With the semester now well underway, chances are you’ve started to become inundated with essays and assignments. While you’re probably familiar with essay writing from high school, a quick refresher on some of the main tips never hurts, particularly if it’s been a while since you last submitted an assignment.
Make use of the library and databases
You may be tempted to get your assignment done from the comfort of your own room, but library staff are more valuable than you’d think. Staff can often help you find exactly what you need very quickly, taking a lot of time out of the research process. Online databases are another useful tool, with many focusing on a certain field or topic of study.
Read task sheets and assessment criteria
Task sheets and assessment criteria should tell you exactly what you need to cover in your essay to receive top marks. The level of detail these assessment sheets go into will vary depending on the subject and tutor, but they should at least outline the criteria that your work will be marked against. If the task asks you to answer a question or refer to a specific quote or statement, make sure you read it thoroughly and address every aspect. Once you have completed your essay, refer back to the task sheet or marking criteria and check that you have met all the requirements.
Plan your essay to the word limit
The word limit for your assignment will determine how broad or narrow your research focus will be. If you pick a topic that is too specific, you may run out of things to say, and if you pick something too broad, you’ll probably struggle to analyse anything in enough detail. If you don't have many words to work with, try focusing on a particular case study, person or issue, rather than giving a broad outline of the whole topic.
Present an argument
You should be able to summarise the main theme or argument of your essay in a single sentence. If you can’t, it’s likely that your essay needs more of a focus. Think about what you’re trying to say and structure the rest of your essay around this. Each new piece of information you introduce should link back to and help elaborate on your main argument.
Check your references
There is an abundance of online tools to help you with referencing, but many students still lose marks in their assignments — even well into their final years of university. Any idea that isn’t your own — even those you’ve paraphrased— should be referenced. It’s also important that you use the correct style of referencing (this will usually be stated on the task sheet but ask your tutor if you’re unsure) and that your referencing is consistent throughout your essay. Most referencing styles feature in-text citations with a full reference list at the end of the essay. You’ll find that it is easier to reference as you go, rather than trying to find and write up all your references at the end.
Stick to a simple format
Each teacher or tutor will have their own advice when it comes to the format of your essay, and you’ve probably heard a range of different acronyms and analogies. In general, your essay should consist of the following elements:
Introduction: The introduction should present the argument or main theme of your essay and outline how you will expand on or explore this argument throughout the body paragraphs. Your introduction shouldn’t be longer than two to three sentences.
Body paragraphs: To put it simply, each body paragraph should present an argument, use evidence to back it up and relate back to the broader theme of the essay. If you can, you should also link or elude to further arguments or ideas presented in the following paragraphs. The body paragraphs will be where you introduce your specific evidence, examples and academic references, and will help you expand on or provide evidence towards what you’ve stated in the introduction.
- Conclusion: You shouldn’t introduce any new major arguments or ideas in a conclusion; instead, you should bring together everything you’ve already mentioned in one clear final statement. Your conclusion should complement your introduction, but should not replicate it.