Study Skills Part 2: Essay writing

Published on 19 December 12

Our second instalment of the study skills series gives you advice about how to plan, structure and reference your academic essays.

Getting organised: How to plan your essay

Read through the course unit outline and the marking criteria before beginning your essay. One of the first things a tutor will look for in an essay is: to what extent have you answered the question? The most eloquent and well-structured essay will not succeed if it doesn't answer the question. Check out the Key phrases used in essay titles to help you find out exactly what the question expects. 

Make sure you plan the sections of your essay to ensure that it has a clear direction, rather than just a mass of information, and keep asking yourself ‘does this answers the question?’.

To make sure your essay has a strong structure give each section headings and write a little description about the topics and research that will be discussed under each heading. Once you have your basic essay structure planned out it will be easier to do your research.

Effective researching

A little thought when preparing a reading list will mean you get the most out of your time spent reading. Doing plenty of reading around the subject is great but you need to make sure that you are reading the right books. If you are unsure about where to start with your research, this gives you a great opportunity to visit the course leader's office for advice, you should find that they are more than happy to give you advice about what to read and how to start tackling the question.

Make an impact with your writing style

Finding the right writing style may take some time, but there are some guidelines you can follow that can help. There are a lot of things you are advised to avoid in academic writing, here’s our list of the main things to avoid:

If you need any extra help with your academic writing you can click on these links to learn more about punctuation, grammar, spelling and reflective writing. The Phrasebank is a useful resource if you’re struggling understanding academic writing or if you just need help making your writing more formal.

Take this quick Style guide quiz to find out if you’re using the right style in your academic writing.

Pain free referencing

You need to make a note of everything you take notes from and all of the books you’ve used so that you can easily pull together your references.

This guide to Referencing and Bibliographies gives you all the advice you need to make sure your essays are referenced correctly. You can also view this guide to Harvard referencing from the library if you need help.

Why is it so important to reference everything?

By using referencing you are acknowledging that the source you are referring to is the work of somebody else. Without doing this you are risking plagiarism. To find out more about how to avoid plagiarism click here.

Once your essay is complete make sure you proof read it, you’d be surprised what typos or grammar mistakes the spellchecker may not pick up on. For any more advice about essay writing you can consult these FAQs or read more about how to write Essays and reports.

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