Academic assignments: Essays

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. 

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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.

Your essay needs to be written in an academic style (see drafting essays) and have:

An 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.

Try the interactive activity on this topic: Essay structure: the introduction

A 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.

Try the interactive activity on this topic: Essay structure: the body

A 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.

Try the interactive activity on this topic: Essay structure: the conclusion

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 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 6th referencing style.

Activity 1: APA 6th - from journal to referencing

Activity 2: APA 6th - order of elements

A referencing guide is available at the CDU Library website.

Once you have completed the above task, the next step and perhaps the most important step is to proofread your work. This video will help you to better understand the required strategies of how 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.



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