Writing an essay

What is an essay?

Essays at university need to respond to the question by developing an argument which is based on evidence and critical reasoning. They must have certain key elements including;

  • A clear introduction with a thesis statement (an answer to the question or a response to the task) and a well defined structure,
  • Logically structured body paragraphs which include supporting evidence from academic sources.
  • A clear conclusion which restates your topic and summarizes your essay and thesis.

Why do we write essays?

Essays are used as assessment at University to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of a topic. They are also useful tools to promote thinking and learning. You are required to develop an argument and apply critical thinking skills to analyse a range of academic sources in support of your argument [the QUT cite|write booklet contains information on critical thinking).

How to write an essay

Before you start, it is important to understand what type of essay you are required to write. The language of the question, especially the directive (task) words, will indicate the type of essay and suggest an appropriate structure to follow in your essay. [More information on directive words is contained in the QUT cite|write booklet].

Often, assignments have more than one part. The most logical way to approach a multi-part assignment is to address each part of the task in the order that it is stated on the assignment task sheet.  The first sentence of each section of the assignment should be a direct response to each part of the task.

Types of essays and suggested structures

Analytical essay

This is perhaps the most common structure. Examples of this include questions which ask you to discuss, analyse, investigate, explore or review. In an analytical structure you are required to break the topic into its different components and discuss these in separate paragraphs or sections, demonstrating balance where possible.

  • Introduction
    • Background information on topic
    • Overall point of view of the topic (thesis)
    • Overview of components to be discussed (structure)
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first component
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to support topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second component
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to back topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many components as you need to outline
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of the main points of the body
    • Restatement of the main point of view
    • Justification/evaluation (if required by task)

Argumentative essay

Examples of this type of essay include questions which ask you to take a position on a topic, such as a particular decision or policy, and present arguments which support your position. An effective way to argue a point can be to present the opposing view first then counter this view with stronger evidence.

  • Introduction
    • Background information on topic
    • Statement of your position on the topic (thesis)
    • Overview of arguments to be presented (structure)
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first argument
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to support topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second argument
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to back topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many arguments as you wish to put forward in support of the topic.
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of the main points of the body
    • Restatement of the position

Interpretive essay

Examples of this type of essay include assignments where you are given data such as a case study or scenario, a diagram,  graphical information, or a picture and expected to interpret this information to demonstrate your application of knowledge when answering the task. Based on this data, you may be asked to do a range of things such as provide recommendations or solutions, develop a nursing care plan, a teaching plan, suggest legal advice or plan a marketing strategy.

  • Introduction
    • Brief background information on topic
    • Overview of issues to be addressed in the essay (structure)
    • State overall interpretation (thesis)
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first issue identified from the data
      • Sentences giving further explanation and providing evidence from both the literature and the data, e.g. the case study to support the topic sentence (it is very important in this types of essays to make reference to the data you have been supplied to give your essay context).
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second issue identified
      • As above
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many issues as you wish to discuss from the data you have been supplied.
  • Conclusion
    • Statement of overall interpretation
    • Summary of the main issues from the data supplied
    • Make recommendations or suggest solutions to address the issues arising from the data supplied.

Comparative essay

Examples of this type of essay include compare, compare and contrast or differentiate questions. In this structure the similarities and/or differences between two or more items, for example, theories or models, are discussed paragraph by paragraph. Your assignment task may require you to make a recommendation about the suitability of the items you are comparing.

  • Introduction
    • Brief background information on topic
    • Outline of two (or more) things being compared or contrasted
    • Purpose for making the comparison / contrast
    • Overview of the specific points to be compared / contrasted
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first similarity or difference
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to support topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second similarity or different
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to back topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – link to next paragraph
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many items or aspects as you need to compare/contrast
  • Conclusion
    • Restatement of the main purpose for the comparison / contrast
    • Summary of the main similarities and differences
    • Recommendation about suitability of compared items for purpose (if requirement of assessment task)
    • Overall conclusion

Problem and solution essay

These essay questions often require you to structure your answer in several parts. An example may be to ask you to investigate a problem and explore a range of solutions. You may also be asked to choose the best solution and justify your selection, allow space for this in your essay.

  • Introduction
    • Background information about the problem
    • Description of the problem and why it is serious
    • Overview of the solutions to be outlined
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first solution
      • Explanation of the positive and negative aspects of the solution
      • Evidence to support explanations 
      • Concluding sentence
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second solution
      • Explanation of the positive and negative aspects of the solution
      • Evidence to support explanation
      • Concluding sentence
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many solutions as you need to discuss
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of the problem and overview of the solutions
    • Evaluation of solutions and recommendation of best option

Cause and effect essay

Examples of this type of essay include questions which ask you to state or investigate the effects or outline the causes of the topic. This may be, for example, an historical event, the implementation of a policy, a medical condition or a natural disaster. These essays may be structured in one of two ways: either the causes(s) of a situation may be discussed first followed by the effect(s), or the effect(s) could come first with the discussion working back to outline the cause(s). Sometimes with cause and effect essays you are required to give an assessment of the overall effects e.g. on a community, a workplace, an individual. Space must be allocated for this assessment in your structure.

  • Introduction
    • Background information on situation under discussion
    • Description of the situation
    • Overview of the causes or effects to be outlined
  • Body paragraphs
    • paragraph 1
      • Topic sentence outlining first cause or effect
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to support the topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – linking to next paragraph
    • paragraph 2
      • Topic sentence outlining second cause or effect
      • Sentences giving explanations and providing evidence to back topic sentence
      • Concluding sentence – linking to next paragraph
    • Following body paragraphs
      • These follow the same structure for as many causes or effects as you need to outline
  • Conclusion
    • Summary of the main points of the body
    • Conclusion, prediction or recommendation
      

Essay writing checklist

Have I

  • Understood the question correctly?
  • Answered all parts of the question or task?
  • Included a thesis statement (answer to a question or response to a task) and an appropriate argument?
  • Developed my argument by using logical points which are well reasoned?
  • Used information from academic texts or credible sources to support my argument?
  • Included relevant examples, where necessary, from the supplied case study or other data to demonstrate application?
  • Been analytical and demonstrated critical thinking in my essay?
  • Proofread my work to check that each paragraph links to the previous or the thesis?
  • Structured my essay in an introduction, body and conclusion
  • Checked my spelling, grammar and punctuation

Further information

Studywell resource - Working out how to start your assignments

Studywell resource - Writing structure overview