How to Write an Essay

Before you start!

Read the question:

Reread it and then read it again. What is it asking exactly? You may write a fabulous essay but if you don’t answer the question you could get a mark of zero. Underline the key points that need to be addressed and make sure you cover all of them – not just the one that interests you most.

Research the topic:

Know what you’re talking about before you get going. If you have plenty of times do both the core reading and some of

The more obscure. If not, at least read the core text. When writing notes, put down the title of the book, the author, publisher and page number. This may seem tedious but it saves you hours when it comes to writing your bibliography.

Do a plan:

Whether you like sprawling ‘spider diagrams’ or simple lists, planning is essential to writing a good essay. Scribble down

Everything you think is important and relevant to the question then formulate this into a plan. Work out your main points, the best people to quote, and how you are going to answer the question.


The structure

The introduction: Your first paragraph should restate the question and say how you are going to answer it.

The middle: This is the main body of the essay. You need to discuss the main points of your answer clearly in a logical order, backing up your points with research and quotes.

The conclusion: This is where you must draw together all your loose threads and state your answer more concisely.

Be original; try not to regurgitate lecture notes word for word. By all means cover the points, but use your own words, and back it up with material from your own reading. Equally, don’t express your own opinion unless it has been asked for;

Replace ‘I think’ with more generic, impersonal pronouns (e.g. ‘Professor Smith suggests…’ or ‘some might say that…’).

The same goes for copying chunks out of books, it is better to concisely quote books, especially as you are unlikely to fox your tutors. They will have marked hundreds of essays on your topic and know when you are ripping someone else off. It’s better to make a point yourself and then back it up with a quote or to quote someone, and then expand the point yourself.


Once you have written your essay print it out and read it. You should be able to juggle paragraphs about, dispose of chunks of waffle and generally tidy it all up. You may find this easier if you go away and have a coffee, or leave it overnight before coming back to it with a fresh, more objective head on. Sometimes it helps to get a second opinion too – ask friends to read through the essay and give you some constructive criticism. They don’t need to know heaps about the subject, just comment on how it all reads and flows. Once you have a concise essay, make the changes to your document, spell check and proofread it for any grammatical and spelling errors that your PC didn’t pick up. Check the main facts and dates and make any final changes to your document.


If you omit these or do them poorly you will often lose marks so it is important to treat this seriously. Your department should have some guidelines on how they prefer you to do these, so ask for a copy and refer to it. You could include footnotes at the bottom of each page referencing any quotes or studies you have mentioned, or you could include the references in the body of the essay.


This goes at the end of your essay under the title ‘Bibliography’. It is basically a long list of all the books and research papers that you have referred to for your essay, be it for one quote or whole chapters. Make sure this includes all the books that you have referenced in your footnotes and those that you used for background reading. Again, your department probably has guidelines on how they prefer this done, but it is usually alphabetical and looks similar to this:

  • Always underline the titles of books, whether in your essay, the footnotes or the bibliography.

Submitting your work

  • Hand it in on time, or ask your tutor for an extension if you need one. If you don’t and you hand it in late you may be faced with a penalty, or no mark at all. Even if your tutor does take pity and agree to mark it you could be stuck with a long wait for them to return it to you.

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