make in each paragraph. Look at the example introduction at the bottom of this page which includes both of these elements.

Car on a road to a place called 'Conclusion'

Confirming your position

To some extent, this is covered in your roadmap (above), but it is so important, it deserves some additional attention here. Setting out your position is an essential component of all essays. Brick et al. (2016:143) even suggest

"The purpose of an essay is to present a clear position and defend it"

It is, however, very difficult to defend a position if you have not made it clear in the first place. This is where your introduction comes in. In stating your position, you are ultimately outlining the answer to the question. You can then make the rest of your essay about providing the evidence that supports your answer. As such, if you make your position clear, you will find all subsequent paragraphs in your essay easier to write and join together. As you have already told your reader where the essay is going, you can be explicit in how each paragraph contributes to your mega-argument.

In establishing your position and defending it, you are ultimately engaging in scholarly debate. This is because your positions are supported by academic evidence and analysis. It is in your analysis of the academic evidence that should lead your reader to understand your position. Once again - this is only possible if your introduction has explained your position in the first place.

student standing on a cross holding a sign saying "my position"

An example introduction

(Essay title = Evaluate the role of stories as pedagogical tools in higher education)

Stories have been an essential communication technique for thousands of years and although teachers and parents still think they are important for educating younger children, they have been restricted to the role of entertainment for most of us since our teenage years. This essay will claim that stories make ideal pedagogical tools, whatever the age of the student, due to their unique position in cultural and cognitive development. To argue this, it will consider three main areas: firstly, the prevalence of stories across time and cultures and how the similarity of story structure suggests an inherent understanding of their form which could be of use to academics teaching multicultural cohorts when organising lecture material; secondly, the power of stories to enable listeners to personally relate to the content and how this increases the likelihood of changing thoughts, behaviours and decisions - a concept that has not gone unnoticed in some fields, both professional and academic; and finally, the way that different areas of the brain are activated when reading, listening to or watching a story unfold, which suggests that both understanding and ease of recall, two key components of learning, are both likely to be increased . Each of these alone could make a reasoned argument for including more stories within higher education teaching – taken together, this argument is even more compelling.

Key:   Background information (scene setting)   Stating the case (r oad map)    Confirming a position (in two places). Note in this introduction there was no need to define key terms.

Brick, J., Herke, M., and Wong, D., (2016) Academic Culture, A students guide to studying at university, 3rd edition. Victoria, Australia: Palgrave Macmillan.

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  • How to Write a Great Essay for Different A-Level Subjects

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In previous articles, we’ve given you lots of advice on how to write the perfect essay.

You should also read…

  • 6 Practical Tips for Writing Better Essays
  • How to Do Research for an Excellent Essay

However, the skills we’ve discussed up to now have been generic, and have not taken into account the fact that different subjects require different skills when it comes to writing excellent essays for them. In this article, we look at the particular skills needed to write great essays for individual A-level subjects, so that you can familiarise yourself with what you need to do to excel in whatever A-levels you happen to be studying.

Image shows a painting of a house on the moors.

Good English literature essays revolve around intelligent interpretation. The problem many students have with this is organising their interpretations into a tightly structured essay that flows well; many simply let their ideas run wild and flit aimlessly between one point and the next. To combat this problem, you need to consider the writer’s overall aims and then show how they have conveyed those aims, paragraph by paragraph, with each paragraph devoted to a particular technique or focus. A good structure to use is as follows:

  • Point – make a statement, such as “Brontë uses the bleakness of the moorland setting to reflect Heathcliff’s temperament.”
  • Explanation – elaborate on the statement in more detail. In this example, your explanation would involve explaining the parallels between Heathcliff and the moors – their unpredictability and wildness, for instance, and the violence of the weather mirroring Heathcliff’s violent personality.
  • Evidence – now provide quotes from the text to back up what you mean. In the Heathcliff example, you could quote specific words and phrases that show similarities in the way Heathcliff is described and the way in which the moorland landscape and weather are described.
  • Reiterate – close off the paragraph by reiterating the point, and perhaps developing it a little further or introducing the idea you’re going to carry into the next paragraph. For example, “This ties in with a wider theme running through the book as a whole, which is that nature parallels human emotions.”

Good English essays pay close attention to detail, noting specific words, phrases and literary devices a writer has used, and to what effect. They quote liberally from the text in order to support each point, deconstructing the writing and analysing the use of language; they look at different interpretations, seeing beyond the surface and picking up on possible deeper meanings and connotations. But they also consider the meaning of the piece as a whole, and the overall effect created by the specific details noted. All this should be considered within the framework of the genre and context of the piece of writing. For instance, a poem by William Wordsworth would be considered within the context of the Romantic poets, and might be compared with work by contemporary poets such as Shelley or Keats; the historical background might also be touched upon where relevant (such as the Industrial Revolution when discussing the poetry of William Blake).

Image shows a painting of Luther at the Diet of Worms.

Though it’s also a humanities subject, History requires its own very particular set of skills that differ to an appreciable degree from those expected of you in English. A history essay is unequivocal about its writer’s opinion, but this opinion must be based on a solid analysis of evidence that very often can’t be taken as fact. Evidence must be discussed in terms of its reliability, or lack thereof. The good historian considers what biases may be inherent in a source, what vested interest the source might have, and what viewpoint that source was written from. For instance, you might analyse a source by discussing whether or not the person was present at the events they are describing; how long after the events they were writing (and therefore whether they are remembering it accurately if they were there, or whether they are getting their information second or third hand from someone else; and if so, how reliable the original source is); whether they are trying to show evidence to support a particular political view; and so on. So, each time you make a point, back it up with evidence, and consider the strengths and weaknesses of that evidence. A good history essay makes connections between what’s been written about, considering how issues interrelate, so think about how what you’re writing about ties in with other things; what was the impact of the event you’re discussing, did it happen in isolation, and what were the events that led to it ?

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It’s vital to look at both sides of the argument – or, where many possible viewpoints exist, to acknowledge these nuances. It’s fine to contradict yourself, provided you do so consciously; that is, you can build up an argument and then turn it on its head, observing that you are doing so (for example, “So far, so compelling; but what about the less well-known evidence from such and such?”). You can use quotes from historians you’ve read, but use these in the context of discussing scholarly opinion. Don’t quote a historian’s words as evidence of something, because this is only someone’s opinion – it’s not proof. Finally, where possible, use specialist terms to show that you know your stuff (“proletariat” instead of “workers”, for example).

The primary task that lies ahead of you in writing a French essay is, of course, to demonstrate your superior language skills. Keep the content itself very even-handed, sitting on the fence rather than presenting a forceful opinion that could distract attention away from the quality of your use of French. Focus on using as wide a variety of vocabulary and tenses as you can. It will help your essay if you can learn how to say more sophisticated phrases in French, of the sort you would use if you were writing an essay in English. This useful document from RealFrench.net, Writing Essays in French, will give you numerous useful French phrases to help you put together an impressive essay, including the vocabulary you need to present a balanced argument.

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Geography is a subject that crosses the divide between the sciences and the humanities , considering both physical processes and human activities (and their effects on the world around us). Essays for Geography may differ depending on which of these focuses the essay is discussing, and the evidence you might include in your essay could vary from phenomena observed and data gathered in the natural world to the results of population censuses. To write a good Geography essay, you’ll need to include both theory and detailed, real-world case studies to support your answer. Mention specific places by name, and communicate the facts accurately. Your teacher will be assessing not just your knowledge, but your ability to support what you say with relevant information that proves it. You shouldn’t just rattle off everything you know about a particular case study; you should deploy relevant facts from the case study to support a specific point you’re trying to make. Keep linking each point back to the question, so that you’re always working towards answering it; this also helps you ensure that everything you include is actually relevant to the question. Showing that you’ve thought about an issue from multiple perspectives, and that you appreciate how they interrelate, is important in Geography. You can do this by organising the content of your essay into categories, considering different factors in turn, such as the scale of the issue, and the timeframe and environment involved. Discuss the various factors involved logically, one by one, such as the environmental impact of climate change or a natural disaster (such as a tsunami or volcanic eruption), followed by its physical, economic, social and political implications. Acknowledging the numerous nuances of the situation will demonstrate your appreciation of its complexity and show that you are thinking at a high level.

Classical Civilisations

Image shows a close-up of the Charioteer of Delphi.

As the study of the ancient world (primarily ancient Rome and Greece), Classical Civilisations combines archaeology and history, looking both at what survives materially (from small finds, to art and sculpture, to temples) and what survives in the way of texts by ancient authors. A good essay for this subject analyses, evaluates and interprets. The historical elements of the subject will require the same set of skills we discussed for History earlier, while the archaeological components of this subject require slightly different skills. With your archaeologist hat on, your job becomes similar to that of a detective, piecing together clues. Archaeology crosses over into science, and with that comes scientific considerations such as how archaeological evidence has been gathered – the methods used, their reliability, whether or not they could have been tampered with, how accurately they were recorded, and so on. You’ll look at a variety of different types of evidence, too, from the finds themselves to maps of the local topography. As with Geography, for which you’re required to learn lots of detailed case studies and names, you’ll need to learn plenty of examples of sites and finds to use as sources of evidence in building up a picture of the ancient world. And, as with any subject, looking at both sides of any argument is crucial to good grades. If the evidence you’re discussing could show one thing, but it could also show another, don’t just present one possibility – show that you’ve thought in depth about it and consider all the possible interpretations.

Science subjects

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The sciences – Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics – are generally less essay-focused, so we’re grouping them together here because the essay skills required for each of these subjects are very similar. While the fundamentals of scientific essay writing are the same as any other subject – having a logical structure, well-developed argument, and so on – there are a few subject-specific considerations to bear in mind, and some common pitfalls to watch out for. The first is that there is no room for opinion in a scientific essay; unless you’re specifically asked for it, leave your own thoughts out of it and focus instead on a completely objective discussion of the evidence gathered through scientific research, which will most probably be quantitative data. Avoid vague language such as “it is thought that…”; be as precise as possible. Start with a hypothesis, and then discuss the research that supports or disproves it. Back up every statement you make with solid data; it’s not enough simply to drop in the name of the research, so briefly describe what the findings were and why they prove the statement you’ve just made. Another mistake many students make is to confuse cause and effect; this arises because of the tendency to assume that correlation implies causation, which is a common logical fallacy. Just because two things appear to be related, it doesn’t mean that one caused the other, and committing this error in an essay is a major faux pas that will lose you marks. It’s also a good idea to ensure that you’ve included every piece of research that could be relevant; if you don’t, you could be leaving out a crucial piece of evidence. Finally, mention any limitations there may have been with the methodology used to gather the data you discuss.

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Psychology essays are best approached with a scientific mindset, but it’s far more difficult to prove anything in this subject – and this should be acknowledged in your essay. The task becomes one of assessing which theory is the more probable one, based on an analysis of the data from various studies. Make liberal reference to named and dated psychological experiments and research, but acknowledge the fact that there may be more than one theory that could account for the same set of results. When these experiments are quoted as evidence, this should be done with reference to any possible limitations of how the experiment was conducted (such as a small sample size). If you’ve reached the end of this article, you’re now equipped with the knowledge to write fantastic essays guaranteed to impress your teachers. You’re also well on the way to thinking in the right way for university-level essays, so keep working on these skills now and you’ll find it much easier to make the leap from sixth former to undergraduate.

Image credits: banner ; Wuthering Heights ; Diet of Worms ; factory workers ; Charioteer ; Hubble Space Telescope ; Psychology . 

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  • How to write an argumentative essay | Examples & tips

How to Write an Argumentative Essay | Examples & Tips

Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

An argumentative essay expresses an extended argument for a particular thesis statement . The author takes a clearly defined stance on their subject and builds up an evidence-based case for it.

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Table of contents

When do you write an argumentative essay, approaches to argumentative essays, introducing your argument, the body: developing your argument, concluding your argument, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about argumentative essays.

You might be assigned an argumentative essay as a writing exercise in high school or in a composition class. The prompt will often ask you to argue for one of two positions, and may include terms like “argue” or “argument.” It will frequently take the form of a question.

The prompt may also be more open-ended in terms of the possible arguments you could make.

Argumentative writing at college level

At university, the vast majority of essays or papers you write will involve some form of argumentation. For example, both rhetorical analysis and literary analysis essays involve making arguments about texts.

In this context, you won’t necessarily be told to write an argumentative essay—but making an evidence-based argument is an essential goal of most academic writing, and this should be your default approach unless you’re told otherwise.

Examples of argumentative essay prompts

At a university level, all the prompts below imply an argumentative essay as the appropriate response.

Your research should lead you to develop a specific position on the topic. The essay then argues for that position and aims to convince the reader by presenting your evidence, evaluation and analysis.

  • Don’t just list all the effects you can think of.
  • Do develop a focused argument about the overall effect and why it matters, backed up by evidence from sources.
  • Don’t just provide a selection of data on the measures’ effectiveness.
  • Do build up your own argument about which kinds of measures have been most or least effective, and why.
  • Don’t just analyze a random selection of doppelgänger characters.
  • Do form an argument about specific texts, comparing and contrasting how they express their thematic concerns through doppelgänger characters.

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how to write an essay university level

An argumentative essay should be objective in its approach; your arguments should rely on logic and evidence, not on exaggeration or appeals to emotion.

There are many possible approaches to argumentative essays, but there are two common models that can help you start outlining your arguments: The Toulmin model and the Rogerian model.

Toulmin arguments

The Toulmin model consists of four steps, which may be repeated as many times as necessary for the argument:

  • Make a claim
  • Provide the grounds (evidence) for the claim
  • Explain the warrant (how the grounds support the claim)
  • Discuss possible rebuttals to the claim, identifying the limits of the argument and showing that you have considered alternative perspectives

The Toulmin model is a common approach in academic essays. You don’t have to use these specific terms (grounds, warrants, rebuttals), but establishing a clear connection between your claims and the evidence supporting them is crucial in an argumentative essay.

Say you’re making an argument about the effectiveness of workplace anti-discrimination measures. You might:

  • Claim that unconscious bias training does not have the desired results, and resources would be better spent on other approaches
  • Cite data to support your claim
  • Explain how the data indicates that the method is ineffective
  • Anticipate objections to your claim based on other data, indicating whether these objections are valid, and if not, why not.

Rogerian arguments

The Rogerian model also consists of four steps you might repeat throughout your essay:

  • Discuss what the opposing position gets right and why people might hold this position
  • Highlight the problems with this position
  • Present your own position , showing how it addresses these problems
  • Suggest a possible compromise —what elements of your position would proponents of the opposing position benefit from adopting?

This model builds up a clear picture of both sides of an argument and seeks a compromise. It is particularly useful when people tend to disagree strongly on the issue discussed, allowing you to approach opposing arguments in good faith.

Say you want to argue that the internet has had a positive impact on education. You might:

  • Acknowledge that students rely too much on websites like Wikipedia
  • Argue that teachers view Wikipedia as more unreliable than it really is
  • Suggest that Wikipedia’s system of citations can actually teach students about referencing
  • Suggest critical engagement with Wikipedia as a possible assignment for teachers who are skeptical of its usefulness.

You don’t necessarily have to pick one of these models—you may even use elements of both in different parts of your essay—but it’s worth considering them if you struggle to structure your arguments.

Regardless of which approach you take, your essay should always be structured using an introduction , a body , and a conclusion .

Like other academic essays, an argumentative essay begins with an introduction . The introduction serves to capture the reader’s interest, provide background information, present your thesis statement , and (in longer essays) to summarize the structure of the body.

Hover over different parts of the example below to see how a typical introduction works.

The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts is on the rise, and its role in learning is hotly debated. For many teachers who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its critical benefits for students and educators—as a uniquely comprehensive and accessible information source; a means of exposure to and engagement with different perspectives; and a highly flexible learning environment.

The body of an argumentative essay is where you develop your arguments in detail. Here you’ll present evidence, analysis, and reasoning to convince the reader that your thesis statement is true.

In the standard five-paragraph format for short essays, the body takes up three of your five paragraphs. In longer essays, it will be more paragraphs, and might be divided into sections with headings.

Each paragraph covers its own topic, introduced with a topic sentence . Each of these topics must contribute to your overall argument; don’t include irrelevant information.

This example paragraph takes a Rogerian approach: It first acknowledges the merits of the opposing position and then highlights problems with that position.

Hover over different parts of the example to see how a body paragraph is constructed.

A common frustration for teachers is students’ use of Wikipedia as a source in their writing. Its prevalence among students is not exaggerated; a survey found that the vast majority of the students surveyed used Wikipedia (Head & Eisenberg, 2010). An article in The Guardian stresses a common objection to its use: “a reliance on Wikipedia can discourage students from engaging with genuine academic writing” (Coomer, 2013). Teachers are clearly not mistaken in viewing Wikipedia usage as ubiquitous among their students; but the claim that it discourages engagement with academic sources requires further investigation. This point is treated as self-evident by many teachers, but Wikipedia itself explicitly encourages students to look into other sources. Its articles often provide references to academic publications and include warning notes where citations are missing; the site’s own guidelines for research make clear that it should be used as a starting point, emphasizing that users should always “read the references and check whether they really do support what the article says” (“Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia,” 2020). Indeed, for many students, Wikipedia is their first encounter with the concepts of citation and referencing. The use of Wikipedia therefore has a positive side that merits deeper consideration than it often receives.

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how to write an essay university level

An argumentative essay ends with a conclusion that summarizes and reflects on the arguments made in the body.

No new arguments or evidence appear here, but in longer essays you may discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your argument and suggest topics for future research. In all conclusions, you should stress the relevance and importance of your argument.

Hover over the following example to see the typical elements of a conclusion.

The internet has had a major positive impact on the world of education; occasional pitfalls aside, its value is evident in numerous applications. The future of teaching lies in the possibilities the internet opens up for communication, research, and interactivity. As the popularity of distance learning shows, students value the flexibility and accessibility offered by digital education, and educators should fully embrace these advantages. The internet’s dangers, real and imaginary, have been documented exhaustively by skeptics, but the internet is here to stay; it is time to focus seriously on its potential for good.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

  • Ad hominem fallacy
  • Post hoc fallacy
  • Appeal to authority fallacy
  • False cause fallacy
  • Sunk cost fallacy

College essays

  • Choosing Essay Topic
  • Write a College Essay
  • Write a Diversity Essay
  • College Essay Format & Structure
  • Comparing and Contrasting in an Essay

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An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.

An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.

At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).

Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.

The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .

The majority of the essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Unless otherwise specified, you can assume that the goal of any essay you’re asked to write is argumentative: To convince the reader of your position using evidence and reasoning.

In composition classes you might be given assignments that specifically test your ability to write an argumentative essay. Look out for prompts including instructions like “argue,” “assess,” or “discuss” to see if this is the goal.

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LET’S WRITE A MEMOIR ESSAY

Sally Cranswick is a writer, editor, ghost writer, story coach and workshop facilitator with a special interest in life writing and memoir

Sally Cranswick is a writer, editor, ghost writer, story coach and workshop facilitator with a special interest in life writing and memoir.

Sally Cranswick

Saturdays from 10:00–12:00

Dates: 13 April– 10 May

Online platform: The course will be offered on Zoom. Upon registration the link will be provided.

Course fee: R2 000

Booking is through Webtickets: https://www.webtickets.co.za/event.aspx?itemid=1542956820

In a genre of its own, the memoir essay is a wonderful form which allows the writer to explore the beauty of an encapsulated memory or feeling without committing to a whole novel.

During this workshop series we will look at examples of wonderful memoir essays from different genres and we’ll discuss ways to shape our own narratives around the essay form, using structure, voice, style and theme, how to write about people, memories and truth, in a way that heals not harms, and how to extend one essay into a collection of work.

Each workshop will include formal presentations, group discussions, writing exercises and plenty of opportunity to ask questions. There will be weekly homework (for those who want it) and writers may submit a final piece of work to Sally for feedback.

The aim of this course is to write a memoir essay and to have fun as a creative community whilst writing towards our highest goals.

Inspiration, ideas and thinking about how a memoir essay can work for the story you want to tell.

Discovering your unique voice and style and working with timelines, setting and era.

Structuring your story around the essay form and how to create a collection of work that forms one narrative.

How to honour other people in your story whilst telling the truth.

What to do with your finished essay. Editing, markets, publishing ideas, and the chance to share your story ‘out loud’.

IMAGES

  1. Introduction

    how to write an essay university level

  2. Steps to writing a college essay

    how to write an essay university level

  3. College Essay Examples

    how to write an essay university level

  4. How to Start a College Essay Like a Boss

    how to write an essay university level

  5. College Essay Format: Simple Steps to Be Followed

    how to write an essay university level

  6. Essay Format Example For University

    how to write an essay university level

VIDEO

  1. College Essay Writing Workshop

  2. Essay Skill 01

  3. College Essays: Basics

  4. Essay examples I The best online essay

  5. POSSIBLE ESSAY QUESTIONS NOV EXAMS 2023 || BUSINESS STUDIES GRADE 12 📚🖋️

  6. ACADEMIC ESSAY

COMMENTS

  1. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    understand why it's worth writing that essay. A strong thesis will be arguable rather than descriptive, and it will be the right scope for the essay you are writing. If your thesis is descriptive, then you will not need to convince your readers of anything—you will be naming or summarizing something your readers can already see for themselves.

  2. Essay and dissertation writing skills

    Essays need an introduction to establish and focus the parameters of the discussion that will follow. You may find it helpful to divide the introduction into areas to demonstrate your breadth and engagement with the essay question.

  3. The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay

    Writing: Set out your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the main body, and wrap it up with a conclusion. Revision: Check your essay on the content, organization, grammar, spelling, and formatting of your essay.

  4. How to Structure an Essay

    Knowledge Base Essay How to structure an essay: Templates and tips How to Structure an Essay | Tips & Templates Published on September 18, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023. The basic structure of an essay always consists of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

  5. PDF HOW TO WRITE AN ACADEMIC ESSAY

    constructing an academic essay: the construction of a building: LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS: CONSTRUCTING YOUR ESSAY'S ARGUMENT The main point of the essay, called an ARGUMENT or THESIS, is the foundation on which the entire essay lies. It is more than just the subject of the essay; it is the specific point you wish to make about the essay's ...

  6. Example of a Great Essay

    An essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates. In high school, you may have to write many different types of essays to develop your writing skills. Academic essays at college level are usually argumentative : you develop a clear thesis about your topic and make a case for your position using evidence ...

  7. Basic Essay Structure

    A standard introduction includes the following five elements: A statement that sets out the topic and engages the reader. The background and context of the topic. Any important definitions, integrated into your text as appropriate.

  8. How to write an undergraduate-level essay

    Steps 1-3: Plan your work Understand the Assignment Create a Preliminary Document Plan Draft Your Thesis Statement Step 4: Research the Topic Research is a complex process in its own right! This step contains several sub-steps with their own pages Become Familiar With the Information Landscape Select the Appropriate Search Tool

  9. Strategies for Essay Writing

    Strategies for Essay Writing Tips for Reading an Assignment Prompt Asking Analytical Questions Thesis Introductions What Do Introductions Across the Disciplines Have in Common? Anatomy of a Body Paragraph Transitions Tips for Organizing Your Essay Counterargument Conclusions Strategies for Essay Writing: Downloadable PDFs

  10. The Basics of Essay Writing

    Possible steps (In no strict order) Analyse the question and define key terms Establish a possible thesis/point of view Research the topic. Use books, journals and other credible academic sources for support and evidence. Take notes from your readings. Write an essay plan and organise your ideas.

  11. How to write an essay

    How to write an essay Jemma Smith, Editor October, 2023 On this page Understand the question Evaluate what you've written Essay writing is an inevitable part of the student experience. To achieve top grades on these assignments, discover how to compose a well-written essay

  12. How to Write an Essay: 4 Minute Step-by-step Guide

    There are three main stages to writing an essay: preparation, writing and revision. In just 4 minutes, this video will walk you through each stage of an acad...

  13. How To Write An Essay: Beginner Tips And Tricks

    Tips for Online Students, Tips for Students How To Write An Essay: Beginner Tips And Tricks Many students dread writing essays, but essay writing is an important skill to develop in high school, university, and even into your future career.

  14. Essay structure and planning

    Make a plan. Planning your essay makes it more likely that you have a coherent argument. It enables you to work out a logical structure and an endpoint for your argument before you start writing. It means you don't have to do this type of complex thinking at the same time as trying to find the right words to express your ideas.

  15. PDF English Literature Writing Guide

    How to write Essays, Dissertations and Theses in Literary Studies. Longman, 1993. INTRODUCTION While most of you have already had experience of essay writing, it is important to realise that essay writing at University level may be different from the practices you have so far encountered. This information outlines what is required of an English

  16. PDF HOW TO WRITE AN ESSAY

    Write out your essay plan and keep it near you as you write. Your plan should include an outline of each of the paragraphs in your essay and key ideas/ topics/ themes you wish to address. You will always have the basic structure of an essay in any written assignment: an introduction, a conclusion and a number of body para-graphs.

  17. How to Write a College Essay

    How to Write a College Essay | A Complete Guide & Examples The college essay can make or break your application. It's your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students. A standout essay has a few key ingredients: A unique, personal topic A compelling, well-structured narrative

  18. Start Here

    The term essay is used broadly for many different kinds of papers. Essentially, an essay is a written document that discusses, explains, analyzes, interprets, or evaluates a topic in an organized and coherent manner. The terminology used to refer to an assignment and the requirements for length, level of analysis, and amount of research vary ...

  19. How to Write an Essay

    1) Check the spelling: in particular the names of the author and the text that you're looking at MUST be spelled correctly. 2) Check your punctuation. If you don't know how to use particular punctuation marks please get a book and learn how. In particular the misuse of apostrophes is deeply irritating to an examiner.

  20. 14 College Essay Examples From Top-25 Universities (2023-2024

    College essay example #1. This is a college essay that worked for Harvard University. (Suggested reading: How to Get Into Harvard Undergrad) This past summer, I had the privilege of participating in the University of Notre Dame's Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program .

  21. Introductions

    Gordon Taylor, A Student's Writing Guide. Your introduction is the first thing your marker will read and should be approximately 10% of your word count. Within the first minute they should know if your essay is going to be a good one or not. An introduction has several components but the most important of these are the last two we give here.

  22. How to Write a Great Essay for Different A-Level Subjects

    French. The primary task that lies ahead of you in writing a French essay is, of course, to demonstrate your superior language skills. Keep the content itself very even-handed, sitting on the fence rather than presenting a forceful opinion that could distract attention away from the quality of your use of French.

  23. How to Write an Argumentative Essay

    At a university level, all the prompts below imply an argumentative essay as the appropriate response. Your research should lead you to develop a specific position on the topic. The essay then argues for that position and aims to convince the reader by presenting your evidence, evaluation and analysis.

  24. How to Write an Informative Essay

    An informative essay is an academic essay used for explaining a specific topic in more detail. Such compositions are used primarily in college and university. The writing aims to describe rather than analyze the essay's topic. Usually, it is not very difficult to write an essay, but sometimes the student may have some difficulties.

  25. LET'S WRITE A MEMOIR ESSAY

    The aim of this course is to write a memoir essay and to have fun as a creative community whilst writing towards our highest goals. Session 1. Inspiration, ideas and thinking about how a memoir essay can work for the story you want to tell. Session 2. Discovering your unique voice and style and working with timelines, setting and era. Session 3

  26. UAE.Assignment on Instagram: "We can handle writing projects from

    1 likes, 0 comments - uae.assignment2 on December 5, 2023: "We can handle writing projects from undergraduate to PHD level. We can provide high quality resea..." UAE.Assignment on Instagram: "We can handle writing projects from undergraduate to PHD level.