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Study Skills

Essays

How to plan, draft and construct essays

Writing essays is a common assessment task at university. This section helps you to understand how to plan, draft and construct essays.

Structuring essays

When we are ready to start writing, the first attempt is always a draft.

Some guides on writing introductions and conclusions, paragraphs and using linking words and phrases are provided in this section.

Writing introductions and conclusions

Every piece of formal writing that you complete must contain a clear introduction and conclusion. The purpose of the introduction is to prepare the reader for what they are about to read. The conclusion should summarise the content of what you have discussed.

Introduction

An introduction should include the following:

Background information

This is normally two or three sentences which give the reader general information about the topic that you will write about.

Thesis statement/topic

This is the most important part of the introduction. It introduces the main topic or argument on which the essay will be based.

Outline

The outline tells the reader what the sub-topics of the essay will be and in doing so how the essay will be organised.

Scope

This section is only required if you are going to narrow your discussion of the topic down e.g. to a particular time or place.

Example 1: The highlighted section of the paragraph is the thesis statement.

Education plays an important role in the community’s capacity to deal with emergencies, following a disaster or when a country is in conflict, contributing stability to the lives of girls and boys and helping families to heal and look forward. The benefits of educating girls have long been established. Now there is new understanding as to why educating girls is the most urgent task facing the global development community. This paper will argue that it is girls’ education that is the most effective means of combating many of the most profound challenges to human development, and that for communities, the strategies for providing girls the opportunities to complete their education yield benefits for all. 

Example 2: The highlighted section of the paragraph is the thesis statement.

Increasingly, research associated with prenatal development suggests the mother’s health and lifestyle have some influence on the life of the foetus. This essay will show that the physical health of the mother and her lifestyle will greatly influence the development of the foetus. It will show this by examining the effects of the following on a mother and in turn on her unborn child: smoking, malnutrition, drugs and diseases.

Conclusion

The conclusion usually starts with ‘In conclusion’, or ‘To sum up…” and should:

  • restate your thesis or the main idea of the paper
  • give an outline: This provides a summary of the sub-topics/issues covered in the essay
  • qualify your thesis: Review the thesis statement acknowledging significant counter evidence if necessary.

Example 1The highlighted section of the paragraph is the thesis statement

The arguments presented in this paper have shown that educating girls from the very early years not only ensures that girls grow up healthier and more able to protect themselves and ensure their own well being; educating girls also benefits communities. Through the provision of resources and improved services implemented to support girls’ education, the lives of all people in a community improve. In addition, educating girls equates to educating women who will in the future be able to better nurture and support their families. All in all, it has to be said that educating a girl is equivalent to educating a whole family and educating a community.

Example 2: The highlighted section of the paragraph is the thesis statement

In all, it is possible to conclude that the physical health of the mother will greatly influence the development of the foetus. In the majority of cases, the factors influencing the mother’s health such as smoking, malnutrition, drugs and diseases are closely related so that it becomes difficult for researchers to determine which factor and to what extent that factor is responsible for the adverse effects caused to development of the foetus. However, a great deal of the research associated with prenatal development does indicate that the main influences on the environment and development of the foetus are from controllable causes.

Drafting paragraphs

What is a paragraph?

A paragraph is a group of sentences that relates to a certain theme or idea. The length of a paragraph may vary, but the average paragraph should be between 80-120 words long.

Ideally, a paragraph should have a beginning, middle and an end. This should include a topic sentence which is the main idea or theme of the paragraph, supporting sentences which provide further information and explanation of the main idea and in some cases a concluding sentence. (This concluding sentence is not always necessary but in longer paragraphs it does help to add clarity and strength to your discussion).

In the following examples, the topic sentences are underlined. In example one and two, the supporting sentences explain the topic sentence further. In example 3, examples are given to support the topic sentence.

Example 1: The highlighted section of the paragraph is the topic sentence

In most education systems, the consequences are very serious if children do not learn to read by the end of grade three. This is because teachers in the upper primary years do not think that they should have to teach students how to read. Instead, they expect students to develop skills in learning from reading. By the time students reach high school they are expected to learn through reading texts. Thus, the child who reaches upper primary school without being able to read, will never be able to complete school.

Example 2: The highlighted section of the paragraph is the topic sentence

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. Inequitable access to land complicates the dependence of the largely rural population on subsistence agriculture, and has meant a growing reliance on the cash economy. This means increased migration for men for work, heavier workloads for women and children, and an erosion of traditional family patterns. Internal conflict over recent years has caused even greater hardship for the country’s poor.

Example 3: The highlighted section of the paragraph is the topic sentence

Childhood malnutrition and illness can have devastating consequences for the cognitive development of a child. For example, iron deficiency anaemia reduces cognitive functions, iodine deficiency causes irreversible intellectual impairment and vitamin A deficiency is the primary cause of blindness among children. Childhood malnutrition can also leave individuals more vulnerable to ill‑health in both childhood and adulthood, and thus more likely to exacerbate the cycle of this. While some gains can be made during adolescence, damage done to cognitive development cannot be reversed.

Using linking words and phrases in writing

The table below shows in bold the meaning of each word and phrase. Then, the two columns show first the words and phrases you can use to express this meaning and the appropriate punctuation to use at the beginning of a sentence and then those used within the sentence.

Cause, effect, reason or resultComparison, contrast and concession
Used at the beginning of a sentenceUsed in the middle of a sentenceUsed at the beginning of a sentenceUsed in the middle of a sentence
As a result,
Because of this,
Consequently,
For this reason,
Therefore,
Thus,
; as a result,
; because of this,
; consequently,
; for this reason,
; therefore,
; thus
However,
Even so,
Nevertheless,
Nonetheless,
On the other hand,
In contrast,
In comparison,
; however,
; even so,
; nevertheless,
; nonetheless,
; on the other hand,
 because
since
as
 though
although
even though
while
whereas
in spite of
despite
Time-orderAddition
Used at the beginning of a sentenceUsed in the middle of a sentenceUsed at the beginning of a sentenceUsed in the middle of a sentence
First
First of all
Lastly
Second
Next
 Again,
Also,
Besides,
Equally,
Furthermore,
In addition,
; again
; also
; besides,
; equally,
; furthermore,
; in addition,
In the first place,
In the next place,
Likewise,
Moreover,
What is more,
after
before
until
when
while
as soon as
In the first place,
In the next place,
Likewise,
Moreover,
What is more,
 
ConditionTransition between ideas
Used at the beginning of a sentenceUsed in the middle of a sentenceUsed at the beginning of a sentenceUsed in the middle of a sentence
Provided that
Unless
As long as
provided that
unless
as long as
given that
Incidentally,
Turning now to,
Similarly,
In the same way,
Equally,
For example,
In other words,
For instance,
; similarly,
; in the same way,
; equally,
; for example,
; in other words,
; for instance,
ExplanationSummarising
To express it another way,
In other words,
To put it more simply,
That is,
It would be better to say,
In brief,
To sum up,
In conclusion,
To summarise,
To conclude,
All in all,
Overall,
 
Presenting an alternative idea 
 ; alternatively,
; on the other hand,
, or
  

 

Examples of usage

Showing cause, effect, reason and result

The government has been ineffective. Therefore, the voters rejected it in the last election.

As the government has been ineffective, the voters rejected it in the last election.

Showing contrast and concession

Many people still travel in winter even though the roads are very dangerous.

Although the roads are very dangerous in winter, many people still travel.

Showing time order

The manager asked her staff for their ideas for the new proposal. Subsequently, she ignored all their suggestions.

After the manager asked her staff for their ideas for the new proposal, she ignored all their suggestions.

Showing addition

The five year drought has caused a shortage of staple food products. In addition, recent increases in the price of food have caused food scarcity amongst the farming communities.

Showing condition

The President agreed to withdraw his troops from the area; on the condition, that all hostages were released.

The President agreed to withdraw his troops from the area provided that all hostages were released.

Once the President agreed to withdraw his troops from the area, all hostages were released.

Showing alternatives

The government may consider increases in personal income tax; alternatively, they could introduce some form of indirect taxation.

The government may consider increases in personal income tax. On the other hand; they could introduce some form of indirect taxation.

Constructing essays

Essays are the most common form of assessments at university. Like all other assignments, essays require adequate planning, preparation and research.

A well researched and well-written essay will:

  • answer the essay question
  • be well structured and coherent
  • present a strong argument on the issue
  • use reliable evidence to support the argument
  • be written in an academic style. 
Preparing for the essay

Analysing the topic

Before you begin work on an essay, it is important that you understand what you are being asked to discuss. So you need to analyse the essay question carefully. An essay question usually contains:

Orientation: A general preamble about the topic which explains why or what the debate is about
Topic: This is the subject that the question is about
Focus: This tells you what specific aspects of the topic the question is interested in
Directions: This tells you what you are being asked to do (e.g. to discuss, explain, argue)

Example essay question

Childhood malnutrition and illness can have devastating consequences for the cognitive development of a child.  This can lead to a lifetime of educational and social disadvantage. Discuss the role of the national government in addressing this issue in communities substantially affected by alcohol and drug misuse.

Orientation: Childhood malnutrition and illness can have devastating consequences for the cognitive development of a child. This can lead to a lifetime of educational and social disadvantage.
Topic: Childhood malnutrition and illness
Focus: What governments can/should do ... in communities substantially affected by alcohol and drug misuse
Directions: Discuss (present an argument)

Before you analyse the essay question, make sure that you understand any key terms that have been used. For example: malnutrition, educational and social disadvantage, alcohol and drug misuse

The next steps:

  1. draft a plan (a taxonomy) of how you will organise your essay
  2. research (see more on conducting a literature search/note taking)
  3. review your essay plan.
Structuring the essay

Your essay needs to be written in an academic style and have the following: 

Introduction

A paragraph which introduces the essay topic and gives some background information or   context about this. The introduction also states the main point (thesis) that is going to be argued and an outline of how the essay will be organised.

Body

The body is the main part of the essay and is made up of a series of paragraphs which present the argument and the evidence for that argument.

Conclusion

The conclusion provides a summary of the argument and restates the main claim. It may also make some final statements about the topic. However, nothing new is introduced in the conclusion.

Using evidence

Evidence can come from different sources but should include facts, supported by expert opinions and observations, examples, anecdotes or other illustrations such as graphs and diagrams.

Evidence should be integrated into your essays through quoting, paraphrasing or summarising. All sources quoted, paraphrased or summarised in your essay must be in the reference list at the end of your work.

Review your writing

Review your paragraphs

Make sure that each of your paragraphs:

  • discusses a key idea
  • provides the supporting evidence for the key idea
  • brings together the subsidiary points that help to establish your line of argument.

Review your draft essay

  • After you have written a draft of your essay it will be necessary to review what you have achieved. An effective method is to read through each paragraph in the order that they appear in your draft. Write a one sentence summary of each paragraph: Compare each summary with what you intended (from your essay plan) to say. If there is a discrepancy then a rewrite of the paragraph might be needed.
  • Read each summary sentence, one after the other:
    If there is no logical connection or continuity between each summary sentence then a rewrite or reordering of the paragraphs will be needed. This might also be needed if there is no thematic continuity between them.

Once you have returned to your draft you will need to ask yourself a series of crucial questions:

  • Does it answer the question or topic as set?
  • Is the argument consistent?
  • Is the argument convincing?
  • Does the evidence support the argument?
  • Are the ideas clearly expressed?
  • Does the writing flow smoothly?
  • Does the essay have an effective introduction and conclusion?
  • Are the sentences grammatically constructed?
  • Is the length appropriate?

Before submitting your final draft, check in your unit guidelines that your essay presentation conforms to what is required. This includes adding your references, both in the text and in a reference list at the end of your essay. The referencing style that you use depends on the expectations of your lecturer. Always check first before choosing a referencing style.

Learn how to transform a journal reference to an APA 7th referencing style.

Once you have completed the above task, the next step and perhaps the most important step is to proofread your work. 

Remember making mistakes isn't a bad thing - not taking the time to read through your work and correct them is.

 

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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