When I first started university in the UK I was really confused by the structure of an essay and how to successfully write one. It is a type of assignment which is not used much in Italian high school, but at university, some degrees require a lot of essay writing. In these three years, I wrote more essays than any other type of assignment and I think I can give a few tips on how to write an essay for someone who has never written one before.
First of all, give yourself time to write the essay, which means starting the process at least two weeks before the deadline. Usually, professors will give you a list of questions from which you can choose one to answer in your essay. If you are lucky enough to get to choose the topic, think wisely and pick what you like but also what looks manageable for you and your style. Do not choose a question just because everyone else does that one. After choosing the question, go back to lecture notes and readings about that topic to have a general idea about what we are talking about and most important understand what the question asks you to do. It could ask to analyse or compare or if something is effective, understand what that means to correctly structure the essay and be sure to answer the question. Also, attend the lesson in which the professor will discuss the assignment to further understand what the professor expects (often different professors have different requests). If you still have any doubt, ask your professor for clarification.
When you have an initial knowledge about the topic and what the question asks, start researching. Start from the library website and then move on to google scholar. Use journal articles and books mainly and only if necessary other types of sources but try to stick to academic sources. The abstracts are key and will save you time from reading articles that are not useful for your topic. Note down or highlight the key points for each reading and this will help you develop your argument. It is impossible to read everything available, so rely on peer-reviewed articles and use the reference lists to find the most mentioned papers on the topic. Also, read sources from different years and be sure to provide up to date evidence.
When it comes to the time of writing, familiarise yourself with the word count and create a rough plan of what you want to discuss through the essay and how to structure the paragraphs, in my opinion, this will make it easier when it comes to writing (you could discuss this with your professor to check that your plan is on the right path). The paragraphs are usually divided into introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction and the conclusion should be roughly 10% of the word count each and the body should be divided into further paragraphs. I would suggest writing the body first and only after writing the conclusion and the introduction because you will know only after how your argument developed. The introduction should present the topic you are discussing (you could also include a brief background if necessary) and the specific aim of your essay, moreover it is good to provide a roadmap of the essay and state briefly what is the final argument of the essay. While in the conclusion there should be a summary of the arguments that built through the essay led to the conclusion, it is important to not provide any new information in the conclusion.
Referencing is vital in university essays, and it should be done precisely to avoid plagiarism. I would suggest keeping note of all the readings used throughout the essay while writing, to do so you could use websites such as MyBib. Throughout the essay, you should cite the sources (this usually includes only the last name of the author and year of publication) and at the end of the essay, you should provide a list of all the references in the style required and in alphabetic order. Be sure to provide the reference list with only the sources mentioned through the essay and not everything you read and to use the reference style required by your degree. To check that your referencing is correct use the website citethemright, which provides guidance on referencing different types of sources in different styles.
When you finished your essay, it is important to review it and be sure there isn’t any mistake. I would suggest, if you have time, to give yourself two days off after finishing the essay, before reviewing, this will give you a fresher mind to review. First, refer back to the question and what was asked by the professor and be sure that your essay answered the question and met the expectations of the professor. Then check that the structure is fluid and leads to the conclusion, with paragraphs well organised and sentences that are easy to read. Moreover, check spelling and grammar which should be impeccable, you could get help with a spell and grammar checker (like Grammarly) but be sure to double-check because at times those could fail, or you could also ask a friend to proofread. Check that all your referencing is right and that citations match the reference list. A further step which I like to take is to put the paper through a repetition checker, this will show how many times you used the same word (I use Repetition Detector). If you can, try to replace the repetitive words with synonyms that make the essay more readable but be sure to use words that are appropriate and provide the same meaning. Finally, use Turnitin on SurreyLearn to check for plagiarism. The percentage of plagiarism should be low but do not get scared if it is high, just check that everything highlighted is referenced and that nothing is cited without a citation reference.
This is really important to succeed in an essay. Even the best ideas, if written badly could not work. Be critical! This is vital, always consider the opposite view of an argument and the consequences, never leave something undiscussed or unexplored. Always ask yourself “and so what?” when you make a point, to help with critical thinking. Therefore, choose your topic wisely and narrow down your argument so that you have space to completely unfold the topic and critically consider it.
A good strategy to provide a clear paragraph that works is to follow PEEL (Point, Evidence, Explanation and Link), but it is not the only method and does not always work, so try to stick to a scheme to make your essay more fluid but do not restrict your writing for it. Remember to paraphrase the references and use them to support the point, not to make the point. Lastly, keep the sentences short and clear, it is better to use simple and short words than to make complicated sentences that are difficult to read. Do not waste words and be concise.
When your essay is completed, you need to make it presentable. Choose a simple font like Calibri or Arial and usually a 12-point character. Double-space and indent your paragraphs with a line space between paragraphs. Also, put your student ID and the word count on the title page, if you have one, or just at the top of your essay and number the pages. Some professors have special layout requests so check that before and be sure to meet them.
I hope this was useful and will help you get familiar with essay writing. Remember to check with your professors their expectations and ask for any help if needed.
University provides an English Language Support Programme throughout the year which will help you improve your writing and your language in general. You can find more about those here: https://www.surrey.ac.uk/student-support/study/language-support#:~:text=Our%20English%20Language%20Support%20Programme,native%20speakers%20are%20also%20welcome
The university also provides guides on writing different types of assignments, including essays, which you can find here: https://study.surrey.ac.uk/study-support/resources
If you need any academic writing help you can also refer to the library. You can find all information about that here: https://study.surrey.ac.uk/study-support/academic-skills-and-development
Remember that learning to write an essay is a process and you will learn more each time, so do not get frustrated if you do not get it the first time. The importance is that you ask your professor about your mistakes and learn from them.
I hope you enjoyed the post,