Writing academically

Academic Writing Basics

Writing an academic essay can be a daunting task. You might feel confused about what is expected of you or you may never have written anything quite like it before.

In an essay you are expected to:

  • provide an answer to the question
  • present an informed opinion that shows evidence of your reading
  • structure ideas and present a coherent argument
  • quote and/or refer to relevant authors to support your argument

How do I begin?

  • Read the question carefully and identify exactly what you are being asked to do
  • Ask your tutor for clarification if you are not sure what he or she wants
  • Think about possible approaches to the question –identify the main issues and decide which you want to focus on and why
  • Find the relevant literature – look at reading lists, the course handbook and lecture notes for guidance
  • Spend some time sifting through resources – you don’t want to waste time reading things which are not relevant
  • Start reading
  • Make careful note of any references - that means interesting ideas/theories as well as direct quotes – it will save you a lot of time and energy (and possible accusations of plagiarism) later on – you will need the author/s’ names and initials, the title of the book/article/journal, date of publication, publisher and page number of any quotes.

How do I structure it?

Your essay is like a journey, it has a beginning, middle and an end and you need to plan your route carefully. There needs to be a coherent central argument that runs through the middle of your work which is supported on either side by your reading.

What should go in the introduction?

  • The introduction should provide an overview of the issues relating to the question but not repeat the question
  • You may want to define the main terms
  • Identify the focus of your answer – you won’t be able to cover everything that is relevant
  • You might want to map out the key stages of your essay and outline what is going to be discussed
  • Your introduction should make up no more than 10% of your word count

What about the main body?

  • This is where you have to develop your key arguments and support your ideas with evidence from your reading
  • If you refer to someone else’s ideas, whether directly or indirectly, you must provide a complete reference
  • Each paragraph needs an opening statement which signposts the area you are going to address
  • Each point must consistently address the question

What should go in the conclusion?

  • Draw together the main strands of your argument and highlight the key points
  • Try and provide an answer to the question – even if that means recognising that it is a question to which there is no clear answer
  • Your conclusion should make up no more than 10-15% of your word count

What goes in the reference list?

You need to include the full publishing details of every author/source you have mentioned in your essay so that anyone who reads your work can discover where you got your ideas/information from. This is not just so they can check up on you, referencing is how people share knowledge in higher education.

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