How to structure and approach writing a basic essay

Writing an essay can be a daunting task but if you break it down into sections you will find it is much easier than you think!


Structure and presentation is important, so you need to think about what the essay ‘question’ or ‘title’ is really asking. Identify the key words, especially verbs which are the ‘doing’ part of the question. By initially identifying these words you will be able to formulate a plan.


An essay plan will help you to gather and organise your thoughts. Bear in mind that an essay should have four component parts:

  • Introduction – this is where you layout the essay or set the scene. It should be a brief outline which identifies the main topics that you will cover and discuss but it won’t draw any conclusions. The introduction will also define any key terms that are in the essay title or question.
  • Main body – this is the main part of the essay and the place where all the arguments are developed and points discussed out. Points need to be supported by evidence and this really means using sourced material to support or refute arguments and also to put across different perspectives. The referencing guide on the solutions area will help you address this.
  • Conclusion – the final section and a place where no new material is introduced. It is a place where you sum up all discussion points and end with a sentence that reiterates the essay question/title, or provides a conclusion to the argument you have been discussing in the main body
  • Reference list – reflects the in text references but they are written in full – (See Referencing Guide)



Producing a plan

An essay plan can be a series of bullet points, a mind map or any other form of written notes for you to formulate your essay content around. By using a plan you will limit the chances of including repetition or irrelevant material because the plan can be used as a checklist as you are formally constructing the essay.


Make sure that the plan addresses the question requirements, including any key headings or key words (yes you can use limited headings in an essay).


Plans are easy to construct as you study, so if you look ahead at your essay question/title, you can jot down key elements of your plan as you read and study. Then you can formulate it into a structure plan ready to write the essay.


Getting down to writing the essay

Essay writing is continuous prose in sentences and paragraphs but headings are acceptable as signposting. Use these sparingly though.


Write clearly and concisely and avoid embellishing because this will use up a lot of words. Keep sentences short and try to use active rather than passive verbs, for example:  the tutor agreed, as opposed to it was agreed by the tutor.


The first sentence of each paragraph needs to be informative and convey what the following paragraph will be about. Each paragraph should have a concluding sentence so that the reader knows that the idea or discussion point has concluded. Sentences should follow naturally on from one another and build up into a cohesive discussion


Before you submit your work review it, so read it through and spell check it. You could also ask someone else to read it too which will be helpful. The reader does not have to be an expert in your subject but just another set of eyes to makes sure that it reads well, is understandable and you have not missed any spelling mistakes or duplicated words


Remember you can always ask your tutor if you are unsure of how to approach an essay, and there are lots of useful handouts and guidance notes to be found on the solutions area to help you.