In educational contexts, an essay is a concise, organised, written discussion of your considered ideas on a specific topic. It is commonly based on a synthesis of evidence and ideas drawn from previously published sources (e.g. journal articles, books, or government reports) and supported by examples obtained from the sources. Essays are often used by lecturers to develop and judge your mastery or comprehension of material, as well as your ability to communicate ideas clearly in written form. Here we give some general advice for writing a good essay, taken from the Communication Skills Guidebook.
- Quality of argument. It is crucial that the argument fully addresses the question. If you do not deal specifically with the question set, your assessor might assume that you do not understand the course material or that you have not bothered to read the question carefully. Look closely at the wording of your essay topic: for example, what does ‘describe’ mean? How about ‘analyse’ or ‘contrast’?
- Working out a structure for your argument. Before you begin writing, work out a series of broad headings that will form the framework on which your essay will be constructed. Then add increasingly detailed material under those headings until your essay is written. Alternatively, if you encounter ‘writer’s block’ or are writing on a topic that does not lend itself to an essay plan, brainstorm and without hesitation write anything related to the topic until you have some paragraphs on the screen or page in front of you.
- Check the structure. When you have written the first draft of your essay, check the structure. In almost all cases, good academic writing will have an introduction, a discussion, and a conclusion. It is helpful to visualise structure in the form of an hourglass. The central discussion tapers in to cover the detail of the specific issue(s) you are exploring. The conclusion sets your findings back into the context from which the subject is derived and may point to directions for future enquiry.
- The topic. The material you present in your essay should be clearly and explicitly linked to the topic being discussed. When you have finished writing a draft of your essay, read each paragraph and ask yourself two questions: does all of the information in this paragraph help answer the question? How does this information help answer the question? Ensure you have explored all the issues emerging from the topic.
- Sources/referencing. Keep a full record of the bibliographic details of all the references you use. This can include information such as: who is the author, when was the work published, where, and by whom? Be sure to insert citations as you are writing. Is it very difficult-and stressful-to come back to an essay and try to insert the correct references.
These essay writing tips have been taken from the Communication Skills Guidebook. This book is designed to equip students with the essential communications skills they need to succeed at university, including: presenting research findings, referencing your work, working in groups, public speaking and exam techniques. It is easy to navigate, with lots of tips and examples, the Communication Skills Guidebook will be their trusted resource throughout their entire degree.