A Guide to Essay Writing
Institute of Lifelong Learning
Why write essays?
Essay writing can help you to:
• Organise your thinking
• Develop your own point of view on an issue
• Get to grips with new information, ideas and
• Practise expressing your own ideas and arguments
• Get feedback from your tutor/supervisor about how
much you have understood and how well you are
able to communicate this
Read your course handbook carefully and follow
instructions regarding written work.
Check out any particular requirements such as:
• Length or word limit
• Whether scripts must be typed
• How references should be presented
1 Thinking about the essay question or title
• Should you use your own
experiences and opinions as
well as referring to the
work/theories of others?
Consider the appropriate
• How many parts are there to
the question? How much
weight should you give to
• Underline the key words
• Check that you understand
the main Directive words,
e.g. Criticise, Discuss, Justify,
• Define the key concepts.
• Examine the precise
wording of the title so that
you can decide exactly
what you are being asked
to do. Identify the key
• Consider the assumptions
behind the question and
the implications that arise.
• Does the topic require
general treatment or
specific reference to
• What sort of evidence or
you need to back up your
2 Collecting the material
• Make notes under separate
headings - adding your own
views about how theories can be
complementary - or opposite
• Follow up further sources and
make use of journals, research
• Record all the sources at the
time you use them, including
page numbers, ready for your
List of References. (Researchers
and postgraduates may find a
PC bibliography package, such
as Papyrus, useful.)
• Brainstorm. Having examined the title
thoroughly, write down all the thoughts
and ideas that come into your mind at this
stage. Decide what information you need.
• Start researching early to take
advantage of relevant and useful ideas
that come up in lectures, seminars,
discussions or general reading.
• Start focussed reading. On some courses
you will be given booklists which will
provide the main source of ideas and
information - otherwise access the Library
catalogue for relevant material.
• Read selectively and purposefully. (You
don't have to read books from cover to
cover.) As you read, begin to formulate
questions. How will this be relevant to the
essay? Will this support my argument - or
cause me to change my views?
3 Thinking creatively
• Consider why you are writing this essay and why you are taking this approach.
• What is your personal angle or "spin"?
• Keeping this in mind, from reading and notes choose your main themes and
• Put them into order - so that they will flow.
• Sort out the evidence - references, examples, illustrations to back up your
• Try to argue from the opposite point of view. Is there evidence for this?
• Find the balance and some new conclusions.
• Can this be developed further?
4 Planning the essay
All essays should conform to the basic
structure of :
• Main body of essay
• Open up the subject and prepare the ground.
• Explain how you understand the title.
• Say why you have chosen this topic and this
(these) particular aspect(s).
• Define parameters. (Say what areas you will
include and, if appropriate, acknowledge the
• Include definitions where necessary.
• Give an outline of how you will be dealing with
the topic and what you will be discussing.
• Develop your ideas and arguments.
• Each paragraph should have one main
point, backed up by evidence e.g.
references, examples, illustrations,
• Keep in touch with the title by referring
back from time to time.
• Should not contain new material.
• Summarise main ideas and arguments.
• State conclusions or balance of argument.
• Suggest wider implications or future trends
• Before writing, check that the planned essay will:
Answer the question that was set
Cover the main aspects
5 Writing the essay
• Each paragraph should link
naturally with preceding and
• Leave the first draft for a day
so that when you return you will
look at it more objectively. Make
sure that your plan is coherent.
Change paragraph order where
necessary. Add what is missing
and delete the irrelevant.
• Edit the paragraphs, checking
for ambiguity. Change wording;
correct grammar and spelling.
• Make sure that you have
acknowledged all sources in the
Bibliography/List of References.
• Write a first draft just as the
ideas come. Don't worry about
• You don't have to start writing
at the beginning. Begin with the
section that you feel will be the
• Write in as clear a style as
possible so that your reader can
understand you. Avoid
abbreviations and slang.
• Write in paragraphs. The first
sentence will introduce the topic
or theme - as a sign-post of what
is to follow. Then develop the idea
or argument and back it up with
the evidence. The final sentence
in a paragraph may summarise
the point and/or refer back to the
essay title - unless the following
paragraph is continuing on to
develop the same ideas.
• Have I answered the question that was set?
• Have I covered the main aspects?
• Is the content relevant and accurate?
• Is the material arranged logically?
• Does the essay move smoothly from paragraph
• Is each main point supported by examples and
• Have I acknowledged all sources and