What does a good essay need?

What does a good essay need?
An academic essay aims to persuade readers of an idea based on evidence.
An academic essay should answer a question or task.
It should have a thesis statement (answer to the question) and an
• It should try to present or discuss something: to develop a thesis
via a set of closely related points by reasoning and evidence.
• An academic essay should include relevant examples, supporting
evidence and information from academic texts or credible
1. Starting the essay
Although there are some basic steps to writing an
assignment, essay writing is not a linear process. You might
work through the different stages a number of times in the
course of writing an essay.
Start work early
You can’t write a successful essay unless you give yourself enough
time to read, research, think and write. Don’t procrastinate or leave it
until the last minute; start as early as possible.
Define the question and analyse the task
Writing down everything you know about a topic is not enough to
make a good academic essay. Analysing, then answering the essay’s
question or task is central.
• Be sure that you understand exactly what the question requires you to do.
• Identify the key words (like discuss or analyse) and clarify the approach you are required to take.
See The Learning Centre guide ‘Answering Assignment Questions’
Construct an initial plan
Your starting point for an essay is your initial response to the topic or question. This response is based on what you already know.
However, this is only the starting point. You then need to research, question your response and find some answers.
Draw up an initial essay plan:
• Work out your initial thoughts and ideas about the topic and write a preliminary essay plan to help guide your research.
• An essay plan can help you work out how you will answer the question and which information you will use. Essay plans also
help with structuring an essay.
As you begin to write and research your plan will probably change.
See The Learning Centre guide Essay & Assignment Planning
Basic steps in writing an essay
In no strict order . . .
• Analyse the question and define key terms
• Establish a possible thesis/ point of view
• Research the topic. Use credible academic
sources for support and evidence.
• Take notes from your readings.
• Write an essay plan and organise your
• Write your first draft to include your
introduction, body and conclusion
• Set the draft aside for a day or two, then
read it through and make changes
• Edit and redraft your essay
• Have a friend/parent/colleague read it
• Complete or check your
references and bibliography
• Final draft completed - hand it in2. Researching the topic
A feature of most academic writing is that it draws on the work of other
writers and researchers. Therefore, reading and researching are vital
to essay writing. Researching provides the knowledge and evidence
that allows you to develop a thesis and argument to answer the essay
Reading for the essay
Start reading early so you have plenty of time to familiarise yourself with the
topic and develop your ideas. When you look at your readings more closely,
remember to read with a purpose. Ask yourself:
• What do I already know about the topic? Start with what you know. If a topic is
unfamiliar, do some introductory reading. See your lecture notes and course
readings for help.
• What do I need to read to be able to answer the essay question?
• Is this material useful to my topic/argument?
• Can I use this material to support my answer?
Make notes from the readings
It’s important to take/ make notes from what you read. Your notes will be the
basis of your essay.
Don’t take notes during your first reading. If you are reading photocopies,
underline or highlight relevant information. You can return to it when you re-read
and take notes.
Always make notes with the question clearly in mind. You must use evidence
to support your argument, so look carefully for relevant information. This can
include summaries or direct quotes from texts, useful examples, case studies or
Make a note of any sources of information. Copy down the bibliographic
details of everything you read. Include author, date, title, publisher and place of
publication. For journal articles, include volume and issue numbers. This will help
with referencing.
See The Learning Centre guide Effective Note-making from Written Text
3. Organising your ideas
Begin organising your research and ideas into an answer.
Essay plans
After you’ve researched and your ideas are more developed, write a second
essay plan. It will help you work out how to answer the question and how the
essay will be structured. After you do some research and notemaking, draw up
a second plan:
• Decide on a possible answer to the question (in terms of the research you
have done)
• Decide on the information you will use to answer the question.
• Look through your notes and choose examples to provide evidence to support
your answer
• Decide which points you will discuss, and in which order
• Write all this down in point form and this will be your essay plan
Reading lists
If you are given a list of suggested
readings, consult as many as
possible. Otherwise, locate relevant
material in the library. Use the
catalogue to perform topic and
subject searches. Once you have
your readings:
• use the table of contents and the
index to find relevant material
• skim through the text to locate
specific information
• when you find something you
need to read closely, flag the
pages with a post-it note so you
can return for a close reading
• photocopy useful sections of
texts so you can underline and
make notes.
Thinking it through
Essay writing requires both creative
and critical thinking.
• Creative thinking encourages
you to broaden your ideas. Try
techniques like brainstorming or
mind mapping.
• Critical thinking encourages you
to narrow the focus or scope of
your ideas (for example, asking
why an example is important to
your argument).
Your essay should be balanced:
that is, it should include a range
of information and viewpoints from
different authors that explore the
key arguments and relevant aspects
of a particular topic.
Don’t only include evidence that
agrees with what you are arguing; if
there are different or opposing views,
then they need to be examined.
You need to evaluate differing
arguments - explain why one
argument is more convincing than
another and how they relate to the
conclusion your essay arrives at.4. Writing the essay
Write a first draft to try out the structure and framework of your essay. A
draft essay will help you work out how you will answer the question and
which evidence and examples you will use; and how your argument will
be structured.
Once you have a draft, you can work on writing well. Your first draft will not
be your final essay; think of it as raw material you will refine through editing
and redrafting.

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