Essays

  • Essays are a common form of assessment in many subjects because they are so flexible. You are usually set a question and are expected to write an answer with an introduction, main body, and conclusion. You need to write in full paragraphs and support your points with appropriate academic evidence. Apart from this general structure, you are usually given freedom to organise and construct your answer in a way that you think is best.

    Our top tips

    Overview

    An essay involves more than just writing - it takes research, planning, and editing. Have a look at this guide for an overview of the process from start to finish:

    Answer the question

    It is easy to get side-tracked or start researching the general topic, as opposed to the specific question you are being asked. Look at our page on assignment briefs for more on understanding your question

    Allocate time

    Avoid the last minute panic. Break your essay process into stages and plan mini-deadlines to keep on track. Enter your start and end date into the Assignment Survival Kit (ASK) for an estimated schedule:

    Your ideas

    Your own ideas can easily get lost when you start reading other people’s research. Then your essay can become more about squeezing in everyone else’s ideas instead of following your own argument. Start by writing down your own ideas to direct your research using methods such as brainstorming or mindmapping, as explained in this guide:

    Planning

    Starting an essay without a plan is like going on a long journey without consulting your sat-nav or map - you may get there eventually but it will take a lot more time, frustration, and wrong turns! See our guide for more on how to plan effectively to save you time:

    Structure

    Be open-minded. You can’t always use the same fixed structure, such as ‘for and against’ as it may not suit your answer. The best essay structure has a clear unifying thread or argument running through it like a river. Have a look at this short video on good essay structuring strategies:

    Critical thinking

    People are often concerned that their essays are too descriptive and not critical enough. A good test is to see if you are just presenting information to your reader (description) or are you doing something with that information, such as forming a judgement (critical thinking) about its importance, significance, or how convincing it is. See our guide for more on what critical thinking is and how to do it:

    Argument

    Your argument is like a thread running through your essay. It is the main message you want to communicate in answer to the question. It helps you structure your essay and decide what material is relevant. See this guide for more on finding your argument:

    Writing

    A well-written essay usually starts life as a badly written essay. Aim to get your ideas down on paper first and then work on polishing and improving them later. Look at this clear guide for more essay writing tips:

    Editing and proofreading

    This is an important stage that can get left out, but plan in time for these final checks as reading through your work can gain you vital marks. Look at our page on Editing and proofreading for more:

    Further resources

    If you’d like to read more about how to approach all aspects of essay writing, see this resource and book list created by Brookes Library: