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Study Skills


How to write well-organised essays that answer the essay question.

Essays are common assessment tasks in some university faculties. They have been defined as 'a short piece of writing on a particular subject, especially one done by students as part of the work for a course' (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.). This definition may seem vague, so this page will help you to meet your lecturers' expectations by:

  • self-evaluating your current strengths and weaknesses
  • understanding the purpose and features of essays
  • analysing essay questions to better understand task requirements

  • creating well-structured and coherent essays.

Download this summary sheet for your own reference.



Introduction to essays

This section gives you a general overview of essays and helps you evaluate your own skills.

Self evaluation
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Reflect on your previous writing experience and feedback you have received. How would you rate your ability in the following essay writing skills? Rate your ability from ‘good’ to ‘needs development’.

If you feel confident about your skills, you may find it helpful to review the materials on this page to confirm your knowledge and possibly learn more. Don't worry if you don't feel confident. Work through these materials to build your skills.

Features of strong essays

A well-written essay will:

  • answer all elements of the essay question  
  • be well-structured and coherent  

  • present a strong argument  

  • use reliable evidence to support your arguments

  • be written in appropriate academic style. 

Whatever the essay question, you should consider the following questions.

  • Who is the (imaginary) reader of this essay?
  • What is the purpose of this essay?
  • How will I organise the points in the body to achieve this purpose?

In previous studies, you may have learned about different types of essay, such as discursive or argumentative, cause and effect, problem-solution, or compare and contrast. In fact, these are not really different types of essays. These are just different ways you may organise the content in the body of your essay to achieve the purpose. Many university writing tasks include more than one of these types. For instance, you may need to write an argumentive text, and in doing so, you may compare and contrast different theories. That means you must prepare by analysing the task or essay question carefully.

    Preparing for the essay

    Before you begin working on an essay, you must understand what you are being asked to discuss. So, you must start by analysing the essay question carefully.    

    Analysing essay questions

    Read this essay question and watch the video to learn more. 

    Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can cause childhood cognitive impairment, leading to a lifetime of disadvantage. Evaluate the role of the national government in addressing this issue in remote communities. 

    Analysing essay questions: putting it to practice
    study skills task icon

    Consider what you learned in the video and analyse two essay questions. 

    1. Identify the task words, topic words and focus words.
    2. Click on the icons to check your answers.
    Understanding essay task words

    Some task words are used frequently in essay questions. You should ensure you understand what they all mean.

    study skills task icon

      Drag the best definition underneath each task word. 

    Applying your learning

    Apply what you have learned to your own assessments.

    1. Go to your units on Learnline. 

    2. Find and analyse your own essay questions. 

    3. Discuss your ideas with your peers. 

    Analysing your topic will help you with the next steps. You may:

    Structuring your essays

    After analysing the question, researching, note-taking and planning, you are ready to write your first draft. To do this, you will follow the standard three-part structure of a university essay: introduction, body and conclusion. 

    1. Work through this material to help you understand the structure.
    2. Use this Essay Mapping Tool to help you use the structure.
    Organising the essay 1

    This section will explain how essays are organised. Most university essays follow a standard three-part structure: introduction, body and conclusion. These are divided into paragraphs.

    In some disciplines, you may use headings in your essay. If your lecturer requires this, you can visit the Cohesion page to learn more about writing effective headings.

    Most disciplines do not require headings in the body of the essay. Therefore, you must organise your essay very carefully.

    essay structure


    Organising the essay 2

    Watch this video to learn more about the standard three-part structure of essays.


    study skills task icon

    Check your understanding by identifying the elements that usually appear in each of the three parts of a standard essay.


    Writing a strong introduction

    This section will help you to write strong, well-structured introductions.

    The elements of a strong introduction

     An introduction should include the following: 

    Introduction structure
    Background  The background sets the context by giving background information that shows the importance of the topic or justifies your research.
    Thesis statement Your thesis statement outlines your main aim, purpose or argument. 
    Outline The outline identifies the main topics and sub-topics. It tells your reader how your paper will be organised.  
    Scope The introduction may include a scope if the topic is broad and you need to narrow it down. 


    study skills task icon


    Read the example introduction for the essay on fetal alcohol disorder.

    • Can you recognise each element?
    • Click on the hotspots to check your ideas.



    Applying your learning


    study skills task icon

     It’s your turn. Analyse the introduction about student success at university.



    study skills task icon

    Read the following sentences from the essay question about Kiribati. Put them in order to create a cohesive introduction. 


    Writing a strong body

    This section will help you to write a well-structured body for your essay. In addition, remember that a strong essay must:

    The organisation of a strong essay body

    The body of the essay is divided into paragraphs that present ideas that support the thesis statement.  Each paragraph will focus on one main idea. Each will also include a topic sentence, supporting evidence, and possibly a link or concluding sentence. 

    Paragraphs will present ideas in the same order as the outline in the introduction. For example, the Kiribati essay may present ideas in this order: 



    The elements of paragraphs

    The body of your essay is made up of well-constructed paragraphs. Just like your essays all follow a three-part structure, many (although not all) paragraphs also have a three-part structure. This is known as TEEL/C.

    Tmeans topic sentence.                                                  
    Emeans explanation, elaboration, evidence or example.
    L/Cmeans link or conclusion (optional)

    Visit Paragraphs to learn more about these elements.

    Writing a strong conclusion

    This section will help you to write strong, well-structured conclusions.

    The elements of a strong conclusion

    Conclusions can be the weakest part of student essays because they are often written last when students are tired. However, your conclusions are very important because they are your chance to reinforce your ideas and end strongly. To ensure you write a strong conclusion, you should: 

    • take a break before you write your conclusion 

    • reread your introduction focusing on your thesis and outline 

    • ensure your introduction and conclusion are aligned. 

    The conclusion should: 

    • restate your thesis or the main idea of the paper 

    • give a summary of the issues covered in the essay 

    • make a concluding statement. 

    conclusion structure

    Remember: no new information is usually included in your conclusion.

    Applying your learning


    study skills task icon


    Read this example conclusion. Compare it with the introduction from the same essay. Can you find the paraphrase of the thesis statement? 



    study skills task icon

    It’s your turn. Identify the different sections of the conclusion to the essay on student success at university.


    study skills task icon

    Read the following sentences from the essay question about Kiribati. Put them in order to create a cohesive conclusion. 


    study skills task icon

       Now, analyse the conclusion to identify the stages.


    Applying your learning

    Reflect on what you have learned in this material and consider how you can use it in your own work. 

    Useful strategies
    study skills task icon

    Read widely to improve your writing.

    • Read published papers in your discipline.
    • Ask your lecturer if they have sample essays you can read.

    If you read widely, you may notice that your discipline uses slight variations in standard essay organisation. For instance, Law essays often use headings while many other disciplines don’t.


    Re-read an essay you are drafting.

    • Have you included three stages?
    • Have you included each element of the three stages?
    • Are your paragraphs well-structured?
    • Is your essay cohesive?
    • Does your conclusion mirror your introduction?
    3Use this Essay Mapping Tool to ensure your essays are well-structured.
    4Be very careful with referencing. The referencing style that you use depends on the expectations of your lecturer, so always check first.


      Next steps
      reflection icon

      Reflect on your learning.

      1Revisit the self analysis quiz at the top of the page. How would you rate your skills now?
      2Remember that writing is a process and mistakes aren't a bad thing. They are a normal part of learning and can help you to improve.

      If you would like more support, visit the Language and Learning Advisors page.



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      Sample essay

      Sample essay document

      What factors contribute to student success at university?

      The modern university serves a wide range of needs in society. In 2018, Australian universities had just over 1.5 million students in full-time and part-time study (Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment, 2020). 

      Download sample essay (DOCX, 30.55 KB)

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