Writing An Essay At Tertiary Level

Academic writing, like all forms of communication, is an act of identity: it not only conveys disciplinary ‘content’ but also carries a representation of the writer. The notion of identity has only surfaced in writing research relatively recently, but it is increasingly seen as less a phenomenon of private experience than a desire for affiliation and recognition.

‘Cave men could do it, why can’t I’?

Communication in the written form has been around for millions of years, be it on a cave wall, or the best university in the land. Mans attempt to get across a message has truly been a constant in our lives for so very long. Essay writing to many people is a difficult concept to grasp. Plenty of time is taken up preparing the makeup of the essay. There are no shortcuts in a well written essay, only time and research can bring about the results the university requires.

The plan, Where to begin! The age old question when it comes to essay writing. How do you put that first word, then sentence and finally paragraph together? Well according to most of the sources that I have come across, a basic structure keeps coming up. The importance of an introduction, as well as the body and conclusion are all key areas of an essay. Then just as you embark on your writing task, more problems are faced.

Outlined below are 4 key areas I believe let students down time over time.

The Introduction

To identify the main issue(s), explain and justify the methods(s) of analysis to be use, and assess the quality of the evidence available.

Sounds straight forward enough when you start out, but without the correct introduction, the reader or audience will be lost to you. Trying to find balance between the correct amount of information, to draw the reader in, without sounding to boring or waffling on.

A quote or hook is one way to draw the reader in, and have them wondering if the rest is as good or have they used up their best material. Do you agree with the question or disagree? Put together an argument that can both show your knowledge of the subject material, and putting it into an argumentative context.

Avoiding Plagiarism


Oxford English Dictionary (Vol XI, pg 947) 1989:

1. The action or practice of plagiarizing; the wrongful appropriation or purloining, and publication of one’s own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas (literary, artistic, musical, mechanical, etc.( of another.

2. A purloined idea, design, passage, or work.

Plagiarius in Latin means “kidnapper, seducer, plunderer”, a “literary thief” according to the Roman poet, Martial.

Plagiarism is not simply understood. Students may deliberately choose to plagiarize their work, but others may through other means, reach the same desired goals.

Students from many backgrounds may not understand the reasoning behind plagiarism, which can lead to significant problems within education. Students tend to plagiarize because they do not understand how they can write in their own voice, as it can be such a daunting task.


Others may not have developed the skills to accurately document their information. Still others may be struggling to learn English.


Planning and research

So we have been asked to write an essay 2000 words long, ideally the best thing we can do is to always start with a plan. Planning an essay makes things much easier. It gives you the chance to organize your time so you can meet your deadlines accordingly. It helps you distribute the information in a clear way. Planning provides you with a true sense of safety, since you are already half way done even before writing the first paragraph of the paper.

With this particular essay I find that I am in agreement with the question. It is an extremely complex issue, as I have outlined above, to organise and write. A problem faced by so many is the ideas and information that is floating around inside their mind, but do not have the natural ability to get said material onto paper.

‘To form an argument: introduce the concept, talking about obvious instances first, such as size and style, talk about what they tend to involve, and answer what this provides. Give the positive and negative aspects. Then assess the perfect environment, and contrast this with a good or bad situation’

(Northedge, 1990, pp. 110-155)

BODY where the evidence is presented, examined, arguments put forward and supported or refuted. This is where you should develop your argument or themes. Taking each of your main points and support them with examples and illustrations. Start breaking your materials down into paragraphs, one paragraph for each aspect of the topic.

Essay Structure

The following is the basic essay structure or discernible pattern, which should help you plan your essay and organize your material, expanding the three elements that constitute any essay.

MAIN BODY – where the evidence is presented, examined, arguments put forward and supported or refuted.

CONCLUSION – where you sum up and draw the threads together.

1. Introduction

Your introduction should:

(a) Comment on the title or topic of the essay

(b) Define or explain any difficult or ambiguous terms in the title; plus keywords

(c) Direct the reader by stating which aspects off the topic you intend to cover and why

The introduction should be roughly 5% of the total length of your essay, generally one paragraph.

2. Body

The main body of the essay should develop your argument or theme. Take each of your main points and support them with examples and illustrations. Break your materials down into paragraphs; one paragraph for each aspect of the topic.

A paragraph may:

(a) raise a particular issue, or

(b) develop a particular issue.

Often the first sentence is the topic sentence – that is, it explains what the paragraph is about.

As you develop your argument, you must move from point to point and from paragraph to paragraph. This involves transitions to smooth the way for the reader. It is important to remind the reader where you have been and where you are going.

Linking words are used as ‘signposts’ to help the reader make the transition from one paragraph to the next. The linking words you use will depend on the way you are developing your argument.

The following are ways to develop your essay from one paragraph to the next, and common linking words for each.

1. Cause and Effect: You can discuss the cause in one paragraph and the effect in the next one, or the other way round. In this case you are expressing a relationship or drawing a conclusion.

(Linking words: ‘as a result’, ‘thus’, ‘therefore’, ‘consequently’,’ thus’, ‘for this reason’, ‘because of’.)

2. Positive and Negative Aspects: You can contrast the positive and negative aspects of something. You might discuss the positive aspects in one paragraph and the negative in the next.

(Linking words: ‘but’, ‘however’, ‘on the other hand’, ‘although’.)

3. Sequence of Events, i.e. before and after: You can show the next step or the previous step to the event you are discussing.

(Linking words: ‘then’, ‘after that’, ‘finally’, ‘ultimately’, ‘following’, ‘before’, ‘first’, ‘previously’, ‘firstly’, ‘ …secondly ‘, ‘ … thirdly’.)

4. Illustration: You can illustrate or give an example of what you have been talking about.

(Linking words: ‘for example’, ‘for instance’, ‘such as’, ‘that is’.)

5. Extension: You can extend an idea, add weight to your argument, give further examples.

(Linking words: ‘similarly’, ‘moreover’, ‘furthermore’, ‘in addition’, ‘not only’.)

3. Conclusion

Your conclusion should:

Summarize your main ideas.

Answer any specific questions which were asked, through your answer may be tentative.

Draw a general conclusion from your argument.

In your conclusion you may also, discuss the wider implications.

You should not introduce any new arguments or information.

The conclusion should make up about 7-8% of the total length of your essay.

It is useful to check the essay for basic errors a day or two after writing it, if you have allowed time for this and you are not then tempted to start re-writing bits of it!


Thompson, Celia. Discourses on Plagiarism: To Discipline and Punish or to Teach and Learn?, http://www.bond.edu.au/hss/communication/ANZCA/papers/CThompsonPaper.pdf.

The purpose of the essay is the natural aim or plan of the essay itself. As the writer, it is your sole responsibility to judge just what exactly you wish to accomplish with your essay once you’re done with it. A common misconception among students is that the essay’s purpose is to simply impress their high school teachers or professors who’ve requested them to write an informative or persuasive essay. This is not just harmful, but frowned upon, as professors are genuinely disappointed in such efforts by their students who don’t see the wider perspective of the essay (i.e. the actual target audience).

Your essay must include the following:

Selection of at least four (4) key points from the Readings and/or other academic sources

Presentation of ideas in an essay structure

Correct referencing throughout (in-text and in the Reference List)

Presentation of ideas that are related to student learning

Demonstration of your understanding of the issues and concepts

Demonstration of your ability to reflect on own context and present relevant argument

Good Study Guide by Andrew Northedge)

Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 31,

409-429. …

Essay Structure diagram