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Students enrolled at university are expected to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways: in writing (essays, research reports, exams), visually (charts, diagrams), verbally (tutorial presentations) or multi-media presentations.

The most common form of presentation of information is the written form, usually an essay or report.

What is an academic essay?

An academic essay is a well researched and logically structured answer to a particular question, or questions. The answer is sometimes presented as an argument or point of view. The answer to an essay question is formed by reading about the information or ideas relevant to the topic and applying the skills of critical thinking (see ‘Critical Thinking’ in Section A of this booklet). The answer should include reference to acknowledged authors.

The essay writing process

Below is a chart that illustrates the essay writing process. Writing an essay is not a linear process. This means that it does not occur in a straight line – you do not simply move from one step on to the next. You often revisit some of the earlier steps. Writing an essay means moving backwards and forwards between the different steps in the process until you feel satisfied with the final result.

Modified from Unilearning 2000

Why write essays?

Essays are your opportunity to explore parts of your course (theories, issues or texts) and, in some cases, relate these to a particular situation.

Essays are used as an assessment tool to evaluate your ability to research a topic and construct an argument, as well as your understanding of subject content. This does not mean that essays are a 'regurgitation' of everything your lecturer has said throughout the course or just a summary of the relevant texts.

Different types of academic essays

It is important that you understand the differences between the types of essays you might be required to write. The three most common types of essays are:

  • descriptive - a summary of the evidence (referenced from texts);

  • analyticalrestructures the evidence to show relationships that exist in the evidence. Uses other sources to support the argument being presented.

  • persuasive - evidence is used to develop and support an argument or thesis (the position you have taken on a topic).

While all essays have an element of description, in the majority of university essays you will be required to analyse the issues rather than simply describe them. Persuasive essays are usually considered to show the highest level of academic understanding.

Understanding what the essay topic/question means

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