Writing an essay

What is an essay?

An essay is a written response to a question or statement. This response requires an in- depth exploration of a specific topic. Essays are the most common type of assessment task at university, and assess your ability to see relationships between concepts. In an essay you are expected to:

  • Express your opinion or point of view
  • Find sources to independently support your claims
  • Cite and reference your sources appropriately
  • Present your work in an appropriate format

Plan before you write

The first task is to unpack your assignment. It is a good idea to plan your essay before you begin writing. Consider what you will say in each paragraph so that you may structure your essay effectively.

How do I structure an essay?

In order to write a high-quality essay, you need to understand the components of academic writing. An essay usually consists of an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. See a model of the basic physical structure of an academic essay.

  • Specify the topic and your argument, provide background information and indicate the scope and plan of coverage in the introduction
  • In the body of your essay, clarify your position and and develop and support your argument. The body contains the content of your essay. Focus on answering the question and providing evidence in the body paragraphs.
  • Summarise main points/ highlight key findings in the conclusion.

You may wish to write the body of the essay first and then write the introduction and conclusion after you have written the body paragraphs. This is because it is often easier to introduce and sum up information you are familiar with.

Paragraphs

Each of the paragraphs should fit together in a logical sequence within the essay. Paragraphs should have at least three (and preferably no more than six) sentences. Short paragraphs often do not have sufficient  substance, while long paragraphs can lack structure.

A well-written academic paragraph follows the TEEL structure:

  • Topic sentence
  • Explain why the topic is important
  • Evidence and examples that support the topic
  • Linking sentence that links back to the topic and to the next paragraph

Sentences

Sentences should include both a subject and a verb, and should only have one main idea. Short sentences are easier to read than long ones, but you should vary your sentence lengths. Try to not  have your sentences more than 25 words long, as too long sentences can become confusing to read.

Argument in an essay

While the physical structure of your writing is important, the most critical aspect of academic writing is your use of evidence to build an academic argument. A well-supported academic argument is the feature of all high-quality essays.

Always remember to support anything you say with evidence from academic sources.

Finding resources for your essay

It is important to find, select and evaluate quality sources in your essay.

Drafting, editing and proofreading

You can expect to write several drafts in order to achieve a high quality essay. Remember to proofread your paper carefully before submitting.

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