Top Tips for Writing Academic Essays

Writing academic essays, especially if you are new to it, can require a little time to get used to. Through your education so far, you will have been taught that every point must have evidence to back it up, and then an explanation behind it. When it comes to writing academic essays, you are expected to step things up a notch.

The Academic Writing Style

The first difference you will recognise with academic writing is that there is a specific style to it.

Most of the time, academic writing should be written in the 3rd person and in the present tense. It must also be written formally, so colloquialisms and contractions are advised against.

In previous assignments at college, school or other institutions, you may have been encouraged to give your own opinions. However, in academic writing, you must present arguments rather than personal opinions. This means that every point you make must have evidence or research to back it up, published in a respected forum.

A Selection of Essay Question Terms

  • Discuss: Take into account different issues and ideas, showcasing your reasoning skills. Back up every point with evidence to make a case both for and against the point, or explore advantages and disadvantages, depending on the context of the question.
  • Critically evaluate: Provide evidence from a broad range of sources to explore arguments for and against the point in question. Give your verdict as to what extent you agree with the statement. Finally, come to a clear conclusion, using the evidence discussed to justify your decision.
  • Analyse: Examine methodically and in detail. Look in depth at each part of the issue and use arguments and evidence for and against the point and how they relate.
  • Identify: Pick out key points related to the question and discuss the impact of these points.
  • Review: Dive deep into the subject and discuss relevant points. Do not simply describe them; you must look at everything with a critical eye.
  • Explore: Consider a variety of perspectives around the question in detail. Use evidence to back up each point and conclude with a final round-up of them.


Understand the Question

This may sound obvious, but it may well be the most important part. To correctly answer a question, you need to be able to understand it, of course. Any misunderstanding could lead you down a different and unnecessary path.

The point we are making here is that the wording of a question is everything. A question that asks you to ‘discuss’ various points may require a different approach to one which asks you to ‘critically analyse’.

Bear in mind that some essay questions may have two points to them. Within two questions, you may be required to discuss and critically evaluate a statement. To keep a good structure to your argument, answering the first point and then the second usually makes sense.

Digest the Question

You may see a familiar word in the question and want to start writing everything you have learned about that topic.  However, in reality, it is more likely that your assessor will be looking for a specific approach to the topic, seeking particular answers or analysis.

Planning is Paramount

Deadlines are there to be met. You want to meet the deadline, obviously. You also need to think about how to edit and proofread your academic writing piece before submission.

Try to work backwards from the deadline and leave a day or two which you can set aside to check things through, making sure there are no silly errors.

From here, you can plan how much time you will have to research and write the essay. Make sure you take note of every publication, chapter, author and year of any piece of research you plan on using. You will need this for referencing purposes.

Structuring the Essay

Every educational institution and department within them will have its own guidelines for writing academic essays. What we provide is a general approach to academic writing. Make sure you check with your tutors for any guidelines to adhere to, or any particular things which need to be discussed throughout the essay.

Once you know what to include, you can plan how it will look and flow.

Create an Argument that Flows

You may have pages of notes jotted down on pieces of paper or on a computer. The structure of your essay is what brings all of these points together. It needs to be done so that arguments are aligned and one paragraph flows into the next in a way that makes sense.

Remember to include an introduction to the essay and the topic. From this point, you can delve into your discussion, exploration, or analysis, depending on what the question asks for.

A key thing to remember when writing academic essays is that you must explore both sides of an argument. If one theorist has said one thing, try to find something which backs it up in practice or contradicts it. This will provide the base of a strong and detailed argument.

Is Every Point Relevant?

Be cautious to make sure that every single paragraph you write has a link back to the question. This will help you to question whether each paragraph is relevant to the argument.

If it has no relevance, do not include it. If you feel it has some relevance that is not quite clear, find a suitable way to make this connection.

Make sure you include a summary or conclusion of your points at the end. This will round off your discussion nicely for the reader.

Don’t introduce any new points in the conclusion; this is bad practice and will more likely cost you marks than gain you any.

Quotes and Referencing

There are different types of referencing used by different disciples and universities. You will have been informed by your tutors which kind of referencing is required, such as Harvard Referencing.

You will need to compile a bibliography of references to be listed at the end of your essay. This will show the reader where you have found all of your sources for the argument.

When you make a point in the text, you will need to cite the author and the year of the publication. In the reference list, you write all of the details on the documents and sources. If the assessor wants to read further into a part of your research, they can use the reference list to find the original.

Editing and Proofreading

Once you have drafted the essay, you can use the time you set aside for checking it to do exactly that. At this stage, you can evaluate the structure and flow of your academic writing and be honest about whether each component of the essay is focused on the question.

You can also revisit your departmental or module guidelines and assessment criteria to make sure your work aligns with what is required.

The Value in Proofreading

The primary benefit in proofreading your academic writing is that you will be able to submit it in the confidence that everything is included and up to the required standards.

You can ensure that all of the points you make pack a punch and create a solid argument with opinions from both sides.

Make sure that font size and line spacing are set to the right specification.

Check Meanings

Use a spellchecker and grammar tool to identify any obvious mistakes and trust your own judgment. Look something up if you are not convinced the suggestions are correct.

If you have used any new topic-related jargon in this piece of academic writing, make sure you double-check its spelling and meaning. This way, you can rest assured you have interpreted the new terminology correctly and applied it to build a strong and informed argument.

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