UK and US College Essay Differences
Your college application essay, what the UK call the “personal statement”, can be a crucial component to being admitted into university. The US college essay and the UK personal statement are very different from each other. It’s important to understand the differences and and what to look out for before submitting your application.
Most US college essays require you to select a topic that may be structured around you as a person. From what I’ve seen, most US students tend to submit a creative writing piece of their life that’s emotive and how they overcame a particular situation. It can sometimes be triggering and very dramatic to grab the reader’s attention. In addition, students may be required to write supplemental essays about why you want to study at that school or academic field. Universities may use creative questions which allows the reader to understand their ability to think and engage. If you are applying to a large sum of colleges/universities, this can be very stressful and time consuming.
Creating a personal statement for a UK university is a very easy and straightforward process. What they are requiring is not a creative writing piece but more so of an understanding and clear idea of who you are, your academic skills, knowledge of the subject, why you chose the subject you want to study, and why you want to study in the UK.
If you are applying through UCAS, you are required to submit one essay with a limit of 4,000 characters, which roughly estimates to a few paragraphs. That’s right… one! This one essay will be sent to each individual university you are applying to, therefore, it’s very important to avoid listing the universities by name. You want to make the essay generalized so it applies to all the courses and universities.
Another difference is that they do not require different essay topics to choose from nor do they require supplemental essays. This should save you time when planning out to submit your application.
If you’re having a difficult time on how to write the essay, I always give these resources to help them through their journey. UCAS provides so many helpful personal statement resources. These are my favorites below:
UCAS Personal Statement Mind Map
UCAS Personal Statement Worksheet *
*Two important questions that are missing from this sheet is: ‘Why do you want to study in the UK? Why do you want to be an international student rather than study in your home country? Don’t forget to add these in as this is an essential part of who you are.
UCAS also has more helpful resources and inspiration that is worth checking out.
5 Reasons to Study STEM in the UK
How us employers view international study and work experience when hiring.
- Subject Guides
Academic writing: a practical guide
- Academic writing
- The writing process
- Academic writing style
- Structure & cohesion
- Criticality in academic writing
- Working with evidence
- Assessment & feedback
- Reflective writing
- Examination writing
- Academic posters
Showing your understanding of and critical arguments relating to a topic.
What are essays?
Most degree programmes include essays. They are the most common form of written assignment and so for most students, being good at essays is essential to gaining good marks, which lead to good grades, which lead to the degree classification desired. Essays are both a particular method of writing and a collection of sub-skills that students need to master during degree studies.
Find out more:
Essays: a Conceptual and Practical Guide [interactive tutorial] | Essays: a Conceptual and Practical Guide [Google Doc]
General essay writing
You have an essay to write... what next .
- Read the assessment brief carefully to find out what the essay is about, what you are required to do specifically. What instructions are you given (discuss, explain, explore)? What choices do you need to make?
- Work through the practical guide to essays above. This will help you to think about what an essay is and what is required of you.
- Look at the assignment writing process . How will you produce your essay?
- Make a plan for when, where, and how you will research, think, draft, and write your essay.
- Execute your plan .
- Finish early. Leave a couple of spare days at the end to edit and proofread .
- Hand it in and move on to the next challenge!
Features of essay writing
Essays vary lots between disciplines and specific tasks, but they share several features that are important to bear in mind.
- They are an argument towards a conclusion. The conclusion can be for or against a position, or just a narrative conclusion. All your writing and argumentation should lead to this conclusion.
- They have a reader. It is essential that you show the logic of your argument and the information it is based on to your reader.
- They are based on evidence . You must show this using both your referencing and also through interacting with the ideas and thinking found within the sources you use.
- They have a structure. You need to ensure your structure is logical and that it matches the expectations of your department. You should also ensure that the structure enables the reader to follow your argument easily.
- They have a word limit. 1000 words means 'be concise and make decisions about exactly what is important to include' whereas 3500 words means 'write in more depth, and show the reader a more complex and broad range of critical understanding'.
- They are part of a discipline/subject area, each of which has conventions . For example, Chemistry requires third person impersonal writing, whereas Women's Studies requires the voice (meaning experiential viewpoint) of the author in the writing.
Types of essay
Each essay task is different and consequently the information below is not designed to be a substitute for checking the information for your specific essay task. It is essential that you check the assessment brief, module handbook and programme handbook, as well as attend any lectures, seminars and webinars devoted to the essay you are working on.
Essays in each subject area belong to a faculty (science, social sciences, arts and Humanities). Essays within the same faculty tend to share some features of style, structure, language choice, and scholarly practices. Please click through to the section relevant to your faculty area and if you want to be curious, the other ones too!
Arts & Humanities essays
Arts and Humanities is a faculty that includes a huge range of subject areas, from Music to Philosophy. Study in the arts and humanities typically focuses on products of the human mind, like music, artistic endeavour, philosophical ideas, and literary productions. This means that essays in the arts and humanities are typically exploring ideas, or interpreting the products of thinking (such as music, art, literature).
There are a range of essay writing styles in arts and humanities, and each subject area has its own conventions and expectations, which are explained and built into modules within each degree programme. Typically, each essay explores an idea, using critical engagement with source material, to produce an argument.
There is typically more reliance on the interpretation of ideas and evidence by the student than in the sciences and social sciences. For the student, the challenge is to understand and control the ideas in each essay, producing a coherent and logical argument that fulfils the essay brief. As with all essays, careful structure, word choices, and language use are essential to succeeding.
Department-specific advice for essays in Arts and Humanities
Some departments provide web-based advice:
- English and Related Literature essay writing advice pages
- Philosophy essay writing advice pages
- Music Department 'House Style' guidance for essay writing
- Language and Linguistic Science style guide
If your department does not appear above, do ask your supervisor or other academic staff what specific guidance is available.
Key Features of Arts and Humanities essays
- They are based on evidence . It is important that ideas used in essays are derived from credible and usable sources to root your essay in the scholarly materials of the subject that you are writing about.
- There is usually a thesis statement. This appears towards the end of your introductory paragraph, concisely outlining the purpose and the main argument of the essay. It is short (once sentence), concise, and precise. Though the essay may have multiple sub-arguments, all must tie into the thesis statement. This means it is important to know, state and stick to the primary focus set out in your thesis statement.
- They require you to interpret evidence. It is unlikely that you will find a source that directly answers the essay question set. You will typically be required to interpret primary and secondary evidence. Primary evidence includes the manuscript of a novel, or a letter describing an historical event. Secondary evidence includes academic books and peer reviewed articles.
- They require you to apply ideas. Many essays will ask you to apply an abstract idea to a scenario, or interpretation of something. For example, you could be asked to apply a Marxist ideology upon Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights or Post-Colonialist theories upon Shakespeare's The Tempest.
- Essays vary greatly in terms of length, required depth of thinking and purpose. You must carefully read the assessment brief and any supporting materials provided to you. It is also important to complete formative tasks that prepare you for an essay, as these will help you to become use to the requirements of the summative essay.
- They must show criticality. When interpreting evidence, or applying ideas in your essay you must be aware that there is more than one possible understanding. Through exploring multiple sources and showing the limits and interconnectedness of ideas you show criticality. More information on criticality can be found on the Criticality page of this guide .
Example extract of an arts and humanities essay
Essay Title: Liturgical expression and national identity during the reign of Æthelred the Unready
This essay is from English studies and shows typical features of an arts and humanities essay. It is examining two ideas, namely 'national identity' and 'liturgical expression' and applying them both to a period of history. The essay does this by analysing linguistic choices, using interpretation from the literature base to create an argument that addresses the essay title.
It also has the feature of the student using sources of evidence to offer an interpretation that may disagree with some published sources. This use of evidence to create an argument that is novel to the student and requires interpretation of ideas is typical of arts and humanities writing. '"engla God", these liturgical verses themselves both signify and enact a ritualised unity with God.' is an example from the essay extract that shows the careful language choices used to create a concise and precise argument that clearly conveys complex thought to the reader from the author.
One way of thinking about a good arts and humanities essay is that it is like you are producing a garment from threads. The overall piece has a shape that people can recognise and understand, and each word, like each stitch, builds the whole piece slowly, whilst some key threads, like core ideas in your argument, run through the whole to hold it all together. It is the threading together of the strands of argument that determines the quality of the final essay, just as the threading of strands in a garment determine the quality of the final piece.
Good arts and humanities essay writing is...
- Based on evidence sources,
- built on the interpretation and application of ideas, evidence and theories,
- a clearly expressed, logical argument that addresses the essay question,
- carefully constructed to guide the reader in a logical path from the introduction to the conclusion,
- filled with carefully chosen language to precisely and accurately convey ideas and interpretations to the reader,
- built on rigorous, careful and close analysis of ideas,
- constructed using careful evaluation of the significance of each idea and concept used,
- readable, meaning it is clear and logical, using clearly understandable English,
- rewarded with high marks.
Common mistakes in arts and humanities essay writing
- Not answering the question posed. It is very easy to answer the question you wished had been asked, or drift away from the question during your writing. Keep checking back to the question to ensure you are still focussed and make a clear plan before writing.
- Moving beyond the evidence. You are required to interpret ideas and evidence that exist, this requires some application and novelty, but should not be making up new ideas/knowledge to make your argument work; your writing must be rooted in evidence.
- Using complex and long words where simpler word choices would convey meaning more clearly. Think of the reader.
- Leaving the reader to draw their own conclusion s, or requiring the reader to make assumptions. They must be able to see your thinking clearly on the page.
- Using lots of direct quotes . There are times when using quotes is important to detail lines from a novel for example, but you need to use them carefully and judiciously, so that most of your writing is based on your use of sources, for which you gain credit.
Social Science essays
Social Sciences, as the name suggests, can be thought of as an attempt to use a 'scientific method' to investigate social phenomena. There is a recognition that applying the strict rules of the level of proof required in science subjects is not appropriate when studying complex social phenomena. But, there is an expectation of as much rigour as is possible to achieve in each investigation.
Consequently, there is a huge variation in the types of essays that can be found within the social sciences. An essay based on the carbon dating of human remains within Archaeology is clearly very different from an essay based on the application of an ethical framework in Human Resources Management. The former is likely to be much more like a science essay, whilst the latter may edge towards a Philosophy essay, which is part of arts and humanities.
Key features of social science essays
- They are evidence-based. It is crucial to use the evidence in a way that shows you understand how significant the evidence used is.
- They require interpretation of evidence . By its nature, evidence in social sciences may be less definite than in sciences, and so interpretation is required. When you interpret evidence, this too must be based on evidence, rather than personal opinion or personal observation.
- They often require the application of abstract theories to real-world scenarios . The theories are 'clean and clear' and the real world is 'messy and unclear'; the skill of the student is to make plausible judgements. For example,
- The level of detail and breadth of knowledge that must be displayed varies greatly, depending on the length of the essay. 1000 word essays need concise wording and for the student to limit the breadth of knowledge displayed in order to achieve the depth needed for a high mark. Conversely, 5000 word essays require both breadth and depth of knowledge.
- They should show criticality. This means you need to show uncertainty in the theories and ideas used, and how ideas and theories interact with others. You should present counter-facts and counter-arguments and use the information in the literature base to reach supported conclusions and judgements.
Example extract of a social science essay
Essay Title: Who Gets What in Education and is that Fair?
Education in the western world has historically favoured men in the regard that women were essentially denied access to it for no other reason than their gender (Trueman,2016) and even though it would seem there is certainly “equality on paper” (Penny, 2010,p1.) when looking at statistics for achievement and gender, the reality is that the struggles facing anyone who does not identify as male require a little more effort to recognise. An excellent example of this can be found in the 2014 OECD report. In the UK women significantly outnumbered men in their application for university places- 376,860 women to 282,170 men (ICEF,2014)- but when observed closer men are applying for places at higher ranking universities and often studying in fields that will eventually allow them to earn better salaries. The same report praised women for the ability to combine their studies with family life and having higher aspirations than boys and therefore likely as being more determined to obtain degrees (ICEF, 2014), yet in reality women have very little choice about coping with the stressful burdens placed on them. The concepts of double burden and triple shift where women are expected to deal with housework and earning an income, or housework, raising children and earning an income (Einhorn, 1993) could in this case relate to the pressure for women to work hard at school to allow them to be able to provide for their families in future. Even women who do not necessarily have their own families or children to care for must face the double burden and triple shift phenomenon in the workplace, as women who work in the higher education sector almost always have the duty of a more pastoral and caring role of their students than male counterparts (Morley,1994).
Education is a social science subject. Some studies within it follow a scientific method of quantitative data collection, whilst others are more qualitative, and others still are more theoretical. In the case of this extract it is about gendered effects in university applications. This is an inevitably complex area to write about, intersecting as it does with social class, economic status, social norms, cultural history, political policy... To name but a few.
The essay is clearly based on evidence, which in places in numerical and in places is derived from previously written papers, such as 'triple shift where women are expected to deal with housework and earning an income, or housework, raising children and earning an income (Einhorn, 1993)', where the concept of triple shift is derived from the named paper. It is this interleaving of numerical and concrete facts with theoretical ideas that have been created and/or observed that is a typical feature in social sciences. In this case, the author has clearly shown the reader where the information is from and has 'controlled' the ideas to form a narrative that is plausible and evidence-based.
When compared to science writing, it can appear to be more wordy and this is largely due to the greater degree of interpretation that is required to use and synthesise complex ideas and concepts that have meanings that are more fluid and necessarily less precise than many scientific concepts.
Good social science essay writing is...
- filled with clearly articulated thinking from the mind of the author,
- well structured to guide the reader through the argument or narrative being created,
- focussed on answering the question or addressing the task presented,
- filled with carefully chosen evaluative language to tell the reader what is more and less significant,
- readable - sounds simple, but is difficult to achieve whilst remaining precise,
Common mistakes in social science essay writing
- Speculating beyond the limits of the evidence presented . It is important to limit your interpretation to that which is supported by existing evidence. This can be frustrating, but is essential.
- Using complex words where simpler ones will do. It is tempting to try to appear 'clever' by using 'big words', but in most cases, the simplest form of writing something is clearer. Your aim is to clearly communicate with the reader.
- Giving your personal opinion - this is rarely asked for or required.
- Not answering the question or fulfilling the task . This is possibly the most common error and largely comes from letting one's own ideas infect the essay writing process.
- Not being critical. You need to show the limits of the ideas used, how they interact, counter-arguments and include evaluation and analysis of the ideas involved. If you find yourself being descriptive, ask why.
- Using lots of direct quotes, particularly in first year writing . Quotes should be rare and used carefully because they are basically photocopying. Use your words to show you have understood the concepts involved.
Science essays are precise, logical and strictly evidence-based pieces of writing. They employ cautious language to accurately convey the level of certainty within the scientific understanding that is being discussed and are strictly objective. This means that the author has to make the effort to really understand the meaning and significance of the science being discussed.
In a science essay, your aim is to summarise and critically evaluate existing knowledge in the field. If you're doing your own research and data collection, that will be written up in a report instead.
The skill of the student is to thread together the ideas and facts they have read in a logical order that addresses the task set. When judgements are made they must be justified against the strength and significance of the theories, findings, and ideas being used. Generally, the student should not be undertaking their own interpretation of the results and facts, but instead be using those of others to create a justifiable narrative.
Example extract of a science essay
Essay title: To what extent has Ungerleider and Mishkin’s notion of separate ‘what’ and ‘where’ pathways been vindicated by neuropsychological research?
Van Polanen & Davare (2015) showed that the dorsal stream and ventral streams are not strictly independent, but do interact with each other. Interactions between dorsal and ventral streams are important for controlling complex object-oriented hand movements, especially skilled grasp. Anatomical studies have reported the existence of direct connections between dorsal and ventral stream areas. These physiological interconnections appear to gradually more active as the precision demands of the grasp become higher.
However, cognition is a dynamic process, and a flexible interactive system is required to coordinate and modulate activity across cortical networks to enable the adaptation of processing to meet variable task demands. The clear division of the dorsal and ventral processing streams is artificial, resulting from experimental situations, which do not reflect processing within the natural environment (Weiller et al., 2011). Most successful execution of visual behaviours require the complex collaboration and seamless integration of processing between the two systems.
Cloutman (2013) had stated that dorsal and ventral streams can be functionally connected in three regards: (1) the independent processing account – where they remain separate but terminate on the same brain area, (2) the feedback account – where feedback loops from locations downstream on one pathway is constantly providing input to the other and (3) the continuous cross-talk account – where information is transferred to and from the system constantly when processing.
Indeed, the authors found that there were numerous anatomical cross-connections between the two pathways, most notably between inferior parietal and inferior temporal areas. For example, ventral regions TE and TEO have been found to have extensive connectivity with dorsal stream areas, demonstrating direct projections with areas including V3A, MT, MST, FST and LIP (Baizer et al., 1991; Disler et al., 1993).
The first obvious comment is that it is not going to win a prize for literary entertainment! The writing is what one might call 'dry'. This is because it is good scientific writing. It is clearly evidence-based, and is explaining complex interrelationships in a way that is clear, leaves little for the reader to assume and that uses carefully graded language to show the significance of each fact.
The language choices are carefully aligned with the strength of the evidence that is used. For example, 'have been found to have extensive interconnectivity' is graded to convey that many connections have been detailed in the evidence presented. Similarly, 'Most successful execution of visual behaviours require the complex collaboration' is graded carefully to convey meaning to the reader, derived from the evidence used. The sample displays many examples of controlled word choices that leave the reader in no doubt regarding the meaning they are to take from reading the piece. This concise, controlled, evidence-based and carefully considered writing is typical of that found in the science essays.
Good science essay writing is...
- cohesive due to language choices,
- well-structured to help the reader follow the ideas,
- carefully planned,
- filled with carefully chosen evaluative and analytical language,
- rewarded with high grades.
Common mistakes in science essay writing
- The most common mistake is a lack of accuracy in the language used to convey meaning. This can be due to inadequate reading or a lack of understanding of the subject matter, or alternatively, due to not giving sufficient care to word choice. 'Increased greatly' is different to 'increased', which is different again to 'increased significantly'; it is very important that you understand what you are writing about in enough detail that you can accurately convey an understanding of it accurately to the reader.
- Trying to put 'you' into the essay. It is highly unlikely that you will be required to refer to your own viewpoints, opinions or lived experience within scientific essay writing. Science is impersonal, it deals in fact, and so you are a third person, impersonal author who is interpreting and curating facts and knowledge into an essay that makes sense to the reader.
- Going beyond the facts. It is rare that you will be asked to speculate in a science essay. When you are, you will be asked to extrapolate from known understanding in the relevant literature. Stick to the facts and to their meaning and significance.
- Not placing understanding in context . Each scientific idea sits within a bigger discipline and interacts with other ideas. When you write about ideas, you need to acknowledge this, unless you are specifically told to only focus on one idea. An example would be genomics of viral pathogens, which is currently a much discussed area of activity. This sits within public health, virology, and genomics disciplines, to name a few. Depending on how it is to be written about, you may need to acknowledge one or more of these larger areas.
Using evidence in essays
Sources of evidence are at the heart of essay writing. You need sources that are both usable and credible, in the specific context of your essay.
A good starting point is often the materials used in the module your essay is attached to. You can then work outwards into the wider field of study as you develop your thinking, and seek to show critical analysis, critical evaluation and critical thought in your essay.
Discover more about using evidence in your assignments:
Structuring an essay
Clear structure is a key element of an effective essay. This requires careful thought and you to make choices about the order the reader needs the information to be in.
These resources contain advice and guides to help you structure your work:
You can use these templates to help develop the structure of your essay.
Go to File > Make a copy... to create your own version of the template that you can edit.
Structuring essay introductions
Play this tutorial in full screen
- Explain the different functions that can be fulfilled by an introduction.
- Provide examples of introductions from the Faculties of Social Sciences, Sciences, and Arts and Humanities.
- Evaluating your own introductions.
- Matching elements of an introduction to a description of their purpose.
- Highlighting where evidence is used to support elements of the introduction.
- Highlighting how introductions can make clear links to the essay question.
In this section, you will learn about the functions and key components of an essay introduction.
An introduction can fulfill the functions below. These often move from a broad overview of the topic in context to a narrow focus on the scope of the discussion, key terms and organisational structure.
Click on each function to reveal more.
- It can establish the overall topic and explain the relevance and significance of the essay question to that topic
- What is the topic?
- Why is the essay question worth exploring? Why is the essay worth reading?
- How is it relevant to wider / important / current debates in the field?
- It can briefly explain the background and context and define the scope of the discussion
- Is it helpful to mention some background, historical or broader factors to give the reader some context?
- Is the discussion set in a particular context (geographical; political; economic; social; historical; legal)?
- Does the essay question set a particular scope or are you going to narrow the scope of the discussion?
- It can highlight key concepts or ideas
- Are the key concepts or ideas contentious or open to interpretation?
- Will the key concepts need to be defined and explained?
- It can signpost the broad organisational structure of the essay
- Indicate what you will cover and a brief overview of the structure of your essay
- points made should be supported by evidence
- clear links should be made to the question
Note: Introductions may not cover all of these elements, and they may not be covered in this order.
Useful Link: See the University of Manchester’s Academic Phrasebank for useful key phrases to introduce work.
In this activity, you will review and evaluate introductions you have written, identifying areas for improvement.
Find some examples of introductions you have written for essays.
- Which of the features do they use?
- Are any elements missing?
- How might you improve them?
For the following tasks, you will be using an example introduction from one of the following three faculties. Select a faculty to use an introduction from a corresponding subject.
In this activity, you will look at examples of introductions, identifying key features and their purpose.
Here is an example question:
Sociology: Examine some of the factors that influence procrastination in individuals, exploring and evaluating their impact. Identify an area(s) for future research, justifying your choice.
And here is a sample introduction written for this question:
Procrastination is a complex concept which manifests itself in different types of behaviour yet is experienced by individuals universally. A useful definition of procrastination is ‘the voluntary delay of important, necessary, and intended action despite knowing there will be negative consequences for this delay’ (Ferrari and Tice, 2000, Sirois and Pychyl, 2013 cited in Sirois and Giguère, 2018). The influences on procrastination are multi-faceted, which makes their study incredibly challenging. Researchers are now producing a body of work dedicated to procrastination; including meta-analyses such as those by Varvaricheva (2010) and Smith (2015). Influences on procrastination can be considered in two categories, factors with external, environmental, sources and factors with internal sources due to individual differences. However, these external and environmental categories are not completely independent of one another and this essay will seek to explore the complexities of this interdependence. This essay will discuss how different factors influence individual procrastination, by first examining how gender, age and personality affect the procrastination trait under internal factors, before discussing the external factors; how task aversiveness, deadlines and the internet affect procrastination behavioural outcomes. This will be followed by a brief exploration of how the two interact. Finally there a number of gaps in the literature, which suggest avenues for future research.
Click on the Next arrow to match each section of this introduction with a description of its purpose.
Procrastination is a complex concept which manifests itself in different types of behaviour yet is experienced by individuals universally.
Signposts the broad organisational structure of the essay
Narrows the topic and explains its relevance or significance to current debates
Defines the scope of the discussion
Establishes the topic and explains its broad significance
Defines key concepts
That's not the right answer
Have another go.
Yes, that's the right answer!
A useful definition of procrastination is ‘the voluntary delay of important, necessary, and intended action despite knowing there will be negative consequences for this delay’ (Ferrari and Tice, 2000, Sirois and Pychyl, 2013 cited in Sirois and Giguère, 2018).
The influences on procrastination are multi-faceted, which makes their study incredibly challenging. Researchers are now producing a body of work dedicated to procrastination; including meta-analyses such as those by Varvaricheva (2010) and Smith (2015).
Influences on procrastination can be considered in two categories, factors with external, environmental, sources and factors with internal sources due to individual differences. However, these external and environmental categories are not completely independent of one another and this essay will seek to explore the complexities of this interdependence.
This essay will discuss how different factors influence individual procrastination, by first examining how gender, age and personality affect the procrastination trait under internal factors, before discussing the external factors; how task aversiveness, deadlines and the internet affect procrastination behavioural outcomes. This will be followed by a brief exploration of how the two interact. Finally there a number of gaps in the literature, which suggest avenues for future research.
In this activity, you will identify how introductions make links to the question.
Here is the question again:
Click to highlight the places where the introduction below links closely to the question.
Have another go. You can remove the highlighting on sections by clicking on them again.
Those are the parts of the introduction that link closely to the question.
In this activity, you will consider how introductions make use of supporting evidence.
- Define key concepts
- Establish the topic and explain its relevance or significance
Click to highlight the places where the introduction below supports points with evidence .
Those are the parts of the introduction that use evidence to support points.
Congratulations! You've made it through the introduction!
Click on the icon at the bottom to restart the tutorial.
Nursing: Drawing on your own experiences and understanding gained from the module readings, discuss and evaluate the values, attributes and behaviours of a good nurse.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) (2015) Code states that a nurse must always put the care of patients first, be open and honest, and be empathic towards patients and their families. Student nurses are expected to demonstrate an understanding of the need for these key skills even at the interview stage and then gain the experiences to develop certain fundamental attributes, values and behaviours in order to advance through the stages of nursing. This assignment will highlight a variety of values, attributes and behaviours a good nurse should have, focusing on courage in particular. Views of courage from political, professional, and social perspectives will be considered, alongside a comparison between the attribute courage and a student nurse’s abilities. This will be demonstrated using observations from practice, appropriate theorists such as Sellman (2011), Lachman (2010) and philosophers including Aristotle and Ross (2011).
The Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) (2015) Code states that a nurse must always put the care of patients first, be open and honest, and be empathic towards patients and their families.
Explains the context to the discussion, with reference to the workplace
Defines the scope of the discussion by narrowing it
Defines relevant key concepts or ideas
Student nurses are expected to demonstrate an understanding of the need for these key skills even at the interview stage and then gain the experiences to develop certain fundamental attributes, values and behaviours in order to advance through the stages of nursing.
This assignment will highlight a variety of values, attributes and behaviours a good nurse should have, focusing on courage in particular.
Views of courage from political, professional, and social perspectives will be considered, alongside a comparison between the attribute courage and a student nurse’s abilities. This will be demonstrated using observations from practice, appropriate theorists such as Sellman (2011), Lachman (2010) and philosophers including Aristotle and Ross (2011).
- Define relevant key concepts or ideas
- Signpost the broad organisational structure of the essay, making a clear link to the question
Archaeology: Explain some of the ways in which Star Carr has been re-interpreted since the initial discovery in the 1940s. Briefly evaluate how the results of recent excavations further dramatically affect our understanding of this site.
Star Carr has become the ‘best known’ Mesolithic site in Britain (Conneller, 2007, 3), in part because of its high levels of artefact preservation due to waterlogging, as the site was once on the Eastern edge of the ancient Lake Flixton, close to a small peninsula (Taylor, 2007). First excavated by Grahame Clark in 1949-51, there was a further invasive investigation in 1985 and 1989, again in 2006-8, and 2010. An impressive haul of artefacts have been excavated over the years, including bone and antler tools, barbed points, flint tools and microliths, and enigmatic red deer frontlets (Milner et al., 2016). Since Clark’s first published report in 1954 there have been numerous re-examinations of the subject, including by Clark himself in 1974. Resulting interpretations of the site have been much debated; it has been classified as ‘in situ settlement, a refuse dump, and the result of culturally prescribed acts of deposition’ (Taylor et al., 2017). This discussion will explore the ways in which the site has been variously re-interpreted during this time period, and consider how more recent study of the site has prompted new perspectives.
Star Carr has become the ‘best known’ Mesolithic site in Britain (Conneller, 2007, 3), in part because of its high levels of artefact preservation due to waterlogging, as the site was once on the Eastern edge of the ancient Lake Flixton, close to a small peninsula (Taylor, 2007).
Explains the background to the discussion and its significance
Establishes the topic
Explains the scope of the topic and highlights key interpretations
First excavated by Grahame Clark in 1949-51, there was a further invasive investigation in 1985 and 1989, again in 2006-8, and 2010. An impressive haul of artefacts have been excavated over the years, including bone and antler tools, barbed points, flint tools and microliths, and enigmatic red deer frontlets (Milner et al., 2016).
Since Clark’s first published report in 1954 there have been numerous re-examinations of the subject, including by Clark himself in 1974. Resulting interpretations of the site have been much debated; it has been classified as ‘in situ settlement, a refuse dump, and the result of culturally prescribed acts of deposition’ (Taylor et al., 2017).
This discussion will explore the ways in which the site has been variously re-interpreted during this time period, and consider how more recent study of the site has prompted new perspectives.
- Establish the topic, explains the background and significance
- Explains the significance of the topic
- Highlights key interpretations
Structuring essay conclusions
In this section you will consider the different functions a conclusion can fulfil, look at examples of conclusions, and identify key features and their purpose.
A conclusion can fulfil the functions below. These often move from a narrow focus on the outcomes of the discussion to a broad view of the topic's relevance to the wider context.
Summary of the main points in relation to the question
- This might involve restating the scope of the discussion and clarifying if there any limitations of your discussion or of the evidence provided
- This may include synthesising the key arguments and weighing up the evidence
Arrive at a judgement or conclusion
- Having weighed up the evidence, come to a judgement about the strength of the arguments
Restate the relevance or significance of the topic to the wider context
- Make it clear why your conclusions - which are based on your discussion through the essay - are important or significant in relation to wider/current debates in the field
Make recommendations or indicate the direction for further study, if applicable
- Recommendations may be for further research or for practice/policy
- What further research/investigation would be necessary to overcome the limitations above?
- What are the implications of your findings for policy/practice?
Note: Conclusions may not cover all of these elements, and they may not be covered in this order.
- Clear links should be made to the question
- Do not make new points in the conclusion
Useful Link: See the University of Manchester’s Academic Phrasebank for useful key phrases to conclude work.
In this activity, you will look at an example conclusion, identifying key features and their purpose.
In this task, you will be using an example conclusion from one of the following three faculties. Select a faculty to use a conclusion from a corresponding subject.
And here is a sample conclusion written for the question:
In conclusion procrastination is a complex psychological phenomenon that is influenced by a number of factors, both internal and external. However it has a hugely multifaceted nature and the factors that influence it are not truly independent of one another. Character traits and the environmental impact on behaviour are interrelated; for example similar procrastination outcomes may arise from a highly conscientious individual in a distracting environment and an individual low in conscientiousness in a non-distracting setting. This means that future studies need to be very considered in their approach to separating, or controlling for, these factors. These further studies are important and urgently needed as the impact of procrastination on society is far-reaching. For instance: individuals delay contributing to a pension, meaning that old age may bring poverty for many; couples put off entering into formal contracts with each other, potentially increasing disputes over child custody and inheritance; and indeed women delay starting a family and increasing age leads to decreased fertility, thus leading to higher societal costs of providing assisted fertilisation. Furthermore one could expand the scope to include the effects on children of being born to older parents (such as risks of inherited genetic defects). These are themselves wide fields of study and are mentioned merely to illustrate the importance of further research. Until the nature of influences on procrastination is fully understood, our development of approaches to reduce procrastination is likely to be hindered.
Click on the Next arrow to match each section of the conclusion with a description of its purpose.
In conclusion procrastination is a complex psychological phenomenon that is influenced by a number of factors, both internal and external.
Synthesises the key arguments and weighs up the evidence
Restates the scope of the discussion
Indicates the direction and significance for further study
Summary of the main point in relation to the question
However it has a hugely multifaceted nature and the factors that influence it are not truly independent of one another.
Character traits and the environmental impact on behaviour are interrelated; for example similar procrastination outcomes may arise from a highly conscientious individual in a distracting environment and an individual low in conscientiousness in a non-distracting setting.
This means that future studies need to be very considered in their approach to separating, or controlling for, these factors. These further studies are important and urgently needed as the impact of procrastination on society is far-reaching. For instance: individuals delay contributing to a pension, meaning that old age may bring poverty for many; couples put off entering into formal contracts with each other, potentially increasing disputes over child custody and inheritance; and indeed women delay starting a family and increasing age leads to decreased fertility, thus leading to higher societal costs of providing assisted fertilisation. Furthermore one could expand the scope to include the effects on children of being born to older parents (such as risks of inherited genetic defects). These are themselves wide fields of study and are mentioned merely to illustrate the importance of further research.
Until the nature of influences on procrastination is fully understood, our development of approaches to reduce procrastination is likely to be hindered.
Opportunities for nurses to display courage occur every day, although it is at the nurse’s discretion whether they act courageously or not. As discussed in this assignment, courage is likewise an important attribute for a good nurse to possess and could be the difference between good and bad practice. It is significantly important that nurses speak up about bad practice to minimize potential harm to patients. However nurses do not need to raise concerns in order to be courageous, as nurses must act courageously every day. Professional bodies such as the RCN and NMC recognise that courage is important by highlighting this attribute in the RCN principles. The guidelines for raising concerns unite the attribute courage with the RCN’s principles of nursing practice by improving nurses’ awareness of how to raise concerns. Lachman’s (2010) CODE is an accessible model that modern nurses could use as a strategy to help them when raising concerns. Although students find it difficult to challenge more senior nursing professionals, they could also benefit from learning the acronym to help them as they progress through their career. For nursing students, courage could be seen as a learning development of the ability to confront their fear of personal emotional consequences from participating in what they believe to be the right action. On the whole a range of values, attributes and behaviours are needed in order to be a good nurse, including being caring, honest, compassionate, reliable and professional. These qualities are all important, but courage is an attribute that is widely overlooked for nurses to possess but vitally fundamental.
Opportunities for nurses to display courage occur every day, although it is at the nurse’s discretion whether they act courageously or not. As discussed in this assignment, courage is likewise an important attribute for a good nurse to possess and could be the difference between good and bad practice. It is significantly important that nurses speak up about bad practice to minimize potential harm to patients. However nurses do not need to raise concerns in order to be courageous, as nurses must act courageously every day.
Arrives at an overall judgement or conclusion
Make recommendations for practice
Professional bodies such as the RCN and NMC recognise that courage is important by highlighting this attribute in the RCN principles. The guidelines for raising concerns unite the attribute courage with the RCN’s principles of nursing practice by improving nurses’ awareness of how to raise concerns. Lachman’s (2010) CODE is an accessible model that modern nurses could use as a strategy to help them when raising concerns.
Although students find it difficult to challenge more senior nursing professionals, they could also benefit from learning the acronym to help them as they progress through their career. For nursing students, courage could be seen as a learning development of the ability to confront their fear of personal emotional consequences from participating in what they believe to be the right action.
On the whole a range of values, attributes and behaviours are needed in order to be a good nurse, including being caring, honest, compassionate, reliable and professional. These qualities are all important, but courage is an attribute that is widely overlooked for nurses to possess but vitally fundamental.
Star Carr is one of the most fascinating and informative Mesolithic sites in the world. What was once considered to be the occasional winter settlement of a group of hunter-gatherer families, now appears to be a site of year-round settlement occupied over centuries. Since its initial discovery and excavation in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a great deal of further data has been collected, altering interpretations made by the primary excavators who pioneered analysis of the site. What once was considered a typical textbook Mesolithic hunting encampment is now theorized to be a site of ritual importance. The site has produced unique findings such as a multitude of barbed points, twenty one antlered headdresses and the earliest known example of a permanent living structure in Britain. These factors will combine to immortalise the site, even when its potential for further research is thoroughly decayed, which tragically could be very soon (Taylor et al. 2010).
Star Carr is one of the most fascinating and informative Mesolithic sites in the world.
Synthesise the main points
Limitations and implications for future research
Restate the significance of the topic to the wider context
What was once considered to be the occasional winter settlement of a group of hunter-gatherer families, now appears to be a site of year-round settlement occupied over centuries. Since its initial discovery and excavation in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a great deal of further data has been collected, altering interpretations made by the primary excavators who pioneered analysis of the site. What once was considered a typical textbook Mesolithic hunting encampment is now theorized to be a site of ritual importance. The site has produced unique findings such as a multitude of barbed points, twenty one antlered headdresses and the earliest known example of a permanent living structure in Britain.
These factors will combine to immortalise the site, even when its potential for further research is thoroughly decayed, which tragically could be very soon (Taylor et al. 2010).
Congratulations! You've made it through the conclusion!
Click on the icon below to restart the tutorial.
Other support for essay writing
The general writing pages of this site offer guidance that can be applied to all types of writing, including essays. Also check your department guidance and VLE sites for tailored resources.
Other useful resources for essay writing:
Appointments and workshops
There is lots of support and advice for essay writing. This is likely to be in your department, and particularly from your academic supervisor and module tutors, but there is also central support, which you can access using the links below.
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How to Put Your Paper in the Proper Essay Format
Having the right format is absolutely necessary for any paper. In your assignment prompt, it should list exactly which format to use, or give you an option of some to choose from. Adhering to the rules of your designated essay format is a relatively simple thing to do once you figure out exactly what they are. It’s important that you get them right though, because if you get confused or mixed up with another format, your professor will almost certainly reduce your grade. They may not even accept your paper until it’s properly cited, structured, and formatted.
APA and MLA are by far the two most popular choices for professors and academic purposes. They’re not hard to follow, especially with this handy resource for how to do them properly. Here are the guidelines for each. Also, at the bottom of this handy guide is a brief example to demonstrate how to cite an except or quote using each format.
A.P.A Essay Format Rules and Guidelines
APA is very common, so it’s good to know the rules for how to properly write a paper with its guidelines. APA essay format UK, US, and AU must have the following:
- One inch margins
- Indent the first word of each paragraph
- Times New Roman size 12
- Double space
- Page header including title and page number
- Separate Title Page
- Separate References page
Also used commonly in academic setting, MLA is quite similar to APA. There are only a handful of differences; you’ll notice by comparing the guidelines. If you need to convert your essay from APA to MLA or vice versa, the process is simple and shouldn’t take much more than a few minutes. Here are the rules for MLA essay format university, UK, US and AU.
- Indent set-off quotations
- Any font as long as italics differ from the regular typeface and it’s easy to read
- Font size 12
- Double space everything
- Only one space after end of sentences
- Header or title page
- Tables and graphs need citations directly below them
Other Options for Essay Format UK
Chicago style may be used, but it is far less common, as is CBE style. Chicago style is often used for publications like magazines or newspapers, so if you are taking a writing class, they may assignment you something in Chicago style just for practice using something other than APA and MLA. Some classes use only Chicago though, so it’s important to check your syllabus. Scientific or formal academic publications are rarely put in Chicago style.
CBE style is sometimes used in place of APA or MLA depending on the requirements of the paper and the topic. It uses a different method of referencing that may be advantageous to the professor for grading or fact checking purposes. Each professor has their own preference for format, but generally, if you know APA and MLA you should be able to get through the vast majority of your classes without a problem.
Essay Format Examples for APA and MLA
Here’s how to cite a line or block of text in APA:
One of the most interesting quotes is, “Each unit is a measurement of itself whether there is a scale in place or not.” (Franklin, 2002, p. 132).
The name of the author, year and page number must be included when taking an excerpt from another work.
In MLA, the parenthesis at the end of the quote would look like this:
(Franklin, “Measurements of Time” 132).
The name of the author, title of the publication, and page number must be included.
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How to write an essay
Essay writing is an inevitable part of the student experience. To achieve top grades on these assignments, discover how to compose a well-written essay
You might think you know how to write a good essay from your time at school but writing an essay at undergraduate level is a whole new ball game. Taking the time to properly plan your work can lead to higher marks, with lecturers welcoming a logical structure that clearly demonstrates your understanding of the subject.
However, knowing where to begin and how to go about completing the assignment is not always easy - especially if you're still adjusting to university life and you haven't written at undergraduate level before.
'There is an art (and a bit of a science) to every type of writing,' says Dr Rushana Khusainova, lecturer in marketing at the University of Bristol. 'By mastering the art of academic essay writing, you'll also be mastering the skill for writing general and business emails, reports, etc. Overall, it's a vital skill to have.'
Katherine Cox, professor and head of department for humanities and law at Bournemouth University agrees. 'Getting feedback on your development is a key part of developing as a student. Essay writing is an excellent opportunity for formal feedback on your progress, and like any skill it needs practice and polish.'
Here we'll cover the seven main points of planning and executing a well-written essay:
- understanding the question
- researching and gathering helpful resources
- putting together an essay plan
- writing the essay
- tackling the introduction and conclusion
- reviewing what you’ve written.
Mastering how to write an essay early on will also help you prepare for writing your dissertation in your final year.
Understand the question
The first step in tackling an essay is to make sure that you understand what is being asked of you.
'I recommend that you read and re-read the essay question,' advises Dr Khusainova. 'With each time, the question will feel clearer.' Break it down into its component parts and pay particular attention to instruction words, for example, 'explain', 'discuss', 'outline' - what do these mean in practice? What are you being asked to do? Be aware that essays take several different forms and a 'compare and contrast' essay requires a different approach to an analytical ('analyse') or argumentative ('critically examine') essay.
For example, the question, 'Compare and contrast the representation of masculinity in two James Bond films from the 1960s and 2000s', can be classified like this:
- instruction (i.e. compare and contrast)
- topic (i.e. the representation of masculinity)
- focus (i.e. in two James Bond films)
- further information (i.e. from the 1960s and 2000s).
'Take coloured pens and highlight each sub-question or sub-task within the essay brief,' explains Dr Khusainova. 'Write bullet points for all sub-questions of the essay. I would recommend using pen and paper. Research suggests that when we use pen and paper to write down our thoughts, our brain structures information in a more efficient way.'
- What is significant about the question and its topic?
- What existing knowledge do you have that will help you answer this question?
- What do you need to find out?
- How are you going to successfully address this question?
- What logical sequence will your ideas appear in?
If you still don't understand the question or the complexity of the response expected from you, don't be afraid to ask for clarification from your lecturer or tutor if you need it. If you have questions, speak up when the essay is set rather than leaving it too late.
With so much information available, it's vital that you only look for directly relevant material when researching. Decide where the gaps in your knowledge and understanding are, and identify the areas where you need more supporting evidence. Make a list of keywords that describe the topic and use them to search with.
Useful resources include:
- course material
- lecture notes
- library books
- journal articles
Engage in active reading and keep organised with effective note-taking. Once you've done your research, create a mind map. Carefully note the key theories, information and quotes that will help you to answer all components of the question. Consider grouping these into three or four main themes, including only the most significant points. You must be ruthless and exclude ideas that don't fit in seamlessly with your essay's focus.
Create an essay plan
'You can write an essay without planning, but I'm not sure you can write a good essay without planning,' says Katherine.
When you have an idea of the points you're going to address in your essay, and a rough idea of the order in which these will appear, you're ready to start planning. There are two main ways to do this:
- Linear plans - useful for essays requiring a rigid structure. They provide a chronological breakdown of the key points you're going to address.
- Tabular plans - best for comparative assignments. You'll be able to better visualise how the points you're contrasting differ across several aspects.
Scrutinise the notes you've already made - including those from your evaluation of relevant materials from your literature search - and ensure they're placed into a logical order.
There are different approaches to planning an essay. Some students might prefer a step-by-step, structured approach, while others might find it helpful to begin in a more fluid way - jotting down keywords and ideas that they later develop into a more structured working plan. Essay planning can take several forms, 'for example, you might try a mind map, a collage, or use headings. You might prefer to plan in written form or online. You'll also turn ideas over in your head - just remember to jot down these insights,' adds Katherine.
'In my experience most students find it helpful to start by writing an essay skeleton - a bullet pointed structure of the essay,' says Dr Khusainova.
'I also advise taking an inverted pyramid approach to the storyline. This is where you start broad and slowly narrow down your focus to the specific essay question.'
Write clearly and concisely
Most university essays are set with a word count and deadline in place. It's therefore important that you don't waste time or words on waffle. You need to write clearly and concisely and ensure that every sentence and paragraph works towards answering the essay question.
Aim to write a first draft where you cover everything in your plan. You can then refine and edit this in your second draft.
'A successful essay is one that answers all parts of the essay question,' explains Dr Khusainova. 'Also consider elements such as the level of critical thinking and whether it's written in a suitable style.
'One of the most important (and coincidentally, the most challenging) elements of essay writing is ensuring your assignment has a logical storyline. Make sure no idea is coming out of the blue and that the discussion flows logically.'
Also consider your method of referencing. Some institutions specify a preferred citation style such as The Harvard System. Whatever referencing system you're using ensure that you're doing so correctly to avoid plagiarism. It should go without saying that your writing needs to be your own.
If you need help Katherine points out 'you can turn to your tutors and your peers. Perhaps you can you organise a study group and discuss one another's ideas? It's tempting with new and emerging artificial intelligence technology to turn to these resources but they are in their infancy and not particularly reliable. A number of universities advise you to avoid these resources altogether.'
Carefully consider the introduction and conclusion
Starting an essay and writing an impactful conclusion are often the trickiest parts.
It can be useful to outline your introduction during the early stages of writing your essay. You can then use this as a frame of reference for your writing. If you adopt this approach be aware that your ideas will likely develop or change as you write, so remember to revisit and review your introduction in later stages to ensure it reflects the content of your final essay.
While the conclusion may not be the first thing you write, it's still helpful to consider the end point of your essay early on, so that you develop a clear and consistent argument. The conclusion needs to do justice to your essay, as it will leave the greatest impression on your reader.
On the other hand, if you're unsure what shape your argument may take, it's best to leave both your introduction and conclusion until last.
Evaluate what you've written
Once you've written and edited your essay, leave it alone for a couple of days if possible. Return to it with fresh eyes and give it a final check.
'Reading an essay out loud works well for some students,' says Dr Khusainova. 'Swapping drafts with a classmate could also work on some modules.'
Don't skip this step, final checks are important. This is when you can pick up on formatting and spelling errors and correct any referencing mistakes.
- Check that your introduction provides a clear purpose for your essay.
- Ensure that the conclusion provides a clear response to the essay question, summarising your key findings/argument.
- Check the structure of your paragraphs for clear topic and link sentences. Are the paragraphs in a logical order with a clear and consistent line of argument that a reader can follow?
- Read your essay slowly and carefully. Writing has a rhythm - does your writing flow and is it correctly punctuated?
- Remove unnecessary repetition.
- Review the examples and evidence you've used. Is there enough to support your argument?
'Receiving feedback can be an emotional experience - so be honest with yourself,' advises Katherine. 'What is the feedback telling you - what are your strengths? What areas could you improve?'
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Essay writing: Formatting
- Analysing questions
- Planning & drafting
- Revising & editing
- Essay writing videos
Jump to content on this page:
Essays are formal documents and should look professional Advice from the Skills Team
Whilst there are no hard rules about how you format essays, there are some conventions and common practices that are best to follow. If you use the settings on this page, you will produce an acceptably formatted essay.
Margins - between 2 cm and 2.54 cm (1 inch) all around.
Line spacing - either 1.5 or double-line spacing.
Paragraph spacing - either 1 clear line between or at least 8 pt space after each paragraph (more if double-line spaced)
Alignment - left aligned (fully justified with a straight right-edge is not recommended as this reduces readability and accessibility). Some longer essays may require subheadings which should also be left-aligned.
Indents - no indents on first lines of paragraphs are needed.
It is also good practice to put your student number and module number in the header of the document and a page number at the bottom of the page.
Font - the default font that comes with MS Word (currently Calibri) is fine for academic work. You may see persistent advice in handbooks that suggests you should use Times New Roman or Arial. If you prefer these, you can change it - but this is no longer a requirement.
Font size - fonts should be 11 or 12 point.
Font style - headings and subheadings, if they are required (most essays will not use them), are usually formatted in bold and should be at least 2 point sizes larger than the standard text. Underlining should be avoided as this is seen as rather dated. Some text can be formatted in italics - see our page Italics, when to use them , for guidance.
Shorter quotations in the text do not need to be italicised and should have double-quotations marks "like this" to indicate they are direct quotations. Longer quotations (what counts as this differs depending on your referencing style) should be created in their own paragraph, single spaced and indented by 1cm from both left and right margins:
Graduate attributes for employability are described as:
a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy. (Yorke, 2006)
The main change in this definition compared to the earlier definition of graduate attributes from Bowden (2000) is that that the attributes are no longer ...
Your reference list should be in alphabetical order (by author surname) and single line spaced. There should be a clear line space (or at least 6 pt space) between each reference. All references should be left-aligned with no indentation. For information about how to format individual references, see the Harvard Hull Referencing Guide.
Your reference list should be in alphabetical order (by first author surname) and single line spaced. All references should be left-aligned and have a hanging indent (all but the first line are indented by approx. 1cm). For information about how to format individual references, see the Footnotes Hull Referencing Guide.
Other referencing styles
Please see your individual departmental guidance.
We provide here a Microsoft Word template that can be used for your essays. It has the correct layout and formatting, including useful styles.
- Essay template
Download this template to somewhere you can access easily. When you click to open it, it will open a new document based on the template , leaving the original intact.
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Essay and dissertation writing skills
Planning your essay
Writing your introduction
Structuring your essay
- Writing essays in science subjects
- Brief video guides to support essay planning and writing
- Writing extended essays and dissertations
- Planning your dissertation writing time
Structuring your dissertation
- Top tips for writing longer pieces of work
Advice on planning and writing essays and dissertations
University essays differ from school essays in that they are less concerned with what you know and more concerned with how you construct an argument to answer the question. This means that the starting point for writing a strong essay is to first unpick the question and to then use this to plan your essay before you start putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).
A really good starting point for you are these short, downloadable Tips for Successful Essay Writing and Answering the Question resources. Both resources will help you to plan your essay, as well as giving you guidance on how to distinguish between different sorts of essay questions.
You may find it helpful to watch this seven-minute video on six tips for essay writing which outlines how to interpret essay questions, as well as giving advice on planning and structuring your writing:
Different disciplines will have different expectations for essay structure and you should always refer to your Faculty or Department student handbook or course Canvas site for more specific guidance.
However, broadly speaking, all essays share the following features:
Essays need an introduction to establish and focus the parameters of the discussion that will follow. You may find it helpful to divide the introduction into areas to demonstrate your breadth and engagement with the essay question. You might define specific terms in the introduction to show your engagement with the essay question; for example, ‘This is a large topic which has been variously discussed by many scientists and commentators. The principle tension is between the views of X and Y who define the main issues as…’ Breadth might be demonstrated by showing the range of viewpoints from which the essay question could be considered; for example, ‘A variety of factors including economic, social and political, influence A and B. This essay will focus on the social and economic aspects, with particular emphasis on…..’
Watch this two-minute video to learn more about how to plan and structure an introduction:
The main body of the essay should elaborate on the issues raised in the introduction and develop an argument(s) that answers the question. It should consist of a number of self-contained paragraphs each of which makes a specific point and provides some form of evidence to support the argument being made. Remember that a clear argument requires that each paragraph explicitly relates back to the essay question or the developing argument.
- Conclusion: An essay should end with a conclusion that reiterates the argument in light of the evidence you have provided; you shouldn’t use the conclusion to introduce new information.
- References: You need to include references to the materials you’ve used to write your essay. These might be in the form of footnotes, in-text citations, or a bibliography at the end. Different systems exist for citing references and different disciplines will use various approaches to citation. Ask your tutor which method(s) you should be using for your essay and also consult your Department or Faculty webpages for specific guidance in your discipline.
Essay writing in science subjects
If you are writing an essay for a science subject you may need to consider additional areas, such as how to present data or diagrams. This five-minute video gives you some advice on how to approach your reading list, planning which information to include in your answer and how to write for your scientific audience – the video is available here:
A PDF providing further guidance on writing science essays for tutorials is available to download.
Short videos to support your essay writing skills
There are many other resources at Oxford that can help support your essay writing skills and if you are short on time, the Oxford Study Skills Centre has produced a number of short (2-minute) videos covering different aspects of essay writing, including:
- Approaching different types of essay questions
- Structuring your essay
- Writing an introduction
- Making use of evidence in your essay writing
- Writing your conclusion
Extended essays and dissertations
Longer pieces of writing like extended essays and dissertations may seem like quite a challenge from your regular essay writing. The important point is to start with a plan and to focus on what the question is asking. A PDF providing further guidance on planning Humanities and Social Science dissertations is available to download.
Planning your time effectively
Try not to leave the writing until close to your deadline, instead start as soon as you have some ideas to put down onto paper. Your early drafts may never end up in the final work, but the work of committing your ideas to paper helps to formulate not only your ideas, but the method of structuring your writing to read well and conclude firmly.
Although many students and tutors will say that the introduction is often written last, it is a good idea to begin to think about what will go into it early on. For example, the first draft of your introduction should set out your argument, the information you have, and your methods, and it should give a structure to the chapters and sections you will write. Your introduction will probably change as time goes on but it will stand as a guide to your entire extended essay or dissertation and it will help you to keep focused.
The structure of extended essays or dissertations will vary depending on the question and discipline, but may include some or all of the following:
- The background information to - and context for - your research. This often takes the form of a literature review.
- Explanation of the focus of your work.
- Explanation of the value of this work to scholarship on the topic.
- List of the aims and objectives of the work and also the issues which will not be covered because they are outside its scope.
The main body of your extended essay or dissertation will probably include your methodology, the results of research, and your argument(s) based on your findings.
The conclusion is to summarise the value your research has added to the topic, and any further lines of research you would undertake given more time or resources.
Tips on writing longer pieces of work
Approaching each chapter of a dissertation as a shorter essay can make the task of writing a dissertation seem less overwhelming. Each chapter will have an introduction, a main body where the argument is developed and substantiated with evidence, and a conclusion to tie things together. Unlike in a regular essay, chapter conclusions may also introduce the chapter that will follow, indicating how the chapters are connected to one another and how the argument will develop through your dissertation.
For further guidance, watch this two-minute video on writing longer pieces of work .
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Basic essay structure
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Organise your essays to demonstrate your knowledge, show your research and support your arguments.
Essays are usually written in continuous, flowing, paragraphed text and don’t use section headings. This may seem unstructured at first, but good essays are carefully structured.
How your assignment content is structured is your choice. Use the basic pattern below to get started.
An essay consists of three basic parts:, introduction.
The essay itself usually has no section headings. Only the title page, author declaration and reference list are written as headings, along with, for example, appendices. Check any task instructions, and your course or unit handbook, for further details.
Content in assignment introductions can vary widely. In some disciplines you may need to provide a full background and context, whereas other essays may need only a little context, and others may need none.
An introduction to an essay usually has three primary purposes:
- To set the scene
- To tell readers what is important, and why
- To tell the reader what the essay is going to do (signposting)
A standard introduction includes the following five elements:
- A statement that sets out the topic and engages the reader.
- The background and context of the topic.
- Any important definitions, integrated into your text as appropriate.
- An outline of the key points, topic, issues, evidence, ideas, arguments, models, theories, or other information, as appropriate. This may include distinctions or contrasts between different ideas or evidence.
- A final sentence or two which tells the reader your focal points and aims.
You should aim to restrict your introduction to information needed for the topic and only include background and contextual information which helps the reader understand it, or sets the scene for your chosen focal points.
In most essays you will have a considerable range of options for your focus. You will be expected to demonstrate your ability to select the most relevant content to address your focal points.
There are some exceptions. For example, if an assignment brief specifically directs the essay focus or requires you to write broadly about a topic. These are relatively rare or are discipline-specific so you should check your task instructions and discipline and subject area conventions.
Below are examples of an opening statement, a summary of the selected content, and a statement at the end of the introduction which tells the reader what the essay will focus on and how it will be addressed. We've use a fictional essay.
The title of our essay is: 'Cats are better than dogs. Discuss.'
To submit this essay you also would need to add citations as appropriate.
Example of opening statements:
People have shared their lives with cats and dogs for millenia. Which is better depends partly on each animal’s characteristics and partly on the owner’s preferences.
Here is a summary of five specific topics selected for the essay, which would be covered in a little more detail in the introduction:
- In ancient Egypt, cats were treated as sacred and were pampered companions.
- Dogs have for centuries been used for hunting and to guard property. There are many types of working dog, and both dogs and cats are now kept purely as pets.
- They are very different animals, with different care needs, traits and abilities.
- It is a common perception that people are either “cat-lovers” or “dog-lovers”.
- It is a common perception that people tend to have preferences for one, and negative beliefs about and attitudes towards, the other.
Example of closing statements at the end of the introduction:
This essay will examine both cats’ and dogs’ behaviour and abilities, the benefits of keeping them as pets, and whether people’s perceptions of their nature matches current knowledge and understanding.
Main body: paragraphs
The body of the essay should be organised into paragraphs. Each paragraph should deal with a different aspect of the issue, but they should also link in some way to those that precede and follow it. This is not an easy thing to get right, even for experienced writers, partly because there are many ways to successfully structure and use paragraphs. There is no perfect paragraph template.
The theme or topic statement
The first sentence, or sometimes two, tells the reader what the paragraph is going to cover. It may either:
- Begin a new point or topic, or
- Follow on from the previous paragraph, but with a different focus or go into more-specific detail. If this is the case, it should clearly link to the previous paragraph.
The last sentence
It should be clear if the point has come to an end, or if it continues in the next paragraph.
Here is a brief example of flow between two summarised paragraphs which cover the historical perspective:
It is known from hieroglyphs that the Ancient Egyptians believed that cats were sacred. They were also held in high regard, as suggested by their being found mummified and entombed with their owners (Smith, 1969). In addition, cats are portrayed aiding hunters. Therefore, they were both treated as sacred, and were used as intelligent working companions. However, today they are almost entirely owned as pets.
In contrast, dogs have not been regarded as sacred, but they have for centuries been widely used for hunting in Europe. This developed over time and eventually they became domesticated and accepted as pets. Today, they are seen as loyal, loving and protective members of the family, and are widely used as working dogs.
There is never any new information in a conclusion.
The conclusion usually does three things:
- Reminds your readers of what the essay was meant to do.
- Provides an answer, where possible, to the title.
- Reminds your reader how you reached that answer.
The conclusion should usually occupy just one paragraph. It draws together all the key elements of your essay, so you do not need to repeat the fine detail unless you are highlighting something.
A conclusion to our essay about cats and dogs is given below:
Both cats and dogs have been highly-valued for millenia, are affectionate and beneficial to their owners’ wellbeing. However, they are very different animals and each is 'better' than the other regarding care needs and natural traits. Dogs need regular training and exercise but many owners do not train or exercise them enough, resulting in bad behaviour. They also need to be 'boarded' if the owner is away and to have frequent baths to prevent bad odours. In contrast, cats do not need this level of effort and care. Dogs are seen as more intelligent, loyal and attuned to human beings, whereas cats are perceived as aloof and solitary, and as only seeking affection when they want to be fed. However, recent studies have shown that cats are affectionate and loyal and more intelligent than dogs, but it is less obvious and useful. There are, for example, no 'police' or 'assistance' cats, in part because they do not have the kinds of natural instincts which make dogs easy to train. Therefore, which animal is better depends upon personal preference and whether they are required to work. Therefore, although dogs are better as working animals, cats are easier, better pets.
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