6. Writing Essays
Use this guide if you’d like ideas, strategies and information about: 1. What is an essay? 2. Why write an essay? 3. How to research, plan and write an essay (a 10 step process) 3.1 Interpret the question and identify the key topics 3.2 Organise your time 3.3 Read (do your research, make notes) 3.4 Think (and establish your position) 3.5 Plan (structure) 3.6 Start writing 3.7 Referencing (quoting, paraphrasing, summarising and plagiarism) 3.8 Draft (and redraft) 3.9 Refine (edit and proofread) 3.10 Review lecturer’s feedback 4. Language (academic style) 5. Presenting your work (layout and format) 6. Overview: 6.1 More tips for planning and writing essays 6.2 Checklist (features of a good essay) 7. What next? (further support)
1. What is an essay?
An essay is a piece of academic writing generally between 500 and 5000 words long. The word ‘essay’ originally meant a first attempt or practice, which perhaps suggests some kind of provisional exploration. So an essay is an intellectual exploration of a topic, involving looking at
different arguments and evidence and often developing the writer’s perspective. An essay differs from a report in that it is more discursive, that is, the points are often developed in more depth and the language may be a little less concise. Typically, an essay will consist of a number of paragraphs that are not separated by subheadings or broken up by bullet points, unlike in a report. However, some lecturers may allow or encourage subdivisions and headings as this can help both the writer and the reader with the structure of the content. In that case, an essay may begin to look more like the preferred format of some journal articles. Some disciplines use the word ‘assignment’ instead of ‘essay’, although the style is likely to be similar, so this guide will still be valid for those readers. In case of variations in required format and layout, it is important to read your programme or module handbooks carefully for all the information they offer, and check with your marker if you still have questions after that. As with other generic guidelines (e.g. on referencing), this study guide describes general conventions of the Plymouth University and highlights good practice, but is not a rulebook!
2. Why write an essay?
The purpose of writing an academic essay is to provide written evidence of your ability to research a topic, weigh arguments, organise your thoughts on these, express these thoughts in a logical, coherent and critical manner, and reach conclusions which follow from the evidence/arguments you advance. It is not only a form of assessment that encourages you to show what you have learnt and what you make of it, but also an opportunity to explore ideas and improve your cognitive skills. This thinking/researching/writing process can be creative, rewarding and enjoyable, and not only demanding!
3. How to research, plan and write an essay: a nine step process Writing an essay, no matter what the topic, is a complex process; it requires a lot of practice, and no formula can guarantee good written work. There is no right or wrong way of approaching an essay; there are, however, certain steps that can be really helpful for most people to take to produce a good piece of work. How do you write an essay? It has been suggested that there are several different approaches to writing (described by Brasington, 2007). All have strengths and possible weaknesses. See if you can identify your style(s) from the list below, and think about how you might improve your approach, perhaps by making the most of several different styles: Discovery writing is when writing is the means of discovering what it is you want to say Patchwork1 writing is when you write in sections and then ‘stitch’ the sections together Bricklaying is when you perfect each sentence before moving on to the next Watercolouring is when you incubate...